Occupy communities, residents live in fear
•It shows failure of governance in South-East —Onyike
•There’s failure of intelligence on the side of security operatives —Group
•Security operatives not doing enough to protect us —Community leader laments
•Gunmen now order us to surrender vigilantes’ pump action guns, seize them for their evil activities – Community laments
•Politicians, not IPOB, responsible for renewed insecurity in S-East — CAN
•Unknown gunmen clear indication of governance failure in S-East — Chekwas Okorie
•Lilu, Mbosi, Azia, Orsumoghu, Isseke residents forced to pay and get permission to hold ceremonies
By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu, Steve Oko & Emmanuel Iheaka
In the last couple of weeks, life has once again become hell for residents of the South-East region following upsurge of attacks, killings and kidnappings by gunmen.
The resurgence was after a recede in November and December last year, which raised hope of the people of the region that the evil activities of unknown gunmen had stopped. They had a peaceful Christmas celebration.
But their hope was dashed recently, when the dreaded gunmen returned with fiercer attacks and killings. No part of the region is free of the attacks. But Ihiala axis in Anambra State, which shares border with Orlu area in Imo State, can unarguably be said to be the theatre of the present crisis. Aguata, Orumba North and Orumba South Council areas, unfortunately, have in the last few days, also come under serious attack by these hoodlums. In the last few weeks, there had been increased attacks and killings in the Aguata/Orumba areas, including the killing of 88-year-old retired professor.
In Enugu and other states in the region, attacks have also been on the rise. Just last week, about five persons were killed while participating in Enugu State Local Government election, an action that prompted Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to summon a meeting of stakeholders in the area where the killing happened.
And perhaps, acting on security intelligence, banned the operations of tricycles, okada and tipper lorries in parts of the council. Ebonyi, Abia and Imo states are also experiencing constant attacks and killings. Simply put, no state in the region is presently safe and the residents now live in constant fear.
Many clashes had been recorded between the gunmen and security operatives who claimed the gunmen were members of the IPOB and their security wing, ESN operatives. IPOB has, however, been denying any involvement in the killings in the region, and in turn, accusing security operatives of launching attacks to suppress their agitation for Biafra. They also accused security agencies of importing mercenaries to Igbo land to maim, kill and kidnap people to justify labelling them as terrorists. While the blame game goes on, the recent attacks had left many casualties on both sides, including a lot of civilians, who were killed or kidnapped by the gunmen or cut down by bullets from security operatives in the process of crossfire.
In the face of the frustrating situation, the big question remains: What is the way out? Have governments, both federal and state, done enough to contain this or have they given up? With huge potentials available to the government, why is it difficult to contain and clear this ugly situation once and for all?
The frightening and scary experience below, shared in the social media by a man who braved the ‘lion’s den’ to save his brother from the hand of hoodlums who claimed to be IPOB members, narrates clearly the grave situation of things in the South-East region. Particularly and of great concern presently is the Lilu-Orsumoghu-Azia axis of Ihiala Council Area of Anambra State which has become very dangerous of recent, up to Orlu axis in Imo State.
Lilu, Mbosi, Azia, Orsumoghu, Isseke residents forced to pay and get permission to ceremonies
According to the man’s account: “We are in serious trouble; at about 2pm on January 26, 2022, I got a call from my cousin who came back from Switzerland for a burial at Umuike Ukpor (Ukpor is in Nnewi South Council, Anambra State). He told me that he was under the captivity of IPOB guys at Lilu. The IPOB guys told me to come with N200,000 and bail my brother and his SUV if I still want him alive. They warned me not to involve police or else they will kill my brother.
“Initially, I thought it was a prank but when the call came again, I knew it was a serious matter.
“I called my elder sister and she warned me not to try it. I called my boss in the office and told him what was happening and he advised me not to go. I also sought the opinion of my other friend who is a DSS guy, he asked me not to go. But my instinct continued telling me to go and save Okey. I took my old Sienna bus and withdrew N250k and moved.
