By Tony Erha
BUT for the upended news of the crisis, which ensued some months ago, visitors to the serene neighbourhood of Igiode and Uzanu communities wouldn’t have even a whiff of dissimilarity or ‘no love lost’ between the two communities. It was then serene and alluring.
Igiode and Uzanu are adjoining agrarian communities in Etsako East Local Government Area (LGA) of Edo State, accessed by the Fugar and Agenebode intersection on the Auchi/Agenebode road. On the Igiode/Uzanu road diversion, there is barely a four km stretch of land between both communities, which some perceptive folks from both of the disputatious communities said had lived in relative peace, until the crisis.
“Disagreement seldom occurs between the tongue and the teeth of the mouth’s family, but they always remain one”. Mathew Etokhana, an indigene of Igiode community, creatively asserted and further observed. “It is commonplace for brotherly communities to disagree over land ownership. Nonetheless, undue external interferences are not usually allowed to set in, to cause perpetual hostility, fracases, bloodletting and destruction to property, like our case has turned.”
Etokhana’s narration seemingly moved some elders of Igiode who only nodded in affirmation, before a team of fact-seeking journalists, shortly after the skirmishes between the villages. “Hearings on the land dispute progressed from lower courts upward, where our Igiode people sued Uzanu and judgments were made. Those who went to the law court, in the first case, did the right thing by not opting for violence. Fighting over a problem after court’s judgment is the same thing as resorting to self-help that was initially avoided. Igiode and Uzanu can’t avoid themselves. Peace is the best option”
Remarkably, some Uzanu natives spoke in the same vein as Etokhana. “We have lived in peace with Igiode, although there had been this nagging land dispute, which we had always managed to keep under control. Even if we are not siblings, God Almighty and our Ancestors have placed us side by side, as neighbours. Uzanu and Igiode are a twin kernel of an oil palm nut, which should not be cracked by outsiders,” said Mathias Akpelokhai from Uzanu.
Nevertheless, why are both communities at daggers-drawn even though theirs is a history mostly replete by non-threatening cohabitation? Why had the land dispute escalated, even though overriding courts’ judgments had been given and ought to be obeyed? Why the recent dethronement of HRH Benjamin Ikani, the Oniola (king) of Uzanu, and the revocation of the South East Uneme Clan by the Edo state government? Moreover, the media severally quoted the state’s Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, who is also from the zone, as threatening to arrest Clem Ikanade Agba, the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, who hails from Uzanu?
A petition by the Uneme Uzanu Community of South East Uneme of the LGA, to the Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba, dated 30th April 2021, tended to give the right answers.
However, this gives credence to extensive media comments which were earlier variously credited to Kennedy Izuagbe and Lucky Anyia, President and Secretary-General of Afenmai Patriotic Development Association (APDA). APDA, an umbrella body of the entire Afenmai nation, which Uzanu and Igiode and the main six local LGAs of Edo North Senatorial zone belong, substantiated the crisis as between “two Brotherly Afenmai Communities”, inter alia;
“We were moving steadily towards a seamless resolution of the crisis including withdrawal of all court cases before the recent government intervention”. APDA appealed to the state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, to rescind the abolition of the Uzanu’s kingship, which it said had been legally constituted by the government, as it further observed that it would not solve the crisis. It added that dissolution of the kingship also has no bearings with the land dispute, which they said had been properly instituted and gazetted.
South East Uzanu emphatically accused the state’s Deputy Governor, Mr. Philip Shaibu, of stoking the crisis and instigating the protest letter Igiode community earlier wrote to the Acting IGP, against Uzanu. The petition was signed by Ibrahim Izenobor, the Ogamode of Uzanu, Ibrahim Omokpua, the Ogiega of Uneme Uzanu, and six of its traditional chieftains and copied to the Minister of Justice & Attorney General of the Federation and some other relevant bodies.
It attempted to “mislead the public over the land dispute and to tarnish the reputation and image of our people as well as the unwitty attempt to further embarrass and vilify the person of the Honourable Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba”. Agba, it also stated, was only being witch-hunted for not supporting Governor Obaseki and his deputy in the previously-held governorship election in the state.
The petition urged the Acting IGP and others to immediately release from continuous unlawful Police detention, four unsuspecting elders and chiefs of Uzanu, namely; Emmanuel Ikeme, James Alugbei, Peter Ajegba, and Anthony Adamu), as they dutifully went to honour an invitation to a reconciliation meeting at the instance of the Deputy Governor, Mr. Philip Shaibu, since Monday 29th March 2021. It called for comprehensive investigation and deterrence by the Acting IGP.
“The Deputy Governor (not without prejudice) ordered their arrest on a pretentious, eccentric, and unfounded allegation of murder made by the Igiode Community, even when a conclusive investigation into the baseless allegation at the Police Division, Agenebode, evidently exonerated Uzanu Community”. The petitioners asserted that in the course of investigating the said allegation of murder, the autopsy carried out on the old man, alleged to have been killed by Uneme Uzanu, closely monitored by the State Government, through the Etsako East Local Government, Agenebode, unambiguously revealed that he died of chronic hypertension.
The Acting IGP was also informed that the crisis was started by Igiode, who caused the Uzanu locals and visitors to their community bodily harms, destruction to property, and blockade of the only access road to their community, consequently leading to a long period of isolation of Uzanu from humanity. Igiode, it also said, failed to obey subsisting courts’ judgment in suits instituted by Igiode, which in turn favoured Uzanu, whilst citing the verdicts. Chronological traces of both communities on the disputed land were made, citing Uneme Uzanu as an aboriginally established community and not settlers have given the land by Igiode, as alleged.
The earlier statement by the Chief Izuagbe’s led Afenmai Patriotic Development Association, had observed that scrapping of the Oliola throne by the state government, could thwart the development progress so far brought to the Uzanu and Igiode neigbourhoods and the entire Edo North senatorial zone, by Clem Agba and Francis Alimekhena. He added that Uzanu and Igiode should be contented deriving benefits from Agba and Alimekhena, a native of Igiode and a senator representing the zone.
Retrospectively, during the monitoring exercise of a network of tarred roads attracted to Ivioghe, Iviukhua, Iviegba, Ivianakpodi, Okpekpe, and other communities of the area by Clem Agba, journalists were earlier informed that he and Senator Alimekhena have purposeful cooperation to the development of the area. And the petition by the South East Uzanu praised Alimekhena for his trustworthiness and leadership traits by reprimanding some Igiode persons over their involvement in the crisis.
Etokhana from Igiode; Akpelokhai of Uzanu and some others from both communities were of the opinion that instead of allowing APDA, Agba, Alimekhena, and others to continue with their amicable settlement of the crisis, Mr Shaibu, the Deputy Governor, had pushed the state governor into the grimes of causing more disaffection in Weppa and Uneme South East clans, in the same calamitous manner of Uzairue clan and Afenmai land, because of his animosity against Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, which he has transposed to Clem Agba.
Tony Erha, a journalist and activist write from Benin City, Edo State.
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