By Comfort Obi
It is late in the night. But I think it is in order to say Good morning to South- east Governors. So, Good morning Your Excellencies.
In case you want to know why, the Governors have just woken up from an anastasia-induced sleep. It was a sleep so deep that their counterparts had since eaten lunch, waiting for dinner. And Their Excellencies from the South-east are just getting ready for breakfast.
We must thank whatever and/or whoever woke them up from that deep slumber. On waking up, they saw that the referee had since blown the whistle. The race had started without them. So, they scrambled to Owerri to start from where others had since left.
On Sunday, April 11, the five of them met at the Government House, Owerri, to take a look at the disaster that has become their Zone while they snored. They had company – Heads of Security Agencies in the Zone, and a couple of other stakeholders. The leadership of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo was, also, there.
The main agenda: The terrifying security situation in the zone.
The meeting must have been very important to them. It should. There is so much disillusionment in the zone, so much disappointment. So much loss of confidence in them. The anger of their subjects has boiled over. Anything could happen. The once peaceful Zone is on edge. The Governors know. Which was why, for the first time in many months, all of them were present.
There is a huge fire on the mountain, a fire they had ignored for a long time, and a fire some of them had, atimes, stoked by their undiplomatic utterances in the name of politics.
The highlight of the meeting was the announcement that, finally, the Zone has set up a Security outfit code-named Ebubeagu.
I don’t know if the Governors expect congratulatory messages from their subjects for “this feat”. In our dear country, everything attracts congratulatory messages. It is a country where when people put obituaries in newspapers, they also put their own photographs, alongside that of the dead – for the attention of the members of the public. It will, therefore, not be a surprise when we begin to see adverts, congratulating the Governors for a good outing in Owerri.
But let me start by thanking Governor Hope Uzodinma for having the courage to host the meeting. He didn’t have to. Owerri is not the Headquarters of the South-east. That honour belongs to Enugu. He is not the Chairman of the South-east Governors Forum. That office is, currently, occupied by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State. So the meeting could have been held at either Enugu or Abakaliki. But, perhaps, it was deliberately fixed for Owerri because of the recent unprecedented attack on the Correctional Centre Service, and the Imo Police Command Headquarters.
South East Governors and Stakeholders
During that attack where sophisticated weapons, including explosives, were generously used, 1,844 prisoners, many of them, dangerous criminals, were released and unleashed on the South-east as a whole, and Imo in particular. At the Criminal Investigation Department, CID, Imo police Command, 600 detainees were, allegedly, released. Why so many prisoners and detainees were packed like sardines in those facilities is a question for another day. So, I was talking about Uzodinma’s courage to host the meeting.
Uzodinma and Imo will be remembered for the founding of the Security outfit. But perhaps, it spells danger. Here is why.
The Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra, IPOB, and its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, cannot be happy that Imo hosted the meeting where Ebubeagu was founded. After the formation of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, by IPOB, Kanu had warned that no other Security outfit, outside ESN, will be tolerated, or allowed to function. Therefore, by hosting this meeting, Uzodinma may have put himself and the State on the firing line. But, no matter.
The questions however are: Why did it take the Zone this long to set-up this outfit. Leadership deficit? Sabotage? Ambition? Conflicting allegiance/Interest? Self preservation? Or a combination of all? What pushed the Governors to, suddenly, set up a unified Security outfit?
A couple of weeks ago, Governor Umahi, the Forum’s Chairman, reportedly said it will not be possible for the SE to set up a unified security outfit. So what changed? There are more questions.
Were there any consultations across board? If so, who and who were consulted? Which other groups bought into it? Or was it strictly an exclusive of the Governors and the Professor George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo? How will it operate, especially, alongside the ESN? How will the members be recruited? Will they be strong enough to face and/or withstand ESN operatives? Or, will they incorporate them, and work with them? Will the leaders of Nigeria’s Seurity Agencies in the SE, who were at the meeting, and who will definitely have a hand in the recruitment and training of Ebubeagu operatives, work with the ESN? Will it enjoy the people’s confidence? Not likely.
Here are why
Ebube Agu, laudable as it is, already suffers a credibility deficit. Not a few people dismiss it as ad-hoc. They say it was hastily cobbled together, without proper planning, in response to recent security problems in the Region, especially the Owerri attack. Already, Ebubeagu is being looked at with suspicion and scorn. A campaign to discredit is already on. One of the points being hammered on: “It is an extension of the Federal might meant to persecute the Igbo.” Of course, this claim is not likely to be true, but it is a price those who set it up are paying for not consulting broadly, for dilly-dallying, and for taking their subjects for granted.
Here is a teaser of how difficult it will be for Ebubeagu to operate, or even take-off:
The IPOB, in a statement signed by its Spokesman, Emma Powerful, has ordered SE youths not to register as members of Ebubeagu Any youth who does that, the statement warned, “should be prepared to meet his ancestors”. IPOB insists it is meant to spy on the ESN. Scary? Sure.
