The defection of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State to the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari’s party, is unsettling the relative peace of the state. Former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, is saying that Umahi, who Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State claimed dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) because of his 2023 presidential ambition, is under a spell. Anyim is also accusing the new APC governor of plotting to eliminate PDP big wigs in the state.
It appears, the politics of Ebonyi will not remain the same again because of the ambition of one man. It also seems the governor has not learn any lesson from the bitter Ezillo – Ezza Ezillo communal conflict. Perhaps, he will not mind if the state is thrown into turmoil. Before setting the state ablaze, in Effects of Social Conflicts on the Sustainable Development of Ebonyi State, A Study of Ezillo-Ezza Ezillo Conflicts (2008-2014), Dr. Sunday Onwe, and two of his colleagues at the Department of Public Administration, Ebonyi State University, argue that the Ezillo – Ezza Ezillo communal conflict has shown how communal co-existence could be ruptured with attendant disastrous consequence on the social, cultural and political life of the people.
According to them, Ezillo is one of the seven sub-ethnic communities in Ishielu Local Government Area located in Ebonyi Central Senatorial District. These sub-ethnic and dialectic groups are Agba, Ohofia Agba (Ntezi dialect) Nkalagu, Nkalaha, Iyionu (Nkalaha), Azuinyaba (Ezza dialect). Within some of these sub-ethnic communities are Ezza – Ezillo, Ezza – Nkalagu, Ezza Ogboji – in Azuinyaba.
Due to the strategic location of Ezillo across the Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway, it hosts both people and infrastructural facilities such as the Ezillo farm settlement and Ezillo regional water scheme etc. There are several schools of thought on the origin of the Ezillo people. However, popular documented literature traced the origin of Ezillo to Mgbom Eze in Ishieke Izzi in the present Ebonyi local government area and Ikwo local government area.
According to this thought, the Ezillos and their Ezzangbo/Ngbo brothers regard Mgbom Eze as the ancestral father of Amaleze village in Ezillo. This ancestral brotherhood accounts for the sacred relationship between Ezillo and Ngbo on one hand and Izzi people on the other hand. This then explains the abhorrence of bloodletting between the groups.
The Ezza – Ezillo people came from Ezza South and Ezza North Local Governments Area. Ezillo people were reportedly invited to settle a land dispute between them and their Ngbo neigbhour at Egu Echara in the early 1930s. Ever since the end of the dispute, the Ezzas have continued to live amongst their host community, Ezillo. However, the relationships between the two groups have not been harmonious as it has degenerated to indigene – settler conundrum. Even though, there have been several episodes of conflicts in Ezillo since 52 years, but the confrontational phase occurred on May 10, 2008, following an altercation between one Ezillo boy and Ezza man over the erection of telephone booth at Isinkpuma motor park.
Though the Ebonyi state government quickly intervened to resolve the conflict, the conflict claimed so many lives and properties worth millions of naira and equally affected the socio-economic development of the area in particular and Ebonyi State in general. Social conflict is antithetical to sustainable development. The world commission on environment and development (1987) defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
Development can only be sustained in an environment free of rancour, disunity, killings destruction of lives and properties. The consequences of Ezza-Ezillo conflicts to the communities in particular and Ebonyi state in general is quite devastating and grievous. Such devastating impacts included general insecurity’s armed robbery, prolonged dislocation of families, poverty, more violent struggle for power low infrastructural development.
There was and still general insecurity and suspense in Ezza – Ezillo community. Those that suffered more losses in the conflict would be always getting ready to revenge, while those who may have gained advantage would be preparing for any eventuality. This has actually created a perpetual atmosphere of insecurity in the area. The armed conflicts resulted to dislocation of families. The areas were deserted and many members of the communities were helpless refuges in various part of the state, especially Abakaliki the state capital leading to congestion of the city and the attendant increase in criminal activities.
