GODWIN AJOM, Calabar
Dateline: July 1, 2020. On that bright Monday, the people of Nko, Yakurr Local Government Area who have been in tears following the invasion of their ancestral home, were still groping and cringing when they suddenly heard the sound of a blaring siren.
It was about noon. Some of them wanted to run away, the same way they fled the place when soldiers stormed the village penultimate week, after their colleague was shot by an unknown youth from the village. The shot soldier, alongside other security agents, had gone to Nko to find possible ways of resolving the communal clash between that community and their Onyadama neighbours from Obubra Local Government.
For days, Nko people became refugees. Some trekked for many kilometres either into the bush or Ekori or Ugep or Mkpani towns. They were there for days as refugees, hoping against hope, that soldiers would be ordered out of their land, to enable them return to their houses.
A few days before then, Dr Alex Egbona, the House of Representatives member from the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency had moved a motion on the floor of the lower chamber of the National Assembly, calling for the withdrawal of soldiers from Nko, even as he asked for relief from the federal emergency management agency for the war victims.
Those who wanted to flee on that fateful day were soon to find out that Egbona, their representative, was the August visitor, on the first day of the seventh month.
Their fears gave way to excitement when Egbona alighted from his car to embrace the old women and children, giving them words of comfort.
“I have come to see you people because of what you passed through in the last few days. I have come to see you and to give you hope. I have come to let you know that you cannot walk alone. I have come to offer you my shoulders for you to lean on. I share in your grief and discomfort.
“This crisis was actually avoidable. The state government will do the needful as far as this matter is concerned. But as your representative, I have come to let you know that I am with you in this your trying times.
“I have already presented food items and toiletries to the committee handling the relief, headed by one of our sons, Pastor Usani Usani. The committee is made of trusted sons and daughters of Yakurr and they will distribute everything to you. I also gave them cash. But I decided to bring the perishable foods to you myself. So, there is bread and water for you here. The food will go round. Please make sure you do not do anything unlawful. Stay peacefully and do not run away if you see soldiers. They will not hurt you.”
The village went into wild jubilation as they saw the food, and prayed for Egbona. They sang his praises and blessed him for remembering and standing by them in a way that no other person had done.
Shortly after addressing the people, the loaves of bread were given out. It was like a balm for the villagers who have lived in fear and hunger for days.
Around the Nko axis of the Calabar-Ikom highway, the Egbona team had stopped to see the soldiers and the palliatives committee from Yakurr. At that spot, various items including bags of rice, cartons of noodles, spices, toiletries, cooking oil et cetera, were handed over to the committee as represented by retired Brigadier-General Enang Ikagu who hailed the lawmaker for the gesture.
In fact, Ikagu said Egbona would have shocked them if he did not do what he did for the Nko people, because he was known for large heartedness. He prayed God to bless him.
Egbona moved from one refugee camp to another, showing IDPs some love and urging them to remain hopeful.
The following day, Egbona was at the palace of the Obol Lopon Ugep and paramount ruler of the local government, Obol Ofem Ubanga, to thank him for his efforts in accommodating some of the IDPs who ran to his palace to take refuge. He assured the custodian of the traditions of the Ugep people, that he would continue to do everything within his powers to ensure that the people did not suffer unnecessarily. He informed him of the efforts made in Abuja so far and said he would not relax until peace returns to the community and the people made to get back on their feet again.
The traditional ruler, expectedly, was excited and blessed him for reaching out to the war victims. He said his labour of love would not be in vain, even as he assured that his second term election was a done deal.
The Natives Speak, Lament Ordeal
During TNN’s visit to the area, it was discovered that most of the people who fled their homes were women and children. They had appealed that the military should be withdrawn, accusing them of worsening the crisis. “Let the state sovernment withdraw the Army from our community, they have burnt down many buses and shoot and arrested some of our people,” Bassey Egbe, a native explained.
Some children who spoke with our reporter, complained that they have not seen their parents, while some women explained that they have been sleeping in bushes because of the crisis. “I was almost killed, it is the grace of God that saved my life, I managed to escape.They went into the houses, even people they killed, one of my fellow retired soldiers was burnt inside his house, he’s dead. The house was burnt down with him inside. They broke down everything in my house, my apparatus that I use for my business as a water vendor, they scattered everything, I came out and told them that I am a retired soldier, they warned me that if I don’t get out, they will shot me,” Inyang Ekak Okpama explained.
According to Mercy Bessong Ita, a survivor camping at St. Francis Catholic church Ekori, “our community had a crisis with the neighbouring community, before we knew what was happening, soldiers came into to community and started shooting, killing people and start burning some houses. We ran into the bush. I have slept in the bush for two days, we thought the situation will be calm, but it didn’t so we ran through the bushes to this place (Ekori), a nearby community”.
One of the women whose husband was burnt inside their residence could not say anything but was crying all through. The villagers were afraid that the continuous stay of the military operatives doesn’t guarantee the safety of their lives and property.