Yet, another group, the South East Revival Group, SERG, in a statement signed by its President/National Coordinator, Willie Ezugwu, dismisses Ebubeagu as another jamboree by Governors. It is a “convenient political outing aimed at pleasing the Federal establishment rather than the people.”, SERG said
The ESN is a baby of IPOB, a group hastily proscribed by both the Federal and South-east Governments. It was labelled a terrorist group.
I take pride, no matter how inefficient Nigeria is, in being a Nigerian. And I am very proudly Igbo. I believe in one Nigeria (which will be) based on equity, justice and, the rule of law. So, I cannot but ask why nobody has declared the Bandits, or the rogue herdsmen, moving about with dangerous weapons, from the North to the South, terrorist groups. Or did I miss it? If not why?
Their Governors led by the new Northern Champion, Zamfara Governor, Bello Matawelle, Katsina’s Bello Masari, and Borno’s attack-prone Governor, Babagana Zulum, pamper them. Supported spiritually and otherwise by Dr Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic Scholar adept at locating Bandits in forests, these guys sit down and dialogue with heavily armed bandits. They negotiate the way forward with them. You know, like a kindred meeting. And they pay the Bandits handsomely.
The other day, Abubakar Sani Bello, Niger State Governor, and son-in-law to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, lamented that Bandits deceived them,(the government), took huge sums of money from them, and used same to buy more weapons. “E shock you?”
Until this Governor’s confession, I almost, believed that nobody in Government was paying the marauders. You would, also, recall, dear Readers, that Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, had forcefully defended herdsmen who carry Ak 47. They should, the Governor submitted.
Eastern Security Network, ESN
The questions are: Why are SE Governors and Clerics and Elders not dialoguing with IPOB members?
Why is IPOB which was,still is not, by any stretch of imagination, as deadly as the bandits, proscribed? Why are the bandits not officially labelled terrorists? Why is IPOB labelled a terrorist organization, and rogue Fulani herdsmen, free to roam around?
In the South-west, the new Sheriff in town, Sunday Igboho, has become a celebrity. He is called a freedom fighter, a hero. He is wining and dining with South-west Governors, Afenifere, top politicians. They are consulting and dialoguing. He does what he likes. This other day, he called the bluff of former IGP, Mohammed Adamu. He taunted Adamu, and refused an invitation to see him. Igboho is still going about his business, hailed by his people. Why is the case of IPOB and its leadership different? Why doesn’t anybody invite them to a roundtable?
The truth is that South-east Governors, for reasons they need to explain, failed their people. They failed their Zone. They disappointed the people. And put their zone to shame. In the process, they ridiculed themselves. They presented themselves as weaklings, as cowards incapable of protecting the people against criminals – armed robbers, kidnappers, cultists and rogue herdsmen. They were walking as if on egg-shells, afraid to break the eggs. They presented themselves as incapable of speaking for the people. What were they afraid of?
For almost two years, these Governors watched as the insecurity in the zone blossomed. Kidnappers and cultists held sway. They still do. They were on the prowl. They still are. Then, enter, rogue herdsmen, invading farms with their cows, destroying farmlands, raping women and girls. They graduated to kidnapping, and then a killing spree.
The first ports of call were parts of Enugu and Ebonyi States. Gradually, but surely, it spread to the other parts of the Zone. These crimes were also, at the same time, being committed in the South-west. It was not an exclusive of the South-east.
But here is the difference:
South-west Governors, excuse this cliche, took the bull by the horn. They decided to set up a Security outfit – Amotekun. And they did it in style, defying subtle threats from Abuja. They adorned the Operatives in attractive uniform, rolled out Operational vehicles, equipped them. The people were in support.
Abuja was forced to accept Amotekun after an altercation with, especially, the Chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN.
It is not yet uhuru in the South-west, but Amotekun’s impact is being gradually felt. The people know they can reach them in times of distress – when the Police delays. They work with the Police and hunters.
Not in the South- East
In the face of the daunting insecurity at the time, a delegation from Ime Obi, the highest Ohaneze organ, was sent to the Governors to ask them to set up a security outfit for the South-east.
Surprisingly, the Governors buckled. At a meeting with then IGP Adamu, where other stakeholders were, also, present, they disappointed. Instead of insisting on the setting-up of the outfit, they began to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for the second Niger Bridge, for nominating Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to the WTO job. Well, why not? But they failed where it mattered most. They discarded the idea of the Zone’s Security outfit, and endorsed Community Policing.
That was where the Zone was – confused, when, IPOB, not surprisingly, struck with ESN.
Nature abhors vacuum. It doesn’t matter how illegal anybody thinks the ESN is. It doesn’t matter to the people what its intent is. It suits the mood of the people. It assuages their yearnings. It gives them a sense of protection. As far as they are concerned, where the Governors failed, IPOB has stepped in, and took the thunder from the Governors.
