BY Hembadoon Orsar, Ilorin
The Ijaha Ochekwu community in Edikwu ward 1 of Apa Local Government Area of Benue State is in dire need of government attention to overcome the chieftaincy crisis between it and the Edikwu community.
The crisis which has engulfed the community since three years ago, has led to the death of many inhabitants and destruction of properties, even as thousands of people have been displaced from their ancestral homes.
While other communities in the state are struggling to put their pieces together following the attack by the marauding Fulani herdsmen on farmers and their farmlands, the Ijaha community and its host community, the Edikwu are busy attacking and killing each other over chieftaincy tussle.
The Edikwu people have over powered Ijaha community and displaced them out of the town.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that the Ijaha people have fled their ancestral home and are taking refuge in the neighbouring villages for safety,
The Ijaha community comprise four families that formed the community which include, Ai- Ocheme, Ai-Akpaibi, Ai-Uloko, and Ai- Otanwa with a population of over 4000 of them living within the Edikwu community harmoniously for decades.
The Ijaha Chief, Achem Oyih who was also displaced and is now taking refuge in Otukpo, told LEADERSHIP Sunday that before now, there was peace.
He said, “we were even inter marrying within ourselves but we were neither allowed to participate in their chieftaincy affairs nor attain any of their traditional chieftaincy stool. However, with our collective decision to have our own chieftaincy status, that was where trouble began”.
“Following our cultural differences we made a formal request to Alegwu k’ Edikwu, Chief Stephen Ochekwu on the 13th of January, 2014 after series of consultations with Edikwu community elders and some stakeholders for a clan status of our own”
“We equally made similar request to the chairman, Idoma Traditional Council, who is the custodian of the Idoma culture and tradition on the 12th day of June 2014, and after a period of two months , particularly in August 12 same year, His Royal Highness Och’ Idoma IV Agabaidu Elias Obekpa, after a thorough investigation granted the Ijaha community’s request and gave us permission to bead, which will enable us perform all our traditional rituals.
“We went through the lawfully laid down procedures and was granted independence by the Idoma Area Traditional Council but this did not go down well with the Edikwu people as a result of which their youths mobilised and started kidnapping, killing and destroying our farms and houses. It got to the extent that they even trailed and attempted to kill my daughter at Adoka, Otukpo local government area as she was traveling to NYSC orientation camp but it took the intervention of the people to save her.
“As I speak to you now, none of the Ijaha person is staying in that community again, everybody in the community is on the run for safety. Some of my people were kidnapped. Up till today, we have neither heard about them nor see their corpses. They were butchered and thrown into the river, so where can we go from here? We are peasant farmers but for fear of being kidnapped and killed while in the farm, we are here dying of hunger and starvation. I cannot feed my family any more. I cannot send my children to school. I had to give three of them out to some of my relatives who can take care of them,” he cried amidst tears”.
The secretary to the Ijaha clan chief, Boniface Emmanuel explained that “ during the coronation of our selected chief which held on the 19th of August 2014, the Edikwu community youths came and disrupted the process, set houses ablaze, including that of the Ijaha Chief Achem Oyi, destroyeed our farms and looted all our properties.
“The community youths came in their large numbers with sophisticated weapons killing anyone in sight. After the attack, we reported to the law enforcement agencies in Apa local government area as well as the Police Area Command in the zone, which is in Otukpo on the 18th of August 2014, but the attack continued unabated, despite the efforts of the police”.
Emmanuel continued, “On the 12th of September same year, the Ijaha people presented their chief, Achem Oyi to Ochi’Idoma who issued a letter of acting appointment to him and as well forwarded his recommendations to the Benue State Government for ratification and approval.
“However, it was gathered that the Bureau for Local government and Chieftaincy Affairs ratified and issued an approval of appointment to Chief Achem Oyi as the beaded clan head of Ijaha on the 14th of January 2015 and even proceeded to Napa Area Traditional Council on the 28th of same month to investigate the lingering crisis between the Ijaha and Edikwu communities over the appointment of a traditional ruler, but to no avail.
“We, the entire Ijaha Ochekwu community in Edikwu ward1,in Apa Local Government Area of Benue State, unanimously appeal to the state government to make its humanitarian intervention into our chieftaincy crisis by putting in place, machinery that would make us return to our ancestral homes to conduct normal activities without being kidnapped, killed or attacked. We really need a police station or police out- post in the area”.
Reacting to the development, the Clan/District Head of Edikwu Community, Chief Stephen Ochekwu, said all efforts to resolve the crises has proved abortive.
“As a Chief of Edikwu, I have also been displaced from my community. They have incited the Edikwu youths to hunt me, accusing me of conceding the title to Ijaha people. Now, I am also a refugee because they have destroyed my house and staff of office. Over 104 houses and other properties have been destroyed in the area. These youths use sophisticated weapons like AK47. They brutalize my people who have fled the area and are taking refuge in other parts of Idoma land.”
He explained that they have made frantic efforts, including writing letter to the Police Commissioner, Special Adviser to Governor Samuel Ortom on Security, Director, Department of State Security, DSS and the Idoma Traditional Area Council for intervention but all to no avail as the crisis has continued unabated just as there is no police post in the area.
Commenting on the incident, the special adviser to the governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr Titus Zam, said he would send a team to the area to assess the situation.
He maintained that they would apply the law strictly as it concerns chieftaincy matter to resolve the conflict.
He said while the Tiv people are always having crises on land matters, the Idoma people are always fighting over chieftaincy issues.
When contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Moses Yamu, who confirmed the crisis, said many houses have been razed down by the youths in the area and some of the perpetrators have been identified, while efforts are in top gear to arrest them.