Our men didn’t kill or rape women –Army
Outrage has greeted a military raid of war-torn Nko community in Cross River State, resulting in the alleged killing of seven persons and destruction of several houses. The soldiers were dispatched from 105 Battalion in Edor, Ikom Local Government Area, to enforce peace between Nko in Yakurr and Oyadama in Obubra LGAs involved in a communal clash.
The two communities have been in an age-long land dispute, leading to internecine wars between brothers, even as previous peace moves initiated by the state government failed.
Trouble started again on Saturday, June 26, when Nko youths allegedly shot and wounded some soldiers on a peace mission and disappeared into the bush. In reprisal, the soldiers allegedly went berserk, raiding Nko community and destroying houses, including the palace of the village head of Nko, Obol Effiom Ayomobi, thus displacing thousands in the quest to fish out the gunmen that attacked the soldiers.
Piqued by the action of the youths, Cross River State Government ordered immediate dethronement and de-certification of the Obol Lopon of Nko, Obol Etim Ayomobi, in Yakurr, and the clan head of Oyadama, Ovarr Vincent Erena, in Obubra, over the shooting of the six officers by youths of Nko community.
The state government also sacked all village chiefs in Nko and Oyadama, even as it has taken over the disputed land until those behind the shooting of officers are produced or fished out.
A press release signed by the deputy chief press secretary to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr. Linus Obogo, said the dethronement and de-certification of the two monarchs was as a result of the intractable communal clashes, adding that “the ownership of the disputed land has been revoked and taken over by the state government for overriding public interest.” Additionally, “government has ordered the sustenance of the army operation in Nko community until those behind the shooting of the six military personnel are produced or fished out.”
However, the military action has attracted wide condemnation from the State House of Assembly, leadership of Nko community and other stakeholders, who described the army approach as “unethical and unprofessional.”
Decrying the wanton destruction of the community by a detachment of troops, Cross River State lawmakers unanimously called on the military to stop further destruction of lives and properties in Nko, which allegedly left several houses burnt and seven persons dead.
The House, under “urgent matters of public interest,” sponsored by the Speaker of the Assembly and member representing Yakurr II, Hon. Eteng Jonah Williams, further called on government to, as a matter of urgency, send relief materials to displaced victims who are taking refuge in the surrounding villages of Mkpani, Ekori and Ugep.
Speaking on the floor of the House, Williams, who lamented the war situation in Nko, a community in his constituency, said the development was very worrisome and condemned the communal war over land.
Appreciating the efforts of the military, he, however, lamented that the military operatives, for about three days, were burning houses, alleging that “over seven lives have been lost, even women and children are not spared.”
Raising the alarm over the havoc perpetrated by the army at a press briefing in Calabar, the leader of Nko community, Dr. Akpama Akpama, described the army’s approach as “unethical and unprofessional.”
Akpama, a former member of the Federal Character Commission, in company with other leaders, including Dr. Usani Uguru Usani, former Minister of Niger Delta Afffairs, Dr. Ikpi Akpama, former Yakurr local government area chairman, and Dr. Rose Akpama, appreciated the early intervention of the state government and security agencies, particularly the army, in the conflict between Nko and Onyedama communities, but disagreed with the way the crisis was being managed by the soldiers.
According to them, “their approach is unethical and unprofessional, as our women have been thoroughly brutalised in very dehumanising forms.
“As a community, we cannot and will never organise any form of conflict against anyone or group of persons. We won’t even contemplate any attack on the military. It is, however, regrettable that this military action in the community has largely rendered the entire indigenes homeless, beginning from Saturday, June 24, 2022, to this moment. Carnage has been exercised in arson, rape and shooting at sight of persons.”
Bemoaning that the security situation in Nko community has remained tainted and fragile, Akpama noted that “many people have been killed through shooting at sight and a lot more wounded, properties that cannot be quantified at the moment have been destroyed.
The military personnel have wreaked havoc on the local populace, killing helpless persons, arresting some and introduced a reign of terror in the area. Women and children have abdicated their homes to take refuge in unknown locations, suffering the harsh effects of the associated weather with the rainy season. Indeed, our community is under siege.”
