10 March 2010

Nigeria: Ebonyi - The Politics of Ezillo-Ezza Crisis


Abakaliki — Ebonyi State, recently exploded once again in violence, which is fast creating part of the picture of its identity of a hotbed for mindless killings. In the intra-communal crisis that rocked Onicha Igboeze in Onitcha Local Government Area of the state, home of the state Deputy Governor, Chibuzo Ogbu, in 2007, hundreds of lives, including those of two policemen, were lost.

The violence was between Ezillo and Ezza, two communities in the Ishielu Local Government of Ebonyi State. The dispute that eventually snowballed into killing of many persons and destruction of properties in the Ebonyi Central political bloc, is said to have been age long. Before now, similar crises had been confined within the warring communities.

But the latest incident, according to witnesses, clearly went out of the ordinary, as the killing and maiming were extended to passersby who were on their legitimate businesses. It was the turning point that bred the suspicion that the matter could have been stained by political tar. Beside the economic losses, the polity has suffered a twist that has brought to the forefront the ordinarily latent differences within the ranks of the key political players in the state.

Before the rash of the war, some notable politicians in the area were said to have studiously worked behind the scene to stoke campaigns, which resulted in numerous attacks on the new government in the state, led by Governor Martin Elechi.

It is actually not clear yet the particular acts that have given rise to the suspicion of politics in the clash between the two communities, believed to be critical to the politics of not only the area, but entire state or whether these elements are the ones being linked to the crisis.

But it is apparent that many of the stakeholders in the area are not at best of terms with the state government and the incumbent in particular.

In fact, the hide and seek activities that had trailed political events in the state, almost got into the open on December 31st, 2009, at the Forum of Former Aides, who worked under the administration of Elechi's predecessor, Dr. Sam Omonyi Egwu, currently the Minister of Education.

Though the idea full details were still shrouded in secrecy at the event, its full import began to manifest when one Nwanne Ominyi, a former aide and kinsman of Egwu, in progress organised press conferences, challenging the decision of the executives of ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state for saying that they were supporting the incumbent governor for the second term.

Ominyi, was said to have sent the text messages inviting people to the December 31st parley, a summons, some of the allies of Egwu turned down seeing him as not in the right political weight to be the one to sign such an invitation. In fact some interpreted it as a brazen challenge to the governor.

In that same light, the managers of Elechi's political structure, which allegedly saw it as debasing, refused to join issues in that respect.

So, the politicians with that sort of feeling, did not attend the meeting including Senators Julius Ali Ucha and Anthony Agbo.

Before the dust raised by the contentions incident could settle, Chief Adol Awam, one-time Chairman of a local government council came up in a press conference saying that the executives of the state PDP as constituted were not to the interest of the party. To that, the state Chairman of the party, Engineer David Umahi blew the lid, declaring that: what you heard is the voice of Dr. Sam Ergwu.

With the statement coming from the PDP boss, seen as a good ally of both Egwu and Elechi, it is no longer a matter of conjecture that things were not at ease with the party. Indeed, it rather confirmed the alleged deep rift between allies of the governor and his predecessor.

The only vagueness is where Umahi could in due course pitch his tent when it would matter most. As sanguine as politicians could be, the ranks of Egwu believe that he still has the chance of coming up as the National Chairman of the PDP, a job he sought and lost about two years ago. If that comes to be, where would Umahi, a beneficiary of the major contracts of the incumbent governor Elechi stand, political observers ask, more so as the party Chairman is said to be angling for the Deputy governorship in 2011, to prepare him for the governorship come 2015?

Nonetheless, the PDP boss, an eventful business mogul, told Daily Independent that his major concern is to sustain the cordial relationship he shares with Elechi for which reason he was ready to serve him at any capacity.

Nevertheless, the duo of Sam Egwu and his successor seems to have managed the situation so well that the issue of the rift, which appears quite apparent, remains at the level of guesswork.

Prior to the latest assaults that claimed lives, including those of policemen, the state government had said it uncovered plans by some politicians in the area to import arms and ammunitions.

The mission of such elements, the government said, was to embarrass the soldiers guarding troubled Ezillo community and blow up of the multi-million naira Ezillo Water scheme located in the area.

The state Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Comrade Egwu Chima, at the Government House, Abakaliki, disclosed that there were renewed plots to advance the assault saying that, "these hirelings are already on the prowl, ready to unleash mayhem in Ezillo any moment from now." According to him, "they even intend to embarrass the soldiers who have maintained an unusual peaceful posture in the area all these troubled times, and it is probably imperative and worthy of emphasis, to state that the soldiers who have for long been stationed to keep peace had in spite of provocations refused to react negatively.

"As security reports have revealed, the latest plan of action includes heavy importation of arms and ammunitions, the soldiers should not be held responsible should they now opt to defend their own lives and the lives of other Ebonyi people and their property," he warned.

The government's spokesman, who was flanked by the Commissioners for Grants and Donor Agencies, Fred Udeogu and his Local Government and Chieftaincy counterpart, Chief Celestine Nwali explained that the crisis was being funded and aided by desperate politicians who though were indigenes of the state, had constituted themselves as "urban guerillas because they live outside the state."

He revealed the unscrupulous elements had earlier attempted to use explosives to destroy the Ezillo Water scheme, which the government had expended much funds to put in good stead. The government added that all those who had allowed themselves to be used as tools for the nefarious activities should beware as all security steps had been put in motion, not only to bring the culprits to book, but to ensure that they were adequately dealt with by law.

The fracas it could be recalled started since May 10th, 2008 in the sleepy communities, leading to heinous killings. As at the time of filing this report it was yet uncertain as to whether the war is over or not. Most of those who spoke to Daily Independent on the issue, explained that the matter barely needs political solution as the poor young men fighting the wars could not have been doing so much without the financing of some people while they also called on the state government to come down from its current high horse, look inwards as the situation demands urgent actions, not minding whose ego is hurt.

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