When I saw the images and video recordings of the attack and massacre unleashed in May 2020 of Umumbo indigenes by the Omor attack force, I was chilled to my bones. I said to myself this event should not and cannot be reoccurring again in my generation in any part of Ayamelum Local Government Area. But it happened the same way as that of Igbakwu in July 1998, very heinous and brutal as anyone cannot imagine from that area.
That of Igbakwu happened on Uka Eke day (Market Day that fell on Sunday) when everybody both Christians and Traditionalists are all home. This Eke Sunday happens only once in every twenty-eight days or once in a month. My community, Igbakwu located in the Northern part of Anambra State in Ayamelum Local Government Area observes the traditional Eke market day. It is regarded in the community as a sacred day. Eke market commences with the arrival of the Eke Priestess followed by display of market wares and other commercial activities. The people hardly go to farm on Eke unless to harvest farm produce for sale at the Market. Uka Eke’s sacredness is second to none as both are sacred to observers of the African and the Christian religions. Sunday being a Christian day of obligation and Eke is the same for the African religion devotees, is regarded highly.
May 31, 1998, two decades ago was a tragic day that will remain indelible in my memory. On that eventful day, Christians had gone to Church and the Eke Priestess had arrived the Eke market square and performed the required traditional rituals and ceremonies.
I and my siblings couldn’t go to Church as we went to farm to harvest cassava around six o’clock in the morning. No one foresaw the impending bloodbath and destruction that razed the entire community down. Not even the seers saw it in the horizon.
The tragic news broke with the unending ring of the security bell situated at Eke market Square. It announced that ten men from my community have been kidnapped by Omor people and their whereabout unknown; whether they are alive or murdered in cold blood no one could tell. In spite of the odds we however expected that they would return with a message. Sadly enough none of the those kidnapped men had returned till date.
As we returned from the farm around 8am and whilst peeling the cassava to process into fufu or cassava flake as we continued to anticipate the return of the kidnapped men, sound of the village gong ‘ogene’ repeatedly resounded this time, the sound was continuous, ominous and scary which signaled danger in the horizon.
Then we saw men, women, young and old, crying children and animals running halter shelter. I jumped out of my seat with the knife in my hand dropping to the ground. I ran towards the market Square and found it empty for the first time in my life as people ran for their lives.
I was flabbergasted not knowing where to head. I ran towards the St. Mary’s Catholic Church axis hoping to be safe within God’s vain yard. I could hear heavy gun shots from that axis. It downed on me that we have been invaded and surrounded. I could see groups of men and warriors wearing black with red strips of cloth tied to their foreheads. I knew these were Omor men. I could see fire raging from far. The only Secondary School in Igbakwu was on fire. I saw the invaders encircle Late Barr. Mike Nwuneli’s house and brought it down.
I was in SS1 about going to SS2. Still confused, I quickly ran back to my father’s house and found no one there. Every living soul had run out of village seeking refuge. I did not know what to make of the situation. I ran again towards the Nobo stream with heavy eyes crying and shouting my siblings’ names. I did not know where my parents and siblings were.
People were running in different directions. I followed one of the groups until we got to the Ama Okpe hills. We looked back and beheld the ugly sights of fire all over Igbakwu community. We continued running until we got to Omabala river and crossed over to our kits and kins at Aguleri-Otu, Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State. We became refugees until my father found me and took me to Ifite Ogwari a neighboring community in same northern axis of Ayamelum. We thus became refugees at Ifite Ogwari and together with my siblings we were enrolled at the Community Secondary School, Ifite-Ogwari. Igbakwu indigenes thus became refugees in Aguleri Otu and Ifite Ogwari.
Significantly, Omor warriors blew up the twin modern two-storey buildings built by Late Chief Udebunu Anekwe, late Louis Nnaemeka Nwuneli upstairs home including about 2000 other property that were razed down by Omor invaders. The Eke Market Square was not spared. Igbakwu was turned into a wasteland. They came in a commando military style to annihilate Igbakwu community. On a head count 12 persons were killed whilst property worth about a billion naira were destroyed. They left carnage and destruction akin to horror seen only in movie scenes behind.
Churches and other places of worship were not spared including domestic animals especially chicken and goats. The Community Secondary School, Community Primary School and Nobo Primary School, Igbakwu were among public institutions burnt down. Their intention was to wipe out Igbakwu community off the face of the earth using the military scorch earth strategy. God spared us instead. Today makes it 22 years that incident happened and emotions are still there and the community is yet to fully recover from it. That land disputes that led to 1998 crisis has been settled by a court of competent jurisdiction in favour of Igbakwu. The Court declared Ube Stream as the boundary between Igbakwu and Omor. All the successive attempts by Omor to void the Court verdict through appeals have always hit the rock because no Court have been able to see reason to change all the successive judgments.
Having no other means to change the Courts verdict, they resorted to the crude and naked use of force thereby preventing Igbakwu farmers from accessing their lands and ripping economic benefits therefrom. The Omor people want to dominate through intimidation every Community in the local government. They want to be the only prosperous community in the local government. They seem not to care about rule and court judgement as they use brute force to deprive other neighbours from enjoying the benefits of their God given farmland.
Igbakwu is a small community in Ayamelum but we are blessed with large expanse of land with abundant resources called Aguoba, Ochana, Okpa ebe, Itulu, Ikwuke, Ama Okpe, Ojeh etc. This is their envy. We did not give ourselves the land. God gave our ancestors the large expanse of land including a spring water called Nobo Stream. You need to visit the natural wonder called Nobo. God is wise. Say no to war. Say no to land grabbers.
Barr. Chikweli writes from Ama Okpe Igbakwu.