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You are here: Home ❯ A HISTORY OF THE IBAJI COMMUNAL WAR 1991-2014


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The problem which this research “the history of Ibaji War 1991 -2014” intend to solve arose from the fact that, in spite of the dangerous impact of the war witnessed over the years by Ibaji people, they have not been any scholarly work on the above study. As such, this study is a problem which the researcher intends to solve or a gap which needs to be filled. therefore, among other objective, this study also seek to  highlight the impact of the communal war in Ibaji communities and Kogi State at large.



1.1    Introduction

Land dispute is not peculiar to one environment. It is as old as the existence of mankind. War stands out in the World since the creation of mankind. In age, war is as old as mankind and its time in history is one of datelessness. According to the Hebrew Scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament) the Israelites fought innumerable wars under God’s direction and divine counsel. God for instance decreed that Israel should make war to rid the promised land of the inhabitants (Leviticus 18: 1, 24-25: Deuteronomy 20:16-18). Archeological evidence puts Joshua’s defeat of the said inhabitants (the Canaanites) to 1225 BC. The Bible also records how king Jeroboam dispatched his huge army in civil war against Judah. When the mayhem finally ended, 500,000 of Jeroboam’s soldiers had been killed (2 Chronicles 13:12-18). Several wars were also fought across the globe for instance, there have been several wars fought within the whole of the Middle East, since the creation of the state of Israel and Palestine in 1948. The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990 also led to a bloody war which claimed hundreds of lives and properties of the people in the region. War as defined by Webster’s Dictionary is “a state of open and declared hostile armed conflict between states or nations or a period of such conflict.”1 Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 7th Edition defines war as a “situation in which two or more countries or groups of people fight against each other over a period of time”.2 To Kegley “war means a condition arising where actors use violent means to destroy their opponents or coerce them into submission.3 A significant part of the history of several communities in Africa generally and Nigeria in particular, concerns the struggles for land for farming or territories and the identification of previous boundaries provide a short hand account of states in the progress to the present pattern of societies. Often the event, which established new boundaries were sufficiently important to mark the division between important period in the diplomatic, military and political history of the community or society.4

The Uchuchu, Omabo and Ayah Communities of Eastern Kogi State have existed as boundary neighbours from time immemorial but the assessments of this geographical marriage can not be said to be devoid of discord or confrontation, neither had the people remained in perpetual state of crisis over boundaries claims.5

In some land disputes among these neighbours, the struggle was merely verbal and the people pursued their disagreement out pouring of angry speeches. Some disputes however had led to blood shed and protracted fighting and destruction of properties sometimes affecting hundreds of people within this communities.6

The Uchuchu, Omabo and Ayah communities clans were administered politically under the old Idah province during the colonial period. But in 1996 General Sani Abacha, the then Nigeria military Head of State and Commander-In-Chief of the Nigerian armed forces, created more states and local governments, carved Ibaji (Ibo-Aji) communities out as a Local Government Authority from Idah Local Government Area.7

The Uchuchu, Omabo and Ayah land crisis or dispute started in the early 1940s and 1950s when the Omabo people first settled in the Uchuchu community. The Omabo people who were said to have migrated from an Igbo community “Umubo” needed land for building residential homes and for farming. They also needed ponds for fishing, and the land given to them was the land between the Uchuchu, Ika, and Echono community, the land which belonged to the Uchuchu community.8 The land in question was given to the Omabo community by the Odoh clan in Uchuchu with the permission of the King of Uchuchu (Onu) and the leading age grade of the Uchuchu community.9

Questions often asked by the various committee set up by the government to settle the disputes were “who leased this land to the Omabo people?” Because it was widely believed that a man cannot lease out what he had not. According to the verbal testimonies of the chief of Odoh clans and the king of Uchuchu on 3rd January 2016, the Odoh clan chief and the king of Uchuchu, on-behalf of the community leased out the disputed land to the Omabo community. The numbers of years were not stated in the agreement, since the people were not literate. But tributes were collected from the Omabo people annually. This evidence automatically gives the Uchuchu community authority over the disputed land.10

