Crisis is rocking the Nkalagu community in the Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. Residents in the community said hoodlums had been terrorising the area, battering them with weapons, inflicting machete cuts on them, destroying and burning houses, cars and motorcycles.
There have been crises in the state with the administration of Governor David Umahi making efforts to rid the state of violence. Crises have been experienced in Izziland, in the Izzi Local Government Area of the state and their neighbours in Ikwo Local Government Area of the state and between Ukele, in the Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State; Ezilo community, in the Ishielu LGA and their neighbours including in Ivo Local Government Area of the state and their neighbours, in Abia State.
A resident of Nkalagu community, 36-year-old tricycle operator, Uchenna Oke, said life in the community had become dreary, saying his wife, currently nursing a two-month-old baby, lives in fear.
Oke alleged he received several machete cuts on May 8 when he arrived in the community to see his wife who just gave birth then. He added that his assailants beat him to a coma at the Nkalagu junction with weapons before abandoning him.
He said, “On May 8, I came to my community (Nkalagu) from Enugu State, to see my wife who just put to bed. On getting to the community junction, I saw some people coming in a group with machetes, axes and guns. I wondered what was happening, but they violently approached me. As I wanted to run, they blocked my way and held me. They started beating me and inflicted machetes cuts on my body. When they were done, they tied me and dumped me on the road. It was later that police came and took me in their van to a hospital.
“My assailants instill fear in the community by torching houses, cars, motorcycles and beating people. I come to the community from Enugu State to see my family every day because I can’t sleep in my house anymore. People’s lives are in danger here.”
He called on the government to come to the aid of the residents whom he said were in danger.
Forty-six-year-old member of Nkalagu Vigilante, Mr Eze Monday, who is from Imeoha village, in Nkalagu community, said on May 19, 2020, around 6am, he was going to collect money from someone to take his sick sister to the hospital when he saw some people running after him.
“When they got to where I was, they inflicted machete cuts on my head and leg. I started running until I got to a house and ran inside it. They looked for me everywhere and could find me. When they searched and couldn’t find me, they started shooting. Later on, they left and I called the vigilante chairman who came to the place and took me to my house. From there, he took me to the hospital where I was treated.
“I don’t have problems with them and I really couldn’t say why they attacked me that morning. I don’t know what their anger is all about because before now, the community used to be peaceful. The situation has thrown the community into panic. We can’t even go to farms again to do our normal farming work because of molestation.’’
For 38-year-old farmer, Mr Nnaji Nnamdi, from Akiyi village, the current situation in the community had thrown the entire community into anxiety.
Lamenting the spate of lawlessness going on in the area, Nnaji alleged that his 83-year-old father was beaten and subjected to all forms of humiliation by the attackers when they besieged his home.
He appealed to the Ebonyi State Government to urgently look into the matter to save the community from imminent danger.
Nnaji stated, “On May 18, 2020, my father called me to come to the village that something unusual was happening there. Immediately I heard that, I picked my phone and called the DPO of the area and informed him of what I heard about my compound.
“I left Abakaliki immediately for Nkalagu and before I got to my compound, I parked somewhere and hid inside the bush close to my house. Then I saw the hoodlums coming out from my house one by one. When they all left, I went into the house and saw my 83-year-old father sitting on the floor crying. I asked him what happened. My father said some boys came to the house, asked him to sit down and said since they did not see me they would kill him.
“He said it was one of them that suggested that they should not kill him, but instead should destroy my house. Then I went to a police station to report what happened.’’
Nnaji urged the state governor to intervene in the matter, adding that they wouldn’t leave their community because of hoodlums.
A community in the grip of violence
Crisis broke out in the Nkalagu community on May 18, 2020, over the leadership of the Nkalagu Town Development Union.
Between May 18 and August 6, 2020, about five houses were allegedly destroyed by the hoodlums. Also, about 13 motorcycles were said to have been burnt.
Like the old Afikpo zone in Imo State and later in Abia, Nkalagu was created in Enugu State, and later in Ebonyi State, when it was created in 1996.
A peaceful agrarian community, the residents are predominantly farmers growing maize, sweet potatoes, cassava, yam, rice, okra and other things, which they sell within the area and to neighbouring cities such as Enugu, Makurdi, Abakaliki and some parts of Cross River.
Nkalagu is in Ishielu LGA, Ebonyi Central zone of the state, represented by Senator Obinna Ogba of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Fifty-four-year-old farmer, Mr Ogbuzuru Sunday, appeared traumatised as he narrated his ordeal at the hands of the hoodlums to our correspondent.
Sunday said, “It was in the morning of Thursday, August 6, 2020, when I prepared to travel to Abakaliki from Nkalagu. On getting to the junction, where we normally take bus to Abakaliki, three of the hoodlums who have been terrorising the community met me there. They beat me up, asked me to sit on the ground at the junction after flogging me with dangerous weapons. Not satisfied, they stopped a motorcyclist and dragged me on the motorcycle towards Enugu boundary. Before the boundary, they entered into a primary school.
“Inside the school, they beat me up again, stripped me naked, flogged me, and as they were going, they took my wallet containing ATM cards and other things.’’
