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John-Gaul Lebo represents Abi Constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly. In this interview with Correspondent, Bassey Inyang in Calabar, Lebo who hails from Adadama, Abi Local Government Area of Cross River State, speaks on the current boundary dispute between his state and Ebonyi State, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your view after visiting Adadama where you hail from?
On Monday, the 14th of January, we got a call from my constituency liaison officer who reported that a certain James Okoro, a farmer from Adadama who went for a peace meeting set for a community called Ekpitomo community, in Ebonyi State, received about seven or eight serious machetes cut and serious injuries, and was taken to the hospital. By Monday morning the Adadama women also went to their farms, four of them were captured. And the youths of the community mobilised and they were able to rescue three. One was not seen. Now, when I was informed I immediately informed the DPO of Abi to proceed on a mission to the Chairman of Ikwo Local Government. It was when they got to Ikwo Local Government that they got the information that the police cannot enter that community because the youths have already entered the bush, and they were fighting. Two or three hours later, the police station that the Cross River State Government constructed in partnership with the Nigerian Police Force had been burnt down and destroyed; the doors, the windows, were vandalised, even the water tank. They brought down the water tank. In the course of that, one young man called Ettah Koko, a staff of Water Board, was also gunned down.
He is in the mortuary as I speak to you. Three other persons also received serious bullet wounds and they are at Ugep General Hospital receiving treatment. One of them is even in a state of coma. Now, all these incidents happened; if you ask me, I will tell you that a brief history of the conflict between the Adadama community and the Ameagu community is just the history of the Agbo clan with Ebonyi State. You will realise that the Agbo clan made up of Itigidi, Ekureku, Adadama all have boundaries with Eboyin State across that line. Now, the Adadama boundary is the last sector of the boundary in that area. That boundary is as old as history, because by 1894 the boundary lines had been demarcated by the colonial government.
The second demarcation happened in 1911 and the last demarcation took place in 1923. What the federal government has as the boundary between Adadama and Ameagu in Ikwo local government area was demarcated by G.G Shute, one of the colonial administrators in 1924. That is in the gazette that has been adopted by the judgement of the Supreme Court in 1976 as well. These documents are there and we don’t have any boundary dispute with that community. However, when Ebonyi State was created in 1996, we started having issues with Ebonyi State in respect to that boundary. The issue we started having is that Ebonyi State started making a claim that the boundary between Ebonyi and Cross River State is the River, Cross River. In other words, the river at Ekori. So, Ebonyi is saying that the lands that belong to Adadama, Ekurekeu and Itigidi belong to them. So, this thing is just political.
There is this allegation from Ebonyi State that you people attacked their people and that some of their people are still missing. What is your reaction to that?
I find a lot of contradictions in this. It is unfortunate that a small dispute between one community and another has been hijacked by the state government, and it is very wrong. Adadama is now contending with the Ebonyi State Government. This incident happened on Monday, and by Tuesday Ebonyi State Government delegation was already on ground to assess the situation. That means they were pre-emptying what was happening. It is very wrong because, as far as I am concerned, what happened at that point was something the Adadama people were not prepared for. We had more than 300 hundred women in the farm, and people had to run out of the farm.
These young men only went there to try to rescue them. It was a rescue mission to bring them back. Now, if there had been any incident of kidnap of people, let them bring the names of the people. I have mentioned the names of those who have been killed. They are in the mortuary. They are making allegations that their people have been killed; they should show us their corpses. There is a boy from our community who was killed; he is still in the mortuary. We have carried out an autopsy and it shows that he died from shots fired from an AK-47 riffle. The other ones who sustained bullet wounds, we have medical certificates for us to show that they died out of bullet wounds. The lady that was kidnapped that we have not found, her name is Ekama Ekpata ; the son, I think, is the assistant secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress(NLC), NPA branch in Calabar. That woman is a 70-something years old woman. We are not talking about imaginary people. If they are talking about people who have been kidnapped, they should bring their identity. But, as far as I am concerned, from Adadama end, we are not holding anybody from Ebonyi.
What would make a state government become involved in a contest to take over a community as small as Adadama in size, like you said?
I don’t know. Probably they have their own political strategy. I have been in this matter for as old as I have been a lawyer for the past 14 years, since 1997. This matter has been before the Cross River State Government, this matter has gone to the National Boundary Commission (NBC), and this matter has gone to the Federal Executive Council (FEC). Obasanjo tried to resolve this matter during the last period of his administration, and the issues that were presented before Obasanjo were very clear on the matter, they were very technical. Where you have a boundary line that has been demarcated since 1920 and has been demarcated and was gazetted as far back as 1960-something, and there is a Supreme Court judgement on this matter. What the Ebonyi State Government has been asking for is that we should do spirit of give and take. We give them a portion of our land; and the question we are asking is that what are you going to give in return? This land we are talking about belongs to families. Adadama people practice matrilineal relationship, and I can identify all the families. My own family, the Lebo Family, we own over 60 percent of that land. That land is family land, and people have passed this land on from generation to generation. I am talking about since 1894. So what I also have as documents or title to that land was passed on to me by my father, who also received from my grandfather. Now, if a state was created in 1996, what history did they have in respect to the ownership of that property? They should bring it to the table.
Are you suspecting that, perhaps, there are deposits of crude oil and any other mineral resources that could motivate the government of Ebonyi to try to do everything to take over the land in contention?
Well, I don’t know. If am able to suspect, all I know is that that land is a swampy land, and it is close to the River, Cross River, and is very rich in natural resources and our people carry-out a lot of fishing activities in that area. If you go to that area, apart from that land, you find all these local family ponds that have been constructed long ago. And every year, there is a kind of Fishing Festival in Adadama before the Adadama Traditional Festival where each of these 7 families go to harvest their fish. What I am told is that the Ebonyi people now claim that the only access they have to drinking water is through that land. That is what I am told. And the Adadama people; how they make use of that land is that once it is close to period of that festival, they go there, then they dry up the water so that they take out their fish. Even, if they need to put formalin, they do that, at all times.