Home » Headlines » DISTURBING PICTURE: Masquerade sacks community, kills 1, burns 19 houses

DISTURBING PICTURE: Masquerade sacks community, kills 1, burns 19 houses

The midnight invasion of Iheakpu-Awka community by Akatakpa Masquerades and youths from neighbouring Ibagwa-Aka community in the Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area, Enugu State, was not spontaneous, but a seemingly premeditated act described by many as barbaric and brutal in concept and maniacal in execution.
The mayhem had left in its wake the death of one Iheakpu-Awka native, the burning of 19 houses and loss of property conservatively estimated at N200 million.

Although normalcy is gradually returning to the beleaguered community many who fled in the wake of the catastrophe could not return because they have no houses to lay down their heads in.
When Daily Sun visited the scene, charred heaps of household furniture, utensils, mattresses, refrigerators, television sets, were found besides burnt buildings.

Morbid silence engulfed the community which literally looked like a ghost town. Broken glasses littered the areas where glass windows were smashed by the invading masquerades even as several policemen patrol the area in their vans.
Over the years, according to the natives, the Akatakpa masquerade of Ibagwa-Aka had become notorious for its deviant acts. “It flogs people with reckless impunity. Efforts by the church and well-meaning community leaders, the police and even the government to curb the excesses of the society’s necessary evil, have been abortive,” the people said.

They also said that its past records betray a progressive erosion of decorum associated with the once cherished culture originally meant for entertainment and policing of primitive society now, but which now parade themselves in causing anarchy and constituting themselves into agents of terror.
According to a prominent politician from Ibagwa-Aka (names withheld), in 1959, an Akatakpa masquerade was jailed, another time, there was a clash between the Ibagwa-Aka Moslem community and Akatakpa masquerade.
Recently in 2007, the authorities of National Youth Service Corp threatened to blacklist the community because of the brutal caning of serving corpers in the community.
The Moslem community/Akatakpa face off was so grave that the matter was only resolved by the intervention of Saudi Arabian Moslem leaders. Worse still, a traditional ruler of the community was said to be incarcerated because of the criminal act of Akatakpa.
A simmering cold war seems to be going on in Ibagwa-Aka between Christians and Akatakpa cult adherents.

What caused the mayhem
The traditional ruler of Iheakpu-Awka, Igwe O.B.J. Udeanya narrates his experience:
At about mid-night, I was informed by my subjects that Akatakpa masquerades and youths of Ibagwa-Aka armed with pump-action riffles and machetes had invaded us and that they were burning down houses and looting property. I quickly reached my counterpart, Igwe Hyacinth Eze on cell phone and informed him of what his people were doing. On enquiry, I was informed that earlier, Akatakpa masquerades from Ibagwa-Aka that were passing through our community flogged one of my subjects and in the process chopped off one of his ears. Irked by the unprovoked brutal action of the masquerade, the villagers around were said to have unmasked the Akatakpa to know his identity. In an ensuing melee, the Ibagwa-Aka people were said to have reached their people on cell-phone back home.

Before you know it, my community was invaded by a horde of armed Akatakpa masquerades and youths who were conveyed in three loads of mini-buses. They descended on our defenseless people who had no arms to confront the invaders, who were looting property and setting houses and valuables ablaze. To my greatest surprise, I could not hear from my counterpart until the next day. The attack continued until the following day and only abated on the intervention of the police Area Commander who drafted policemen to our community.

My people are now
taking refuge in neighboring communities of Obukpa, Iheaka and Ovoko. We are law abiding and we have no arms. This is very barbaric. One of my subjects were killed and others seriously wounded and others on admission at various hospitals. The action is premeditated. I am calling on the state government to institute an inquiry into the incident, I urge my people to be patient, government should ban Akatakpa Ibagwa-Aka from coming to Iheakpu-Awka. We do not go to them when we are celebrating our own feasts.
Hon. Elizaberth Ezegwu, a legislator:

I came home from Enugu, only to see our homes deserted. I was only able to reach home because the police escorted me. I was told that Ibagwa-Aka people and their Akatakpa masquerade attacked our people on two occasions and burnt their houses and looted their property. I was told that the son of one Stephen who lived in Odoru, Kogi State was killed while coming home on that fateful day by Ibagwa people. He was wedded in 2008 and his wife is pregnant. Our people are law-abiding, they are not armed like Ibagwa people. We are only here because the police are patrolling our community as you can see. I call on the state government to set up a panel to investigate the incident.

