Ini Billie, Uyo
The unending leadership tussle in Iwukem, Etim Ekpo Local Government Area, Akwa Ibom State has led to the destruction of property and injury to some persons.
The crisis led to the vandalization of, at least, four houses including that of the State High Court Judge, Justice Ntong Ntong, and caused injury to some persons.
It was gathered that the head of the community, Eteidung Francis Linus Uyo, fled the village after his house was vandalised by a mob on September 9, 2023.
The leadership tussle which started in 2016 snowballed into more crisis in February, May and September when part of a 3-bedroom bungalow and household items belonging to the treasurer of Iwukem Youths’ Association, Ms. Ndianaobong Gabriel Udoaka, was set ablaze by unknown persons.
Conducting journalists around her house in the recent attack, Ms Udoaka, said the inferno razed her bed, clothes, dining table, chairs, dining set, and generator, among other things.
“The window was open, so the person set the fire in my house through the window. I was not around. So, before I could come back, my household items were all gone,” she said.
Chairman, Iwukem village council, Chief Innocent Udo Etukuko, said one of the assailants poured fuel around his house at night sometime in February in a bid to set his house ablaze but ran away on sighting someone.
Chief Etukuko, said following the renewed crisis, he and other family heads were arrested and detained by the police.
Etukudo and other indigenes, who spoke with our correspondent over the weekend, said Iwukem has been facing a protracted crisis following the village head’s refusal to answer queries from the village council on why he was arrested and sent to the correctional centre.
“I am not aware if people’s houses were set ablaze because I was not around. Other family heads and I were meeting here to mediate in some cases brought to us by our subjects when we were surrounded by policemen and were arrested.
“They handcuffed all the chiefs and the youths that were here, on trump-up charges levelled against us by one John Philip Udoaka, a former Secretary of Iwukem village council.
“We were in detention on Saturday and Sunday. We were bailed on Monday. While in detention, the police came and told me that houses had been vandalised and burnt because of chiefs who were arrested. So, I told them, I’m here in the cell in your station, so I wouldn’t know what is happening there.
“They said John Phillip Udoaka is the architect of all the problems in this community. In 2020, John had a problem with the village head which led to his (village head’s) committal at the correctional centre. That was why I was appointed the village chairman.
“When the village head came back, he asked him to respond to some questions concerning his incarceration. What I noticed was that he refused to heed the advice I gave him.
“In the latest case, John went and told the police that I and Chief Mfon Brown and a list of youths in Iwukem, ambushed, beat, and stabbed him until he was unconscious. This never happened. His allegations are unsubstantiated.
“This was not the first time he did this. In February, he wrote a frivolous petition against the youths of this community, alleging that they kidnapped one Ubokutom Akpanowo. That made the police invade the community and arrest many youths.
“So, I should think that whatever happened was a reaction against the arrest of chiefs and youths because of John’s petition,” he stated.
Narrating how their houses were attacked, Mrs. Emem Friday and Madam Idongesit Friday Ntong, said the youths fired gunshots that left holes in the zinc, broke the aluminium windows, and part of the perimeter fence in the compound.
“They were chanting, ‘Give us our chairman”, Madam Ntong said.
The village council chairman, Chief Innocent Udo Etukuko, Chief Mfon Brown Ebong, family head of Nto Udo Ekpo and Chief Idongesit Udoaka, head of Nto Owo Iko family, called on the state government to intervene in the crisis to avoid further escalation that might lead to the loss of lives and more property.
They also urged the Commissioner of Police to carry out proper investigations on petitions before effecting arrest, saying they were part of the problem.
“We want the state government to wade into this issue. We have a forum called Iwukem General Assembly comprising all indigenes of this community. The forum meets every December. We want the government to come in, meet with the community through the forum; there they will know what the community wants with a view to resolving the crisis,” the chiefs said.
Chief Udoaka added, “The police have also contributed to this crisis. They are fond of invading this community and arresting people indiscriminately on baseless petitions without investigation. Every community has leadership, if someone says something happened in a community, we think the police should reach out to the leadership of the community and work with the community to investigate the allegation”.
On his part, Chief Ebong said, “The police should not allow anyone to use them to destabilise our community”.
Iwukem community shares a boundary with Azumini in Abia State.