Omala-Bagana Peace Agreement: Matters Arising

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The news of reconciliation of the two warring communities in Omala local government of Kogi state is a welcome development. The Omagede and Ihiakpe communities by the river Benue have been after each other for nearly three decades over control of Bagana town.

Bagana, like most riverside and harbor towns and cities had always been a cosmopolitan home to almost every ethnic group from within and outside Nigeria. The town boasts of a thriving weekly thriving market of smoked and freshwater fish and lots of farm produce from the hinterland that drawresidents of the neighboring Nasarawa state across from the river Benue to the market by hand-paddled and motorized canoes to shop along with traders from Enugu and Benue states.

Bagana lies between Omagede and Ihiakpe, the two communities that have been at each other’sjugular for control of the town. My generation grew up to experience the vibes of Bagana market as the place where only goods are exchanged—trade by barter. The last time I went to the market was by foot, trekking alongside my older sister by way of Egumale town and Ogelemu forest. It was then an arduous journey of three to four hours from Agojeju-Odo. At the market,yams, corns, cassava, millets and other farm harvests are exchanged or fish by the usual haggling over the quantity that compensates for the other in the exciting languages of Igala and Agatu mixed up as–Ukpailo-Yoma. “Ukpailo” is Igala word for exchangeand “Yoma” is the Agatu word for– this is it– which translates to “This is an exchange transaction or something near it.

Since the past decade,Bagana suddenly became the theater of a bloody warfare between the two warring communities leading to itstotal destruction and collapse of the market. The lethality of the simmering war of attrition has resulted in the death of several people from the two communities and outsiders from other communities within Omala LGA whose lives have been wasted as collateral impunity.

It took the annihilation of tens of people from Agojeju-Odoh my hometown for Omagede and Ihiakpe community to see the vanity of their rabbit-trail-quest for ownership of Bagana. What an oddity!It was the running attrition by the two communities that led one to seek the services of mercenaries disguising as herdsmen to pillage and kill the people in Agojeju-Odoh and other neighboring towns as told by some sources.

It took the personal on- the- spot intervention of governor Ododo’s visit to Agojeju-Odoh post the massacre and the arrest of some community leaders of Omagede and Ihiakpe to agree to a truce or peace deal. The governor deserves a Noble Peace Awardat that level of achievement.

The Caretaker chairman of Omala LGA, I am told is also basking in the euphoria of the armistice cessation of hostility between the involved communities. The chairman sure deserves a break and compliments. No sooner his appointment when the crisis busted into a calamitous orgy of killing and sacking of Agojeju-Odoh town by Fulani herdsmen as hired agents of one party to the conflict.

It is too early to articulate the nuance of the current peace agreement, but it is an important step that require lots of support and work at both the state, LGA and community levels for a lasting environment free of violent actors to endure in our community.

The elders who signed the peace agreement will have their hands full on how to prevail on the restive youths in the community who have bought into violent exploits fighting for their community for lack of any other engagements in our current state of economic wilderness.

A total reorientation of the whole community to maintain peace with others at all costs will take some psychological debriefing after all the past years of celebrating the Tit-for-Tat killing of one another, for the peace agreement to stick.

A critical element to the success of the agreement is the disengagement of another layer to the conflict which is the involvement of the Fulani herdsmen who were invited in after the communities exhausted their capacity for an interregnum war of attrition. The Fulani factor is the Elephant in the house. It is the most potent aspect of the agreement that must be tackled head on up to the Federal level. The community that invited them to the conflict must now have the courage to tell them that theirwelcome has expired.

Unless the armed Fulani killers are expelled from Bagana, the peace treaty between Omagede and Ihiakpe communities of Omala local government area may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory because the dynamics of conflict resolution are Power, Relationship, Structure and Goal. The power dynamic is right now with those wielding dangerous weapons in the community, and they must be subdued.

– Pastor Paul E. Attah
Solace Christian Ministry,
Atlanta, USA

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