The Omabo communities however have their own version of the story. According to the Omabo people, their king was the first to migrate to the disputed land after the Igala-Benin war of (1515-1516). They lived and farmed on the disputed area known to the people as (Ane Omabo). The claim made by the Uchuchu people that gave them authority over the land is being believed by the Omabo to be a forged statement and if it were authentic it means the Uchuchu people are claiming to have migrated to the area before the Omabo people.11

It is generally believed by the Omabo that the Ojila river is their border line right from time immemorial. The Omabo believes that all the land east of (Ojila) river belong to them, while the land south of this river belong to their neighbour (Uchuchu). The Omabo argue that right from time out of memory they repaired and maintained the (Ojila) river and other ponds were maintained by the Omabo people because the Uchuchu people do not see the land and river as their property and responsibility, until recently when the Uchuchu people took over the responsibility of the repairs and maintenance of the roads heading to the river.12

According to oral traditions, the elders of the Uchuchu community believes that Omabo migrated from “Umubo” where they first settled in the present day Anambra State, present day Nzam West Local Government. Due to some unfavourable conditions, they again migrated Southward, to their present settlement.13

Traditions of origin and settlement of the communities have not solved the dispute. Due to the discrepancies the Omabo went to war with her Uchuchu neighbour in 1991. With this violent dispute. The boundary relations between the Omabo and Uchuchu have rather been more confusing and conflictual.14

1.2      Statement of the Problem

The problem which this research intend to solve arose from the fact that, in spite of the dangerous impact of the war witnessed over the years by Ibaji people, they have not been any scholarly work on the above study. As such, this study is a problem which the researcher intends to solve or a gap which needs to be filled.

1.3       Aims and Objectives of the Study

Most of the available literatures on African history are inadequate, in that they pay little or no attention at all to the impact of communal war in society. This work intends to achieve the following objectives:

a)       To trace the tradition of origin of the people.

b)       To show what led to the communal war of Omabo-Uchuchu and how the dispute was controlled or managed.

c)       To highlight the impact of the communal war in Ibaji communities and Kogi State at large.

1.4       Scope of the Study

This research work focuses on disputes between the Uchuchu and Omabo communities. The time frame ranges from 1991 to date. 1991 is the commencement because this was the period when intra-communal conflict started in Ibaji land.

1.5       Limitation of the Study

In the course of the research, it was not possible for the writer to visit all the villages in Ibaji Local Government Area. Ibaji Local Government is made up of (10) ten wards with over 250 communities or villages. However, the researcher was able to visit (4) four villages chosen from the war affected areas.

Another limitation was that, some individuals interviewed were reluctant to give information concerning the war.

Another major limitation encountered in the process of making this research was migration. Many people who fought the wars have migrated from the area to different urban centres. Majority of them are presently living in Lokoja and Idah.

1.6    Research Methodology and Sources

This work intends to utilize both primary and secondary data sources. Primary data sources include oral interviews. The research equally employs secondary data sources which include text books, journals, articles, newspapers, magazines, panel report, government whites papers and students projects in the area of communal war problems. Selected people who have knowledge of the conflict in Ibaji land were interviewed. Traditional Rulers, District Heads, Local Government Chairman and Warriors who fought the war were interviewed.

1.6      Literature Review

Jacob Olufemi Fatile, Ph.D, and Professor Kunle Awotokun. In their book “Ife-Modakeke Crises” pointed out that the cause of the Ife-Modakeke feud was the out break of Kiriji war in 1878. The war had its immediate impact on the relationship between Modakeke and Ife. The former joined Ibadan against Ijesu and Ekiti ‘parapo’, while the latter joined the enemy camp. During the second major confrontation in 1882, the sacred city (Ile-Ife) was burnt down, the inhabitants driven out, and many sold into slavery.