A 49-year-old civil servant, Mrs Onyinriugwu Maureen, said residents of the community no longer sleep with their eyes closed because of what she described as the activities of hoodlums.
Maureen stated that the thugs engaged in several nefarious acts such as terrorising residents, attempting to rape women, burning and destroying people’s houses and vehicles.
She said, “Last market day, they forced the traders to pay market levies. The poor traders first resisted them because they were not the known Nkalagu Town Development Union leaders that usually peacefully collect market levies. This caused serious crisis on that day and people’s property and goods were destroyed and some motorcycles were stolen.’’
Another resident of the area, a 42-year-old civil servant, Mr Emeokoro Okwudili, stated that the current crisis in the area portended a looming danger. He lamented that the residents had become helpless amid the situation.
He added, “The worst thing is that the crisis is being perpetrated by those who are supposed to be their brothers’ keepers. But I have a strong belief that one day, the gods of the land would rise against the atrocities they are committing and none of them would be spared.’’
A lawyer to the Nkalagu community, Micheal Odoh, said that if security agencies and the state government refused to rise up to the occasion over the situation in the community it could lead to obstruction of economic life of the people.
He alleged that the failure of police to bring perpetrators of violence in the community to justice was encouraging crime in the area.
Odoh said, “I am aware that the community has a complete structure of leadership. It has a traditional ruler, a councillor before his tenure ended, an effective town union and a vibrant vigilance group.’’
When contacted, the spokesperson for the state police command, Mrs Loveth Odah, said she had yet to receive reports of cases of violence in the community.
“I have not heard or received any report about the situation in Nkalagu. And I won’t comment on an issue I have little or no knowledge about,” Odah said.
Speaking on the matter, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security (Ebonyi Central), Mr Onyekachi Nwoba, noted that there was no feeling of brotherliness among the people in Nkalagu.
Nwoba, who said the governor attached importance to the life of every resident in the state, noted that the state government through the Ministry of Internal Security and Border Peace, had directed stakeholders in the area to work together for peace.
The governor’s aide, who spoke to our correspondent on the phone, said “There is no peace and love among the people, because I don’t see why nothing should cause fighting and quarrels among brothers.’’
Also speaking, the Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Chief Stanley Emegha, stated that nothing would hinder the state government from ensuring peace in every troubled part of the state.
The commissioner said, “I don’t think that a normal person can carry out such acts against his fellow brothers, no matter the level of anger. But if that has become the order of the day in Nkalagu, then it is really an inhuman act against humanity. Nobody has drawn the attention of my ministry or that of the state government to this alleged ugly development. We are not aware of that. However, if truly such things happen in Nkalagu, the perpetrators will not go unpunished.
“Whoever has such information and brings it to our knowledge, has done us favour and it is our duty to investigate it and bring perpetrators to book. We have done same in different places in Ebonyi State and we will still do it again.’’
Emegha added that at Nkwo Market in Nkalagu community, motorcyclists were required to pay for tickets ranging from N20.00 to N30.00 daily and the market management uses money generated to run the market.
He said, “So if somebody said motorcycles were seized in the area, find out if it is because those whose motorcycles were seized did not pay for these daily N20 or N30 tickets. Somebody could have refused to pay for the tickets, which led the management of the market to seize his motorcycle. I said the market management uses the money they generate to take care of the market. They don’t give it to the state government because it is not for the state government. They use it for the running of the market.
“Now, that’s by the way. Last Thursday, about six days ago and that was on the last Nkwo market day, His Excellency Governor David Umahi, called me and said there was a crisis in the market. He ordered that I should move straight to Nkalagu to ensure that normalcy was restored in the market. I went there with a team of special assistants, political appointees and other stakeholders from the area. And when we got there, even though there was a minor misunderstanding there, peace was restored immediately and traders and buyers went about their business freely.
“There was no cause for alarm there. While there, I was told of a young man who was inflicted with several machete cuts and receiving treatment in a hospital. I urged them to take me to the hospital, they refused; and, I decided to go to the hospital myself and when I got there, I didn’t see anybody there.
“The governor said I should remain there until the end of the market and make sure that there was peace and be reporting to him. I told the governor that there was nothing happening there. He said from the report he got, he couldn’t believe there was nothing amiss in the Nkwo Market area of Nkalagu community. I told him again that nothing was happening.
“It was at this point that the governor asked me to invite them (feuding persons). Actually, there have been differences among youths in the Nkalagu community. The youth are quarrelling over who would be in control of the collection of tolls in the area. That is what is causing the seeming rivalry in the community. However, I invited them, including the stakeholders from the area to the meeting. The meeting was a fruitful one. They all came to my office and after admonishing them, they all came back to their senses.’’
He further said the state government had set up a committee to look into the remote and immediate cause of the problems in the community.
“The committee is chaired by an advisory member from Ezza North and it has two other advisory members. It also has the coordinator of the Ishielu West Development Centre; the traditional ruler of the community, key stakeholders from the area and the two contending actors as members. The task before the committee is to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the area and ensure love and peace return among the natives. It was a good one. The committee members promised to work assiduously, ‘’ Emegha added.