A violence that broke out in four communities in Biase Local Government Area of Cross River State has left dozens killed and many more injured, our reporters have learnt.
Hundreds of women and children have also been displaced by the violence which broke out on Monday in Urugbam, Egbor, Ipene, and Abanwan, four of the 10 communities that make up Erei clan, which predominantly occupies the southwestern tip of Cross River near the border with Abia State.
An indigene traced the violence to the sale of a parcel of land, used to cultivate palm fruits since 1973. The land reportedly belonged to Urugbam and Egbor communities, but was leased out by the Egbor community to African Stone Works Ltd., allegedly without the consent of the Urugbam and other communities that have been a part of the cultivation for over 45 years.
Pictures of severed bodies said to be from the violence were sent to us by persons associated with the communities on Tuesday morning. They accused security agencies of not immediately responding to the violence, which they said was still ongoing as of 9:00 a.m. Tuesday.
The 14 Brigade Nigerian Army is located a few minutes away across the Abia State border in Ohafia, and residents said soldiers there must have heard as heavy gunshots were ringing out amongst Erei people.
The Cross River police commissioner, Hafiz Inuwa, told PREMIUM TIMES a deadly clash broke out in the communities, but said officers have been deployed to quell it.
“We have sent our men from divisions and area commands to the communities,” Mr Inuwa said by telephone Tuesday morning.
The police chief said he was yet to have a full report on casualty figures because he had been in Calabar, the state capital, but insisted that the crisis has been contained and no report of escalation from his officers on ground.
Chima Ezeamama, the manager of African Stone Works Ltd., told our correspondents that his company concluded purchase of the palm plantation a few months ago, and some elements in the communities have been fomenting trouble ever since.
“The problems are being caused by one or two criminally-minded individuals,” Mr Ezeamama said, declining to name the individuals.
He said the plantation was “bought legally” and with “due process” followed. Mr Ezeamama said after violence began brewing shortly after the purchase was concluded, his company drew the attention of state authorities to it.
“The state government set up a judicial panel of enquiry chaired by Justice Eyo Ita and he delivered his report last week Thursday,” Mr Ezeamama said.
Sunday Ugbuoji, an All Progressives Congress senator from Ebonyi State, was identified as a major investor in African Stone Works Ltd., and is said to have a prolonged interest in the disputed plantation.
The senator abruptly disconnected a telephone call from PREMIUM TIMES after learning that it was about the deadly clashes over the palm plantation. He did not reply separate messages seeking comments.