Odukpani Local Government Area, comprising of 29 villages has been sacked in the ongoing land dispute and Chieftaincy tussle between Raphael Okpa Ita, father of Christian Ita, Chief Press Secretary to Cross River State Governor and Ntufam Bassey Ndifon Ejen.
The worst hit is New Netim village, where there is no single person as they have all fled to neighbouring communities in Calabar Municipal Council and Calabar South Local Council.
The two primary and secondary school schools in the village have been equally deserted by pupils and students, even some are believed to be hiding in surrounding bushes all because of the ambition of the two men who are determined to lead the village.
According to reports, New Netim preferred Ntufam Ejen over Mr Ita. The resulting carnage was because Ita refused to accept the disposition of the village. Again, there is another dimension to the tussle in the community which borders on land rivalry between New Netim and Odukpani Qua Town. In a legal suit filed by the people of Odukpani Qua Town against New Netim laying claims to a piece of land, the judgement in the said suit wasn't in favour of Odukpani Qua Town, this too is reported to have led to the rift between the two villages.
All this is believed to have culminated in the invasion of New Netim on the 28th of September 2016 which reportedly began from 18th September. According to a community leader from New Netim, who spoke to The Guardian, Pastor Benedict Ita Egom of the Truth and Life Church, said:
"Trouble started on September 18, 2016, when I was conducting a programme in church. The service ended around 10 pm. Before I got to my house, I heard gunshots everywhere in the village (New Netim). So, I had to bring in all members of my family and shut the door. But what I saw the following morning was a disaster. Groups of people were wielding firearms everywhere, so I had to leave the house with my children to Odukpani, where there is calm.
"The problem in New Netim is a leadership problem. There is a certain Raphael Okpa Ita, who was appointed as a caretaker of New Netim village. He was in that office for about eight years. But the community felt that he was unable to manage the community effectively because boys were causing problems randomly. So, the community asked him to relinquish power, so that a replacement that is capable of bringing peace and uniting the people would be put in his stead.
"After he refused to heed the community’s call on three different occasions, the people were left with no other option than to gather again and elect a new chief that will bring peace to this community. That was how Ntufam Bassey Ndifon Ejen, (JP), also known as “Loco,” was elected as the new village head of New Netim. After Ejen was elected as our village head, Ita vowed that he would not recognise him, and would not accept the election by the community. All these he is doing because his son is the Special Assistant on Media, and Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, and one of his brothers by name Solomon, has enough financial muscle to throw his weight about. So he concluded that he must become the village head. But the community said no," Egom alleged.
"Since that incident, about five people have died, the last one died on Tuesday last week. We want peace here, so the government should arrest the perpetrators of this problem because the government knows what to do so that peace will reign here. The other day, the troublemakers just came again to harass people and everybody ran away, including the few people that were in the market."
Egom alleged that the certificate of recognition from government, which Ntufam Ita is said to be in possession of, have been forged since he has people in the Governor’s Office.
"We have petitioned the state Commissioner of Police, and the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs about the certificate. There is nowhere they have not taken us to that we have not gone with them, yet they are still not satisfied, they want to kill us and that is why they burnt our houses, and the community is now deserted."
The Village Head of Akim Akim, Chief Ita Bassey, (pictured standing dejectedly in front of his torched house in Odukpani Qua Town) said,
"I was sleeping here on the 28th of September, and had no premonition that something of this nature will happen. The next thing I heard was people continuously shouting ‘Mopol, Mopol, Mopol.’ Shortly after I suddenly woke up, I saw some people using matchetes to cut my window, and I was wondering what was going on. Those that were doing this were saying that they would bring Ojoh people to come and fight the Odukpani people. Nobody expected this kind of thing to happen."
Bassey, a retired staff of Pamol Nigeria Ltd, believes that, the crisis rocking the community centres around one man called “Raphael Okpa Ita. His father was Ntufam Okpa Ita. The problem that has engulfed the entire community is about the selection of a new village head for New Netim. Any place that one hails from, there must be a process of selecting a village head. In Odukpani Qua Town, it is my cousin, Cyril Omin Ita, that was elected, and his coronation has since taken place
"In New Netim, Ejen (Loko) was chosen by his people, but Raphael Ita whom the people rejected wants to force himself on the people, claiming the position of Ntufam, insisting that he is the correct person for the job. This man has put people through a lot of troubles, with the assistance of his brother and son. He even brought about division among the youths, as some were with him and others with Ejen. But Ejen, as a God-fearing person and peace lover has said instead of the tussle bringing about further trouble for the people, he was willing to walk away."
Recalling the crisis that engulfed the village, Bassey said:
"It was God that rescued people like me. On the day that my house was burnt, the kind of gunshots that I heard, I have never heard it all my life. As they were firing, I hid myself behind the door blind. Before you knew what was happening, they poured petrol into my house and lit a matchstick. As it started to burn, I prayed to God not to let me die. The fire burnt everywhere, but I managed to escape into the bush where ants feasted of me. My people too managed to escape. But the money I had at home is all gone.
"This house you are seeing here is my house, and the one beside it belongs to my late brother, Nsa Omin Ita. I worked with Pamol for 40 years, and managed to build this house. But I lost it alongside four wheelbarrows and two motorcycles to the fire. Everything I have lost, including the house is valued at about N15 million, while that of my late brother is estimated at about N25 million, but I thank God that nobody died. That very night, corps members living in the community were also attacked, but thank God nothing happened to them. However, in the entire crisis, about seven people have so far died on both sides."
More photos below...
Source: The Guardian/Ifere Paul/ Cross River Watch