Enwang, the headquarters of Mbo local government area of Akwa Ibom State on Saturday, June 5, 2021, came alive as indigenes and non indigenes alike gathered at the expansive field of the Methodist School for the launch of appeal funds for victims of the attacks allegedly masterminded by neighbouring Uko Nteghe Uda in January and February this year.
Governor Udom Emmanuel, who served as the chief launcher, thanked the community for reposing confident in his administration, noting that no community can develop in the atmosphere of crisis, and promised to unmask the attackers to face the long arms of the law.
Represented by the Commissioner for Special Duties and Aviation Development, Okpolupm Ikpong Etteh, he said, ‘’The governor says I should thank you for the confident and trust in my government. He says I should assure the people that what happened will never happen again. Never again will the people run away from their homes. Government is doing everything possible to bring the actors of the heinous acts to justice and government will not allow them to go scot free. Lets us allow the security agencies to so their work.
‘’There must be peace in Enwang and Mbo , because of the investment coming to Mbo . Investment cannot thrive in the atmosphere of chaos. Enwang is the seat of government and nobody will take that away. We must keep the peace because so many things are coming to the local government.’’
Earlier in a welcome address presented by Major General Isidore Henry Edet (rtd), the community chronicled the ‘unprovoked’ attacks which led to wanton destruction of property, loss of lives and means of livelihoods of many indigenes.
According to him, even with the attacks, the leadership of Enwang community remained in ‘painful calmness’ and stoutly resisted the urge to be provoked or to seek vengeance.
‘’This is because we our deference to age long paternal, maternal, marriage and other filial relationships between us and Uko Nteghe Uda people. As a matter of fact, there is hardly any family in Enwang that does not have cousins, grand children, in laws and others in Uko Nteghe Uda’’, they said.
The community added, ‘’This enlightened but seeming cowardice is also based on our hope and trust in the leadership of His Excellency, the governor of Akwa Ibom State, who preaches and practices peace in all ramifications. We equally trust in our friends, brothers and sisters who, we believe are strong towers in times of greatest need and affliction.
‘’We also know that posterity will judge us right for upholding the tenets of peace in the face of unprovoked attacks. Perhaps, we also hope that the world will one day accord our community the ‘’Nobel Peace prize.
‘’As peace-loving community which also believes in the rule of law, and which informed our decision to seek court adjudication at different times on the disputed parcel of land, we trust and have faith in the promise by His Excellency , the governor that those who visited the destruction, killings and maiming of Enwang people will be brought to justice. Unarguably, meaningful peace will elude our communities without justice not only done but clearly seen to be done.’’
Chairman on the occasion, Architect Otu Ita Toyo, commended the people of Enwang for toeing the path of peace and displaying good neighborliness, and harmonious relationships.
‘’This launching is an act of praise to the living. This occasion is about hope, the future and we should not go back to the past. Enwang is going to develop more than before because God always blesses the peace makers. That is why we are here. We cannot allow those who kill to walk freely. It has nothing to do with the fight for farmland. It is about madness and madness must be contained’’, he said.
Ita-Toyo however singled out the youth of the community for praise, for showing restraint and candour in the face of the series of the dastard attacks and the state government for wading into the festering issue with a view to finding lasting solution to it, but advised the government to bring the sponsors and perpetrators of the heinous crimes to face justice.
It would be recalled that during the January and February’s invasions of the community, no fewer than nine persons were killed, of whom four were beheaded. The hostilities not only provoked indignation across the entire state, it also stoked up tension and apprehension. Ever since, Uko Akpan has remained desolate as many people fled their homes are yet to return as at the time of filling this report.
It was also gathered that before the attacks, cases of rape of Enwang women who went to farm were reported to the Police, who apparently swept the complaints under the carpet as they were allegedly reluctant in prosecuting the said infractions.
Clashes between the Uko Akai, Uko Nteghe and Uko Akai, Uko Akpan which reportedly centered on the ownership of common family farmland have lingered over the years and have in recent time assumed ominous dimension.
Relevant documents obtained by this reporter show that in 2014, the Council of Oro Traditional Ruler constituted a seven member committee to look into the matter, and the panel headed by HRH Obuong E.N. Ekeng was given 21 days from the date of its inauguration to complete the assignment with the following terms of reference– look into the remote and immediate causes of the dispute, examine previous attempts of resolving the conflict (if any), ascertain the level of damage done as a result of the recent crisis and make recommendations towards the establishment of a lasting peace with respect to the land in dispute.
The panel was said to have taken oral and written representations and various cross examinations and at the end of its sitting, agreed that the two earlier verdicts by Chief Etim Okon Inyang’s panel on January 27, 1989 and that of HRH Ovong E.O. Isemin’s panel on December 28, 2007 were ‘’sound and have stood the test of good judgements which are capable of laying permanent peaceful relationship between these warring parties.’’
The committee in its report also affirmed that Uko Akai people are the same with common ancestry irrespective of whether they are in Uko Nteghe Uda or Uko Akpan Enwang, appealing for the implementation of all the necessary conditions to sustaining permanent peace among them as stipulated by Chief Etim Okon Inyang’s panel, among other recommendations the panel proffered to bring enduring peace to the area.
For instance, a landmark judgment by High Court judgment in Suit No HOR/1/13/2013 delivered by Hon Justice Theresa Obot on February 19, 2020, required Uko Akai Uko Akpan in Enwang and Uko Akai Uko Nteghe in Uda , as plaintiff and defendant respectively, to submit themselves to the Council of Oro Traditional Rulers to administer traditional oath to enable each party continue to farm and enjoy their original farmland as a result of their common patrimony.
The judgment also stated ‘that the Uko Akai Uko Akpan people and Uko Akai Uko Nteghe people shall continue to share and cultivate their communal land as they have been doing since time immemorial.’
Based on the court ruling, the Council of Oro Traditional Rulers was said to have on three consecutive occasions invited the parties involved for the administration of the traditional oath, but Uko Akai Uko Nteghe party, allegedly refused to comply, according to a source familiar with the issue.
It is however hoped that government and other relevant stakeholders would bring the warring communities to a roundtable so as to resolve the protracted crisis once and for all.