Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
People of the riverine communities of Nzam and Umunwelum Anam in Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra state are still counting their losses following the burning down of their houses and farm lands by youths in the wake of the renewed land dispute in the area.
The communities had been embroiled in protracted boundary dispute which reportedly started since 1941.
It was gathered that the renewed hostilities which started on January 14, 2019 had claimed properties worth millions of naira but no life was lost, so far.
Daily Sun was told that trouble started when youths from Umunwelum Anam removed signpost allegedly mounted by the people of Nzam community at the boundary. Nzam youths responded negatively which prompted youths from both sides to storm the farm settlement/camps of their neighbours and set the farm houses, farm produce and seedlings ablaze.
The source said that in retaliation of the removal of the signpost, the youths of Nzam community allegedly mobilized using speed boats and went to the farm settlement/camp of Umunwelum community and burnt down their houses and properties worth millions of naira as both sides were said to have fired sporadic gunshots in the air to scare any possible attack.
President General of Umunwelum, Mr. Clement Chigbata, a lawyer said that it was Nzam youths who came and mounted signpost in their land which the youths of his community removed before Nzam youths visted destruction on their farms and houses.
He said that the leaders of the two communities had signed peace pact and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) where they resolved to sheath their sword and embrace peace.
“The people of Nzam wrote my community that they wanted to mount a signpost at Ara. So, we asked our elders who know the boundary to approach them; they had gone to the site twice and our elders had not given us clear information about the place. We were going to Akaba people whom we have common boundary with not even the Nzam people. The matter was being discussed and was not concluded before they came and placed the signpost and our youths removed the signpost. Instead of them coming to complain to our elders that their signpost was removed, their youths went and destroyed properties by setting the farm houses ablaze with farm produce in the houses at farm settlements. We have had several peace meetings and where both communities signed MoU for peace pact”, he disclosed.
He listed items destroyed by the youths of Nzam to include houses at farm settlements, farm produce like tubers of yam, speed boats, canoes among others.
Chigbata appealed to the state government to come their aid to resettle the displaced farmers, compensate them and also provide them with other items destroyed in the crisis for them to continue with their normal lives.
On his part, Chigbata’s counterpart from Nzam community; Prince Victor Okolo alleged that the youths of Umunwelum were the aggressors. According to him, they removed the signpost mounted by his community at the boundary and stationed a roadblock where they beat up a woman from Nzam and proceeded to destroy other things in their villages.
“We were summoned to a meeting with the Local Government Chairman of Anambra West where we agreed to make peace and sign peace pact and MoU to be peaceful and it was agreed that if there is any attack from any side; the presidents general should be held responsible. I immediately summoned my people to caution them to remain calm. But as we were at the meeting, we received information that the people of Umunwelum Anam went to a neighbouring community known as Mmiata Anam and abducted two persons from Echom who came to market in Otuocha claiming that they are Igala speaking people because we speaks Igala language. The youths of Umunwelum had earlier invaded Nzam farm settlement and set the houses there ablaze.
“We did not put the signpost in Umunwelum land but we put it at the boundary to indicate when you enter Nzam and when you leave Nzam. We wrote a letter to the community to inform them of our intention to put the signpost since June last year but there was no reply till date. They are not the owners of the land, this boundary issue started since 1941”, he stated.
Okolo alleged that what actually caused the crisis was while they mounted the roadblock for three days; the Umunwelum youths went to a farm in Nzam community, about 2kilometres near the boundary and beat up a woman and asked her to inform her people that the farm land was not located in Nzam land.
“They told the woman that they don’t want to see anybody within that area again before our people rose to counter them”, he said.
He appealed to the government to calm the situation to avoid escalation, saying that the neighbouring communities needed peace.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO); Mr. Haruna Mohammed a Superintendent of Police who confirmed the incident said that joint patrol teams comprising of the police, the army and other sister security agencies were immediately deployed to the area to restore peace and order as well as the arrest perpetrators.
According to him, “The situation was brought under control, and two suspects have been arrested and intensive patrols are ongoing by combined security forces to restore lasting peace in the affected communities.”