Brothers at war over precious stone, limestone

One of the victims in hospital

One of the victims in hospital

One feared dead, five missing in communal clash in Edo

There is fear and suspicion among two communities of Okpella-Ogute in Etsako East Local Council and Uneme-Erhurun in Akoko-Edo Local Council, both of Edo State, who have been living peacefully together for hundreds of years

This mutual suspicion has, however, grown beyond the realm of speculation leading to a fracas last week that resulted in the death of at least one person, with five persons declared missing – one from Okpella-Ogute and four from Uneme-Erhurun.

The remote cause of this latest clash is a piece of land situated about 13 kilometres into the forest from Uneme-Erhunru, confirmed to be rich in solid minerals, including gold and lime stone that was allegedly given to a cement company by the traditional ruler of Okpella Kingdom, Okwokpellabe of Okpella, Alhaji Yesufu Dirisu, without the consent of his neighbours.

He is claiming his neighbours are tenants in the land and that the disputed portion belongs to his people in Etsako-East and not Akoko-Edo local government.

He also claims there was a report of a commission set up in 1981 to look into the disputed land, which gave them the portion. The people of Uneme-Erhuru vehemently reject this assertion as they said the committee went out of its terms of reference and that government’s white paper on the report did not give the land to Okpella people as being claimed.

When The Guardian visited the two communities over the weekend, there were armed soldiers and policemen in the boundary areas. At Uneme-Erhunru, more than five security vehicles were stationed in strategic places with armed security personnel on standby.

Carcasses of burnt motorcycles, damaged cars and houses including the community secondary school were telltale signs of the inter-communal clash. The people are scared of going to war with their Okpella neighbours as they are seriously out-numbered in population.

When contacted on phone, the Okwokpellabe said he was out of town but insisted that the immediate cause of the recent fracas was the sawing of wood in the land. He said it was not the entire Okpella that had problem with Erhun but only Ogute.

But the traditional head of Central Uneme Clan, Oba Moses Omoarelogie Braimah, said the provocation was a deliberate plot to harass him and his people. “What happened was that the Okwokpelabe invited BUA to go into minerals prospect, which is in our area in Uneme land. I personally stopped them not to undergo the prospect because I am the appropriate authority to deal with such issues.

“In fact, this brought a stop to the company’s activities. On February 11, one of our brothers, a registered timber contractor duly registered in Akoko Edo was attacked. Each time the Okwokpelabe wants to foment trouble, he uses his vigilance group to terrorise us. He is claiming that this is his land but it is not true.

“He cannot come from Etsako East Local Council to own a land in Akoko Edo. He took the vigilance boys to where our kinsman was sawing his wood in my own area. The vigilance members seized the saw in which our brother was working with and took it to the Okegbelagbe.

“Meanwhile, this is a place where my great grandfather lived and died. It is over 300 years that we settled here. He is from Agenebode and we have no connection with them at all. Since the colonial era was abolished, Erhurun-Uneme has been on its own. We don’t do anything with them. We have nothing in common,” he told The Guardian.

Corroborating his traditional ruler, a community leader, Prince Joel Itemoagbor, said his people were being intimidated. “They are claiming we are tenants to them, which is very far from the truth. In 1963, we went to court with Damgbala people over this land, the court ruled that because we have lived together for too long, it was going to be dangerous to create a permanent boundary. So they decided that Damgbala a mile radius, Erhurun a mile radius should belong to us but the land between should be jointly owned by the two communities.”

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