The ESN, unlike Amotekun, has not, however, made any impact on the insecurity in the South-east. May be because of the way it was formed, the outfit cannot quite operate freely and publicly. So, insecurity has worsened. The South-east, once noted for its safety, has become notorious. It is gaining grounds as one of the unsafest zones in Nigeria. It is competing with the North-east and the North-west. People are killed and kidnapped, almost every hour. Security personnel – Soldiers, Policemen, even Prison Warders, etc – are being slaughtered in broad day light in all the South-east States. Police Stations and Divisions are being sacked and set ablaze.
Like in the North-east and North-west, whole communities are being invaded, and sacked, and people killed in their scores. It happened in Ebonyi State a couple of weeks ago. It happened again in Ngbo, Ebonyi, on Sunday, April 12.
Until the inexplicable bloody attack on the Ebonyi Community two weeks ago, which drew justifiable outrage from a number of Stakeholders in the zone, and threats of reprisal from IPOB, Umahi had been neither here nor there.
For the records, Umahi’s elder brother, Obi Umahi, a Major General, a former GOC, 81 Division, Nigerian Army, a gentleman and an officer, and one of the few Igbo Officers, to have been trusted with that position, but sadly, prematurely retired, was appointed the Chairman of the Security Committee by Ohaneze. General Umahi’s Committee was to fashion out how to deal with the insecurity situation in the South East. Till date, the Committee never met for one day. Hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob?
But for the first time, Governor Umahi, after the attack on Ebonyi Communities, behaved like Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State. He spoke up, strongly, for his people. Until then, he was, almost pampering rogue herdsmen.
This other day in Abia state, explosives were planted at a primary school in Afara, Umuahia. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu closed down the school.
The climax of the horrifying state of insecurity in the zone took place in Owerri on Easter Monday when both the State Police Headquarters and the Correctional Centre Service were invaded and attacked. The outcome was maximum. 1,844 Prisoners freed. 600 detainees freed. Building blocks at both the Correctional Centre Services and Police Command, razed. 50 vehicles, including Police operational vehicles, burnt.
Since then, more Police Stations have been sacked, razed, and detainees, released.
Till date, the arguments are still raging over who and/or which group carried out the horrendous attack which unleashed dangerous criminals on a peaceful people. The truth is, now, enmeshed in bitter politics.
Like play, like play, the South-east is going. It is not an exaggeration. That is why the Governors suddenly woke up. Their reign over their Empire is threatened. They woke up a year after Amotekun was launched with fanfare by their more serious South-west counterparts.
All well and good. Better late than the late. “Tagboo” ( Today is early), the Igbo would say.
But it is still morning. Announcing the setting-up of Ebube Agu is just a beginning. It is likely to take months before it takes off. There is no framework yet. The House of Assembly in each State has to approve it. Recruitment has to begin. But of who? Many of the youths would rather listen to IPOB than the Governors. Meaning: the Governors have so much work to do. They need to get back the trust of the people. The politics of bitterness between the APC and the PDP, especially, in Imo, will be a big obstacle. Caution should be the word, because nobody – APC or PDP – will be safe when the doom wished and yearned for, everyday, unfolds.
I have read the communiqué issued at the end of the SE Governors’ meeting. There was nothing particularly new, nor particularly exciting. They say open grazing has been banned. We have heard that before. But where are the Ranches? Herdsmen and their cows still roam the roads, villages and farmlands and forests in the Zone. They still harass the people. They still rape and kill and kidnap.
The South-east Governors do not, yet, have the will to get them to comply, or be arrested. They don’t have the courage of Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, and his colleagues in the SW Zone. They don’t have the courage of Kano State Governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje. This guy uses Hisbah, the Shariah Police, to destroy the businesses of Southerners dealing in alcohol beverages.They lose hundreds of millions of Naira periodically. Yet, Ganduje’s Kano State shares in VAT from alcohol. That’s inappropriate. By sharing in that VAT, Ganduje is committing a sin.
But back to Ebubeagu. I have my fears. How will it operate alongside ESN? Is it possible for them to work together, along with the Police? Or will the ESN, Ebubeagu and Security Agencies reduce the Zone to a war zone, a rubble? It would be nice if they could work together. Afterall, they all claim they want to secure the South-east.
It is important for them to meet and sort issues out. The Governors should rise above all petty talks, propaganda and playing to the gallery. They should do what their counterparts in the North and South-west are doing. There must be people in the zone who IPOB and its leadership respect. Reach out to them. A roundtable will go a long way into arresting the situation. By all means, look for peace. Find it.
Don’t reduce the South-east to a war zone. There will be no winner. Everybody will be a loser. “Gra-gra” serves no purpose.
Obi is the Editor-in-Chief/CEO of The Source (Magazine),