Bahumonu: Communities where youths say no to war

Supreme Desk
11 Sep 2023 2:47 PM GMT
Bahumonu: Communities where youths say no to war

Traditional worshipers in Bahumonu consolidating the oath of peace they took in 2020 by eating meat together from one pot during the Peace Day Celebration in their ancestral land of Othumosa

The Bahumonu nation is a collection of nine autonomous communities with the same ancestry, namely: Ediba, Usumutong, Ebom, Ebijakara, Anong, Afafayin, Abeugo, Egonigoni and Bazohure.

In the 1980s, after observing some unending skirmishes that bedevilled the state, Prof. Emmanuel Ayandele, then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Calabar, declared `Cross River an atomistic society perpetually at war with itself“.

Although, at that time, Ayandele’s declaration did not go down well with some of the indigenes of the state, it was borne out of an intense observation from the academic.

While many believed that the squabbles were a result of the discord between the people of present-day Akwa Ibom and the people of present-day Cross River, time has shown otherwise.

Traders preparing to move cassava from Ebom, one of the communities in Bahumonu, across the river to Ebonyi

Forty years after his declaration, situations in the state have made Ayandele a somewhat prophetic figure, with communal crises that have spanned decades and are still ongoing in spite of efforts to broker peace.

Some of these conflicts include the Nko-Inyima crisis, the Nko-Mkpani crisis, the Ugep-Ekori crisis, the Agoi Ibami-Mkpani crisis, the Nko-Agoi Ekpo crisis, the Ugep-Idomi crisis, which was said to have been going on since 1928, and many others in Yakurr LGA.

In Obubura LGA alone, there is the Ofatura-Ovunum crisis, the Iyamitet-Ababane crisis, the Iyamitet-Adun crisis, and the Ofatura-Apiapun crisis, among others.

There is also the crisis among Urugbam, Egbor, Ipene, and Abanwan communities in Baise LGA, while in Abi LGA, the crises between Ediba and Usumutong and Ebom and Ebijakara have been going on for over 15 years.

Fourteen out of the 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Cross River have either engaged in or are currently involved in one crisis or another.

In some cases, it is not just within the state but also with communities in neighbouring states like Abia, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi, and Benue in the northern part of the state.

The only LGAs that seem not to be entangled in the web of one communal crisis or another are Calabar Municipality, Calabar South, Akpabuyo, and Bakassi LGAs, all in the Southern Senatorial District of the state, except for issues of cultist militancy.

Among these `wars`, some of the most intriguing were those between Ediba and Usumutong and Ebom versus Ebijakara communities in the Bahumonu nation of Abi LGA that lasted for over 15 years.

The Bahumonu nation is a collection of nine autonomous communities with the same ancestry, namely: Ediba, Usumutong, Ebom, Ebijakara, Anong, Afafayin, Abeugo, Egonigoni, and Bazohure.

With a large expanse of arable land, the Bahumonu nation boasts agricultural produce such as rice, cassava, yams, groundnuts, and others in commercial quantities, which makes it an agricultural hub.

However, in spite of its agricultural and fishing potential, a large part of the Bahumonu nation is without electricity, access roads, a telephone network, or other amenities. This is largely due to the Ediba-Usumutong and Ebom-Ebijakara wars.

The crisis in these communities became a full-blown war around 2005 after years of bottled-up disaffection, aggravated by distrust and mutual suspicions over ownership of lands.

The carnage continued unabated for 15 years, with the people of Ebijakara dislodged from their land by the people of Ebom, who subsequently started taking over Ebijakara’s land.

This is even as they themselves lived in fear of counterattacks by the Ebijakaras, who were famous for their guerilla warfare.

It was not until 2020 that the youths who had been fighting, maiming, and killing one another decided to abandon fighting and embrace peace.

This miraculous decision was greeted with joy as the youths from the nine communities, after 15 years of carnage against their brothers, said enough is enough.

They went around the communities, hugging one another and saying nobody would persuade them to kill each other again.

That day, June 20, was officially declared a day of peace by the Bahumonu nation and has been celebrated annually since 2020.

