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TIRED OF LIVING IN EXILE: WARRING COMMUNITY THREATENS TO RETURN HOME AT ALL COST

By NBF News
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Everybody appears to have been tired. The security agencies, the youths, the elders and even children appear to have given up hope of ever living in peace. The only entity which seems still strong is the crisis itself; making the people of Ikot Akpan Udo in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area and Amazaba in Eastern Obolo Local Government Area all in Akwa Ibom State continue to live like cat and dog.

But even some cats and dogs these days have found reasons to live together in peace. However, don't mention the word 'peace' when people from these two communities and around, as it appears they have vowed to fight till they eventually liquidate themselves and become modern day Carthage.

The crisis which The Sun had reported several times in the past, erupted in 2008 when the neighbouring communities, which hitherto had not been very friendly anyway, decided to start killing people from the other community. Each community always described the other as the aggressor.

By the time they came to their temporary senses, several people had been killed, scores of houses, including churches, schools and business premises had been torched; and the living had to run away from their homes and communities in order to live and fight another day.

The return of that fight now appears imminent, and maybe, it would come in a larger scale as the people of Amazaba say they are tired of being refugees in a strange land and have threatened to return home to live or die if the state government fails to stop the people of Ikot Akpan Udo from further vandalising their abandoned homeland.

The youths of the community, speaking through their president, Mr Joseph Elisha, told Daily Sun on Wednesday that they had obeyed the instruction of the state government to vacate their community but that they had turned out to be the losers as their cantankerous neighbours had capitalised on their absence to wreak more havoc on their deserted community and destroyed their means of livelihood.

While appealing to the government and other relevant authorities to come to their aid, Elisha stressed that their willingness to remain law-abiding did not in anyway mean that they could not fight for their right.

'Government advised us to remain peaceful and we heeded the advice but all we see is looting and vandalism of our property without any intervention from the state government or security agencies. If government cannot do anything to address the situation before December, we will pack our things and go back and be ready to face any consequences,' Elisha threatened.

The head of Ayama, one of the seven villages displaced by the crises, Chief Christopher John, expressed his regrets that though the Eastern Obolo/Ikot Abasi crisis is not the only communal clash the state is experiencing in recent times, theirs has taken a peculiar dimension as the only one the state government appears to take side.

While the state government, according to him, is providing Ikot Akpan Udo community with adequate security, the Amazaba people on the other hand, have been exposed to risk, threats, losses, vandalism and insecurity.

'The present government has allocated security agents to them but the reverse is the case in our community; we had made effort to go back but we had to run back because even the uniforms of the few police officers posted to the area, were burnt and our protection ended in fiasco. Please, tell the state government that we are eager to go back home.'

Chief John, who expressed regrets that two neighbouring communities, which had hitherto been living peacefully, intermarrying and co-existing over the years could suddenly rise against each other, still lay the blame on the state government for displaying some lukewarm attitude to the issue.

'A panel was set up to look into the crisis about three years ago but till now, nothing has been heard about such a panel and the delay is greasing the elbow of the other community. The government must come to our rescue because I believe that if government is interested in our going back, no Ikot Akpan Udo person can stop us.'

Everyone who spoke with our correspondent in some of the settlements where the seven villages have been taking refuge, appealed to the state government to come to their aid so that they could return home.

The displaced children, who appear to have been rigged out of the state government's free education programme by the crisis, have to make do with whatever sounds like education under any condition; sometime under trees. But they never forget to pray for their parents to see reasons to talk peace so that they would return and live in their homes and continue their education in peace.

A tour through the deserted community revealed some evidence of fresh vandalism of property; some houses were demolished or roofs of some houses were removed, glass shutters removed and the demolition seen even being carried out in broad dayl ight on Wednesday last week. It could not be established whether those involved were from Ikot Akpan Udo or from any other community even though Amazaba people said the havoc was effected by their warring neighbour.

Daily Sun learnt that Amazaba community had made several efforts to the state government and the security agencies to help them return home, yet no positive result has been received. For example, on March 3, 2009, the community wrote to the state commissioner of police and the state director of state security service (SSS), pleading with them that they wanted to return home. One September 17, 2009, the community had a meeting with the former deputy governor of the state, Obong Patrick Ekpotu, and pleaded with state government through him, to assist them to return to their homeland.

The meetings and letters had been continuing ever since, the latest being a series of meeting with their representatives in the state House of Assembly and the House of Representatives. Ironically, the two communities, though situated in two different local government areas, are represented by one person in the House of Assembly and one person in the House of Representatives as they belong to the same IKot Abasi/Eastern Obolo State Constituency and Ikot Abasi/Mkap Enin/Eastern Obolo Federal Constituency.

But the state Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr Aniekan Umanah, while debunking the claim that the state government was taking sides, told The Sun that even the Ikot Akpan Udo people were also agitating for the penal report to be made public. He said government could not take sides with any community to cause insecurity in any part of the state, promising to look find whether the report of the panel was ready and released accordingly.