Insecurity: Is South-east under siege?

The South-east has been recording pockets of violent crimes including prison break and attacks on police stations in recent times. In this report, PAUL OKAH and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU ask: Is the zone under siege?

The activities of criminals, especially suspected armed herdsmen and bandits have generated a lot of concerns in states across the federation, with pastoralists now wielding AK-47 rifles; killing, raping and molesting farmers and residents of different communities.

These gunmen often murder entire families, setting ablaze houses and engaging in other violent crimes causing worries within and outside the country.

This is as government and constituted authorities continue to fall over themselves helplessly in the face of unbridled violence.

However, those who wished away the activities of these gunmen, which seemed to have been happening in faraway towns, have started lamenting as these heinous activities have gradually spread to hitherto safe towns in the South-east.

Like many states across the country, states in the South-east have recorded their fair share of insecurity, with the states either experiencing attacks by herdsmen, cult clashes, kidnappings, as well as unexplained murders, among others.

In fact, just two weeks ago, Enugu and Ebonyi states were attacked by suspected herdsmen with nearly 50 residents allegedly murdered and houses set ablaze during the unwarranted, but coordinated attacks.

Also, while the dust were still settling in Enugu, government facilities, including a correctional centre and police stations, were attacked by gunmen in Imo, with prisoners and inmates freed by the rampaging criminals.

Gunmen kill 6 six in Enugu

On Monday, March 29, 2021, the Enugu State Police Command confirmed the killing of six persons in Adani Community, Uzo-Uwani LGA of the state by yet to be identified hoodlums the previous day.

The Command also confirmed that two people were injured in the incident, while shops and other property were destroyed.

It was gathered that a young man from Igga, who was working at Adarice Factory in Adani, was shot by the suspected herders over a misunderstanding, even as the herdsmen were said to have blocked sympathisers from taking the man to hospital.

The incident, according to sources, led to a clash between Fulani herdsmen and members of Igga community.

A statement by the Enugu State Police Command’s Spokesman, Daniel Ndukwe, on Tuesday, March 30, said Commissioner of Police in charge of the state, CP Mohammed Aliyu, led other security agencies on a visit to the area on Monday.

The statement read: “The Commissioner of Police, Enugu State Command, CP Mohammed Ndatsu Aliyu, in the early hours of March 29, 2021, led a team of heads of sister security agencies in the state and the executive chairman of Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area to Adani community, for on-the-spot assessment of the acts of violence allegedly perpetrated in the wee hours of March 28, 2021, by yet to be identified hoodlums, which led to the death of six persons and gunshot injuries on two others, as well as the burning down of some shops and destruction of properties.

“The Commissioner, while calling for calm, has ordered the State CID to conduct tacit investigation to identify and bring the perpetrators of the unfortunate incident to book.

“He further reassures of the commitment of the command to collaborate with sister security agencies and relevant stakeholders in the community, to avert a recurrence of the violence.

“He also pleads with members of the community to be their brothers’ keeper and eschew acts of violence, even as the Police meticulously investigate the case.”

The statement further disclosed that, “In his remarks, the Executive Chairman of the local government area, Chukwudi Celestine Nnadozie, thanked the Police and other security agencies for the quick intervention which helped in restoring normalcy in the area.

“He specially thanked the CP and heads of other security agencies for embarking on the trip, noting that it would further help to restore a sense of confidence in the people of the community.”

Ebonyi invasion

Though the ‘killer herdsmen’ have reportedly been operating in Ebonyi state, allegedly silently killing farmers and residents, on Monday, March 29, a Methodist priest and 17 other indigenes of Egedegede, Obegu and Amuzu communities in Ishielu LGA were gruesomely killed by rampaging armed herdsmen, even as the car belonging to the priest was set ablaze.

The Ishielu incident came as a shock to the indigenes, with a resident, who pleaded anonymity, claiming that 18 people were killed in the attack.

“We are in serious mourning since late hours of Monday as herdsmen invaded our communities and massacred our people.

“As we speak, 18 people were slaughtered like animals. They matcheted many of our people, burnt vehicles, motorcycles and looted our property,” he said.

Also reacting to the killings, a visibly angry Governor Dave Umahi, who visited the affected communities, said local herdsmen in the areas, whom the state government had an understanding with, committed the havoc.

He added that those who migrated to the area were convinced to leave and that the killings took place after they had left.

“We feel so sad that this kind of thing should happen in our state. I am going to escalate this to the highest authorities in the country to ensure these people don’t get away with this,” the governor vowed.

However, just as the people were to come to terms with the Ishielu massacre, unknown gunmen invaded and killed four persons in Otuebu and Obodo Ocha villages, Umuogudo-Akpu Ngbo community in the Ohaukwu LGA on Monday, April 12.

