UPDATE: Uneasy calm returns to warring Benue communities
Police, two LGC chairmen confirm return of peace, but rumours persist
By The Editor
Calm has returned to Ijegwu and Ojantele-Otobi, neighbouring boundary communities of Obi and Otukpo Local Government Areas of Benue State, respectively, after two days of bloody violent clashes between them.
The chairmen of the two Local Government Areas who spoke with Stateflash.com separately confirmed that shooting and burning of houses had stopped for most of Wednesday following the arrival of police and military personnel in the area on Tuesday to mount checkpoints at strategic locations on the road linking the two communities.
Hon. Tony Akpa, Chairman of Obi LGA, said there were no reports of any new incidents in the area until the evening of Wednesday when reports started getting to him about movements by the youths of Otukpo through the bush heading towards Opirikwu for possible further attacks. According Hon. Akpa, his counterpart from Otukpo, also received similar reports about Obi youths regrouping for reprisals without any new incident.
"I think these kind of reports are normal fears and rumours associated with war or skirmishes of this nature. I believe that with time the rumours will stop," Hon. Akpa said.
He confirmed the killing of three people and shooting of another nine from Obi LGA, saying two of the wounded victims were still receiving treatment in a hospital. He also confirmed the complete razing down of Ijegwu and partial destruction of Ojantele-Otobi.
Hon. Bako Ejeh, Chairman of Otukpo Local Government Area, also confirmed the destruction of the villages but said he received no reports of loss of lives from the Otukpo side. He attributed the return of calm to the combined efforts of the traditional rulers of the two Local Government Areas, prominent indigenes from the two sides and the deployment of security operatives to the area. "My conterpart from Obi and I worked together with other prominent personalities from the two LGAs, especially my DGSA who hails from Obi, to restore peace to the communities.. Yes, houses and other property were destroyed and people fled for safety but I have not received reports of any death," the Otukpo LGC Chairman told Stateflash.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Benue state Police Command, Superintendent of Police (SP) Sewuese Anene, who spoke to Stateflash on the incident earlier in the day also confirmed the return of calm to the trouble spot. She, however, could not confirm reports of human casualties.
Trouble started on Monday between youths of the two communities clashed over cut in electricity supply to Obi and Oju LGAs for the preceding four days. Initial reports, according to Stateflash sources, had it that the youths of Ijegwu suspected sabotage of the high tension cable which supplies power to the two LGAs at an Isolation Switch located at a point between the two communities, but closer to Ojantele-Otobi. Upon getting to the switch to confirm their suspicion, one of them climbed the pole to check the switch. It was at that point that he and some others with him were allegedly shot by youths believed to have come from Otukpo side.
Giving his own account, the Otukpo Regional Manager of Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JED), Olaniyi Ogunmakinya reportedly said: “What actually happened is that there is what we call isolators, which we use to segment our network if there are problems on our lines in some areas.
“We use it to isolate those areas and allow others to have electricity supply, while we work on the areas that have problems.
“We have that isolator located towards the end of Otukpo Local Government linking Obi. When it rained a few days ago and we had our lines destroyed, we had to isolate the affected areas to enable us to work on the lines.
“But unfortunately, whenever we do this to repair the lines, the people on the Obi Local Government side will not be happy that we are isolating them to repair the lines; they would prefer that everyone is denied power supply instead of isolating them alone before the repairs.
“So from what I heard, two days ago they allegedly matched to that isolation point to sabotage it.
“But the youths of the community that would be affected by their action resisted them, which led to the conflict.
“That is the much I know. I cannot tell whether they killed each other or not. From the report, I got they did not destroy our facilities.
Hon. Akpa told Stateflash.com that, for years now, preceding his assumption of office last year, there had been complaints by Ijegwu youths that their counterparts from Ojantele-Otobi would, from time to time, switch off electricity supply to communities in Oju and Obi LGAs. They claim their complaints to JED always fell on deaf ears. According to the Chairman, on this fateful day, the Ijegwu youths who suspected the usual antics of their counterparts from Ojantele-Otobi, headed towards the switch to reconnect supply. Unfortunately, the youths from the other side got wind of their plans and waited in ambush and started shooting when one of them was climbing the pole to access the switch. "From the reports available to me, the Ijegwu people were going there to reconnect and not to sabotage or vandalize facilities as reported in some quarters," the Obi LGC chairman told Stateflash.com. "Unfortunately, the other people were waiting for them."
The Obi LGC Chairman dismissed reports of the use of fake soldiers to attack and destroy houses in Ijegwu. He explained that when the police and soldiers arrived the trouble spot, the Ijegwu people had pushed the Ojantele-Otobi people far into their own area and the security personnel insisted on pushing back. "Naturally, they felt the security men were siding with their enemies, hence the allegations and claims that they were not genuine soldiers who were supposed to be impartial. But that is not true. They are the same security personnel that have been mounting security along the road in the area," Hon Akpa said.
The Chairman, however, called on the state government to deploy men of the Operation Whirlstroke to the area since they are more experienced in quelling such crisis than the regular security operatives, to ensure lasting peace.