What looked like a squabble between youths of two Benue communities over power supply has left many injured and scores of houses and facilities razed to the ground.
Saturday HeadlineNews gathered from residents that the quarrel brewed for over two weeks before the clash occurred on Monday between youths of Obi and Otukpo local government areas of the state.
A resident, Jack Anya, said the cable linking the Ijegwu people of Obi LGA, to the Otukpo power source, was disconnected by hoodlums, leaving Ijegwu in darkness.
“We thought it was just a regular blackout but when it lasted for 10 days, the youth began to ask questions. We called the Jos Electricity Distribution Company and the officials said the fault was not from them. We later found that the other side (Otukpo) had power. So, it smelt of sabotage,” he added.
When Ijegwu youths went to check for themselves what was happening, Anya claimed that an argument broke out, which led to a fight.
He said, “It was a bloody fight. Machetes and sticks were freely deployed. By the time it got heated up, some miscreants took up arms and began to shoot. Many people were injured and others are still missing as I speak.”
Another resident, who lives in Otukpo, Magdalene Chinda, said since the clash, the communities had known no peace.
She claimed that hoodlums took advantage of the crisis to steal from shops and burn down houses.
Chinda, in a fear-laden voice, said, “As I speak to you, I have arranged with a bus driver that will take me and my family to Makurdi. They are burning houses in Ijegwu. My brother, who stays in Obi LGA, called to tell me to arrange my things. His house has been burnt to the ground. I have videos.”
Videos obtained from Chinda showed scores of houses burnt to ashes by irate youths.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Anene Sewuese, confirmed the incident but said she had no details.
She said, “There is a clash over electricity but the details before me are still sketchy. At different points, we got to know that it was an argument that had occurred over two weeks before now. There are no reports of fatalities so far. But, I learnt they are burning houses.”
Speaking in an interview with Saturday HeadlineNews, the Regional Manager of Jos Electricity Distribution Company, Otukpo, Olaniyi Ogunmakinya, said the power outage happened because of isolators used to segment networks.
“There are what we call isolators, which we use to segment our networks. If there are problems in some areas, we isolate those areas and allow others to have electricity supply, while we work on the areas that have problems.
“There is an isolator towards the end of Otukpo LGA linking Obi LGA. When it rained a few days ago and we had our lines destroyed, we had to isolate the affected areas to enable us to work on the lines,” he added.
According to him, whenever repairs are being done on the lines, the people on the Obi LGA side may have a power outage.
“They (Obi) will not be happy that we are isolating them to repair the lines; they will prefer that everyone is denied power supply instead of isolating them before the repairs.
“So, from what I heard, two days ago, they allegedly marched to that isolation point to sabotage it. But the youth of the community that would be affected by their action resisted them, which led to the conflict,” he added.
He noted that many facilities were destroyed as a result of the clash.
The Head of Corporate Communications, JEDC, Dr Adakole Elijah, in a statement on Friday, maintained that the company had no hand in the crisis.
He urged the state government and security agencies to critically interrogate the situation with a view to unearthing the real causes of the fight and proffering lasting solutions.
Explaining what happened, he said, “In an attempt to detect faults on our networks whenever they occurred, the company installed isolators at Otobi Ipakangwu, Adum–East, and Deeper Life Camp in Oju.
“With these isolators, when there are faults along their routes, they would be opened to enable our technical staff to trace the faults and attend to them expeditiously.
“This was the case when our installations were greatly damaged by a windstorm occasioned by heavy downpour last weekend in Otukpo and its environs.
“The destruction put the entire Otukpo axis of our operations into darkness, which necessitated us to isolate the Oju, Ado, Ugbokolo, and Ankpa legs of our operations to enable us to attend to these faults to restore supply to our customers.
“The entire Saturday and Sunday were dedicated to resolving the faults and restoring power supply to Otukpo town,” he said.
On Monday, Elijah added that the JEDC crew proceeded to trace the fault on the Otobi Ipakangwu–Obi routes when they were told to go back because Obi youths had mobilised to destroy the isolator in Otobi Ipakangwu.
“It was the attempt to destroy the isolator by Igede youths and the resistance by Otobi Ipakangwu youths that led to the crisis, as Igede youths insisted that the isolator must be destroyed,” he added.
A bloody crisis
Another eyewitness, Harmony Ogah, stated that on the fourth day of the crisis, some youths were declared missing.
Giving an account of the incident, Ogah said the cable linking Idoma to Otukpo and Igede in Obi LGA, was cut off for no reason.
“A few youths of the communities who share the transformer and live around the boundary of the Igede axis came out to find out what was going on.
“They (Obi) mobilised themselves to speak to them (Otukpo) about what happened because the other party continued to have power supply. Arguments erupted and the shootings started. Many youths were gunned down. I ran for my life. I am lucky to be alive,” he added.
Ogah also claimed that payment of the electricity bill had been done and there was no need for the cables to be disconnected.
The National Youth President of the Ito Youth Forum, the umbrella youth body of Ijegwu, Obi LGA, Ogbu John-Lion, claimed that one person died in the clash and 15 others were injured, with one still missing.
Speaking to Saturday HeadlineNews, he said the crisis began around 9am on Monday, March 14 and continued for about two hours before the intervention of security personnel.
He said, “We simply went there to verify what really was happening, but to our surprise, some youths brought out dane guns and began to shoot. Many people sustained injuries and several houses were burnt.
“We had no issue with Otukpo youths, so it was a surprise they decided to do such a thing to us.
“The removal of the connection cables has caused us unprecedented pain. We went there to know exactly what happened and for us to look for a way to reconnect the power but we were shocked at how they decided to shoot at us. The few of us who survived ran back home to report.”
John-Lion identified those shot to include Iji Jacob, Odeh Matthew, Ogbu Monday, Obeh Monday, Alhaji Ogale, Odeh Friday, Erebe Silas, Onwu Samuel, Udeh Abinya and Eje Joseph.
Others are Alex Awuru, Ogonye Sunday, Enyi George, Mike Okwute and Patrick Ejeh.
He said one Ibeh John was still missing and another youth, Adekpe Agi, had died.
In a statement he sent to Saturday HeadlineNews on Friday titled, ‘A Call for Help Following Bloodbath In Igede As Idoma People Besiege Obi Communities’, he begged the government to intervene in the crisis.
“The Ito Youth President and his excos will like to state categorically that all we want right now is for our electricity to be reconnected.
“The accusations regarding lack of consultation towards the reconnection of the electricity from our brothers on various social media channels are baseless, heartless and inhumane.
“Rather than pity our condition, we have been humiliated, maimed and killed. It is totally condemnable.
“Ijegwu youths, especially Obi LGA youths, wish to state firmly that it is not against the Nigerian constitution to carry out a peaceful protest and will always respect and regard the rule of law while collaborating with the government,” the statement read in part.
John-Lion, however, stated that the group was open to dialogue to ensure the crisis ended.
“While we call for roundtable peace discussion, we would like to call the attention of every well-meaning and peace-loving Nigerians, especially the security forces and the military, to come to our aid,” he added.
The Otukpo youth leader, Mr John Ododo, could not be reached for a reaction on Thursday and Friday, as his calls rang out several times.
Text messages sent to his mobile line were also not responded to as of press time.
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