The ongoing crisis between the people of Ijiegu-Yache and Tiv settlers from Benue State, which resurfaced on July 22, has resulted in the death of more than 20 youths from the two communities, with many others injured and in critical medical condition.
Daily Trust on Sunday findings showed that several properties were destroyed, including the burning down of about 50 houses, stealing of several motorcycles and destruction of farm products.
But for the timely deployment of soldiers from 130 Battalion Ogoja, and contingents of the Nigeria Police Force from Ogoja Area Command in Ijiegu-Yache town of Yala LGA of Cross River State, the disaster would have been worse.
Their presence has helped to stem the tide of killings of youths and elders from Ijiegu-Yache and the Tiv settlers from neighbouring Benue State.
Non-payment of land royalties triggers violence
Secretary of Yala and Cross River North Elders Forum, Barrister Leonard Anyogo, who said that the violence is unfortunate, disclosed that the cause of the violence is that there has not been clear cut boundary demarcation between the two communities.
He added that Tiv people of Benue State have settled on the land for a long time. He said the land in dispute is actually where the boundary of the then Southern and Northern Protectorates was, which was Yache land.
Augustine Odey said the Tiv settlers have been paying royalties to them over the years but suddenly stopped without cogent reasons.
“Our people have made entreaties to them, demanding the payment of the royalties but they have been rebuffing. Now, they have resorted to violence and killing of our people,” he said.
Explaining the latest attack which resulted in the killings, Odey said they were in a church service penultimate Sunday when pandemonium ensued.
“A few of our youths had gone to enquire from the Tiv settlers why they refused to pay royalties as usual for settling on our lands. The Tiv people seized one of our youths, beat him to stupour and he died instantly.
“Of course, that triggered a reprisal. But they were prepared. They attacked and killed seven of our people and burnt 15 houses,” he added.
In a statement by concerned citizens of Yache to the state government, they explained that they have accommodated the Tiv settlers in Yache land for more than seven decades now, under a form of land tenement agreement.
“The current crisis was remotely triggered by a breach in the tenement contract, whereby the Tiv settlers failed to keep to their terms of the bargain. On July 22, 2023, some of our young men embarked on a legitimate mission to ask for outstanding land royalty from the Tiv settlers when an argument ensued between them and the Tiv settlers.
“This led to the attack and brutal murder of one of our young men on the mission by some young Tiv settlers,” the statement read in part.
We’re not Tiv settlers; we’re from Cross River too
Meanwhile, the Tiv community leaders in Yache have argued that it is wrong for the Ijiegu-Yache people to attack, kill and burn their houses, claiming that they are settlers and must pay royalties.
They have also lamented that the wider opinion of many are against them in favour of the Yache people.
Mr Jacob Uswa said he is 54 years old and that his late father was the community chief, and that after his death, he was automatically crowned a chief to replace him.
‘My father and his own father lived in this community for over 100 years. And I have lived here for over 50 years.
“I am surprised to hear from Yache people that we are not from here.
“We are indigenes of Cross River State, not Benue State. Despite this, we had succumbed to obeying their demands to pay royalties on lands and houses,” he said.
Uswa denied that they started this latest fight that has resulted in casualties on both sides.
According to him, it was the Yache boys who came to collect royalties that sparked the fight.
“Yache boys have burnt nearly 50 of our houses, killed our people, that most of us have fled. They have burnt my house,” he maintained.
Appealing for peace between both sides, he commended the soldiers for their efforts to keep the peace.
Also speaking, another Tiv youth leader, Benedict Kar, said he was affected as his house was razed.
Kar said the Yache people insisted that they are the landlords and they, the Tiv, are settlers. Kar claimed that Yache people have been forcing them to pay royalties.
He corroborated Uswa, saying that they have stayed in Yache for over 100 years and know no other place, insisting that they are indigenes as well, not settlers.
He said while the arrival of soldiers has reduced the intensity of hostility between both communities, he, however, alleged that Yache boys hide in bushes to spring attacks.
The people have although, appealed to the authorities and the security apparatus on ground to move towards the boundary area to secure lives and properties.
Govt, stakeholders intervene
Prominent sons of the community including Senator Stephen Odey have convened some peace talks to nip the situation in the bud.
One of the peace meetings was held in the conference hall of Bekwara Local Government Council, Abuochiche in Cross River State; and it was attended by the leaders of Ijiegu-Yache and leaders of the Tiv settlers in Yache land and those from the nearby Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State.
Both parties agreed and signed a communique to allow peace to reign and withdraw all forms of hostilities.
Unfortunately, the people of Yache have alleged that hostility has continued unabated and this resulted in the capture of four young men from Ijiegu-Yache in addition to the first one who was murdered in cold blood.
They have also alleged that several motorcycles belonging to Ijiegu people were carted away while their farm crops were destroyed.
According to Odey, another peace talk was convened by Senator Stephen Odey in Ijiegu-Yache on Wednesday, August 9, and was attended by high delegations from both states.
Deputy Governors of Cross River and Benue states, Peter Odey and Dr Sam Ode respectively, are also reported to have visited the Yache community to drum up Peace moves.
Benue deputy governor spoke at the meeting, assuring that they will use the security apparatus to ensure that the masterminds of the crisis are brought to book for justice to prevail.
He regretted the loss of lives and livelihood of the people, occasioned by the conflict.
Also giving his assurance, deputy governor of Cross River State, Peter Odey, expressed sadness over the pain the people were made to go through because of the avoidable crisis.
He assured Ijiegu-Yache of the state government’s commitment to restore lasting peace to their community while encouraging them to remain peace-abiding. He advised them to try as much as possible to avoid the conflict zone until lasting peace is restored.
Despite assurances from the two deputy governors on August 10, less than 24 hours after the second peace talk, a middle-aged woman from Ijiegu community was allegedly killed in a reprisal attack.
The Yache people also alleged that on Sunday September 10, the Tiv people took the battle to the heart of Ijiegu-Yache community.
They claimed that the assailants, who were said to be dressed in military camouflage, shot-on-sight three women, who are currently in critical condition, killed two teenagers and set several houses ablaze.
Police vow clampdown on attackers
Public Relations Officer of the state police command, Irene Ugbo, said their men are working in concert with other security agencies to nib in the bud the deadly crisis in Yache.
“We have a detachment of our men stationed in that community who are helping to restore the much needed peace and unity. We are doing this alongside the army and other agencies,” Ugbo stressed.