Three years after the invasion and destruction of Uju Community in Igburu, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State over cult and politics related unrest, the fleeing natives are yet to return home.
In commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of the invasion , Ambassador Bright Abali, a native of the community, spearheaded a march in the area. He later spoke with EDITH CHUKU in this interview.
It’s three years after the destruction of Uju Community, yet nobody has returned home; the natives are still on exile. How do you feel about this situation?
I feel pained, I feel pity. No one with blood and water running through his veins that wouldn’t feel same and even worse, especially after beholding the deserted, desolate, isolated state of the community while its inhabitants remain on exile till date. It’s with pain in my heart and extreme pity for my kinsmen and women from Uju-Igburu, ward seven in Ogba Ethnic Nationality, Ogba- Egbema-Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State that I am appealing, urging the government to as a matter of urgency, come to the aid of Uju people. This pain has motivated me to make this stringent petition to the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at all levels and all concerned entities.
Don’t you see government’s reluctance to rebuild Uju as a way of avoiding a re-occurrence of what led to its destruction?
For the sake of clarity, Uju Community in Ogba and all parts of ONELGA and extensively Rivers State was in trouble of cult and politically related unrest between the years of 2014 to 2016. Uju was not an exemption and was not also the most notable in the crisis. Unfortunately, the military invaded Uju Community in the wee hours of 30th December to 31st December 2016, destroying all beyond human comprehension. The indigenes of Uju have been on exile till date. What happened to Uju is heartbreaking, unjustifiable. Even as parents, when you spank a child with the left hand, you draw the child back with the right hand. We are not here to throw stones but to ask government to rebuild what is left, restore Uju so that her people can return home.
Can you specifically mention some of the things that were destroyed?
I’m happy you were there during the peace and restoration walk to rebuild Uju and you saw all these things, you saw for yourself. I watched you, I saw pity, tears and shock, I saw those expressions you exhibited even if you didn’t want it noticed. I wouldn’t want to return the question by asking you what you saw but let me quickly say that nothing was left in Uju.
Before the military invasion and destruction, Uju community houses over 70 block houses, over 30 mud houses, Rafia houses, worship centers, schools, pounds, farms, economic trees, mention them, today, Uju is a complete shadow of itself, destroyed beyond human comprehension and neglected by government at all levels and all agencies of government. Though destroyed, you can still identify most of those fallen walls and tell what they were.
The inhabitants of Uju have lost touch with the realities of life as they are forced into abject poverty, extreme impoverishment and displaced to superficial places, Uju people have been sent to oblivion, all houses and public amenities destroyed. The situation of Uju Community is better seen than narrated.
You are the convener of Uju peace and restoration walk held which on the 30th of December, 2019 in Uju Community. What was the motive behind the walk?
The civil society coalition summoned like minds and sympathizers for a solidarity walk to draw the attention of concerned government and government agencies to the plight of the people of Uju. You can see that by the destruction of Uju, hundreds of pupils have been forced out of school, religious faithful have differed their faiths for three years now, businesses, farms, hunting expedition which are major source of livelihood, have become history in the land.
The invasion of Uju which will remain an unforgettable nightmare, caused series of injurious harm to many people. Some innocent citizens were feared dead, others suffered fracture, bullet wounds, burns, misplacement of irrecoverable valuables.
Countless damages occasioned by the invasion and destruction of Uju Community is the reason why some community stakeholders on behalf of the community followed legitimate means to pursue the redemption of their losses in court and panels which God in His infinite wisdom resolved the matter in favour of Uju Community.
The crux of the matter today is that government at all levels has failed on its statutory responsibilities in all ramifications, particularly on protection of lives and property of her citizens. The military invasion and destruction is not in conformity with global best practices. It is a fact that the internally displaced people of Uju, after the grave loss and damages, have not been attended to in exile and the condition of the IDPs of Uju have aggravated in their various point, place and degree of displacement, as their habitation are not yet rebuilt. All these are the reasons for this solidarity walk, as it is widely believed by the sympathizers that an injury to Uju people is an injury to us all.
What is your appeal to government?
We resolved to end this peace walk with a strong message of appeal to the government at all levels, companies in ONELGA and beyond because we have noticed the presence of oil/gas pipeline here in Uju, perceived to be owned and enjoyed in 40/60 percent by government and IOCs. In this light, government, multinationals, interventionist agencies like NDDC, donor agencies, well meaning individuals should in their separate ways donate amenities to restore Uju community.
We urge the federal government to as a matter of urgency, commence immediate construction of bungalows for Uju people, the Rivers State Government should in same vein construct internal roads, rebuild government primary school Uju and restore the destroyed electricity supply, and the local government should also donate bungalows of housing units and install good drinking water in Uju. To share in the restoration of Uju, the companies operating in the LGA should as a matter of fulfilling their corporate social responsibility donate health center/health facilities, town hall, market and other necessities to Uju, while the military should interface with other security agencies and set up a security post along the Uju water bank in defence of the good people of Uju, before, during and after the return of the good people of Uju community, we have achieved this solidarity walk with over 20 groups to tailor down our demands for the restoration of Uju in 2020.