He further pointed out that the payment of ‘Isakole’ is another remote cause of the crises. The boom in cocoa prices changed the traditional landlord and tenant, between Ife and Modakeke. Instead of the token payment, the Ife landlords demanded ten percent of the cocoa produced on all land cultivated by Modakeke. The Modakeke on their part argued that they have been subjected to unwarrantable demands of ‘Isokole’ land rents by individual Ife people. Modakeke who pay ‘Isokole’ on every acre of land resented being ‘harassed’ and ‘insulted’ by the Ife landlords who have refused to accept the former’s interpretation of Land Use Act and insisted that payment of ‘isokole’ should continue. It is this setting of supremacy that led to the crises.15 The unfortunate disturbances have taken a heavy toll in terms of lives and properties. Lives lost could not have been less than 100, properties lost run into millions of naira infact, houses and vehicles burnt / destroyed as we have seen in the Uchuchu-Omajo dispute, which have been occurring quite often, have revolved around ownership to a particular area of land. This has also been the reason for the crises between Ife and Modakeke.

Ikechukwu J.D. Nwosu, PhD. In his book “Marginality and the Niger Delta Crises; Ogoni Ijaw and Warri Crises in Perspectives” pointed out, that the basic contradiction in the area lies in the fact that while resources from oil enhance national capabilities in practically all spheres economic, military, industrial, infrastructural and technological – of human endeavours, the same resources from oil become the focal point of the most virulent and unrelenting conflict among oil companies, social classes, as well as local communities and individuals.

He further pointed out that the major problems of the people of Niger Delta are traceable to economic deprivation, oil exploration and production activities that impact negatively on the lives of the people of the region. Against this backdrop, the conflict between the people of Niger Delta, the Nigerian state and oil multinational are expressed at three levels; the local, national and global. Some of the oil companies are Shell, Agip, Chevron, Mobil and Elf among others procure communal land unfairly for oil exploitation. The impasse led to the killing of four prominent Ogoni leaders, who were murdered in most gruesome and brutal manner anyone can imagine, “clubs, rakes, fire, rods, machetes etc. were used and till date their remains unrecovered. Hence, in accordance with the laws of Nigeria, Ken Saro-wiwa and other Ogoni eight were executed by hanging in November 10, 1995.16

C. Jaja Nwanegbo in his article, “inter-communal conflict in the South-Eastern Nigeria: A case study of Aguleri – Umuleri conflicts” (2005) stated that the conflict involving the two neighbouring communities manifested since 1933 when they had their first recorded full-blown confrontation. These two communities have since then had three other fierce b9attles, with the first coming at every thirty first (31) year and increasing with each developing phase, in intensity of action and extensiveness of its spread. These are the 1964, 1995 and the 1999 wars.

The attack which started on the construction project by Chief Dan Ekwevi and from there other locations of building and projects alleged to be on their land were attacked, vandalised, burnt or pulled down. The record of destruction from the finding of the commission of inquiry put the two days war at seven (7) public building, like schools, churches and among others worth about two hundred and forty six million, six hundred and forty-seven thousand, eight-hundred and fifty-five (N248,847,55) naira only. Sixty one (61) private houses destroyed worth over one hundred and eighty seven million, six hundred and ninety-seven thousand, nine hundred and thirty-four (N187,697,934) naira and a record of 79 persons lost their chatters (stock worth over sixty-three million, ninety-two thousand, nine hundred and seventy-four (N63,092,974) naira only. Many persons were killed. Almost every child born in some specific geographical area within the warring zone had no house to stay in, and even after the war as their houses were vandalised, burnt or pulled down. There were no food, no clothes and for many no parents to guide them.17

