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Abia State: Youths Battle Rep Member, Soldiers



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Still smarting from a certificate scandal, the House of Representative member for Isiukwuato/Umunneochi Federal Constituency, Hon. Nkeiru Onyejiocha is in the news again.

Apparently, Onyejiocha has been in the news in recent times for all the wrong reasons and this time around the people of Isuochi have accused her of masterminding the attempt by armed soldiers to disrupt an annual soccer fiesta in the community simply because it was sponsored by her perceived arch-rival during the 2011 general elections, Chris Odinaka Igwe.


The Chris Odinaka Igwe Football Tournament for Umunneochi Youths is an annual soccer fiesta that is designed to unite kinsmen during the yuletide and help channel the energy of youths towards productive ventures.

With the trophy worth N1m; with added incentives of N50,000 each for every participating community and overseas soccer trials for the Most Valuable Player, community sources told correspondent that the tournament over time has become the centre of activities during the Christmas and New Year celebrations in the area.


However, what transpired last Thursday at the football field of Peace Comprehensive Secondary School , Amuda Isuochi, venue of the tournament reflects the extent politicians could go to demean and discredit their perceived rivals.


Between the hours of 3.30pm and 4pm on Thursday, the 29th of December, 2011; while youths of Ngodo and Amuda villages in Isuochi were getting set to engage themselves in a soccer duel, five truck loads of fully armed, combat-ready soldiers stormed the venue of the tournament in commando style and set about flogging and dispersing members of the community with reckless impunity.


The crowd of villagers who had gathered to watch the football match were forced to flee the match ground.


The villagers however gathered from the soldiers that their representative at the lower chambers of the National Assembly, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejiocha had mobilized the soldiers to disperse the villagers who had gathered in their hundreds to watch the annual soccer tournament, on the ground that Mrs. Onyejiocha had bought the land around the secondary school including the soccer pitch.


The said claim by Onyejiocha infuriated the youths who regrouped and resisted the soldiers daring them to shoot with such chants as: ‘Kill us for playing football if you can’, ‘Onyejiocha and her likes cannot stop this tournament’, ‘Has football become politics’.

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The agitations continued, attracting hundreds of youths until the incident turned into a full-blown protest.

To press home their grievances, the youths stormed the roads barricading the major roads, disrupting traffic flow, turning back vehicles that bore government or political inscriptions and even blocking off the exit of the soldiers who watched helplessly as the incident careened out of control.


According to some of the leaders of the irate youths who spoke to our correspondent, they heaped all the blame for the military action against Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejiocha.


Angry and clutching a palm frond, Udoka Ekenasi who said he hailed from Amuda, Isuochi fumed: “She could not even restrain her desperation to undo Chris Odinaka Igwe whom she robbed of his mandate in the last election in spite of the fact that her own kinsmen of Ngodo, Isuochi were scheduled to play today. Why is she threatened by Igwe’s rising profile in the community? She tried and failed to prevail on her Ngodo kinsmen to boycott the competition, now she thinks soldiers would do it for her. This is our land and we would happily die here rather than allow her to abort the goodwill we share through this annual competition. You can go and tell Onyejiocha, this competition must continue.”


Victor Igwe, a member of the community and brother to the sponsor of the tournament also bared his mind. Said he, “The memories of the last election are still fresh in our mind and we do not want to lose any more lives. If Onyejiocha truly bought a land from the church, she should be able to sort it out with the church and in doing that, there should be no need for brute force but dialogue. Most importantly, it is a civil matter and the military has no business wading into civil disputes. We just want peace to reign in our land.”


Efforts to get reactions from Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejiocha proved abortive as she did not take calls put through to her mobile phone. A text message also sent to her mobile by our reporter was not replied.


On the issue of land ownership, Pastor Emeka Onwuazombe, the District Minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC), owners of the Peace Comprehensive Secondary School where the tournament holds annually said the church is not aware of any sales transaction of land with Mrs. Onyejiocha. He recalled that a former minister of the church who was sacked for misconduct had a private arrangement with Onyejiocha to the effect of leasing the school land to Onyejiocha for five years.

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According to Pastor Emeka Onwuazombe, “The deal between the two was not with the consent, knowledge or approval of the church and no payment whatsoever was made to the church. Think of it, our host community gave us the land for free in which we built the church and the school, how can we sell the land. So it is unthinkable for us to sell a land freely given to us by our host community without their consent.”


On the other hand, the Army Commander in charge of the area, General Audu regretted the action of the soldiers, noting that soldiers have no business in civil disputes. The General hinted that he has received information of the incident though no official complaint has been lodged against the said soldiers. He however assured that necessary machinery has already been put in place to unravel the soldiers involved in the act adding that appropriate measures would be taken against any soldier found culpable.


Also commenting on the development, a human right activist, Dr. Jude Ohanele of Development Dynamics condemned in very strong terms the action of the soldiers advocating for punitive measures to serve as a deterrent for other soldiers that may find it pleasurable to delve into political adventurism.


Hear him: “If indeed, Nigerian soldiers allowed themselves to be dragged into civil matters as land disputes, it simply points to the level of idleness, indolence and lack of professionalism on the part of the Nigerian Army. It is a shame that while Nigerians cry out against the rising insecurity in the land to which the security agencies seem clueless, that five truck-loads of soldiers could afford the time of day to attack and intimidate unarmed, harmless, law abiding villagers over unfounded civil claims.”

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