Assakio, the headquarters of Lafia East Development Area in Lafia Local Government of Nasarawa was turned into a theatre of war with no fewer than 30 killed following a clash over disagreement over land rent. Although the conflict has been contained by the law enforcement agents, the incident has left behind a tale of woes for the affected communities. DONATUS NADI reports.
It is not clear if many members of the two neighbouring communities have ever been to the warfront. There is also no indication that they can boast of any general who has commanded military operations in any part of Nigeria.
However, what happened penultimat Friday in that community had the semblance of a full scale war coordinated by war veterans. In a predawn raid, combatants from both communities engaged in a war that left many dead, thousands injured and the face of the communities disfigured. It will take a long while for them to recover from the physical and psychological loss suffered in one deadly blow that hit them that Friday.
When the dust settled, bodies of men, women and children littered the streets while many property were destroyed. The tears for the dead continue to fall like rain and not many of the families can be consoled by any word of encouragement.
Although the dawn raid took many by surprise, others had got wind of the impending assault and fled before the invaders set their foot on their targets.
A staff of the Lafia East Development Area, Mr. Baba Alikufo, paid dearly for refusing to take precautionary measures about the impending attack. Even though he heard the rumours of the war, he took it as one of those careless talks and relaxed in his house until the attackers raided the area and killed Omeri, his elder brother.
He had been told severally that their Eggon brothers were planning to descend on them but he never believed the extent of the attack would be so serious and devastating.
What actually confused him was an assurance that the Eggon and Alago communities had met and resolved their land dispute and that all was well in the area but he did not know that the information was far from being authentic.
He said, “Two days before the crisis started I was told that both ethnic groups had resolved the matter, hinting that the government had intervened and asked everybody to vacate the disputed land.
“Strangely however, while I was preparing to go to work in the morning I heard sporadic gunshots renting the air and was told on the phone that my immediate elder brother, Omeri, had already been killed and his house burnt,” he said.
Giving her own side of the story, a house wife, Mrs. Lydia Oyoshe, said, “ As early as 6 am that morning, gunshots were being heard all over the place and I had to run out of the house in my night gown to safety but my house was burnt down by the invaders.”
Oyoshe alleged that the night before the incident, their invading neighbours had safely evacuated their men, women and children before launching the deadly attack on the Alago people.
“That is why the casualty figure is very heavy on Alago community, which has almost been turned into a refugee camp,” she added.
But in a counter claim, Mr. AversonNamu, an Eggon local farmer, said they had endured years of untold hardship from the hands of the Alago community, especially through the instrumentality of their traditional institution.
Namu said, “We stay together but when it comes to taking decisions that affect the whole community they will not consult us and whatever decision they arrive at, is forced on our throats and we have to comply with it”.
The farmer said that the Alago people mobilised themselves and attacked AngwanAkika as early as 5 am until mid-day when they decided to defend themselves.
“We were only able to save our necks because of our numerical strength,” he confessed.
An elderly woman who gave her name as Mama Akolo said her sister who suffers from stroke was burnt in her room since they could not carry her along as the Alago attackers invaded their homes. After fleeing to safety, she has not been able to locate her two children. To worsen her case, she was told that one of her sons had been killed during the raid on her community.
An Igbo trader, ChukudiAdaazu, who lost three shops and property to the calamity, said he managed to escape to the bush with his wife and children. But he realized after three days that all he had on him was his knickers while his wife had only a wrapper on. Property worth millions of Naira were destroyed in his shops by the invaders.
But at the Lafia camp, where some of the displaced persons are being camped, the refugees expressed their readiness to return to their farming community if only the state government would assure them of their safety and some form of compensation.
LEADERSHIP investigations revealed that the Alago traditional ruler, His Royal Highness Francis Inarigu, is alleged to be at the centre of the recent crisis that engulfed the area.
Inarigu, who is the paramount ruler in the area, is said to have a convened meeting with the leaders of the various communities in his domain and unilaterally increased the amount to be paid by farmers cultivating any part of the community land.
Although the practice of farmers paying royalties to the traditional ruler is not new in the area, the law has not been written down and enforced with vigour for some time. But the leader of the Alago Youth Movement, Mr. Joseph Omale, insists that the action of the royal father was in line with their tradition of preserving a portion of the community land for their chiefs.
Omale said the royal father was right in imposing some taxes on the land, which was preserved for him.
“It was previously a hunting ground and a portion of whatever games were collected at the end of a hunting expedition was given to the chief as a mark of appreciation.”
But it was learnt that due to expansion in settlement and depleting forest reserves, community members who started tilling the land for farming purposes continued the tradition of giving the chief part of their harvest at the end of each farming season.
But the tradition is said to have faded away with time and the Osakyo of Assakio’s attempt to revive the ailing tradition was met with stiff resistance that sparked the last deadly conflict.
A staff with the Lafia Local Government, Mr. Joseph Akika, recalled angrily that Assakio’s three predecessors did not impose any land tax on them and wondered why the ruler wanted to enforced what had been forgotten by the people.
He explained that the Eggon community rejected the move because if allowed to start it would bring untold hardship to their children in the future. It was gathered that the said land tax only applied to farmers cultivating rice. But those opposed to it, are afraid it could spread to other crops if allowed to stand at all.
In ensuing disagreement those who were not ready to pay the stipulated taxes were asked to stop cultivating the area but they ignored the directive of the royal father.
Trouble started when an emissary sent by the chief to warn those who were still farming but unwilling to pay the stipulated royalty to the natural ruler, assaulted the emissary and continued with their farming business.
The treatment meted out to the ruler’s messenger is said to have infuriated the king and youths in the area took it upon themselves to turn back women and children who were on their way to the farms.
The Eggons were said to have described the action as an act of provocation by the Alago brothers and that set the tone for the eventual conflict, which blew into a full scale crisis after a week of simmering confrontation.
The care-taker administrator of the development area, Hon. ZannuwaBuba, had tried in vain to call the two communities to order and ward off the impending crisis but he was ignored.
Some irate youths were said to have confronted him when his orderly fired a gunshot into the air to warn the two sides not to cause any problem in the area. But the shot was misinterpreted by community members as the outbreak of confrontation by their opponents.
Early the next morning bloody violence broke out at Anguwan Akika and AnguwanMiri where it was alleged that the Eggon attacked the Alago in a predawn raid. The Education Secretary of the Development Area, Mr. Ishaleku Obadiah Iyonye, who lost his father and their family compound to the crisis, said they were taken unawares by their enemies.
In a swift attempt to contain the crisis, Governor TankoAlmakura went to the area for an on-the-spot assessment of the violence during which he called on both sides to sheath their sword and seek peaceful ways of settling their differences.
The state commissioner of police, Mr. Abayomi Akeremale, has however assured that the State Security Council has adopted proactive measures to curb the crisis in the area. Armed military personnel and riot policemen had been deployed to all trouble spots leading to Assakio to avert any possible fresh attack in the community.
It is not clear how long the peace will last.