A source from the area alleged that attackers invaded the village and burnt down about seven houses and many victims sustained various degrees of injuries, while vehicles and motorcycles were also burnt.

However, the state government in a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor, Mr Monday Uzor, said that the attack on the people of Umuogudu Akpu-Ngbo Community in Ohaukwu in the early hours of Monday was not carried out by Fulani herdsmen.

The statement read in part: “The Ebonyi state government has received with dismay violent attack on the people of Umuogudu Akpu-Ngbo Community in Ohaukwu LGA of the state in the early hours of Monday.

“The general public is hereby informed that preliminary investigations have indicated that the attack was not carried out by Fulani herdsmen as being speculated in different quarters.

“The government of Ebonyi state is in touch with the leadership of the Fulani herdsmen (Miyetti Allah), who have denied involvement in the attack.

“The leadership of the Fulani herdsmen has assured government and people of Ebonyi state that they will not on any account perpetrate attack on any part of the state.

“The recent attack on Ngbo is linked to the age-long crisis between the community and their Agila neighbours of Benue state.”

The deputy governor further stated that,

“Government has directed the Military and the Police to move into the community to repel any further attacks and restore peace.

“The general public and in particular, the people of Ngbo, are requested to remain law abiding and avoid reprisals as government is working hard to restore normalcy to the affected community.”

Interestingly, on Tuesday, April 13, the Benue state government, in a statement by the Chairman, Ado LGA, Chief James Oche, refuted the claim by the Ebonyi state government of being involved in the said attack and instead blamed it on Fulani herdsmen.

… Afikpo too

Barely a week after the Ishielu massacre, suspected herdsmen invaded Agba, also known as Ameta, a community in Ozizza, Afikpo North LGA, on Friday, April 2, shooting sporadically to scare away frightened residents.

Though, there was no record of casualties during the invasion, many concerned residents demanded for urgent intervention by the authorities as playing down the incursion of armed herdsmen into Ameta would encourage them to kill residents, especially with reports they were regrouping in the community on Saturday, April 3.

Speaking in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a politician from Ozizza Mr Isu Nkaa Amaechi said that the tolerance of the state government has been encouraging Fulani herdsmen to operate unhindered in the state.

He said: “What you heard about Agba Ozizza is true. The herdsmen came in their numbers into the community. When they heard the youth bell, they became apprehensive and started shooting sporadically into the air.

“Nobody was shot and normalcy has not returned to the place. However, this incident was not unexpected due largely to Ebonyi state government’s crass sympathy for herdsmen.

“Before this incident, there have been pockets of reported and unreported attacks on our people by the herdsmen in farmlands and fishing sites around Agba community.

“In fact, farming and fishing activities, which our people engage in predominantly, had stopped at Otutu and Onuiyi, respectively; due to unholy activities of herdsmen.

“My hope and prayer is that there should be serious proactive intervention on the side of the government. The governor must swallow his pride and call for help from Eastern Security Network (ESN). Ebonyi is not safe. Our people’s lives cannot be sacrificed to maintain relationship with unfriendly friends.”

Imo, Anambara not different

Aside series of attack by these gunmen, on April 5, some gunmen, in a well-planned operation attacked the federal correctional centre and police command headquarters in Owerri, Imo state.

While some inmates were released by the gunmen, the Police command and some vehicles parked in the vicinity were set ablaze.

Barely 48 hours after, another police division in Ehime/Mbano in the state was attacked by gunmen on April 7, who set some vehicles ablaze.

Similarly, in Anambra state 10 men were killed when gunmen attacked a checkpoint at Nkpologwu in Aguata Local Government Area, even as four policemen were also killed in Omogho, Orumba North LGA.

Sadly, the rifles of the policemen were taken away by the gunmen, who reportedly drove in a salon car and a black Mercedes Benz 4Matic SUV.

Notably, all the states in the South-east have had their share of attacks by these marauding gunmen.

Ohanaeze turns to ESN, others

Following the attacks in Enugu and Ebonyi states, the Chidi Ibeh-led faction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo had urged members of the ESN and all the vigilante groups in Igbo land to rise to the occasion and chase away all killer-herdsmen from the South-east.

Ibeh, in a statement on March 30, said the killings in different parts of the South-east by Fulani herdsmen was a confirmation of earlier warning by the United States Embassy that bandits ravaging the North were heading towards the South to disrupt peaceful territories and unleash violence, especially in the South-east.

“The people of the South-east now sleep with their eyes wide open as untold panic have enveloped the air. We don’t know when Nigerian security officials will start carrying out Buhari’s presidential order to shoot at sight anyone parading with AK47.

