The South-east security network, popularly known as Ebubeagu, was formally inaugurated by the Ebonyi state governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, in December last year, to assist in tackling insecurity in the region. PAUL OKAH in this report wonders if the outfit is living up to expectations.
In April last year, following rising cases of insecurity, especially unprovoked killings, armed robbery, kidnappings, among other negative vices, the Ebonyi state governor and chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, Engr. David Umahi, facilitated the formation of the South East Security Network to fulfil the constitutional obligation of protecting the lives and property of citizens.
After months of operation, the group was formally inaugurated on December 22, with the governor giving marching orders to the operatives to curb insecurity in the region, especially in Ebonyi state, with the operatives arguably recording successes in foiling armed robberies, petty thieveries and cultism, among others.
However, despite the group’s modest achievements, the Ebubeagu has also been criticised for alleged high-handedness and unprofessionalism as many residents claim that they often operate outside the laws establishing them.
Amasiri, Akpoha killings
Investigations by Blueprint Weekend reveals that whatever success recorded by the Ebubeagu operatives, with regards to the protection of lives and property of residents of the region, has been overshadowed by the overzealousness of operatives, intimidation and harassment of residents, including alleged extrajudicial killings in different parts of Ebonyi state.
For instance, on October 15, last year, five youth, including a 30-year-old resident of Ohaechara Opi in Amasiri community of Afikpo North local government area of Ebonyi state, Mr. Azuchukwu Ozoemena, were allegedly shot dead by Ebubeagu security operatives following a confrontation and allegation that the youths sealed off a Lebanese quarry company, Conrock.
Similarly, on January 13, Ebubeagu operatives “invaded” Amata Akpoha in Afikpo North LGA to settle a brewing crisis, on the invitation of a Mr. Ukpai Eric, with the operatives allegedly shooting dead an unidentified resident over an altercation, while Eric was later killed and set ablaze by aggrieved residents, who allegedly accused him of inviting Ebubeagu to Akpoha during the said altercation.
Reacting to the operations of Ebubeagu in Ebonyi state, an aide to the member representing Afikpo North/South constituency in the House of Representatives, Iduma Igariwey Enwo, Mr. Ekuma Elem Uche, alleged that operatives of Ebubeagu are untrained and have been serving purposes other than the reason for the formation.
“You can’t gather a bunch of young men and arm them with lethal weapons, guys well known within an environment, untrained in the use of armour, engage them completely off the purpose they were created, to guard our forests and farms against herdsmen and turn them to political arsenals of the government against innocent citizens. Their rascality, recklessness and deficiency in skills and training, caused the death of two sons of Akpoha in Afikpo North on Thursday, January 13. You may sum up your findings with this,” he said.
Also, reacting, a civil servant, Solomon Eze, alleged that Ebubeagu operatives engage in extrajudicial killings and are causing more problems than solutions in the South-east.
He said: “Ebubeagu is complete problem and curse to South-east. See the wonderful job Amotekun are doing in Yoruba land, but Ebubeagu are doing the opposite. They are a menace to the region. I see them as a conglomerate of different cult groups instituted for selfish gains. Most of them lack good orientation about life. All they believe in is coercion, at times with dubious reasons.
“What we have are all cultists and killers. They even search our phones and are used as thugs and thieves. They intimidate and harass the locals and even kill when you resist them and label you a member of IPOB. There are allegations that Dave Umahi only formed these groups for election gains.
With Ebubeagu mayhem against the opposition of the government of the day, it is safe to believe that they are cultists, who brutalise others with their weapons. They monitor our people on social media, just to suppress and silence any opposing views. Ndi Ebonyi must reject them now.”
Contrastively, a lecturer, Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, said despite allegations levelled against the Ebubeagu operatives they have been working hard for the security of the South-east and will perform better with constant training.
He said: “None of the security agencies is 100 per cent good, the same thing with Ebubeagu. The Nigerian factor still plays out. But then, their existence has made a positive difference. The formation is a good thing. They have improved the security of lives and property.
“The idea of an independent state security is commendable, just that most of the individuals in the security units are well known political thugs. Some of them are even victims of the security breach in the society. For the Ebubeagu stuff to be effective, I suggest let’s make do with people of good morals. It is a two-sided coin, but they need more training because the guns they wield intoxicate them too.”
Speaking with this reporter, the commander of the Afikpo Command of Ebubeagu, Mr Ode Ikechukwu Obila, said the security agents are ready to combat crime to standstill if they continue getting necessary support from the state governor in terms of procuring bullets for their guns and improved welfare.
He said: “Since the formation of Ebubeagu and formal inauguration by the governor, we have been doing our best to bring crime in Ebonyi state down to zero level. We have engaged criminal elements to make sure they run out of time.
“During the yuletide, there was no record of major crimes in Afikpo North. We patrolled the whole town to ensure that it was safe. For instance, we constantly engaged in shootout with armed robbers blocking roads to ensure they were free for commuters to ply. The notorious Akpoha Bridge, which always records armed robbery operations, was safe for commuters. No one was robbed as we stationed our men there and patrolled the area constantly.
“However, our greatest concern is thpe provision of ammunition. We can do more if bullets are made regularly available for our guns. Sometimes, we run out of bullets while engaging armed robbers, so we need more provision of bullets. Our welfare should also be the priority of the government. Once we get paid regularly, we will be motivated to work more. Our officers are ready to continue working for the protection of the lives and property of Ebonyians, especially residents of Afikpo North, but we need more encouragement from the government.”
Umahi reads riot act
On December 22, while formally inaugurating the state chapter of Ebubeagu for 5,000 operatives at the Pa Ngele Oruta Township Stadium in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi state governor, Engr. David Umahi, noted that the security outfit was formed following a call by people of the zone for a security outfit that will assist the police and other security agencies in fighting crime across the region.
Umahi allayed fears that the outfit was launched for the purposes of attacking and intimidating members of the opposition ahead of the 2023 general elections in the state, urging those opposed to the operation of the outfit in the state to go to court to challenge its legality, even as he insisted that the outfit has come to stay in the state.
He said, “Ebubeagu must operate within the supervision of the police and other security agencies. Let me say this for the second time that Ebubeagu is not an alternate police. But definitely, when state police are given assent, you can say you are already one, but with a social package and benefits.
“I read where Ohanaeze, our cultural leaders, directed that we must launch this Ebubeagu before the end of the year. Actually, that is what we, the South-east governors, agreed on. And I saw where someone that says he is IPOB opened his mouth, warning governors and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, it’s unfortunate. The South-east governors swore an oath to protect the people.
“In 2022, we will make this outfit the envy of all the people seeking employment. We will pay you what a graduate in grade level 12 cannot get. Let me say that Section 7(7) of the law says that the function of Ebubeagu is to assist the police and other security agencies in carrying out any lawful activity that will assist in maintaining law and order in the state.
“Let me also say that the outfit is not politically motivated, but those who have been sponsoring insecurity in the state, and who are afraid of the outfit, can go to court to challenge the law as this outfit will never be disbanded.”