Abada Ifeanyichukwu Michael in his article “The Inter-Communal Conflict ins Nigeria: A Case Study of Zangon-Kataf 1992 in Southern Kaduna crises” reported that the crises or riot which initially started on a very small scale suddenly reached an unprecedented level which drew the attention of the state and federal government. The crises erupted when the then local government chairman of Zangon-Kataf announced his intention   to relocate the urban market dominated by the Hausa – Fulani Muslims to a new site. The Hausa community in Zango predictably resisted the relocation of the market. The group claimed that the newly proposed site was part of Muslim Annual Eid praying ground. The natives (Kataf) used the issue of relocation of the market to address some existing issues of domination, socio-cultural and economic inequality being perpetrated by the Hausa – Fulani hegemony in Zangon-Kataf. The year 1992 became a watershed in the relationship between the Atyaps and Hausa – Fulani. The crises degenerated into an all out religious violence between Christians and Muslims communities in Kaduna. The devastating riot that broke out in May 1992 in major cities of Kaduna, claimed so many lives and destruction of property. The Muslims in the city took it to mean the killing of the Muslims while the Christian counterparts took it to mean killing of the Christians by the Muslims.18

Ukertor Gabriel Moti (PhD) in his article “An examination of the effect of the Tiv-Jukun conflict of central Nigeria on development” pointed out that, the Tiv-Jukun conflict has been about land, traditional and modern political and economic marginalization. There was massive burning of houses, business premises, schools, accompanied by looting of property. The method of killing people were extremely brutal, and included beheading, setting of victims ablaze, the killing of pregnant women and children. The destruction of infrastructures such as schools, health facilities, etc disruption in trading activities, the bottle necks in the free movement of goods and services as well as the disruption in the transportation system forced the economy of the area to perform under potential. Zaki-Biam and Dan Anacha, Nigeria largest yam markets were destroyed and the stores remained closed over 6 months in some instances. Juku towns such as Akwana, Arufu, Sondi and Kente etc. were badly destroyed by Tiv militia groups. The conflict also took a big toll in terms o human life. Although there is no accurate statistics of casualties either by government or the communities, it is estimated that over ten thousand people must have been killed in the crises and over 200,000 people displaced. We have seen that the Uchuchu, Omabo and Ayah dispute which has been occurring quite often has revolved around land ownership and lakes. This has also been the issue between the Tiv and the Jukun in the Taraba Benue area in central Nigeria or Middle Belt.19

Ibiang O. Okoi in his article “The 1992 Ugep-Idomi Boundary conflict in Cross River State, Nigeria – A discourse”, opines that the crises is traceable to the 1929 major land dispute between the two communities. During the crises a man from Ugep by name Edok Utom was shot dead by an Idomi man Okoi Ekpang. This unsettled state of affairs continued to linger on by gradually culminating in the unfortunate incident of 13 March, 1992, that colossal damages were registered. The Idomi secondary school was razed to the ground, houses destroyed and property were burnt or looted.

He opined further that there are three major reasons that account for why farmland was and still is the principal factor for the outbreak of hostility between communities. Land is held as a symbol of prestige, shifting cultivation and over population. As we have seen in the Uchuchu-Omabo dispute of 1991. The boundary dispute caused an automatic stoppage of the Ugep-Idomi road constructions project Udomi electrification project awarded in 1991 and 1992 respectively during Mr. Clement David Ebri’s tenure as governor” were all abandoned. The Idomi community was cut off completely from Ugep and the State, they were cut off from her brothers, sisters and political friends in other communities. 20

Olubomehin, O. Oladipo in his article “Ethnic and communal clashes in Nigeria: The case of the Sagamu 1999 Hausa-Yoruba conflict” provided three different explanations. The first and perhaps most common is that it was caused by the death of two Hausa women said to be prostitutes who were killed during the celebration of a traditional festival known as Oro. Their death was not taken lightly by the Hausas residents of Sabo quarter in Sagamu who took to protest. This led to heavy trouble as aggrieved Hausas were not willing to retreat. The protest degenerated into violence which later brought about destruction of lives and properties and left many injured.