“As soon as I joined the St. Joseph/Onuselogu road, one particular bike man started following me from Awka Etiti section. (He was the emissary). Surprisingly, the person asked me whether I was the person with the Sienna and I answered in the affirmative. He then asked me to stop at Hajosty Petroleum at Ukpor which I did. I pretended that I wanted to buy fuel but the pump attendant told me that one man was calling me on the other side of the road.
“I walked to the other side and the man showed me my phone number and asked me whether I was the owner which I accepted. He then told me to buy him two bottles of Hero beer at a shop there which I did. I also took my own two bottles of Heineken beer.
“He then told me that my brother was in safe hands only that MNK (Mazi Nnamdi Kanu), Onye Ndu is in prison and there is no money to operate. That is why they deployed a way of raising money by kidnapping. I told him that I understood him perfectly well. I waited for further instructions. He then told me to remove everything that bears Nigeria I have on me and keep them in my vehicle and I obliged.
“He asked me to join him on his bike and we zoomed off from that Hajosty Petroleum Ukpor. The guy was on a neck-breaking speed until he got to Lilu junction, Orsumoghu. There is also a filling station there but I cannot remember the name now. He stopped and went to the filling station to greet some fierce-looking men. All of them were carrying AK 47 automatic rifles with cache of ammunitions.
“He asked me to pick a green leaf and be waving it across my head as he rode into Lilu. They created a road in the bush where one could drive through but the road was seriously manned by IPOB guys. We got to a point where they used a trip of chippings to block the tarred road and they dug a deep gully after the chippings to prevent soldiers from entering with armoured tanks into Lilu. That was when I knew that I was in trouble.
“We rode for about three kilometers without seeing any life there except IPOB guys who were armed with various types of arms and dangerous weapons. My visa was the green leaf which identified me as a peaceful man.
READ ALSO: Gunmen now order us to surrender Vigilantes’ pump action guns, seize them for their evil activities —Community laments
“When we got to their camp, it was a gory sight. Everywhere smelled like sewage or septic tank. My brother was already pushed into their cell. I stayed there for 30 minutes before the GOC (General Officer Commanding) came out to see me.
“As soon as the GOC saw me, he queried them why they brought me there. They told him that I came for my brother. I told him how I got a call and how I came to save my brother. He said that he liked my guts. He asked them to bring out my brother.
“They brought him out, knelt him down before me. I gave them what they asked me to bring and I also gave them 20k (N20, 000) to drink. The GOC told me to be praying for MNK to be released. He ordered four of his men to escort us to that Ukpor junction.
“I was shocked to see a woman selling beer there and some girls who put spices to their lives were there singing and clapping. I bought them beer, they were 25 in number. But most of them were speaking Abakaliki dialect. Several exotic cars were there. It is either their owners were killed or the owners ran away and abandoned them.
“Lilu town is like Sambisa forest now. It has been taken over by insurgents. There is no life there now. These guys are mean. They have intelligence everywhere. They are small boys. Lilu, Orsumoghu, Azia, Isekke, Ukpor are in serious trouble. It is very unfortunate. The experience is not worth having for a second time. We are in serious trouble in Anambra South.”
Residents of the area corroborated the account of grave situation given above; saying more than this still goes on in the area with people trying by all means to avoid that route. However, opinions are divided among stakeholders and residents of the region on the lingering attacks and killings, with blames being heaped mainly on the governors and security operatives.
Security operatives not doing enough to protect us— Community leader laments
On the increasing wave of attacks in Ihiala axis, a community leader in Okija, Chief Sebastian Okonkwo argued that security operatives were not doing enough to protect the people from the deadly attacks.
Speaking with South-East Voice, Okonkwo said Nigerian security operatives have been adopting ad hoc approach in dealing with the attacks. He decried a situation where the entire stretch of Isseke-Ukpor road has remained without the presence of security operatives since the resurgence of the gunmen.
