For the people of Bomu and Lewe communities in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, 2019 has started well in more ways than one. For nearly two years, these two neighbouring communities with lovely people, rich vegetation, scenery, arable land, streams and rivers, save the devastation caused by oil exploration, had lived together like the good neighbours that they truly are.
They speak the same dialect, intermarry, live happily together and carry on well with their lives as well as do their main business of fishing and farming and other economic activities with amiable tenacity. But by some bizarre circumstances the peace and good neighbourliness associated with them became somewhat elusive. No thanks to the communal strife of nondescript ratings that pitch brothers against each other.
Needless to say that both communities have had their fair share of fatalities and other spoils of war as dozens died, houses and other valuable property worth millions of naira were destroyed and the people rued the incidents.
Several efforts aimed at resolving whatever the dispute was had failed to produce the desired result because, with the benefit of hindsight, at the slightest stir, fresh crisis erupted, with its attendant reprisals and outcome, to say the least.
Last year, precisely on September 23, the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Port Harcourt, had intervened with a view to reconciling the two communities and ensure that the people embrace peace, live in harmony again and offer their usual hospitality to visitors. But as noble as it was, a reconciliation meeting initiated by the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 6 Division, Major-General Jamil Sarham, in Bori Camp, Port Harcour,t was stalled due to the absence of one of the warring communities.
Major-General Sarham had said the peace meeting was initiated as part of the Army’s mandate to ensure peaceful coexistence in the society, insisting that the absence of representatives of one of the communities would not deter the Division from achieving lasting peace not only in Bomu and Lewe, but the Gokana LGA and Rivers State as a whole.
Speaking at the botched peace parley, the Chairman of Gokana LGA, Hon. Paul Kobani, who himself was present at that meeting regretted the colossal destruction the warring communities had recorded in the disturbances.
As the popular saying goes, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,’ Kobani who inherited the Bomi/Lewe crisis when he assumed office as council boss also shared the sentiments of the Army when he assured that he would not relent until lasting peace returns to the area.
He disclosed that the GOC had visited the affected communities on September 20, last year to assess the level of damages the two communities recorded and has asked him (Kobani) to invite the two parties for the meeting at the headquarters of 6 Division in Port Harcourt.
Interestingly today, the bloodbath, injuries and destruction that trailed the clashes may now be a thing of the past as the various peace moves initiated by stakeholders have finally yielded positive results.
Weeks after the peace parley by the Army in Port Harcourt, some stakeholders in Ogoni land, at a meeting, vowed that they will no longer tolerate continual communal clashes between the two communities.
The stakeholders, including the Gbenemene (King) of Gokana Kingdom and the leadership of KAGOTE, an acronym for Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme (the four local government areas that make up Ogoni land), the Solomon Ndigbara Foundation and many youth groups in the area after a meeting in Yeghe, a community in Gokana, vowed to apply every traditional means in ensuring that peace returns to the warring sides.
In a resolution read after the meeting by Secretary of the Gokana Community Youth Leader, Vincent Kobah, the stakeholders warned that sponsoring crisis between Lewe and Bomu would attract punishment.
The resolution partly reads, “That henceforth no more shooting in the two communities of Bomu and Lewe. That any further fighting or shooting from Bomu or Lewe and as well as other communities in Ogoniland will attract the forces (anger) of the whole Gokana and, indeed, Ogoni.
Accordingly, the youth president of Lewe community, Stanley Nagbe, and his counterpart from Bomu, Sunday Michael, committed themselves to ensuring peace between the two communities.
Meanwhile, a former Niger Delta agitator, Solomon Ndigbara, gave a hint as to why the conflicts had lingered while speaking on telephone during a Radio programme in Port Harcourt, alleging that cultists have hijacked the crisis between the two communities.
Ndigbara said, rather emotionally, that the Gokana people will go tough on anyone caught promoting crisis in Bomu and Lewe.
He said, “I always advised them not to allow these cult boys take over the communities from the chiefs. They have taken over the whole leadership from the chiefs and are operating on their own.
