Communal crises in Okene: the robbery angle
Okene, the political headquarters of the Ebira ethnic nation confirmed its notoriety for communal riots again in the second week of April 2004, when youths of lruvucheba and Oziwaya wards took up arms against each other in a manner reminiscent of the civil war.
By the time the dust and smoke of the mayhem subsided, about seven people have been killed while eight houses were razed down by the combatants. Three other houses were partially damaged, while two more wounded people were rumoured to have died as a result of the injury sustained.
The brutality that accompanied the riots helped to obscure the cause, but many are agreed that the return of a suspected hoodlum who had participated in another clashes three years earlier, sparked off the recent riot. He was said to have killed an innocent fellow and escaped thereafter. He was sighted on the fateful day and the relations of his victim were said to have organized his killing in retaliation. However, his kinsmen reacted and thus the communal clash.
Many displaced people estimated to be up to one hundred are now refugee in various parts of Okene, squatting with relatives, friends and sympathizers.
It took the combined efforts of anti-riot policemen and the deputy governor, Mr. Philip Salau, who hailed from the area, to quell the riot.
Our VISION investigation revealed that communal clashes have become common place between various quarters in Okene metropolis and among some homogeneous communities in the last three years. In June 2002, Adavi-Eba and Ikuehi communities clashed during which some people were killed and many houses destroyed. A few months later, the same Adavi-Eba and the Okengwe community had a more serious clash during which about 35 houses were set ablaze in addition to casualties. Not quite long after, it became the turn of Idanuha and lnorere in Ogaminana people who are reputed to be second and third cousins. They were more brutal against each other, during which many were killed and dozens of houses destroyed.
Further investigations revealed that the traditional authorities of the area are handicapped by the general lawlessness and lack of respect for constituted authority by the youth of the area. The traditional rulers are, therefore, treading softly so as not to annoy the recalcitrant youths who could vent their anger on anyone at will.
It was also revealed that a chieftain of the PDP, who was a custodian of a powerful masquerade before he converted to Islam, has the key to the unraveling of the weapons used in the aforementioned communal clashes. The ex-masquerader, now a seemingly respectable Alhaji, is also said to be a herbalist with the knowledge of anti-bullet charms and magical acts of disappearance in the face of danger.
Many socialites in Okene confirmed the feared status of the new Alhaji, the ex-masquerader, as a ruthless gang leader who, at the drop of the hat, would send his boys on the trail of anyone who is perceived to be an enemy of his group.
The name of one Ovaro Ige became a recurring decimal, among the people interviewed, as the kingpin of the gang of hoodlums in Okene metropolis. He is said to be in possession of some sophisticated firearms, which he reportedly acquired during the tenure of an Inspector-General of Police who hailed from the area. This was in his days as a masquerader. He was said to be a consultant-herbalist to the ex-IG and through that relationship acquired those weapons, albeit, illegally.
All efforts to get the other side of the story at Okene from Ovaro Ige and the former IG proved abortive as the former was said to have gone into hiding while the retired IG was reported not at Okene at the time.
Sources close to some traditional rulers in the areabelieved that it was the weapons of Ige that Adavi-Eba people hired to deal some deadly blows against the Ikuehi community in 2002. The same weapons became handy in the hands of Okengwe community in their clash with Adavi-Eba in 2003. It was therefore logical that Ige, if truly he is in custody of such weapons, would utilize them in the clash between his Oziwaya people against Iruvucheba people. But is Ovaro Ige in custody of such deadly weapons? If so, for what purpose and why?
The issue of possession of illegal firearms assumed a frightening dimension in the last two years when farmers were being robbed of their farm products at gun point. In some cases, the robbers were said to have all the time they needed to harvest the farm crops, which they often carted away with their waiting trucks. Flashpoints are Aiyere – Kabba junction, Ijumu LGA where hundreds of Ebira farmers reside.
The implications are that if the weapons are not hired out to hoodlum to foment communal strife, then the armed robbers may be patronizing the illegal arms owners for their robbery operations. Whichever is the case, it is a disservice to the people to allow a few individuals to hold the society to ransom illegally.
On the other hand, it is not uncommon to find that a strong character like Ige may have incurred the jealousy of neighbours and peers alike. In some cases, such people are sometimes demonized, in order to cut them to size. Is that the case with Ovaro Ige? Or is he truly a robbery kingpin masquerading as a respectable religious man?
These are tall questions that could not be answered without a thorough official investigation by those charged with that responsibility – the Nigeria Police. Again, this has its own problems, the main point of which is the deep suspicion of the public against the police. Said a community leader, “Everyone in Okene knows that Ovaro Ige has connections right up to the top hierarchy of the Police. That was how he was reported to have acquired his guns in the first place. How do you think that Police will do a clean job if asked to investigate their friend?” Another elderly man said, “Everybody is afraid of Ige for his weapons and connection because he often sends his boys to deal with those he doesn’t like. His boys are well known; their activities are also known, but who dares challenge them with their connection with the Police?”
If only for the purpose of confirming Ovaro Ige’s innocence so he won’t continue to be unnecessarily demonized, a clean official investigation of the alleged possession of illegal arms has become the way out.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, Vol.5 No.4, 2004