Fears and apprehension aptly describe the scenerio in parts of Boki local govt area of Cross River state as prominent sons and daughters of the area are at daggers drawn over the control and management of an oil palm estate which has been situated in the area for more than five decades . In the ensuing pandemonium, a 49 year old mother of four, Anna Etta was shot dead, while hile several others person sustained various degrees of bullet wound injuries.
The Intra communal clash has disrupted the socio—economic activities of the sleepy Okubushuyu community following the invasion by suspected police officers and people alleged to be hired armed thugs on the orders of one Mac Thommy Agan, an S.A. to governor Ben Ayade on Infrastructure.
The invaders, according to eye witnesses, on arrival at the community shot sporadically into the air, causing confusion and pandemonium, making unsuspecting residents to scamper into nearby forests and neighbouring communities . Agan who allegedly led the invaders into the area was said to be pointing at their perceived enemies, ordering their arrest .
The crisis is said to have erupted in the wake of agitation over who controls the Boki Oil Palm Estate established since 1962 during the reign of Dr. Michael Opara who was then Premier of Eastern Region.
The establishment of the estate, aside from boosting the economy of the area was also, to provnide employment opportunity for people of the area as well as enhance development.
Before now, it was being managed by the Accredited Landlords Committee whose membership was drawn from the four communities that own the estate including – Okubushyu, Osokom, Irruan and Borum.
The Authority gathered that , for a long time after its establishment, the estate was managed by successive management committees begining from Late M.T. Mbu (pioneer chairman) without any squable until recently.
The royalty from the estate was used for the development of the communities. The proceed from the earlier managers of the estate was used to establish Boki Boys Secondary School which is now changed to Comprehensive Secondary School to accommodate girls and to boost education in the area.
Investigations revealed that the police had laid siege at the outskirts of Okubushuyu community on Saturday 18th March before the March, 20th saga that witnessed the shooting spree, leading to the killing of a woman and sacking of the entire community.
According to eyewitnesses, the invaders came in several trucks into the estate to cart away palm produce and other items belonging to the current management team as mark of taking over of the estate by the new team.
Attempt by some daring youths to resist the move was said to have led to destruction of properties in the community. When our correspondent visited the community Friday , 25th March, the destruction of properties were visible. Several houses were vandalized including the house of a former commissioner with the local govt service commission, , Mr. Fidelis Edor among others. In the ensuing controversy, some trucks containing looted items were intercepted.
One of such is a dark blue truck brought by the invaders as it was vandalized in an attempt to escape with looted palm produce, wheelbarrows and motorcycles inside the truck .
Shells of used bullets and live ammunition beleived to have been used during the raid by the alleged invaders littered here and there were shown to the visiting journalists by Oku youths.
But for the swift intervention of Maj. Gen. Moses Obi (rtd), who is also a prominent son of Okubushyu, the crisis would have degenerated as he promptly dashed home when the news of the crisis got to him. He persuaded the warring groups to sheathe their swords and embrace peace, after which he set up a committee to broker lasting peace.
The Chairman of Acredited land lords Committee, which has been saddled with management of the estate before the crisis , Sir. Pius Otu Bisong, 82, told journalists at his Okundi residence last Friday that when the news of the crisis reached him that some invaders stormed the community and indiscriminately arrested people and were being taken to Calabar, he managed at his age, and headed to the police station to inform the DPO of the incidence when suddenly, Agan emmerged and pointed at him to be arrested. He said unknown to him what his offence was, he was arrested along with his secretary and others and taken to Calabar and detained for days without being charged to court on trumped up charges of arming thugs to foment trouble.
Barrister Mark Obi, Special Adviser on administration to Governor Ben Ayade, and a prominent Okubushuyu son, blamed the crisis on Barrister Tina Banku Agbor, Secretary to the State Government,SSG, who is also from Boki Local Government Area.
He said Boki has not known peace since Tina was appointed SSG. He noted that the oil palm estate belongs to Cross River State Council on Privatisation but that Tina wants to forcefully take over the estate by printing forms and sold to her cronies to own plots in the estate.
Barrister Obi also accused the SSG of masterminding the indiscriminate arrest and intimidation of people of Okubushuyu by the police and thugs.
On his part, Bar. Obi said he played key role in quelling the crisis by contacting the appropriate authorities to intervene on the matter while urging people of his community to remain calm.
When Tina was contacted by some journalists over these allegations, she admitted that there was crisis in the community but denied having anything to do with it and promised to address the media on the issue when it suits her convenience.
Earlier, Sir Otu Bisong explained that when in 2012 investors came into the state to invest in the oil palm estate, the communities applied for their palm estate to be privatized like Ibiaye and Calaro estates which have been of great benefit to the workers in the two estates.” In 2016, we reminded the government again about the privatization. We have been meeting the Deputy Governor, Prof Ivara Esu and the SSG on the issue. Both of them assured us that the government was interested in ensuring that the estate is privatized.