You may not entirely blame those expressing doubts or scorn at the regional security initiative, Ebube Agu, announced by the governors of the South East states at their recent meeting in Owerri. The governors had, at the end of their meeting, read out a 15-point communiqué in which they took a critical look at situations in the geo-political zone, especially on matters of insecurity and threats to the existence of the citizens. As a way out, they came out with the Ebube Agu.
“The meeting resolved to maintain a joint security vigilante for the South East, otherwise known as Ebube Agu,” the chairman of the governors’ forum, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, read in a statement.
This, ordinarily, is a bold and commendable step that should elicit excitement among the people, given the rising spate of criminality and insecurity in the region. Ebube Agu, loosely translated, connotes the aura of a lion. In the animal kingdom, the mere presence of a lion or tiger, is enough to ward off predators or trespassers from its enclave. When the lion is further forced to roar, danger is let loose. A lion is courageous and ready to take on an aggressor any time. Thus, the coinage from governors whose forebears had demonstrated courage in the face of local and international conspiracy, at a time, could not have come with a better choice. There is a lot in the name.
But, curiously, the people for whom the Ebube Agu is being designed are not overtly enchanted, not because they do not want to be protected but because the governors who are putting up the initiative have not given them sufficient reasons to be convinced that they are serious with it. Between the political leadership of the South East and the people, there is pronounced trust deficit, occasioned by years of the elite playing on them.
This is not the first time the governors would be tantalising the people with a collective regional arrangement that would save them from the menace of Fulani herdsmen and other criminal elements in the region. In February 2020, the governors had pledged coming up with a platform in that regard. But beyond the euphoria that trailed the announcement, there was nothing on ground for the project. None of the state Houses of Assembly in the zone, for instance, enacted any legislation to give the governors’ pronouncement legal backing. The agenda, naturally, fizzled out the same way it came, in a flash.
As if that was not enough, the governors came out with an announcement banning open grazing in the states in the region. Again, the tough posture was not given any backing. Rather, the pastoralists appeared emboldened, marching on with their herd across farmlands and even major streets, killing and maiming anyone that dared them. In the face of the assault, the governors looked the other way or were too frightened to raise a voice in defence of their people. It only took the recent massacre of more than 25 indigenes of Ishielu Council in Ebonyi State for the governors to be jolted to a hurried advertisement of Ebube Agu.
When, therefore, the people scoff at the programme, their expression of doubt can be understood. For the governors and the political leaders of the zone, this is a challenge to demonstrate to the people that they truly care and bother. They are running against time and have their reputation at stake. Whatever it may take the states in the South East to give the people enduring peace to carry on with their trademark industry and enterprise will not be asking too much from the governors and the political leadership.
Whether we admit it or not, the creeping culture of insecurity in the region is a threat to all. To rid the South East of criminality is a task that must be accomplished. Perhaps, the maxim that the price for liberty is eternal vigilance is more apt in the region now.
The governors, in unfolding Ebube Agu, may have come late to the market, given that their counterparts elsewhere had put up similar local initiatives for their people before now. But that should not be a drawback. If anything, they are in tune with history. Literary giant, Chinua Achebe, had recalled in “The Trouble With Nigeria”, that though lacking in historical and geographical head-start, the Igbo were able to wipe out their handicap in one fantastic burst of energy in the 20 years between 1930 and 1950 to overtake other ethnic groups that had started earlier. Premier of the Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Iheonukara (M.I.) Okpara, sustained the tempo in the First Republic, taking the zone from a squalid position at Independence to the fastest-growing economy in the British Commonwealth and Africa in 1966. Lately, in the Second Republic, Dr. Sam Mbakwe and Jim Nwobodo gave a good account of themselves as governors of old Imo and Anambra states, respectively. Current governors of the South East can build on this exciting tradition.
Importantly, in adopting Ebube Agu as the code name for their security initiative, the governors are evoking reminiscences of the people’s history in courage and bravery. It was not by mere coincidence that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Great Zik, chose the Lion as logo for the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was also not for nothing the seat of Eastern Regional government, Enugu, was named Lion Building. A lion fights for and defends its territory at all cost.
The Igbo are not strangers to resistance to oppression and external occupation – a trait that dates to their gruelling encounters with the British colonialists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, fables of the heroism exhibited by the Aro, Abam, Ezza, Aba women of 1926 and their kinsmen in the riverine areas in rising against foreign domination are there to draw from.
The encirclement and assault of South East communities by criminal elements is a declaration of war and should be rebuffed.
The governors should not allow Ebube Agu fizzle out as others in the past. Their individual egos and political differences must be kept aside for the arrangement to succeed. Making it successful will start with drawing up a strategy plan on its command and operations. It should not be job for the boys, a forum for settling cronies and political thugs or a platform for intimidating opponents. Ebube Agu must succeed!