An employee of the Ebonyi State Ministry of Information, Eugene Ibenyi, in this interview with EDWARD NNACHI, shares his experience about the beheading of his mother, Mrs Elizabeth Ibenyi, when some gunmen invaded Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community in the Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state
You lost your mother when gunmen in military uniform attacked your village. How did it happen?
Around 11.15am on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, I received what sounded like an emergency call from the village that many had lost their lives. So, I went home and I saw a lot of destruction. Men and women were killed and beheaded; houses and other valuables were burnt to ashes and people were wailing. I didn’t know my mother was involved. Nobody told me anything but I was taken to a place where my mother beheaded body was. I was devastated.
How many were killed excluding your mother?
Nine other persons were also killed. I counted the corpses and there were nine of them. Now, as we speak, the death toll has risen to 10, as Mr Titus Ugadu, who sustained machete cuts during the attack, is dead.
Was it as a result of a fight between the people of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community, Ebonyi State and the people of Agila community, Benue State or was it a one-sided attack?
I want to tell you without hesitation that it was an unprovoked attack by the Agila people, who are avowed enemies of Ngbo people. This is because as of the time they attacked my community, there was nothing that could be said was the offence of my people, nothing. Nobody could point at a particular thing. It was a one-sided attack from them, which was why they killed so many persons in our community. My people were caught unawares. They were relaxed in their homes, not in their farmlands. They swooped on them, killed as many as nine, burnt down houses and other valuable property and barns. They burnt down my own house, too. At that point, everybody could have been running for their lives and nobody could give account of how they killed my mother. She was killed about 150 metres away from the boundary, where they caught, killed and beheaded her.
How old was your mother?
My mother should be around 73 or 74 years of age.
When and what time of the day or night did the attackers invade your community?
Like I said, they were not only armed, they were also adorned in military uniforms. Those who saw them described them as 10 young military men. But I’m sure it is the Agila people that unleashed this mayhem on our people. This is because the hallmark of their earlier attacks is to kill and behead their victims.
How many people did your family lose in the incident?
I lost my mother and unfortunately, before now, I lost my younger brother, in similar incident. That was four years ago. People have been saying why not leave the place and relocate your loved ones to another place. But the answer is to where? The truth of the matter is that our people are suffering because of the general belief that peace is returning.
Can you describe the personality of those who were killed?
My mother was the engine room of my family. My mother was a peacemaker. This was somebody, who though lost her son to attack previously, would say if she saw an Agila person running into trouble here, she would defend such an individual. She was a peacemaker, she was always organising and making sure everything worked well for the family.
For the others, one of the men they killed was a widower, who lost his wife some years back. He had a blind sister he was taking care of and this blind sister was like a second wife to him. These people dragged the blind sister out and killed her and later killed the man himself. In another compound, they killed a man, killed his two wives and killed someone who had come to visit him.
It’s widely reported that your people have had protracted inter-communal clashes with Ngbo people over land dispute. What do you think makes this attack on your community different from others in the past?
First of all, before I get to what makes this very attack different from previous ones, it is a very wrong notion to say that Ngbo people have been having land dispute with the Agila people. It is the Agila people who have been coming always to fight us. When they say their people (that’s Agila people) have been attacked, have they shown evidence as we (Ngbo people) are showing now? When you say people attack you and you are not showing any evidence, it means you are not truthful. We can show evidence of decapitated bodies, destruction of property and other valuables. This is not just the first or the second time. So, there has never been a time the Ngbo people were on the offensive against them and that’s the truth and that’s why they attack us every now and then and each time, they do, they would, in turn go to the social media and alleged that our people attacked them. Like the one that happened at Ukwuagba community in Ebonyi, from the same Agila people, we showed pictures and stories. They are just calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
What we used to know was that before mobile policemen or military men would come to secure the people living within the boundary area, the traditional rulers would know; the councillor would know; the youth leader would know, and even the coordinator of the area would be aware. Information would trickle down from the state government to the grassroots and people would be made to know what’s happening and the security agents would be welcomed because they have come to protect lives.
Now few days to this very attack, men suspected to be military men came in their trucks and went back. They did this thrice and each time they came, we would hear the Agila people would come. It was not clear who these men in military uniforms were and channels of communication were broken and this caused panic in the area. Not really knowing whether these men were real soldiers or Agila people in military uniforms, so the people of Ngbo were panicking and at a point they relaxed, these men came and started killing and beheading the people.
There have been this insinuations that both state governments were politicising the crisis, instead of coming up with measures to address it once and for all. What do you think?
My brother, it is only God that knows what is hidden. We have heard of the efforts of both states governments being announced on the radio and on the pages of newspapers. I do know that there have been attempts, through reconciliation committees and negotiations either by the Ebonyi State Government or jointly by both state governments. When a tragedy of this magnitude had not erupted, we took that to be satisfactory and I think it was working. But you know issue on matter of live and death like this is always a serious matter. To answer your question, I am not in a better position to say they are politicising it; if they are doing that, only God knows.
There is this widely held view that the military allegedly aided the Agila warlords in this latest attack on Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community. What do you think?
I cannot tell you specifically that those who attacked my village were aided by the military or not. But in communication, there is what is called body language. Even if they didn’t aid them, I’m not satisfied with the way the whole thing was managed by the military. Like I said, if you visit a place maybe to protect the people there, you look for the traditional ruler, the councillor, the youth leader, or representatives of the people there and state why you are in their place; not just moving on the road to and fro, fully armed and people would be afraid even to ask you questions.
And as an offshoot of that, people begin to live in fear. Then suddenly, the same set of people or another set of people in same military uniform, would emerge from nowhere and start killing people. It’s mixed up. This is very difficult to differentiate and segregate. So, I cannot be in a position to tell you that they are aiding or abetting it.
If you were mandated to proffer solution to the crisis between these two communities, what do you think can be done to address it?
The best and fastest thing that could be done and peace would finally return is for the government to muster that political will to demarcate the boundary there. We have heard stories of the National Boundary Commission, but we have not seen the practicality.
The best thing is to demarcate the place and put a military zone in-between to repel a possible attack from each side. If you have a buffer and it is not occupied by anybody, they will still attack themselves. There should be a fortified military base there. On the government side, they should make the people to earn their trust and confidence again. With this, peace can return.
Has peace returned to your community after the attack?
There is no peace. You can imagine a place where nine persons were killed. You can imagine the state of mind of the people there. I don’t think there is perfect peace there. What I can tell you that is existing there is fear, fear and fear and that is why people are calling on the government to help address the issue.