Interview by Sebastine Eko
This Year 2015 will be 40 years since the Christmas Eve Civilian Massacre of Ugep people in 1975, what memories do you have of this sad event ?
On the 24th December 1975, when this unfortunate event happened, I was in secondary school and narrowly escaped being killed by the soldiers. I remember that evening, I was grinding tomatoes for my Aunty and we heard unusual sounds made by birds that flew over our compound and I told my Aunty that these birds are making very unusual sounds. I think it was a premonition that something terrible was going to happen and it indeed happened because we hadn’t even finished grinding the tomatoes when we heard desperate shouts in the air that Ugep town was under attack and we just abandoned everything and took to our heels. Unfortunately for me, a teacher though late now, who was on teaching practice at the Ruku Vocational Commercial School Ugep from the Calabar Polytechnic then, left a box containing his educational certificates with me and went on holidays when this incident happened. After we ran for our dear lives, I came back to get the box and almost got killed by the soldiers, but luckily I escaped with the box. Several days after, his family escorted him, crying to Ugep that his certificates were all burnt. But when he came and saw that I was alive, the first question he asked was his box. I told him it was safe, he fell down and wept. I like to say this; that 1975 incident was an ugly one especially that it happened to peace-loving people, who accommodated soldiers on their land. It is an incident we have worked hard as a people to ensure that it never happens again, not now or for the rest of lives as a people.
But what actually was at the centre of this massacre?
A few soldiers erroneously accused the Ugep people of killing one soldier and dumping his corpse by the road side. I can emphatically tell you that he was not killed by my people because if the Ugep man killed the said Soldier, no one would have seen the corpse and of course my people will not be stupid to kill a Soldier and dump the corpse by the road side knowing that the consequences will be dire; so that allegation was baseless and unfounded. They just used that story line to oppress us and kill innocent people. To prove further, some prominent people in Ugep were targeted by the soldiers for very personal reasons. Someone like the late Chief Eteng Inah popularly known among the Ugep people as Eteng Shoemaker was killed by soldiers who were his tenants. These soldiers owed the man money that they couldn’t pay and when the incident took place, they hid under it and murdered the man. These are painful instances.
You grew afterwards and joined the Army and now you are the Obol Lopon of Ugep. Would you now request or support a return of a cantonment of the Nigerian Army to Ugep?
The answer is a capital NO.
To start with, we don’t have sufficient land now for that kind of enterprise. Our population has grown since 1975 and we have encroached into our farm lands such that we don’t even have land to farm on, knowing too well that agriculture is the main occupation of our people. So we cannot afford to house an Army Barracks in Ugep anymore. As a Soldier, I know what it takes to house an Army Barracks; they need vast land.
But Obol, the Nigerian Army still claims the piece of land where the Army Barracks use to be.
No, they don’t lay any claim to the land. I say this because before I came to Cross River State, I was the Chief Clerk of the Nigeria Army Welfare Holdings Limited, this company or unit of the Nigeria Army includes all the Army housing estates, Army Barracks in Nigeria and every other property belonging to the Nigerian Army, and I know that the land vacated by the Nigerian Army in Ugep was not captured in this Army Welfare Holdings Ltd so it cannot be said to be the Nigerian Army land as far as I am concerned.
We were made to understand that when the former Chairman of Council, Ubi Itam Ettah wanted to cite an abattoir on the piece of land, he was asked to stay off because the land belonged to the Nigerian Army. Infact for so many years now since the Ugep Massacre, no one has touched that land from the community…
…cuts in… Are the people saying this sure that the land has been captured by the Army? Do they have its survey plan for it? I am so vast when it comes to these kind of issue in the Army because I have been Chief Clerk in more than twenty Units in the Nigerian Army and in my 34 years in the Nigerian Army, I have served three-quarters of these years as Chief Clerk and I have the opportunity of serving in its major office. The last office I served before being posted to the Amphibious Training School as an Instructor and Chief Clerk was the Nigerian Army Welfare Holdings Ltd and I was the Chief Clerk. This Welfare Holdings has the Nigerian Army Drug Holdings, all its estates and as far as I am concerned this land has not been captured by the Nigerian Army.
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