PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Irked by the perennial border clashes and persistent calls on the National Boundary Commission, NBC, to rise to its responsibility of determining inter- state boundaries, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has beat his chest that his administration shall rise up to the challenge. He said he will use every lawful means to protect and safeguard every inch of the territory of his state from those he described as criminals and marauders.
At the moment, Abia has seven troublesome boundary hot-points with neighbouring states of the federation. And, each of these can best be described as bloody and danger zones to passers-by. These hot spots include the Arochukwu flanks , Isu, Ukwa, Ebonyi, Akwa-Ibom and Enugu, to name but a few. For instance, for three years now, the people of Iheosu and other communities on the Ikot Okpora/ Cross River axis fled their original homes, they are not sure of when they may return to where they have lived all over their lives again.
In all, several lives and property estimated to be worth billions of Naira had been lost to several attackes. Vllages are set ablaze and inhabitants sent packing from their dwelling places over years. Schools, church, commercial and farming activities in those areas have come to abrupt end, while those still living, among the affected villages have turned beggars or resorted to unskilled labourers or to other unwholesome means of livelihood to earn a living.
It may be rightly or wrongly said that Governments in these affected neighbouring states have not been fast enough or have been busy observing protocols in dealing with boundary issues or being prompt in ending blood-letting there. Rather, they appear to have left communities to their fate or officially joined in the call on the NBC to demarcate state boundaries.
Amid this government stance, the people are hungry, dying in their numbers out of frustration, wallowing in abject poverty and youth-restiveness, while their vast farmlands are lying fallow and wasting. Even those who stake their lives to farm or harvest what they planted in the nearby disputed lands, do so in groups or in company of security operatives, where such are available and affordable. That notwithstanding, security personnel are also human beings and are prone to run for their dear lives when attack hots-up . The most worrisome period is during the bush clearing for farm work or time for harvesting of crops.
A source from one of the troubled borders, Benjamin Igwe said,” rather than abandon us to our fate, Federal Government should permanently station soldiers in the troubled border-points and mandate us (the displaced people) to go back to our homes and live peacefully, while government and NBC seek permanent solutions to the problems. We are not comfortable living in strange homes. We have lived amicably and peacefully with ourselves, until youths sparked –off problems and we started fighting and killing ourselves. With the lesson so-far learnt, we would manage ourselves, when we return again; but this time under the supervision of armed security operatives”.
However, in the bid to feel the pangs of sufferings of the border communities, and be convinced of what he had been hearing, Governor Ikpeazu, in company of a contingent of armed soldiers, police and homeland security personnel, this week, undertook a trip to one of the disputed communities. His port of call was at Akirika Obu Community in Ukwa East LGA of the state. He was there to assess the current situation on the heels of reports of some unlawful invasion of the Community by some people, described as “criminal elements”. He later addressed the people.
In his speech, the Governor made it clear to them that his administration shall resist any form of expansionist agenda; either by communities from neighbouring states or from any outlawed group by whatever name they are called.
He assured the people that every available space in the community will, henceforth, be well policed . He also informed them that the Military had come to stay in their community permanently to ensure their safety and protection.
The Governor made it known to them that he was there in response to distress calls from the community on the invasion of their homeland by hoodlums from both a neighbouring community in Akwa Ibom State as well as from a group which had been outlawed by the federal government but sought to establish a base within the community. Ikpeazu explained to them that Akirika Obu Community in Ukwa-East LGA is a part and parcel of Abia State.
“And as such, this government will take every lawful step to protect it from any form of unlawful invasion by any person or group,” he said.
On the lingering boundary dispute between the Akirika Obu Community and their neighbours in Ika Local Government of Akwa Ibom State and other troubled parts of Abia, Ikpeazu further explained that the matter is now before the National Boundaries Commission, NBC.
According to the governor: ”Until a final determination is made, Akirika- Obu and other affected parts of Abia, still remain in Abia State. I will do my duty as Governor by ensuring that the status quo is maintained, especially, the lives and properties of the people are safeguarded.
“I call on the Akirika –Obu community to cooperate with the soldiers during their stay here. Allow them to carry- out their primary assignment here in the interest of the state and Nation at large. I must warn you against using these soldiers for the resolution of civil disputes amongst yourselves . This administration will continue to provide logistics support to the soldiers to ensure that they have minimum comfort while serving in this area of Abia state.”
Earlier, the Executive Chairman of Ukwa -East LGA, Hon. Chuks Wabara, while welcoming the governor and his entourage, expressed deep delight for the visit and presence of soldiers in the community, stressing that the visit was the first time a sitting governor was visiting the community to attend to their problems.
The Council Chairman expressed hope that the visit of the Governor and his entourage will put an end to all forms of crisis of insecurity in that area. He assured that both the people and the local government administration will co-operate with the military men posted to their area.
It will be recalled that with the increases in the number of states and Local Government Areas in Nigeria, there has also been an increase in the recorded cases of inter- state and intra-state boundary disputes in different parts of the country.
These necessitated boundary adjustments of existing Local Boundary processes. Community sources assert that in the process of re-drawing of these boundaries, the affected communities were not consulted and existing historical demarcation were ignored by state officials who carried out the exercise.
From the look of things, these boundary disputes would continue until the NBC does the needful. Presently, there are insinuations that these official (surveyors) are entertaining fears of being attacked by hostile natives while doing their official duties.
Such fears would not arise where there is proper dialogue and understanding between, and amongst, the affected communities with government officials. These fears should be doused forthwith and the men given the assurance to go into the fields to determine natural features that could be used to demarcate state or Local government boundaries. Again, there should be thorough dialogue with border communities to find out their historical linkages, before entering their forests to determine their boundaries with their neighbours.
Until the right things are done and appropriate steps taken, efforts to usher-in peace in border communities would be an exercise in futility. Already the National Boundary Commission appears to be pilling-up reasons for not doing their work, just as blood- letting, killings and other vices continue, just as the nation continues to lose resources, men and material accruing to her from the borders.