“With the recent incident in Uzuwani in Enugu state, Ohanaeze Ndigbo urges Igbos to defend themselves against terrorism and violence from killer herdsmen. Whether it is ESN or forest guards or local hunters or community vigilante groups, we are ordering them to curb the menace, using Igbo formula of defence.

“This is a clarion call for Ndigbo to realise that herdsmen are coming in their thousands to destabilise the South-east and the South-south.

“These are killers sponsored by external detractors of Igbos to ensure that there are disruption of farming activities and cause food insufficiency in the South-east so that Igbo will always depend on the North for food supplies.

“We cannot afford to allow northern bandits succeed in the Southeast. Southeast governors should give Ndigbo a regional security outfit to meet the insecurity challenges in the South-east,” the statement read in part.

Enter ebubeagu

In a bid to check the spate of insecurity being recorded in the zone, governor of the South-east states, rising from a one-day security meeting, Sunday in Owerri, announced the setting up Ebubeagu, a security outfit to be funded by the five states in the region, with headquarters in Enugu.

In a communiqué at the end of the first South-east Security Summit attended by heads of security agencies in the region, the governors asked that the influx of IGP monitoring units into the region be stopped.

They governors, however, called on the federal government to increase funding of military policing in the region.

Chairman, South-east Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi state Governor, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, who read the communiqué, said Ebubeagu was created to check the increasing cases of criminality in the region.

He said, the meeting resolved to strongly and unequivocally condemn terrorism and banditry in any part of Nigeria, particularly in the South-east.

The meeting condemned the burning of police stations, violent attacks on custodial centres with the unlawful release of inmates, and the killings including security personnel, natives/farmers and headsmen.

The meeting also said, “The five South-east states are on the same page with the federal government on the issue of security challenges in the country. To this end, the meeting makes it absolutely clear that the South-east will stand resolutely with the federal government to fight terrorists and bandits to a finish.

“That the political leadership in the South-east has resolved to bring together all the arsenals at their command, as one united zone, to fight and flush out criminals and terrorist from the zone.

“That the summit resolved that to achieve this, there is a need to galvanise all the relevant stakeholders in the south east, the political class, the business community, the bureaucrats and the intelligentsia to provide all necessary support to security operatives in the five south east states to ensure total success in the fight against criminality in the zone.

“That the heads of all the security agencies in the south east have resolved to exchange intelligence in a seamless, effective new order that will help to checkmate crime in the zone.

According to the governors, “To fast track crime busting in the South-east, the heads of security agencies have been mandated to draw up a comprehensive list of their logistics and material needs for sustainable success in the fight against criminality, for the immediate provision by the leadership of the South-east.

“That a committee made up of security personnel, government officials and relevant stakeholders be set up to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the south east joint security platform.”

The communiqué further stated that: “To applaud the initiative of the South-east security summit and to make it a statutory summit that will convene every quarter while it’s hosting shall rotate among the five South-east states.

“The meeting resolved to maintain a joint security vigilante for the South-east otherwise known as Ebubeagu.

“The meeting appreciated the formation of South-east joint security outfit code named Ebubeagu with Headquarters in Enugu to coordinate our vigilante in the South-east.”

Furthermore, the governors requested the acting IGP to stop the influx of IGP monitoring units but to allow CPs and state and zonal commands to handle their cases.

The meeting also approved that the acting IGP and other security chiefs invite the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and CAN to find out the reason for increasing insecurity of the South-east.

“Meeting agreed that military policing in the South-east should be adequately funded and become effective.

“The meeting agreed that open grazing has been banned and security agency should implement the ban. The meeting encouraged a peaceful coexistence of farmers and headers to allow governors to succeed in the fight against criminality.”

Way out

A security analyst Abubakar Mohammed has said all hands must be on deck to end the unabated killings and attack in South-east and other part of Nigeria.

In a phone chat with Blueprint Weekend Mohammed said, “There are so many reasons why these attacks persist and may continue unhindered if the governors, security agencies and the people fail to do the needful.

“The governors have taken the first step by setting up a zonal security outfit Ebubeagu but they need to do more and get it all necessary legal backing. They should all work in unity in the interest and safety of the people in South-east and Nigeria at large.

“For them not to create another security demon that may be too difficult to manage, the governors must take charge of the structure and ensure that it’s properly funded, equipped with technological gadgets that will aide in their operations.

“Aside this, the governors should also discuss with stakeholders across the states in the zone. This discussion should be about confidence build, sensitization and ensure that the build trust between the security agencies, government officials, traditional institutions, government officials and other stakeholders.

“Another thing the governors must manage is the ESN, their approach must be strategic and peace oriented. Remember that it has been alleged that the ESN are the ones behind some of the attacks so the best thing for the governors to do is to manage this group to achieve lasting peace in the zone.”

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