Figures of those killed were variously put at between 60 and 120 people. No fewer than 100 houses and shops, three mosques, Arabic schools, hotels, hospitals, filling stations and a bank, vehicles and motorcycles were burnt in the violent clashes. The value of property destroyed was put at 5 billion naira. Though several references were made in some of his work as regard to communal disputes, yet no mention of Uchuchu-Omabo crises and its impact on the inhabitant which is the concern of this study was made. However, this study is of importance as it discuses communal conflict and its impact to the economic development of Ibaji and Kogi State at large.21

Dr. R.O. Oji et al., “Communal conflicts in Nigeria: An examination of Ezillo and Ezza-Ezillo conflict of Ebonyi State, (1982:20-121)”, gave several factors such as the indigene and settler conundrum, economic resources land and territory issues as the causes of the conflict, yet did not make mention of Ibaji communal conflict and its impact on its inhabitants, which is the corn of this study. The Ezillo attributes the denigration of their cultural and traditional heritage by the Ezzas as some of the causes of the dispute. This include: flouting of new yam festival rules – bringing new yam into Ezillo market by the Ezzas before the cultural rites of new yam in Ezillo, looting of the people artifacts and antiquities, killing of fish in sacred ponds and rivers, desecration of the chieftaincy institution as evident in the beating of the traditional ruler of Ezillo, Eze Chima Onyibe and his wife in 2008. In 1992, the Ezillo people also alleged that the Ezza people seized Nwafor Isimkpuma market and renamed it Eke-Ezza.22

He pointed out that the confrontational phase occurred on 10th of May, 2008, following an alteration between an Ezillo boy and Ezza man over erection or telephone booth at Isinkpuma Motor Park which resulted to loss of lives and properties of the people.

Francis Abul Uyang, et al., “Communal land conflict and food security in Obudu Local Government Area of Cross River State, Nigeria” The paper pointed out that communal conflicts are enemies of food security. The conflict disrupts food production through physical destruction and plundering of crops and livestock, harvest and food reserves. Communal conflicts also prevent and discourage farming and also interrupt the lives of transportation through which food exchanges and even humanitarian relief takes place. The conflict just as we have seen in the Ibaji communal conflict forced many people to flee their homes and villages. However, over the years, the agricultural sector which is the mainstay of the people’s economy has witnessed a tremendous decline due partly to scramble for scarce economic resources leading to communal conflicts with adverse effects on food security in Obudu local government area of Cross River State, Nigeria. The scramble for scarce economic resources exacerbate communal land conflict with arms and other dangerous weapons freely used, leading to massive killings, displacement of people and destruction of farms worth millions of naira.23

Marietu O. Tenuche, “The state, identity mobilization and conflicts: A study of intra ethnic conflict in Ebira land, North-central – Nigeria”, (2009) gave a clear picture that the institutional legacy of colonialism is at the root of conflicts in post-colonial societies in Africa. The colonial authority structure did not respect the age long patriarchal nature of the people. Violent conflicts occurred in Ebira land in 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1952. Appointment of a warrant chief in the person of Ibrahim Atta with wide powers under the Native Authority System undermined the traditional process. However the struggle over chieftaincy and local power structures has been one important basis for intra-ethnic conflict in Ebira land. Inter-clan conflict became a recurring problem in Ebira land as exemplified in the recurring violent conflict between, Okengwe and Ihima districts, and Adavi Eba and Okengwe districts. Some consequences of the intermittent violent outbreak include loss of lives and property, social tension, disruption of family and communal life, general atmosphere of mistrust as well as violent conflicts that involved use of dangerous and sophisticated weapons together with access to drugs and assorted light weapons, the use of poisonous substances cocaine inclusive, and gun running.2

