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A weekend of grief in Oruku, Enugu State

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Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

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If there was something that took away sleep from the eyes of Enugu governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, two years ago, it was how to settle the age long rift between Umuode and Oruku communities in Nkanu East council of the state. The crisis, which predated his administration, had brought the communities to their knees, having defied measures by previous administrations to resolve it.

It was said to be a matter of residential space that developed out of what was regarded as Indigene-settler driven conflict. Oruku had considered Umuode as one of its ‘settlers’ and as such was not entitled to certain environmental resources. This created a major crisis around 1990, erupting into fatal confrontations between the two communities.

For over 25 years, the communities engaged each other in battle – burning houses on several occasions, killing themselves with economic and other activities standing at standstill. Only a handful of aged men and women were left in the communities.

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However, after several peace efforts, Ugwuanyi in June 2019, settled the age-long inter communal hostilities between the two communities. On June 15, 2019, leaders of the two communities were made to sign an agreement on land ownership and boundary delineation

A month after they reached a truce, they returned to Enugu Government House on a “thank you” visit to the governor for his efforts. Now, less than two years after peace was achieved, Oruku community has returned to war with itself. A major clash that erupted on Saturday night has left some persons injured with over 40 houses, several shops and market burnt by gunmen suspected to be cultists.

When The Guardian, visited the troubled community on Sunday afternoon, it discovered the community had become almost a ‘ghost community’. Only a handful of people were still left in the community as its members had fled for fear of being killed by the hoodlums who were said to have invaded the community around 6.30pm on Saturday branding AK-47 rifles. The hoodlums were said to have operated till 7.30 am on Sunday.

The smoke still oozing from some of the burnt buildings on Sunday afternoon confirmed that it was not long the invaders left the community. In Oruku, the entire atmosphere evoked a feeling of a community at war. Even the air was blowing hot with occasional sounds coming mainly from the security officials drafted to quell the problem.

Among the houses burnt in the deserted community were those of the late traditional ruler of Aguikpa autonomous community, the late traditional ruler of Oruku autonomous community, Igwe Emmanuel Mbah and former Council chairman for Nkanu East, Mr. Ejike Ani. Inside some of the rubbles were household items among others, whose owners abandoned and fled.

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The gun –wielding group were said to have arrived at the community and started shooting sporadically and in the process, set ablaze all that they could lay hands upon before fleeing.

It was not the first time the community was going into flames in the last one month. In fact, on December 26, last year, its traditional ruler, Igwe Mbah was killed in a broad day light, while he was addressing a meeting of the community. Mbah was killed by gunmen, allegedly drawn from the Special Weapons and Tactical Squad (SWAT) who were said to have arrived the community that afternoon.

Exactly a year the late monarch ascended the throne, having been elected on December 26, 2019. The latest onslaught on the community was coming barely two weeks after the Enugu state governor set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the disturbances in the area that led to the killing of the monarch.

Last Wednesday, the committee, headed by Justice Harold Eya, had called for submission of memoranda on the disturbances in the area, stressing that such must come not later than February 1, this year.

Sources told The Guardian that the community had been unsettled since 1990, following subtle moves from some of its members to have an autonomous community carved out of the existing Oruku Community. This was said to have led to the creation of the Aguikpa autonomous community recently, but it still did not provide the needed solution.

Other sources traced the crisis to the emergence of Mbah as the traditional ruler for Oruku in 2019. It stated that while the state government endorsed his emergence and issued him the needed certificates, some notable community members refused to recognise him, insisting that he never merited the office. They said that he emerged through the back door to “crown himself” the traditional ruler and ‘imposed’ himself on the people. The people had gone into protest over the alleged development, especially when it was discovered that he had been endorsed by the state government.

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In September last year, the late Mbah had given an inkling into the crisis in the community when he accused a serving Nigerian Army officer, Major Raphael Okenwa, his uncle, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Chief Raymond Okenwa, one Moses Nnamani, and others of unnecessarily stoking tension in the area, as well as carrying out a campaign of calumny against his person.

Mbah, in a petition he addressed to the Brigade Commander 4, Brigade, Nigerian Army, Benin City, Edo State, where the officer is serving, and another by “Concerned citizens of Oruku Community”, he had said that the officer was out to tarnish his hard-earned reputation and image, following his emergence as the monarch of the community and his disposition towards probing how past leadership in the area allegedly used community’s commonwealth to enrich themselves.

He traced the crisis to his determination to probe how past leadership fed fat on community funds including withdrawing N35 million in one month from the bank and allocation of various plots of community lands to themselves and their stooges at the detriment of other members of the community.

Contacted then, Chief Okenwa, had dismissed the allegations against him by the traditional ruler.

He had said; “I am sorry for him, because he is a drowning man looking for what to hold unto.

“Although, I wouldn’t want to join issues with him, he knows what to do, let him go to court. But I think he should better go and face the charges facing him.”

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Lamenting the present crisis, a widow, Jane Nwatu said: “Some persons came to my house around 7:00pm on Saturday and asked me to come out. Immediately I came out, they set fire to the house. Not even appeals that I am mourning my husband could stop them. They wanted to burn me inside the house. They burnt everything including our clothes.”

She called on the state government to intervene and save her from further troubles, stressing, “I don’t know where else to run to. I don’t have a roof over my head but I will not run away from anybody”.

State Commissioner of Police, Mohammad Aliyu, who described the incident as unfortunate, appealed to members of the community to calm and allow police to investigate cause of the violence.

He said “It is unfortunate and this is an unfortunate incident because from the information it has been an existing issue on the ground and I took over precisely three days ago. When I tried to find out when I heard the information my lieutenant told me they were not aware of the incident. Unfortunately, before we got here because of the distance the hoodlums had gone.”

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Ifeanyi UgwuanyiSWAT
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