Andrew Idele, a native of Ukelle in Cross River State, was in tears recently. He was inconsolable over an early morning attack by their neighbours.
Idele alleged that Izzi neighbours from Ebonyi State attacked them early hours one Thursday morning.
“Our attackers planed to bring down the whole of Ukelle community. But we resisted them. Many of our people were injured, some were receiving medical treatment in Calabar, while others were attended to in other orthopaedic homes,” Idele said.
It was one of those communal crises between communities in Cross River State and another in Ebonyi State. In this particular incident, the battle was between Ukelle community in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River and Izzi community in Ebonyi.
Idele’s narrative and reported cases of fatalities arising from communal clashes in some parts of the country speak volume of how bestial many Nigerians have become in their dealings with fellow compatriots.
Sadly, many Nigerians actually no longer place any value on human lives.
On a daily basis, the media is awash with news about mindless killings arising from communal clashes. Communal clashes have been rampant in Kogi, involving the people of Gbanchuku/Kporoka and Numaye communities, all in Lokoja Local Government area of the state. There have also been such upheavals in Plateau State and some other states across the country.
On Sunday 31 March two persons were murdered following a renewed communal clash between the people of Oku Iboku in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State and Mbiabo in Odukpani Local Government Area of Cross River State.
The two victims, a class teacher and a young man, were said to have been killed in the clash while several other persons sustained various degrees of injuries, and many were rendered homeless.
Atim Umo, an eyewitness, said she lost her aunt, who was a teacher. “The Oku Iboku people crossed the waters to our community and killed my auntie, a primary school teacher in Mbiabo. Our house was razed down and my brother happened to escape from their wrath with severe injuries.
“This is the second time my family is gruesomely affected in this unending war between the two local government areas. The Cross River State government must stand up to challenge the neighbouring state to bring lasting peace in our community,” she said.
This incident occurred after about 20 persons were killed on Friday February 10, 2017 in similar clash in the same area.
“Odukpani people are dying like fowls every day because of the communal clash between Odukpani and Itu Local Government in Akwa Ibom. Oku Iboku villagers came to our village (Mbiabo) and destroyed houses and killed people like cows,” said another villager, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The villager added, “Cross River State Government only knows us during election period and voting.
The crisis between these communities is traceable to ages as the Odukpani people claimed that the Itu people usually cross the river, which is the perceived boundary to come and fight them.
Currently, there is no house standing close to the Itu Bridge when going to Akwa Ibom from Cross River State, due to the communal clashes in recent times.
There have always been hostilities between the Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups in Taraba State which have also claimed several lives. Just last Monday, about four persons were feared dead with several houses burnt in a clash between the Jukun and Tiv ethnic groups in the Wukari Local Government Area of the state.
Jerry Luka, an eyewitness, who gave account of the incident, said the trouble started in Kente village one evening when youths from both ethnic groups clashed over a misunderstanding.
The misunderstanding, he said, led to the killing of two people in Kente while another two were also killed around the General Hospital in Wukari, the following morning.
There is also a festering boundary dispute between Abia community and its Cross River neighbours? Few weeks ago, there was a bloody clash between the people of Isu clan in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State and their neighbours from Utuma in Biase Local Government Area of Cross River State.
The clash was said to have left 10 persons dead and scores of houses reportedly set ablaze. It also left the Abia community deserted as people fled the in search of safety.
According to Nicholas Igwe Kalu, a community leader from Isu, “Over 10 persons were killed in the fracas while several houses were burnt down as well.”
Gbenga Oduntan, associate professor in International Commercial Law, University of Kent, believes that communal clashes are recurring decimal in many African and other Third World countries. Sometimes, some developed countries experience it. “Border disputes have been a reality on this continent. Pre-colonial Africa was hardly a setting of harmony and bliss between African peoples. Most kingdoms paid attention to territorial control and did adapt some precise boundaries. But border disputes are not the preserve of Africa, as the recent conflict between the Ukraine and Russia attests,” Oduntan said.
The negative impact of communal wars between communities cannot be underestimated as many Nigerians presently live in the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps located in places outside their communities. Many of these people not only lose their loved ones but also their houses, businesses and other belongings which compound their woes.
In Nigeria, most boundary disputes can be traced to struggle for land ownership and encroachment into people’s property. In this kind of dispute, people (villagers) need to move away from the era of taking justice by force (through war) to seeking professional and alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
Nigerians should learn to consult the judiciary system (court), in resolving communal disputes rather than taking laws into their hands.
Niamh O’reilly, chair of the Society’s Geomatics Professional Group, and Patrick Shine, a chartered Geomatics Surveyor and Chartered Civil Engineer, in their article titled, ‘Beyond the Bounds: Resolving Boundary Disputes,’ said: “Most boundary disputes are well suited to mediation, which has become an increasingly popular alternative to the courts for resolving disputes. Mediation has the potential to preserve a civilised relationship between neighbours and prevent unnecessary costly litigation. The process provides the parties with an opportunity to address any underlying issues, which may have acted as a catalyst in the escalation of the boundary dispute.”
According to them, resolving boundary disputes particularly (land dispute) requires the skills and expertise of both surveyors and lawyers, who work together as a team.
“The lawyer will provide all necessary deeds and documentation, and an interpretation of these as required by the surveyor for their investigation into determining the legal position of the boundary, while the surveyor will provide the lawyer with independent advice relating to the spatial aspects of the property,” O’reilly and Shine added.
For, Gbenga Oduntan, when a dispute matures enough for political attention, governments should: declare an open dispute; involve pertinent interstate commissions; seek the help of a neutral study group to discover and delineate the issues; initiate technical studies and hold seminars for parties involve, and initiate direct negotiations to resolved the dispute amicably rather than allowing people to die for nothing.