Sunday, 7 July 2019

25 People Die Over Fish Pond Dispute In Benue

The frosty relationship between the Abugbe and Okokolo people of Agatu Local Government Area in Benue State took a frightening dimension last Sunday when 25 villagers were hacked to untimely death over lingering disagreements over the ownership of fishponds and farmlands. Before the Sunday attack on Okokolo, allegedly by Abugbe people, which claimed the 25 lives, both communities had reportedly signed a peace pact on the Saturday preceding the mayhem and promised to co-exist harmoniously.

It was gathered that some hired militia, believed to have been engaged by the people of Abugbe, invaded Okokolo community while majority of the inhabitants were in church and unleashed terror on them, killing many, injuring others and burning several houses.

It was, however, learnt that the attack was a reprisal by Abugbe community, whose community was allegedly invaded by Okokolo people about four weeks ago. During that attack, houses were burnt, but no death was recorded.

Tracing the origin of the crisis between the two communities, a former lawmaker who represented Agatu at the state’s House of Assembly until May this year, Alhaji Sule Audu, said the communities had lived peacefully until 2016 when the chieftaincy law of the state was amended. Audu said it was the struggle between Abugbe and Okololo on who would first hold the newly created stool of a village head that caused things to fall apart amongst them.

He explained that subsequently, the aggression between the communities was transferred to ownership of farmlands and fishponds despite the suspension of the traditional stool by the state government as a result of the crisis. “The government had even placed a ban on the chieftaincy matters of the area,’’ Audu said. The former lawmaker, who is also part of the peace committee in the area, further explained that violence started about four weeks ago when Okololo went to their farms and were driven away by Abugbe people. According to him the former got back home, mobilised and attacked the later by burning down their houses, but did not shed blood.

Audu said the matter degenerated because of rumours, ego and exaggeration among the villagers. He further said that apart from these two communities, others, also in Agatu Local Government Area, had engaged in age-long disputes that preceded his two tenures as a lawmaker. He said that some of the crises started in 1974 because of a court judgement in 1973, which was wrongly interpreted.

He pointed out that the cases had mainly hinged on farmlands and fishponds, which are the major sources of the people’s livelihood. They were also hinged on the need for communities to respect boundaries set by the court. He said the communities must embrace peace and find a way of enjoying their natural resources together. Also, a former supervisory councillor and stakeholder in Agatu, John Ikwulono, told our correspondent that there had been a long time fishpond issue between Abugbe and Okokolo. Ikwulono added that the fresh crisis between the two communities resurrected early this year.

“The Ai-g’Ocheigwu from Okokolo owns the said pond, called Ohebu, but Abugbe people are claiming its ownership. The matter is already in court; therefore, we can’t talk about it here again. There is a Fadama land within the Ohebu pond, where people have been farming; both Abugbe and Agbaduma community (Okokolo people). “Each community has a boundary. All of a sudden, the Abugbe people started encroaching on the Okokolo land. Not that alone, they don’t want any Okokolo person to farm there again. Each time Okokolo people go to the Fadama for farming, Abugbe youths will shoot sporadically to scare them away. “That continued until one day when Abugbe people chased Okokolo farmers away from the Fadama, down to their hometown. But Okokolo people repelled the attack and chased Abugbe people back to their village. No life was lost on in communities as they all of them went home. “After that day, both communities have had a series of peace meetings at different fora, including the one on the Saturday before the latest attack,’’ he narrated. When the deputy governor of the state, Benson Abounu, visited the area on Monday to assess the situation on ground, he described the crisis as “unacceptable and unbecoming,’’ wondering why it has continued despite government interventions. He said the youths of Agatu no longer listened to their elders and traditional rulers, and warned that henceforth, perpetrators would be dealt with, adding that traditional rulers and community elders would no longer be held responsible for crises. He said that security agents would be deployed to handle the crisis for better results.

“It is no longer business as usual for killers and evil doers in Agatu. Henceforth, anyone who kills shall also be killed, according to the law. No one among the killers shall get away with it this time around. One of the victims was buried here One of the victims was buried here “The Benue State Government and the entire State Security Council condole with the entire Agbaduma community over the wanton killing of their loved ones. We assure them of protection of lives and property as anyone who kills must face the long hand of the law,’’ Abounu said. The community leader and chairman, Elite Forum, Okokolo, Peter Entonu, presented a list containing 25 names of those who were killed in the attack to the deputy governor. They include Shaidu Magaji, Baba Odoje, Musa Adanu, Okor Godwin, Samuel Ojepa, Ochowoka Anebi, Shagari Odenyi, Anebi Imaikwu, Samuel Isaac Ngbede, Oboh Francis, Omaji Baba, Sunday Obi and Ezekiel Omanchi. Others are Blessing Paul, Ngbede Abraham, Amodu Ikwunja, Sule Ogwaje, Samuel Ogboche (Jumoh), Anebi Edoh, Gado Sule, Sule Eigege, Sule Ogwaje, a little girl who was killed on the road and abandoned, as well as two other persons said to still be missing. The deputy governor thereafter announced a daily curfew between 6pm and 6am within the troubled zones – Obagaji, Egba, down to Okokolo and Abugbe axis, until further notice.

He warned that anyone found in the streets during the curfew hours shall have himself or herself to blame. Other resolutions reached by the Benue State Government, in collaboration with the State Security Council, on the crisis in both communities include that: Ologba people must produce the missing man from Oweto, who allegedly went to the area and the Egba axis to sell herbicides. Also, that Akwu people must produce the body of one Jumoh Ogbodubi from Okokolo, who was seen passing through Akwu to Adagbo but disappeared, only for his burnt motorcycle to be found. Jumoh Ogbodubi was the youth leader in Okokolo. The resolution also sought for the cooperation of all Agatu persons towards producing the perpetrators of Sunday attack on Okokolo community, which led to the death of 25 persons. The deputy governor and his entourage were further conducted around the graveyards of those who were killed and buried. He was accompanied by the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Sir John Ngbede; a state House of Assembly member representing Agatu constituency, Godwin Abu Edoh; Solomon Agidani, Alhaji Isa Usman, a former special adviser to the governor on monitoring and evaluation, and former state lawmaker, Sule Audu; representative of Och’Idoma, and traditional rulers in the area. Meanwhile, the caretaker chairman of Agatu Local Government, Usman Alilu, said the names of the perpetrators had been submitted to him and he would hand them over to security men for immediate action. At the time of filing this report, the paramount ruler of Agatu, Chief Godwin Onah, could not be reached for comment as his telephone line was not connecting.


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