“If there is any area where there should be checkpoints after every kilometer, it is the Isseke–Ukpor road which has become a haven for the gunmen. But rather, they stationed themselves at Ihiala and Azia junctions along the Onitsha–Owerri road, causing multiple accidents there always,” Okonkwo said.
While Okonkwo is worried about the insecurity along the Isseke–Ukpor road, there is a new development in parts of Anambra, which is the forceful acquisition of pump action guns procured by various communities for their vigilante service by agents of unknown gunmen. It was gathered that some youths, who are not from the villages in some communities in Ihiala Local Government Area, have been going round and forcing village chairmen to surrender all the guns in their possession and those who resisted were threatened with instant killing of their entire families.
Gunmen now order us to surrender Vigilantes’ pump action guns, seize them for their evil activities—Community laments
According to one of the chairmen, this has put the villages in serious danger as they could no longer defend themselves. He said that many communities in the local government area were affected by the development, which explains why the various communities could no longer resist the invasion of the gunmen in the area.
The chairman said: “When they brought an unsigned letter demanding that we surrender all guns in our possession, we thought it was a joke, but the next thing we saw was fierce-looking heavily armed youths who stormed my house and demanded for the guns. They were strange faces and they took the guns we purchased for our vigilante outfit.
“What surprised me was that they knew the number of guns we have, which is an indication that someone from our community was working with them. We have tried to identify who the saboteur could be without success. As it stands, we are at their mercy. They can come into any community and operate without any resistance.”
In the meantime, the Ukpor–Orsumoghu–Isseke road has become a no-go area. The only security checkpoint along that road is at Amichi-Nnewi junction. Before the unknown gunmen took over that axis, the Isseke–Orsumoghu–Awka Etiti road used to be the alternative road from Imo State to Onitsha, but now, the road has been abandoned and many people living along the road have become refugees in safer neighbouring communities.
South-East Voice also found out that for anybody to organise any ceremony, including burials, weddings and chieftaincy installation, in Lilu, Mbosi, Azia, Orsumoghu and even Isseke, the person has to pay a certain amount to the agents of the unknown gunmen. Once the money is paid, the person is free to hold his ceremony without any disturbance.
It was also gathered that additional payment is made if those attending the ceremony would use the dreaded Isseke–Orsumoghu–Ukpor road, in which case there won’t be any operation along that road on the day of the event.
According to our investigation, one of the conditions for granting such permission is that the organiser of the event must not invite the police to the ceremony, otherwise the person would risk attack of the unknown gunmen during the ceremony.
“The situation has degenerated to the level that we pay to survive in this part of the state and we don’t even know the people we pay to,” the community leader said.
But in the opinion of Abia Onyike, it is difficult to blame any group for the increase in violent attacks and killings in the South- East, saying he believes it is the result of failure of government in the region.
“But my own opinion is that these ugly developments only point to the failure of government in the South- East. The origins of the insecurity can be traced to September, 2017 when the South-East governors and then Ohanaeze President colluded with the Federal authorities to conduct Operation Python Dance in the South-East. It was followed by the proscription of IPOB. Many Igbo youths in Aba were dehumanized and drowned in the ponds. The unintelligent Igbo leaders felt they were doing very well. And recently, we have seen how Ebubeagu had been turned into an instrument of harassment and intimidation of the political opponents of the APC governors in Ebonyi and Imo states. Government cannot be sponsoring violence and declaring war on the civil population and expect peace to reign.
“As a sociologist and journalist, I am well read to understand the social origins of civil disobedience and militant resistance. But the problem of the present crop of governors in Igbo land is that they are not patriotic. Secondly, they are not well tutored in politics. Look at how the South-West governors have managed Amotekun to ward off attacks by Fulani herdsmen. But here, our governors have lost touch with the people who elected them. That is why they can afford to behave like the enemies of the people. To me, the only governors I respect in Igboland are Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the incoming Governor of Anambra, Prof. Charles Soludo. These are people who can hold genuine dialogue with the people. Okezie Ikpeazu is not a bully like Umahi and Uzodinma but his developmental trajectory is scandalous and backward. Obiano is equally a gentleman.