Taking a cue from this, Sen. Ben Ayade, then governor of Cross River, set up a reconciliation committee headed by Sen. Ndoma Egba to consolidate peace and reposition Bahumonu for growth and development.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) visited Bahumonu nation during the 2023 Peace Day celebration and observed that although there was renewed hope from the people, much still needs to be done to cement the prevailing peace.

The paramount ruler of Abi and leader of Osumutong, Ovai Edward, told NAN that they have not achieved their ultimate goal.

“What we have today as peace is the effort of our youth; without them, we would not have achieved anything.

“But, today, the youths are becoming frustrated because they have sustained peace in the past three years, but the elders in the community still don’t agree.

“As far as the peace process is concerned, we have not achieved much because Ebijakara people are still displaced and the boundary issue between Ediba and Usumutong has not been resolved.

“The last administration set up a mediation committee that made recommendations, and if these recommendations are implemented, it will go a long way in reducing the palpable tension among the communities,” he said.

On his part, the Traditional Ruler of Ediba, HRH Ovai Uvara Anani, said Ediba went to court and won the case over the disputed land twice, and because of these, the Ediba people were superior in the ownership of the land in contention.He said the people of Usumutong have to negotiate with Ediba and not use force to enter their land.

“The government came to look into the matter and make peace through the Ndoma Egba-led committee but they refused to tell us the truth about the land.committee,

It is a new government now; if they are ready to come and give us peace, we will comply, but I will not fight,” he noted.

While the subtle bickering went on, NAN went into the communities and spoke to some residents who said all they wanted was infrastructural development.

A section of the ring road that connects the nine communities in the Bahumonu nation

Residents of the area said the peace would be incomplete without infrastructure, which was not in place because of wars.

In Ebom, Mr. Monday James said their roads are bad and they have no electricity, adding that these challenges have made it difficult for farmers to sell their agricultural produce.

He is, however, grateful to God that the fighting has ended, thereby making it possible for the people to return to farming.

Mrs. Mary Okoro said the bad road into Bahumonu has affected her business badly as her farm produce is hardly sold out.

“As a woman, I am pained because our schools have no teachers while the Primary Healthcare centres here lack basic amenities like water.

“Electricity and manpower are totally out of the question because nobody wants to come here; we are in desperate need of government attention.

“However, I am happy that we are no longer fighting because the women and children suffered most in those days of war,” she said.

Mr.Bahumonu: C’River: Communities where youths say no to war Clement Omina, President, Bahumonu Sociocultural Group, said they were able to form a Bahumonu indigenes committee to maintain peace in the area.

Omina, however, added that, as good as that decision is, there are still critical issues such as resettling Ebijakara and finding an acceptable boundary between Ediba and Usumutong communities.

“We are not happy with where we are today because, after three years since we decided to stop fighting, the Ebijakara people are not back in their homeland, and there are still skirmishes between Ediba and Usumutong.

“We have tried as a people to find our own solution because we know that homegrown peace will be more sustainable than whatever is forced on the people from outside.

“But the problem is that as a people of common ancestry, any decision we take is difficult for the other party to accept if it does not favour it.

“This is why we need an external arbiter, which is the government,” he said.

Corroborating the view of the Bahumonu Sociocultural Group, Dr. Earnest Eteng, Chairman of the Bahumonu Peace and Development Union, said the youths adopted a homegrown approach to the search for peace because outsiders considered it the best option.

“At this point, we need encouragement from the government; we need the implementation of the recommendations of the Ndoma-Egba committee, which also highlights meeting the infrastructure needs of the Bahumonu nation.

Back in Calabar, Mr. Davies Etta, a member representing Abi State Constituency in the Cross River House of Assembly, said the committee set up by the former governor did a good job.

He expressed hope that incumbent Mr. Bassey Otu would implement the recommendations of the committee for sustainable peace in the region.

“The ring road project that connects the entire nine communities is a project that, when executed, will impact all the communities in the Bahumonu nation.

“We are also looking at implementing programmes that will ensure the youth are awarded scholarships while those with businesses are supported with funds.

“If these are done, we will keep the youths busy while providing a conducive environment for the government to come and work in the area,” he said.

He advised the warring communities that justice may not give them peace, adding that peace comes from negotiation and sacrifice.

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