The conflict led to loss of many lives and properties. This has negatively affected the socio-economic life of the people as many shops belonging to some members of the community were burnt and some were raised down. This constituted a cog in the wheel of developmental efforts of the state government. Poverty has been on the increase as the people can no longer go about their normal businesses especially farming. It is even more pitiable and unfortunate when considered the fact that agriculture, especially farming is the main source of income to the people. The entire economic life of the state was affected as business activities were brought to a halt; vehicular movement along the major road of Abakaliki-Enugu express way was affected during the crisis.
Movement of goods and services was also affected. The National Bureau of Statistics in 2013 reported that 73.6 percent Ebonyians are poor. Women, children and the elderly are the worst hit. The state is yet to recover from the vandalisation of infrastructural and social amenities destroyed in the course of the conflict. According to Chukwu (2012) physical infrastructure (such as roads, portable water and electricity) and social services (such as education, health, recreation and security) are not adequately provided in the state.
Some youths especially, from the two communities lost all they have laboured for years consequent upon the conflict and now idle without job. It is against this backdrop that this study “ effects of social conflict and sustainable development in Ebonyi: A study of Ezza – Ezillo and Ezillo conflicts became imperative to ascertain the root causes of the conflicts with a view to making recommendations to forestall violent conflicts in the area.
Ebonyi is however, in Eastern Nigeria, inhabited and populated primarily by the Ndigbo with the city of Abakaliki as its capital and largest city. Other major townships include Afikpo, Onueke, Ezzamgbo, Edda, Effium, Aba Omege, Amasiri, Unwana, Echara Ikwo, Egu-Ubia, Ụbụrụ, Onicha, etc. It was one of the six states created in 1996 by the then federal military government of General Sani Abacha.
The state was created from parts of both Enugu State and Abia State, which were the Abakaliki division from Enugu State and the Afikpo division from Abia State respectively. It has three senatorial zones, the Abakaliki division make up Ebonyi North and Ebonyi Central Senatorial zones, while the Afikpo division make up the Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone. Ebonyi has thirteen local government areas as well as local development centres created by the state government.
In the mean time, both Anyim and Umahi hail from the old Ohaozara bloc. Shortly after his defection, Umahi accused the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim, of collaborating with IPOB to fuel violence in the state, warning that he will not fold his hands and watch a few disgruntled individuals or group of persons create security breaches in the name of playing politics.
Firing back, Anyim in a letter to President Buhari, the Inspector General of Police, Director-General of the State Security Services and the Chief of Defence Staff, accused Umahi of hatching a plan to assassinate him and other prominent leaders in the state, and also described the governor as a leader under a curse. The former Senate President noted that the present allegation against him and other PDP leaders in the state are spurious and tantamount to giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
“The allegation against us was an attempt to hide the sinister motive of the governor to kill him and other prominent leaders in the state. It is clear that Umahi may have been told that he needed to kill a high profile person in order to achieve his ambition. Ebonyians should be wise and those he is prepared to use for the killing should know that after using them, he will also plan to kill them to cover his track”, Anyim says.
According to him, the only offense he and other political leaders in PDP have committed is their refusal to follow the governor and defect to APC, disclosing that he and those Umahi are after have vehemently turned down the governor’s entreaties to follow him to new-found love, APC.
Joining the emerging political crisis in Ebonyi, Coordinator of Coalition for Emancipation of Ebonyi People 2023 (CEEP 2023), Emmanuel Eze, says the governor should mind his utterances and respect those who made him what he is today. ‘’Without all these leaders Umahi would not have been a governor today, wondering why the sudden attack on people that lifted him from grass to grace’’ Eze said.
He said it is uncultured and not in the character of an Ebonyi man to raise a finger against the likes of Ayim, Dr Egwu, Ogbuewu, Agboti, and Nwuruku who have contributed positively both nationally and locally to build Ebonyi to where Umahi met it in 2015, maintaining that Ebonyians will not allow the governor’s personal ambition to cause disaffection among the founding fathers, calling on the national leadership of the PDP to ensure that the party remains stronger in Ebonyi than before as that is the only way to prove that Umahi is not the owner of the party in the state.