No community has the right to invade another community, to kidnap and kill citizens of another community, and to hold members as prisoners of war.
Inter-community conflicts caused by border disputes are a common feature of life in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, the conflicts tend to generate feelings of mutual destruction. Inter-community dispute is an obstacle to socio-economic development. Human, financial, and material resources are often invested needlessly in aiding, advancing, and sustaining community conflicts. When a community is constantly attacked by another community, when a community is raided and its resources pillaged by another community, there is that temptation for the community on the receiving end to commence a tit-for-tat response.
Border disputes have never advanced the economic development of communities. They undermine rather than improve the welfare of communities. Inter-community disputes have never been known to solve the problems of any society. Harmonious relationships with neighbours, mutual collaboration, cooperation, and freedom from strife serve as the engines that fire the spirit of local community development. When people say that unity is strength or that unity is a powerful symbol of development, they emphasise supremacy of partnership and group effort over hostile, divisive, and disorderly conduct that provoke unnecessary conflict.
No community has the right to invade another community, to kidnap and kill citizens of another community, and to hold members of another community as prisoners of war. If there is rule of law in the country, if law and order are vigorously enforced, if the welfare, wellbeing, security, and safety of citizens are promoted and guaranteed by the federal and state governments, invasion of one community by another could be checked. If intelligence organisations and security agencies are as nimble and alert as those who advocate the destruction of other human beings, there should be no reason why any community should worry about possible invasion of its territory by citizens of a neighbouring community.
Unfortunately, inter-community conflict engendered by border dispute is on the rise. These things occur because law and order have broken down, because governments have shown little or no concern for the welfare, wellbeing, and security of ordinary citizens, and because those who promote war sentiments tend to benefit most from inter-community conflicts. Someone once said that inter-community disputes are commercially profitable. That remark is an accurate representation of the situation in various communities that have experienced no peace for decades.
The traditional rulers of Isu kingdom in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State have expressed despair over the constant raids of their communities by some people they allege to come from Utuma, a neighbouring Cross River State community in Biase Local Government Area. Angered by the regular raids of their villages, Isu traditional rulers say they are now compelled to appeal to Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, to intervene. Their petition to the governor was dated July 22, 2018.
In a letter to the Abia State Governor, Isu traditional rulers chronicled the ceaseless invasion of their communities. They said the raids on their villages were mostly sudden and unprovoked. Twenty of the villagers, the petition said, have lost their lives to the invaders. Isu traditional rulers also said property worth millions of naira in their communities have been lost to the incessant raids.
The most worrying allegation made by the Isu traditional rulers was that five of their villages have now been occupied by the invading forces. The petition alleged that the Isu Secondary Commercial School, as well as three primary schools and a nomadic school have been abandoned following the raids. If the allegations outlined in the petition are an accurate representation of the relationship between Isu communities and their Cross River State neighbours, something urgent must be done to stop the invasion.
In contention really is whether Isu communities of Iheosu, Aba, and others belong to Abia State or Cross River State. The dispute is deeply historical and would require insights from historians and well-informed citizens to clear the misunderstanding. The inter-community dispute presents serious challenges that call for urgent solutions. Political settlement is required and it must be done quickly. Governor Ikpeazu should investigate the serious allegations of abuse of human rights, illegal occupation of Isu communities by external agents, and threats to life of people in Isu, as detailed in the petition written by traditional rulers of Isu kingdom. The petition should not be dismissed as frivolous because there are weighty issues raised therein that require proper, urgent, full, and independent investigation and assessment.
Isu people cannot continue to live in perpetual fear of their neighbours. Apart from loss of lives, the dispute has already caused incalculable damage to economic activities in the communities and villages. Innocent school children have, unfortunately, been turned into victims of a dispute they did not generate. School children deserve a healthy and collegial learning environment to continue with their studies. They don’t have to constantly look over their shoulders for signs of an invading force. Local farmers do not need to be constantly harassed and chased out of their land and deprived of their agricultural produce. What is a life worth when people are forced to live like refugees in their own state?
Isu traditional rulers have drawn up a list of measures they would like to see Governor Ikpeazu implement to end the relentless raids on their communities. The measures include: strengthening security by stationing soldiers in the villages, as well as establishment of a permanent police post to be located between Iheosu and Aba Isu; an invitation to the National Boundary Commission to define the precise boundary between Abia and Cross River states; provision of relief material to displaced people in Isu communities, including the renovation of the dilapidated primary school currently holding displaced families; and an invitation to the National Emergency Management Agency to attend to the needs of displaced members of Isu communities.
Surely, Abia and Cross River state governments would not want the communities to engage in a full-scale confrontation. If that happens, it would signify the failure of diplomacy and endorsement of the assumption that might is right. Rampant invasion of one community by citizens of another community must never be tolerated. No community should operate as a policing force against another community. Forceful appropriation of people’s land and property can never resolve long-standing border disputes between Isu community in Abia State and communities in Cross River State.
Peaceful coexistence will be sustained if the parties in a conflict initiate the process. The two state governments must find a way to resolve the conflict between the communities. A war of words will not solve the problem. There is every reason to move quickly now to resolve this conflict driven by mutual misunderstanding about the exact boundary between Abia and Cross River state communities.
Whatever happens, we must remember this. When the heart of a community such as Isu goes down, the heart of the state and other communities will go down with it. It is in the interests of Abia and Cross River state governments to resolve this dispute once and for all.