Igwe Hyacinth Eze, traditional ruler, Ibagwa-Aka:
Yes, indeed, there was something like that. And the whole thing started by our masquerade that traveled to Iheaka. Our Akatakpa went to Iheaka and was passing through Iheakpu. On their way, they had misunderstanding with Iheakpu people. From the moment they started having quarrel. In mid-night, around, 11:30p.m, on the 20th of February, I was on my bed, then, Igwe O.B.J. Udeanya of Iheakpu-Awka phoned me telling me that there is crisis between my people and his people. I said okay, since it is in your jurisdiction have you phoned the DPO? He said no, that he has not his phone number, then I phoned the DPO immediately. I told him of the trouble between the two communities, that he should send a patrol team there. And the following morning, the trouble continued. I was there running helter, shelter to quench the trouble. I was phoning the Area Commander, I was phoning the CP. I was phoning political leaders in the community.

I did my best to stop Akatakpa from harming people, I wrote a letter dated February 2, 2011 to the DPO to inform him of the Egba-Eze festival for 2011. I also informed him that I have caused to be published a notice to my subjects advising them to be orderly and law-abiding during the period. I also urged him to ensure that people comply. We forbade Akatakpa to perform in the high-way.

We are surprised they failed to abide by our instruction. Akatakpa is a problem to us. They have been committing criminal acts, but I told them that anyone who commits offence is on his own. Contrary to allegation that I armed our youths against Iheakpu people, I did not; I am not an arms dealer. There are some citizens who claim to be government in this community. They frustrate my efforts here. They failed to surrender guns used by a former vigilante group. They should be asked about gun in the community, I did not arm anybody.
Meanwhile, the traditional ruler has been invited by the Police for questioning.
Counsel to Iheakpu-Aka people who is also a native, Mr. Eli Ugwu, is praying the Inspector General of Police to ensure that the culprits are arrested and fully prosecuted irrespective of their class in society.
Ugwu also, prayed the state government to ensure immediate rehabilitation of the victims who are now refugees in their own town, adding that this is very necessary because of the enormity of devastation caused to the people.

A victim, Valentine Ugwu:
I lost N5 million in the wickedness done to me by Ibagwa-Aka people and their Akatakpa. Only God can know what my life will be like from now. I am finished, no place to lay my head. Not even other tribes can do this kind of thing to us.
Eze Sunday Chekwube, 26 years:

About 12 noon on Monday, Ibagwa people with their Akatakpa invaded here. They were armed with pump action guns. I ran when I saw them and in my hiding I saw them bringing out my goods in my provision store, loading them into their buses. They brought out everything in my house and set them ablaze. One girl was carrying a gallon of fuel and lighter. She was setting everything on fire, I don’t think I will ever be somebody in life again. I am finished, my hope is lost. While my mates were going to the university, I could not go because my parents are poor. I decided to do business with the little money I have saved from performing laborious tasks, see what has happened to me now. I am losing over N16 million here. My fridge, television, musical equipment are all burnt. The cash from two weeks proceed stolen. From where do I start, let government help me. Akatakpa is evil, it should be banned forever.
Peter Eze, a native:
It is first of its kind in our history. I don’t know what has come of the people of Ibagwa. They did not spare anything. They looted everything in my house, money, valuable, household property. The problem was that they even stole our live stock.
Igbo-Eze South Local Government’s bye-law:

In efforts to check the excesses of Akatakpa, the Igbo-Eze South Local Government Council had taken a pro-active measure through the enactment of a bye-law regulating the mode and practice of Akatakpa masquerade.
Part one of the bye-law restricts the appearance, operations and activities of Akatakpa masquerade in all the communities in Igbo-Eze South to not more than four consecutive days in each of the annual Akatakpa year.

No Akatakpa, according to the bye-law, shall be allowed to beat, cane, extort money, fight, obstruct movement of people and goods, molest or violate the fundamental human rights of any person within the territorial boundaries of Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area.
Part four stipulates fines for erring Akatakpa that contravenes the bye-law. In respect of performing for more than four days it shall pay a penalty of N 50,000 only or go to jail for 14 days with or without option of fine.
A spokesman in the office of the chairman (name withed) told Daily Sun that the incident would have been avoided if police in the area had enforced the bye law.


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