“The worst ruler is the one who thinks he can use force to silence the people. Sometimes it can boomerang and that is why it would appear that the South-East governors have lost touch with their responsibilities in civil governance. In their brazen pursuit of self aggrandizement, they are alienated from the people. They have destroyed the civil service, some of them owe backlog of salaries and gratuities and the local government system has been castrated by them because of greed and avarice. It is like a declaration of war on the people. The things which bound society together have been devastated by their tyrannical leadership. That is why they have lost legitimacy. What we see as violent crimes are ugly incidents which show that these leaders are no more in charge. It is a shame”, Onyike lamented.
In their reaction, a group of elite Igbo professionals, Concerned Igbo Stakeholders Forum, CISF, expressed worry over the situation, warning that the situation in the South-East could turn to what is happening in the North-East.
The leader of the group, Chukwuma Okenwa said: “We are disquieted with the resurgence in frequent attacks, killings, arson and kidnappings in Igbo land. This is gradually creating a Southern version of the North-East narrative of terror and bloodshed. We are aware that there are security challenges across all the regions of the country, but what is currently happening in the South-East is a replica of what the North-East has become.
“What makes the case of the South-East more worrisome is that we do not have the luxury of space enough to either accommodate the terrorists or for the safe engagement of the miscreants by the armed forces. We know what happened when the Army launched an air strike in Orlu, allegedly against terrorists and that claimed the lives of innocent indigenes. Thus the enemy can either live within the people or come into the region whenever they wish to strike. This makes the situation potentially a more complex one than the North-East and all stakeholders must rise to the challenge.
“It is also important to note that a good number of those attacks seem to have happened when roads are free – either during sit-at-home or in the case of the ‘no movement order’ in the recent Local Government Area elections in Enugu State. Areas of the region with less vehicular movements seem to be more vulnerable and that offers an insight into adopting a clearer strategy by the security agencies and the indigenes.
“How these attacks happen frequently without adequate security intelligence to forecast it, contain it or even uncover the details thereafter, makes a case for either a compromise or a collapse of security intelligence in the region.
“There is a need to integrate the indigenes and all stakeholders into the intelligence and security awareness architecture in the region. The issue of strategic communication should also be deployed to help build confidence in the people of the region, and not fear which favours the enterprise of the hoodlums.”
Prominent Igbo leader and politician, Chief Chekwas Okorie described the menace of unknown gunmen as very shameful, adding that it is a clear indication of failure of governance in the region.
Okorie said that the state governments in the region can resolve the problem with the huge security allocations they receive every month by utilising the fund in the training and equipment of vigilante groups in every community, noting that the so called unknown gunmen occupy forests in communities in the region which the vigilantes, if well motivated, could join forces with the federal security agencies to identify them and end the ugly situation.
He also said that it is extremely difficult to exonerate the activities of IPOB/ESN from the mayhem because of their flagrant methods of operation, insisting however, that another solution is provision of good governance that could provide jobs for the restive youths.
His words: “It is very disturbing and it is a clear indication of failure of governance in the South- East. For a long time, people had expected the governors in the South- East, which is almost the smallest geographical location compared to other zones in Nigeria, to end this. I don’t see how complicated and difficult it is for the governors to work together and tackle the issue of insecurity in the zone using the various advantages they have as governors.
“People had clamoured for a joint security outfit, they came up with what is called Egbubeagu but it could not take off up till now. Insecurity among the youths, most times, is as a result of lack of jobs among other things that tend to make the youths take to certain vices, but what is happening in the South- East is out of hand. Development is being stunted; people now hold traditional marriages outside Igbo land; There is lockdown on Mondays and nobody has sat down to make proper analysis of the economic cost.
“You see, these are our children who live among us, some of them hide away in the forests and this is where the local vigilante security outfits coordinated by the states can flush them out. They have gone to the extent of bloodletting for no justifiable reason. They have carried cultism from the universities into the society. Innocent businessmen are targeted and shot for no reason and it is so painful.”
