Tom Peters, the celebrated American writer and motivational speaker, said we should celebrate what we want to see more of, what we want to identify with in life. It was perhaps in order to flesh out this that Ebonyians last week, September the 5th to be precise, trooped to the Abakaliki Township Stadium to celebrate the peace accord between Ezza and Ezillo clans.
For many that do not know, the Ezza of Ezillo extraction have been living together with their host, that is Ezillo people, for decades. Like the gypsies, they may have wandered from their ancestral home Onueke to settle here. For many score years, they made Ezillo home. To make themselves comfortable in their new abode, they built houses and schools and developed the economy of Ezillo. As a vibrant ethnic group, they looked beyond the veil and turned stone to bread as they prospered in commerce. They intermarried and built a vibrant social life that was instrumental to the rapid development of a once sleepy village. Today, I doubt if many of them could still trace where they came from.
They enjoyed life until one day, like what the Holy Book said, as they slept, the enemy came and sowed a bad seed! Things fell apart, the world crumbled from under their feet, they were declared persona non grata in a community they helped to build and breathe life into.
Since the creation of Ebonyi State, to the best of my knowledge, the Ezzas in Ezillo with their host have become one common irritant that have defined the way others see us. They have lived as perpetual enemies, making war mongering an occupation. They gave us a bad image as a belligerent and blood thirsty people before other Nigerians. Their intra-communal clashes, which many have dubbed the Ezza-Ezillo war, have defied solution by successive administrations. Hundreds of millions of naira worth of properties have been destroyed. Every December, hundreds of families are displaced and hundreds of lives lost with so much blood shed over a matter that could have been settled with wisdom. Like a musical orchestra, the pitch reached a crescendo when it became suicidal for travellers to go to Enugu or return to Abakaliki through the Ezillo highway.
I recollect the day I left early in the morning to go to Enugu. On getting to Okpoto, shortly after the Assemblies of God Church Retreat Camp, I saw many vehicles lined up and parked along the way, everywhere was rowdy. I stopped and came down to inquire what the matter was. I did not need to be told, the Ezzas and Ezillos were at it again, testing the strength of each other as usual. I saw many houses and fuel stations on fire. Bullets flew with reckless abandon, the “dim-dim” sound of grenades and other dangerous weapons echoed as if this was a plot masterminded by Osama Bin Laden.
But as I walked back to my vehicle, I noticed our then governor, Chief Martin Nwancho Elechi holed up in his tinted car, which I assume may have been bullet-proof. Obviously he was traveling to Enugu too, and maybe waiting for help. In a matter of minutes, I saw a detachment of soldiers from Nkwagu Cantonment whizzing past, battle ready. It was then that I knew that the people that fear death the most are not necessarily the poor but the rich who have everything to lose.
Today, after many decades of what I may term as guerrilla warfare, Ezillo people have become war-weary. The Ezzas, too, are tired of war. Previously, they dug in on their heels and refused to let go as the anger lasted. They lost so much and realised too late that, as Ghanaians say, “a child can play with his mother’s breast but not with the father’s testicles”. They engaged in a war of attrition and waited for a soft landing when both sides were tired.
That soft landing came with Umahi’s olive branch. That was why Ebonyians, many of whom have lost loved ones in that fratricide, went in droves to the stadium to celebrate the return of peace in Ezillo. I must, in all honesty, congratulate our governor for achieving what many tried and failed. I must congratulate him for the ingenuity that made both sides to lay down their arms and accept the terms for peace. I must at the same time congratulate the Ezza and Ezillo communities for embracing peace. Peace is very important in human affairs. No family or nation can develop without it. That must have been the import of Jesus Christ’s message to His disciples when He was departing the earth: “Peace I give unto you, but not as the world giveth”. The Ezillo community should accept the Ezzas as brothers and sisters. Though, they have fought and lost hundreds of lives on both sides, they should come together on the table of brotherhood and agree to live in love and peace with their brothers because no community or nation can develop by isolating others. And to the Ezzas of Ezillo extraction, the war must have taught them some lessons. They should understand that every place is not home, at least not yet so in Nigeria. They should understand that they cannot go to a place and attempt to colonize them by imposing their ways of life and culture on them.
With the intervention of Umahi, the people of Ezza and Ezillo should genuinely accept the terms of the peace accord and give peace a chance. We would not want to wake up one morning and hear “dim-dim” again. Ebonyi people are peace loving, not war mongers, please.