”Any community that they send their machineries on their own they feel that they can fight and destroy other communities. It is not like we do not know them. But we will let them know that with the aid of this body (making reference to the resolution) everything will stop.
‘I know a number of our leaders and different groups that have come into this matter but they (the fighters) did not respect them, Ndigbara said.’
However, there were signs that something good was imminent after the Yeghe resolution, as the peace process took a more concrete position with the signing of a peace accord between representatives of Lewe and Bomu communities at the palace of the Gbenemene (King) of Gokana, HRM Festus Bagia, precisely on Thursday, January 10, this year.
Worthy of note is that the peace agreement was initiated by Kobani, the Gokana council chairman, in collaboration with some Ogoni leaders under the aegis of the Gbo Kabari Ogoni (Ogoni Elders Forum).
Speaking on behalf of the forum, former President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Barr. Ledum Mitee, expressed confidence in the peace agreement and appealed to the two communities to adhere to the peace deal.
‘There has been conflict between both communities of Bomu and Lewe for sometime now. And the peace process was put in place by the Local Government Chairman, the Gbenemene of Gokana, and Gbo Kabari.
‘Working together we tried to look into the matter and have been having conversations with both communities for sometime. Today (January 10 peace accord) has been remarkable in the sense that we have already achieved some form of truce. Following this process, at least, for three weeks hostilities have ceased.
Like a river achieving its course, everything was falling into place, the Community Development Committee (CDC) of both communities also declared their support for the peace accord at the epoch making event.
Speaking, the CDC Chairman of Bomu Community, Goodluck Gbara-age, said that the desire of the two communities is for all to live in peace and unity.
‘We are two neighbouring communities. We are brothers. We intermarry and we want to see that our youths should please toe the path of peace so that the developmental strides of His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike, can also come to Bomu and Lewe.’
On his part, the CDC Chairman of Lewe, Theophilus Kpaakpa, called on the youths of both communities to sheath their swords and work for the development of the area, even as he corroborated the views of Mitee that since the peace talks started there has been no record of any untoward incident in any of the communities.
‘In the first place we have to thank God that for about two weeks today, we have not heard gunshots again between these two communities. And the Paramount Rulers of Lewe and Bomu have gone on air to say there should be peace.
‘We are also toeing the same path as CDC chairmen of Lewe and Bomu that there should be peace. We cannot do anything without peace. We have gone back.
‘Two years now I am tired. My co-chairman, CDC chairman of Bomu is also tired of this thing. So we are supporting the Gbo Kabari of Ogoni,” Kpaakpa stated in an emotion-laden voice.
Similarly, Paramount Ruler of Lewe, Chief Sibe Lebatom lauded the initiators of the peace deal. He said, “I am grateful to Gbo-kabari, the executive Chairman, His Majesty and the Bomu/Lewe Peace Committee for inviting Bomu and Lewe for a peace talk today.
‘Thank God we have achieved it. We promise and we agree that we will cease fire as from today. We have heard from them. We have signed. I pray that let both communities subscribe to the tenets of what we have signed today.
‘Saying is one thing, implementation is another. Whatever has bothered Lewe and Bomu from today that we have agreed peace should come to stay in Jesus mighty name. Amen!
Like his compatriot, Paramount Ruler of Bomu, Chief Nasikpo Nledi Nyiedah, promised to abide by the tenets of the accord.
He stated, “We are here today to kick-start the peace process between Bomu and Lewe communities that have been in crisis all these months and years.
In the main, like officiating ministers say in church when joining a couple, ‘to have and to hold….. The need for this newfound peace to be sustained cannot be over emphasized. It should be savoured, cherished, pampered and the dotted lines or tenets should be clung to tenaciously so that it does not slip away so that the people do not return to the trenches. In the main, there is no better way to begin the year than what the people have done — holding out the olive branch.
If the assurances of the traditional rulers, the CDC chairmen and other stakeholders are anything to go by, there is no doubt that normalcy would return to their land, while the people will live happily as good neighbours.
The winners in all of this are not only the people of Lewe and Bomu, but the Gokana and entire Ogoni people; as it is hoped that this feat will rub-off on other warring communities and make them borrow a leaf from the January 10 accord.