BASSEY ANTHONY in Uyo writes that over 1.500 internally displaced persons in Akwa Ibom State, have been living in horrible conditions in the past ten years, while the State Government foot-drags over their pleas to return to their ancestral homes.
While the Federal Government is funneling enormous resources into the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East, it is obviously unaware of over 1,500 displaced Akwa Ibom indegenes living under very terrible conditions in their own state.
That is the pathetic story of the Amazaba people in Eastern Obolo Local Government Area of the state, who, despite their cries and yearnings, have been denied the luxury of living in their ancestral land for close to 10 years now.
Their predicament actually started on August 28, 2008, after they were engaged in a bloody communal crisis with Ikot Akpan Udo, a neighbouring Ibibio-speaking community in Ikot Abasi Local Government Area of the state..
There are, however, conflicting accounts as to what led to the war between the two communities which had lived peacefully together for over 200 years.
But what strikes the heart most is the massive loss of lives and destruction of properties which resulted from the tragic incident, the wounds and pains which are still felt by both sides till date.
Determined to prevent a further destruction of lives and property, the then administration of former Governor Godswill Akpabio, had directed the feuding Amazaba and Ikot Akpan Udo communities to vacate their lands.
The State Police Command had followed suit by deploying its men to occupy the warring communities.
A panel of enquiry to look into the immediate and remote causes of the crisis was set up by the state government in September 2008, and representatives from both communities were invited to give account of what triggered the skirmish.
After the usual investigation, blame apportioning, pleas for peace and promises to live peacefully afterwards, the state government in April 2009, directed the Amazaba and Ikot Akpan Udo people to return to their communities.
But when the Amazaba people attempted to return to their badly ravaged and plundered villages, the policemen stationed in their villages, reportedly harassed and prevented them from entering their land.
According to the police, the state government had not communicated to them the go-ahead to allow the Amazaba people resettle in their land. All efforts by the Amazaba people to get government to send a letter to the police authorities proved abortive.
Following this set back, the hapless people of Amazaba had to seek refuge with their kith and kin in small, ramshackle riverine villages such as Iso-toyo, Okoroette, and New Bethlehem etc. all within the Eastern Obolo territory.
In 2010, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) had awarded some water projects to be sited in the eight villages which make up Amazaba clan. And to ensure that the projects were done, the Amazaba people made another attempt to return to their ancestral land.
Again, the police increased their woes by chasing them away thereby frustrating their desire to return home to enjoy the benefits of the NDDC largess. The same 2010, the police authorities allegedly
withdrew police presence in Amazaba and deployed same to beef up security in Ikot Akpan Udo village.
In 2012, when the current Managing Director of the NDDC, Obong Nsima Ekere, took over as the deputy governor of the state, the Amazaba people set up a Peace and Reconciliation Committee comprising two members from each of the warring communities.
The committee carried out investigations and made recommendations for a lasting peace and accordingly a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was scheduled to be signed on the 23rd January 2013.
The MoU signing ceremony had in its attendance, the immediate past deputy governor, Lady Valerie Ebe, the attorney-general/commissioner for justice, the state police commissioner, the clan head of Ukpum Ette, Obong(Barrister Idem Udo) and representatives from both communities.
Spokesman of the Amazaba clan, Mr. Utikpa Bibama, told The AUTHORITY that the MoU signing was frustrated by the clan head of Ukpum Ette, Obong, and Barrister Idem Udo, who pleaded that he needed two days to understudy the MoU, before he could append his signature.
The spokesman further said the clan head of Ukpum Ette frustrated the peace move and for three years, kept the MoU without coming forth to ensure that it was signed for peace to return.
Mr. Bibama also told our correspondent that another peace effort was frustrated last year by the Ikot Akpan Udo people through their clan head, Obong, Barrister Idem Udo, but he has till date refused to sign another MoU at the instance of the current deputy governor, Mr. Moses Ekpo.
The Amazaba spokesman told our correspondent in Uyo that just when the MoU was about to be signed, the Ikot Akpan Udo delegation informed the attendees that the wife of their youth leader had just put to bed and that automatically stalled the signing of the peace agreement till date.
Now, the Amazaba people are angry that while they are still stranded in other lands, the Ikot Akpan Udo people have since 2012 returned to their community.
They are insisting that they would return to their ancestral land whether or not the government or the police give them a go-ahead to do so.
Precisely in November last year, the Amazaba people made another effort to return to their community, but were allegedly attacked by mercenaries from Ikot Akpan Udo village.
Angered by the series of dashed efforts to return to their land, the Chairman Amazaba Community Development Council, Hon. Ezekiel George Tilibor, said his people were tired of persuading government and their Ikot Akpan Udo neighbours to allow them return to their land.
In an interview with The AUTHORITY in Uyo, Tiliebor said: “We have been making series of appeals to the government that we are eager to return to our home, but the government of Akwa Ibom state has done nothing as regards our quest”.
Tiliebor is accusing the Akwa Ibom state government and police authorities in the state of conspiring with Ikot Akpan Udo people to keep them permanently away from their land on the ground that they are one of the minutest minority ethnic groups in the state.
“But what we keep seeing is that each time we make efforts to go back to our place there would be accusations that we going back to fight with our neighbours. But since this incident happened our neighbours in Ikot Akpan Udo, have been enjoying government support.
“So in summary, we are crying to the people of Akwa Ibom, the nation and the international community that we are tired of living in other people’s communities”.
But an official of the state government who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter absolve d the state government from blame.
However, Tiliebor lamented the plight of his people who have been forced to live as second class citizens in the state where they belong to by Providence.
His words: “In fact, if you go to where my people are staying, you will shed tears because you will begin to ask if we are really from this state. So we are coming to the media because it is one of the ways the oppressed people can always cry.
“We want you to take our message to the government that Amazaba people are suffering. And as the CDC chairman of Amazaba, I am ready to stand on my feet in line with the words of our governor, Deacon Udom Emmanuel, that we must arise to greatness.
“We the Amazaba people have arisen to say that we want to return to our land. As I speak with you, I want to celebrate my Christmas and New Year in my home”
Hon. Tiliebor said he suspects a grand conspiracy against the Amazaba people, questioning the sincerity of government towards ensuring fairness in the whole matter.
“If you come to where we are taking refuge, Iso-toyo; we don’t have water to drink, no accommodation, no healthcare, no primary school for our children and because of lack of healthcare our people are dying every day,” he lamented.
He said no fewer than 50 of his people have died to violence and inhuman conditions in their places of refuge and called on the federal government and the international community to come to their rescue.
Hon. Tiliebor asked why the government cannot muster enough political will to compel the Ikot Akpan Udo people through their clan head, Barrister Idem Udo to sign the MoU.
In fact, not a few concerned persons have asked if the said Clan Head of Ukpum Ette is greater than the state government.