End Notes

1.   Dr. Jonas Eze and Young Michael Osuji “Strategic Thinking: A Study in Modern Coercive Diplomacy, Huvika-J. Publisher, Enugu, 2014. Page 2

2.   Same page 2

3.   Same page 2

4.   Oral Interview with Ojoduwa Mathew, 73 years, Head Master, at Odeke, 02/04/2016.

5.   Oral Interview with Godwin Ajodo, 47 years, Carpenter, at Odeke 02/04/2016.

6.   Oral Interview with Austine Akoje, 43 years, Farmer, at Omabo, 03/04/2016.

7.   Oral Interview with Jonathan Afachima, 60 years, Principal, at Uchuchu  03/04/2016.

8.   Oral Interview with Elder Peter, 90 years, Farmer, at Uchuchu, 03/04/2016.

9.   Oral Interview with Fada Moses, 40 years, Farmer, at Uchuchu, 03/04/2016.

10.               Oral Interview with Daniel Okwute, 55 years, Civvil Servant, at Anocha, 04/01/2016.

11.               Oral Interview with Mr. Austin Ajodo, 44 years, Farmer, at Omabo, 04/01/2016.

12.               Oral interview with Mrs. Austin Ajodo, 39 years, Farmer, at Omabo, 04/01/2016.

13.               Oral Interview with Elder Jonah Ufine, 92 years, Head Master, at Uchuchu, 04/01/2016.

14.               Oral interview with Solomon Unwuchola, 40 years, Civil Servant, at Uchuchu 04/01/2016.

15.               Jacob Olufemi Fatile PhD. and Professor Kunle Awotokun, “Ife-Modakeke Crises in Perspective”, Ibadan, Spectrum Book Ltd, 2009 P. 486- 495.

16.               Ikechukwu .J. Nwosu, Phd, “Marginality and the Niger Delta Crises: Ogoni, and Warri Crises in Perspective”, Ibadan, Spectrum Book Ltd. 2009 P. 548-557.

17.               C. Jaja Nwamegbeo, “Inter-Communal Conflict in South-Eastern Nigeria: A Case Study of Aguleri-Umuleri Conflicts”, Ibadan, Spectrum Book Ltd. 2009, P. 500-509.

18.               Abada Ifeanyichukwu Michael, “The Inter-Communal Conflict in Nigeria: A Case Study of Zango-Kataf 1992 in Southern Kaduana Crises,” Ibadan, Spectrum Book Ltd, P. 476-481.

19.               Ukertor Gabriel Moti (PhD), “An Examination of the Effect of the Tiv-Jukun Conflict of Central Nigeria on Development” P. 8-11.

20.               Ibiang O. Okoi, “The 1992 Ugep-Idomi Boundary Conflicts in Cross River State, Nigeria- A Discourse”, American Journal of Social Issue and Humanities, Vol, 2 (1) Pp. 14-18.

21.               Olubomehin O. Oladipo, “Ethnic and Communal Clashes in Nigeria: The Case of the Sagamu 1999 Hausa-Yoruba Conflict” An International Multidisciplinary Journal, Ethiopia”. Vol. 6 (3), Serial No. 26, July, 2012. P. 138-142.

22.               Dr. R. O. Oji, et al., “Communal Conflicts in Nigeria: An Examination of Ezillo and Ezza-Ezillo Conflict of Ebonyi State, (1982-2012), Kuwait Chapter of Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review”. Vol, 4, No. 1, September 2014 Pp. 515, 518-519.

23.               Francis Abul Uyang, et al.,s “Communal Land Conflict and Food Security in Obudu L.G.A. of Cross River State, Nigeria” Vol. 3, No. 4, Published online November 2013 in scires Pp. 193-196.

24.               Marietu O. Tenuche, “The State, Identity Mobilization and Conflict: A Study of Intra-ethnic Conflict in Ebira land, North Central Nigeria’’ African Journal of Political Science and International Relations, Vol. 3 (5) May 2009. Pp. 255-257.

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