On the linking of IPOB/ESN to the orgy of violence in the region, Okorie said: “Well, it is such a difficult thing to either exonerate IPOB or to blame it because IPOB initially gave the order that they were implementing but IPOB turned around to say it has withdrawn the order but those implementing it wouldn’t listen to IPOB which collaborates the adage that it is so easy to give a monkey a cup of water but the problem is to retrieve the cup from the monkey.
“Now the same IPOB has given another deadline that from April we will stop eating cow meat in the South-East and some people started implementing it and started attacking cattle markets and IPOB said it is not them and that is why I said it is difficult to blame them and also difficult to exonerate them. So I will advise IPOB to weigh its pronouncements properly before making them because nobody can deny the fact that IPOB has become a very popular movement among the youths. Sometimes they make the statements and the youths take it as a gospel and follow it and when IPOB sees the implication and wants to reverse it, it becomes difficult to reverse. So it is funny and I am thoroughly ashamed of what is going on in Igbo land today.”
Okorie said it is not difficult to identify who the unknown gunmen are: “These are our own children, living among us. We have suggested in the past that the amount of money our governors withdraw as security votes every month is scandalous. Fifty per cent of the security votes can be used to pay the vigilantes. If you have up to 20 of the vigilantes in every community, equip and pay them well, they can operate day and night in the bushes and they know people who come into the communities and know when their own sons come back and display sudden wealth. These are people who can monitor the situation and coordinate with the security agencies and the criminals will know there is no safe place to stay and our people can sleep with their two eyes closed.”
Politicians, not IPOB responsible for renewed insecurity in S-East —CAN
However, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, is pointing accusing fingers at politicians over the resurgence of the activities of unknown gunmen and the festering insecurity in the South East zone.
According to the CAN Chairman, Abia State, Apostle Emmanuel Agomuo, politicians who recruit hoodlums for some dirty jobs during electioneering period, and fail to empower them afterwards, should be held responsible for the worsening insecurity in the region.
He said contrary to allegations by security agencies that members of IPOB, are behind the sad development, hoodlums recruited by politicians might be the real masks behind the veil. The cleric said hoodlums had since hijacked the situation in the South-East to unleash mayhem on innocent citizens.
He blamed greedy politicians who arm and engage the services of hoodlums during electioneering periods but fail to meaningfully empower them afterwards; hence most of them resort to criminality. According to him, the hoodlums when they have no legitimate means of livelihood, resort to criminality and terrorism using the arms given to them by wicked politicians.
“I don’t think IPOB is behind this barbarity. These are the bad boys politicians use for election. After using them, they fail to empower them and that is why they go back into criminality. Politicians who recruit these hoodlums are to be held responsible for the mess in the South-East.”
The CAN boss urged security agencies not to be narrow-minded in their efforts to unravel the real sources of the monster but to be open to all possibilities.
An activist, Comrade Kindness Jonah condemned the resurgent and continuous killing in South-East zone, urging government at the center to adequately punish those captured in operation to serve as deterrent to others. He blamed security agencies for not unmasking unknown gunmen captured during operation for the public to know their identity
Comrade Jonah suggested that government should establish security operational bases in all the village squares in the South-East to enhance the fight against the insurgency. He alleged that unknown gunmen are those hired by Nigerian government to cause trouble in the South-East.
It is a fact that “Igbo fear killing and shedding of blood so one can ask: how can an Igbo man that dreads bloodshed, open fire and kill anybody on sight in the market square? How can? So, to stop the evil activities of gunmen in the South-East, the onus is on government at the center to adequately punish those insurgents captured in operation as a deterrent.
“Also, commensurate legal sentencing should be meted to defaulters. Unknown gunmen captured in operation, should be unmasked for the public to see. Vigilantes as security operatives should work in tandem with the police and military operatives to fish out these dissidents,” Jonah said.
A former Commissioner of Transport in Abia State, Ekele Nwaohanmuo, in his contribution, said that the South-East governors have failed in their responsibility to protect lives and property and must think out of the box to end the incessant violence in the zone.