He further noted that the siege on Nko has affected the students of the four secondary schools in the community as they cannot take part in the on-going NECO examination nationwide just as some elderly and aged men and women, pregnant and sick people have been abandoned in their homes and devoid of care.
While pleading with the state government and the military authorities to stop the raid in Nko community, Akpama called on the international community, human right activists, NGOs, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, NEMA, SEMA and other bodies to come to their aid.
Disturbed by the incessant land disputes between Nko and Oyadam communities, Sen. Sandy Onor, representing central senatorial district, said war is not necessary at this critical time when many are facing the most difficult economic situation; when issues of development and improved livelihood are at the core of governance, people should not be seen engaging in this sort of inhumanity.
Onor said the dispute has affected the people of Nko and their means of livelihood, calling on all parties involved in the unfortunate development, including the military, Nko and Onyadama people, to cease fire immediately and allow the rule of law to prevail.
In a similar vein, the member representing Abi/Yakurr federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Dr Alex Egbona, in a statement made available to newsmen in Calabar, described the recent hostilities as an unfortunate incident, insisting that as one family there is no need to engage in meaningless killings.
“It is barbaric and satanic to take the life of anybody, no matter the level of provocation. I appeal to all the parties involved to sheathe their swords and allow peace to return in the communities. I have always said that there cannot be development in any place where there is no peace.”
“I condemn every act of hooliganism and brigandage. Let’s give peace a chance and stop every form of attacks in parts of our federal constituency and every part of our state. The traditional rulers and the state government should take measures to end the communal conflict in all parts of the state,” he stated.
Equally suing for peace, the Nigerian Bar Association, Calabar branch, in a statement signed by its chairman and secretary, Attah Ochinke and Eno Edet, respectively, condemned the attack on military personnel drafted to the scene to help bring the situation to order, adding that no excuse will justify the shooting of army personnel on a peacekeeping operation.
Describing the crisis between Nko and Oyadama as an annual embarrassment to the state, the association noted that those that have been killed, wounded or raped in these reprisals are not necessarily the perpetrators of the attack on the soldiers.
According to the association, the governor’s statement urging sustained reprisal on hapless villagers is not acceptable as the victims of the reprisal are citizens in the wrong place and time without regard to their culpability.
“We, therefore, urge the commanders of the military units involved, the GOC of 82 Division, Enugu, the Chief of Army Staff, and ultimately, President Muhammadu Buhari, our Commander in Chief, to call the soldiers to order and bring the situation under control. We call on citizens with access to these institutions to intervene to stop the carnage.
“Reprisal by the army, however self-righteous, cannot replace the due process of law. We urge the Cross River State government to revisit and implement the recommendations of the judicial panel of enquiry over the crisis. Perhaps this will bring the crisis to an end and save citizens the annual embarrassment and risk that these clashes pose to all of us that ply the Ikom-Calabar highway. For now, we appeal to the governor to withdraw his instructions to the army to avoid more loss of innocent lives,” the statement read.
However, contrary to reports making the rounds that army personnel on peace mission carried out reprisal on Nko community, the Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor, denied that troops were involved in raping and destruction of Nko community.
Speaking as a guest on a television programme, Irabor said: “What is the business of the military in being in a communal clash? But of course, because lives were being lost and we have a military development around those areas, it was on the basis of that that the commanding officer of the unit went to Nko to address the problem that they have.
“Now, on getting to the scene, in one of the communities, for whatever reason or because they were armed, they shot at the commanding officer, wounded him and also wounded five soldiers. No officer would see his men wounded when he has come to keep peace neither would the officer watch citizens not only unleashing mayhem on themselaves and equally taking up arms against those who have come to bring sanity to the environment. It was at this point that they insisted that those who shot the commanding officer and the soldiers should be apprehended.”
According to him, the destruction of houses is not true and should be discarded as rumours by those who are not happy at military intervention, maintaining that they are there to give support to the police in the case of Nko and Obubra.