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Frictions Between Benue/Ebonyi Communities Can Be Resolved – Otse

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Attah Emmanuel Otse is the national president of Agila Development Association. In this interview with HEMBADOON ORSAR, he speaks on the way out of the perennial Benue/Ebonyi interstate boundary clashes.

Your community has been embroiled in perennial bloody clashes with your neighbours from Ebonyi State. What is the situation now?

At the moment, there are no hostilities between our people and our Ngbo neighhbours from Ohaukwu local government area of Ebonyi State. We have been pursuing the peaceful resolution of the crisis, though I must admit, it hasn’t been easy. There are still several hurdles on the way to the final resolution.

Early last month, the chairman of Ohaukwu local government council accused your people of killing and beheading four members of Ngbo community, who were on their way to Agila for a peace meeting how true is this?

Yes it is true that there was an accusation that four persons were killed in Ebonyi State and we are not from Ebonyi, we are from Agila in Ado local government of Benue State, and if people were killed in Ebonyi State, I wonder why they are coming to look for the killers in Benue State. I speak to you, no road no market, nothing is connecting us together and the distance between my town and the place in question is about 25 kilometres, so i woner why we are being accused.

Are you aware that governor Ortom has directed your people to fish out the killers?

I was in government house the day the governor gave the instruction that the secretary to the state government (SSG) should write a letter to the Ada Ado to produce the killers. They did not call us for questioning, they only called us to give instruction and we came out and the letter was written but I want to let Benue people and the whole world know that their claim is untrue! Our people had no hand, whatsoever in the alleged killing of their people.

Reported four persons killed were members of the Joint Peace Committee set up by deputy governors of the two states, but were ambushed and killed. Is that not the situation?

I am repeating that this is not true but that was the story, which they hoisted in some newspapers and online platforms. In the first place, there was no peace meeting scheduled for Agila on the day the alleged killings took place. Neither the co-chairman of the Joint committee and former chairman of Ado local government council, Chief Otse Otokpa nor any member of the Peace committee from Agila was aware of any such meeting. Secondly, with no road linking Agila with the three Ngbo communities through the boundary, it is expected that any journey to Agila would involve going through Abakaliki – Enugu-Otukpo-Agila.

If your account is correct, how come governor Samuel Ortom ordered the apprehension of the alleged killers of the four people from among your own people?

His order then was based on the information at his disposal, which was a wrong one. The essence of the directive he gave was that investigations be made into the alleged incident, and those responsible fished out; if indeed such an incident occurred. Governor Ortom is committed to a speedy resolution of this crisis, and I was not surprised that he gave that order. However, as I told you, no such incident took place known to us. No Agila person was involved in the killing of any Ngbo person.

Tell us; what really is the problem between your people and the Ngbo people of Ohaukwu local government area?

It has to do with the attempt by the Ngbo people to forcefully take over our land and make us homeless. We have a boundary with them, which incidentally is also the boundary between the former Northern and Eastern region. Ordinarily, such a boundary, which is very properly documented and gazetted, should not have posed any problem to the two communities. However, for inexplicable reasons, the Ngbo people have refused to respect this boundary, which is clearly defined by Legal Notice 126 of 1954. They have turned to attack, killing, and sacking our people from our various settlements, destroying our properties and crops, all with the objective of driving us out and annexing our land.

What evidence have you that they want to sack your people and annex your land?

The killings, massive destruction, and the sack of the numerous farm settlements, where our people lived and farmed, and the series of coordinated pre-dawn attacks on Agila town itself, which has crippled all social economic activities in Agila shows that the aim goes beyond boundary squabbles. The objective is to sack us from our land. Some years back, I think it was 2004, they gave our people a two-week notice to vacate our land or “face dire consequences.” Again, when the Ngbo people paid a courtesy call on the then Senate President, Distinguished Senator David Mark on 25th July 2007 in Abuja, they told him that the entire Agila land belongs to them and that they have no boundary with us except with Igumale. During that visit, they said that they were our landlords and declared that we have “no moral justification” to claim any boundary.

What has been the outcome of the series of bilateral peace meetings  brokered by the governments of Benue and Ebonyi States?

Unfortunately, very little has been achieved. In fact, there has been less progress made today than 33 years ago when Group Captain Jonah David Jang was the military governor of Benue State and Captain Samson Emeka Omeruah was the military governor of  Anambra State. Let me explain this point; whereas, at the joint Benue/Anambra Interstate Boundary dispute meeting held in Enugu on 24th March, 1986, the two state governments resolved that “the existing buffer zone should be maintained and respected by all sides, and the police should ensure complete compliance”, today, where the buffer zone is, has become a contentious issue, with the technical committee now assigned the task of looking for records for use to re-establish it.

Secondly, whereas the two governors directed the “Surveyor-General of both states to co-operate with the Director of Federal Surveys to resume the actual demarcation exercise with the help of the Army and the Police by not later than Friday, 11th April 1986”, today, what the two state governments have done is to set up committees that will help facilitate the peaceful demarcation of the boundary.

Thirdly, whereas, the two state governments agreed that the “permanent solution to the recurring boundary clashes can only be achieved by giving practical effect to the provisions of the Legal Notice No 126 of 1954 which is acceptable to both sides”, today, the Ebonyi State, which was part of the old Anambra State is saying a different thing. They are no longer comfortable with the legal notice and are doing everything practically possible to thwart the demarcation exercise. At the joint meeting of the two states and federal government held in Makurdi on 6th June 2000, the Ebonyi State government changed its position from boundary re-demarcation to boundary adjustment.

Fourthly, for the past forty years or more, the two state governments have agreed at each meeting to jointly construct a road linking the two communities or prevail on the federal government to do so, particularly, the Otukpo-Agila-Ekwassi Ngbo road, but nothing has ever been done.

What do you think is the way forward?

The permanent solution lies in the demarcation of the boundary, which, unfortunately, our neighbours are frustrating. The field retracing exercise was completed in 2001, what now remains is the physical re-beaconing of the boundary; an exercise which began but was thwarted by our neighbours in 2009 after having emplaced 15 pillars. That exercise should be completed with the help of the army and other security agencies.

In the interim, the two state governments should commence the immediate construction of the Agila-Ekwassi Ngbo road to promote trans-border cooperation. In addition, the federal government should construct the Otukpo-Agila-Nkalagu road to open up the area to economic activities and help ease the bottled-up tension.

Finally, I wish to appeal to our neighbours to let peace reign, we have the people of Ezza, Izi, Effium and Nkaleha of Ebonyi State, we have no problems with them. We also have the Eha people from Enugu State as our neighbours, and we do not have problems with them. The Ngbo are the only neighbours, we have problems with, and this is because they are laying claims to our land and want to take it forcefully from us.

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