Nwaohanmuo lamented that the agitation for Biafra by IPOB has been hijacked by criminals who unleash violence on the people under the guise of agitation for Biafra and freedom for their detained leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
He further stated that everybody, including Igbo elders and governors, are now afraid of speaking out and taking drastic measures to end the violence.
In his words: “I think the solution to stop these killings is to re-orientate the minds of the youths to do meaningful things with their lives. The government should invest more in job creation and skills acquisition and address the marginalisation of the Igbo. Lack of employment and the feeling of marginalisation by the Igbo are the major problems behind youth violence.
“In Nigeria today, youths who have gone to school can’t get jobs. Daily, more people are graduating without the government doing anything to provide jobs. Providing rice, wrapper and handouts for people is not empowerment or employment. People are aggrieved with the state of affairs in Nigeria. Corruption has messed up everything. This is dangerous, we can’t continue this way.
“The IPOB struggle has been hijacked by criminal elements; something must be done urgently to address the situation. Those causing the problems and killing people are not the people who started the agitation. Criminals have hijacked the agitation. There exists an army of unemployed youths, those who have graduated with no jobs to engage them and others who lack parental upbringing. Majority of such people are readily available for violence. This is the problem we have at hand. These people must be made to understand that violence will never give us Biafra.
“What the IPOB has done or is doing, is adversely affecting the Igbo. The truth is that the South-East governors are even afraid. What we are saying is that the way the IPOB is going about it is not proper. Many Igbo families have been killed or affected in one way or the other. The economy of the South-East is steadily on the decline. Our governors are even afraid, but they need to take drastic measures to end the situation. They must remember that they don’t live in isolation, and the boys can even come after them. Everybody is afraid because anyone could be attacked.
“But I am also of the opinion that you can’t blame the governors for their perceived silence or cautiousness in the matter. What do we even want the governors to do? They are not in control of the Police or the Army. The Federal Government is in control of the security forces. When the security forces aren’t doing much in tackling the situation, what do you expect the governors who are just titular heads to do?
“Most of our governors in the South-East are not doing well and the criminals have seized the opportunity to torment the people.”
For a retired Chief Superintendent of Police in Imo State, Chukwudi Nwokoro, dialogue still remains the best option to resolve the crisis in the region.
Nwokoro described the situation in the region as a guerilla kind of war which requires a carrot and stick approach, warning that nobody ever wins completely such war.
According to the retired police officer, since the Federal Government has claimed that IPOB and ESN are responsible for the attacks, they should have either directly or through emissaries engaged the leaders of the groups in a dialogue with a view to making some concessions that will not jeopardize national security.
He made reference to the issue of militancy in the Niger-Delta which former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua applied dialogue to settle by offering them amnesty.
According to Nwokoro, he had expected President Muhammadu Buhari to apply such approach, including yielding to the proposed political solution, in resolving the issue of the detained leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu.
He, however, appealed to those behind the violence in the South-East to apply wisdom and stop the mess, maintaining that no wise person destroys his own.
“I still believe that dialogue is the best option for the security issue in the South-East. This is a kind of guerilla war, and nobody ever wins guerilla war completely because you don’t just know when they will strike next.
“Applying carrot and stick approach is still the best way to deal with guerilla war, except when such approach fails. War does no one any good.
“It was a similar kind of issue in the Niger-Delta some years ago, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua applied the best approach to deal with it by offering them amnesty. Today, it is a settled issue. And remember, the amnesty came after the Federal Government had applied force to quell the militancy but did not succeed.
“I had expected President Muhammadu Buhari to apply such approach in dealing with the issue in the South-East. Many have called for political solution in handling the issue of Nnamdi Kanu; this would have gone a long way in quelling the situation.
“I must appeal to those behind this violence to think twice. You don’t destroy your own. No wise person will ever do that. We have lost much due to this violence. This is the time to pause and think twice,” Nwokoro said.