From Magnus Eze, Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu), Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki), Muokwugo Solomon (Nnewi), Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri) and Okey Sampson (Umuahia)
Before now, the Southeast had prided itself as the safest zone in the country. But that is not so anymore as the region has recently been inundated with attacks, including the police headquarters in Owerri, other security formations in the region, as well as several villages where many have been killed, including security operatives with property worth millions of Naira destroyed.
Indeed, killings by suspected AK-47 wielding Fulani herders have also been on the rise, prompting the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to float the Eastern Security Network (ESN) in December last year. IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu had said during the launch of ESN that it was established to shield the Southeast and South-south regions from banditry and terrorism.
Before this period, the Southeast governors had prevaricated on the call by their people to set up regional security outfit for the region just like their counterparts in the Southwest had done with Amotekun.
But for over two years, the Southeast governors moved back and forth on the issue of joint security for the zone. At some point, they announced that an outfit was being formed, but suddenly, the Chairman of their forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, said that such regional outfit was an aberration, arguing that it was not supported by the Nigerian Constitution. He explained that the states of the region already had their various security outfits particularly the vigilance groups, saying that there would be collaboration in the area of information sharing to be coordinated through the Southeast security committee to be domiciled in Enugu. The committee was headed by Obi Umahi, a retired Major General with security experts from the other four states, including DIG Azubuike Udah (rtd), from Abia as members.
The matter had lingered without any action while killings, kidnapping and raping of women especially in their farms persisted in the region until February 20, 2020, when Imeobi Ohanaeze in its resolution at Nike Lake, Enugu, decided that enough was enough, demanding that the region must secure its people with a security outfit.
At a meeting with the governors later on that Sunday at the Lion Building, Enugu Government House, they promised to set up a joint security outfit. While the people welcomed the cheering news with great expectations, they were shocked when the governors made a U-turn instead of unveiling the outfit. In collaboration with the then Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, they organised a security summit where they announced that they had embraced the IGP’s community policing model in place of the much anticipated security outfit for the zone.
The governors promptly got more than they bargained as the people roundly condemned the move and expressed their disappointment. Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province and Bishop of Enugu Diocese, Emmanuel Chukwuma had led the traditional rulers to stage a walkout from the community policing event in Enugu.
However, recent security breaches in the region particularly the burning of several police formations in all the states in the zone, the massacre in Ishielu LGA of Ebonyi State, killing of Nigerian Correctional Services personnel in Anambra, as well as the simultaneous attacks at the Correctional Centre and the State command’s headquarters of the Police in Owerri, Imo State, may have greatly jolted the Southeast governors into action. So, they hurriedly convened a security summit last Sunday in Owerri, where they announced the formation of the region’s security outfit codenamed Ebubeagu.
Presenting their communiqué, Governor Umahi disclosed that Ebubeagu would work with security agencies and other security outfits in the states to fight crime in the region.
While many people are hailing that decision and seeing the new security outfit as very necessary and a timely response to the worsening security situation in the Southeast, there are others, who are, however, sceptical. These insist that the setting up of the security outfit was belated, and for that reason, would not serve any useful purpose. They also envisioned a possible conflict arising from the establishment of the security outfit with the IPOB’s ESN, which they believe was already filling the gap.
For Abia governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, the Ebubeagu, which “connotes protection, territorial authority, strength and power”, would oversee and monitor activities of vigilante groups in the region.
The governor stated that the operational modalities of the security outfit would be “rural-based” and “intelligence-based”, while the governors of the Southeast would cooperate to ensure its proper equipment and overall operational success.
Ikpeazu said that “Ebubeagu would be a security outfit, both in name, purpose and action. They will be properly equipped. I want to assure you that all the states in the Southeast already have various vigilante outfits.
“We want to call for a harmonized, synergized system of action to be able to compare notes, to be able to set up digital platforms that can respond to digital challenges, we are just trying to respond to peculiar circumstances in the Southeast. We are not copying from any geopolitical zone”.
Still within the week, Governor Umahi added a new dimension to the discourse when he said on a national television that there were plots by external forces to cause war in the Southeast, adding that those committing heinous crime in the region under the guise of ESN had made it a bit complex in fighting crime.
His words: “Of late, we have bandits that are now doing a lot of evil and saying that they are ESN. They commit a lot of crimes and say they are IPOB and most of the time, IPOB will come and say; ‘we have no hands in this; we have no hands in that.’”
From the foregoing, it is clear that there is impending crisis in the region. There are conflicting issues which make the people very uncomfortable and frightened.
Those who spoke to Sunday Sun were dissatisfied with the processes leading to the establishment of the security outfit, particularly as there was yet to be any laws backing it.
The Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) headed by Prof Uzodinma Nwala described the setting up of Ebubeagu as a good idea though belated, adding that it cannot be believed until they saw their seriousness.
ADF spokesman, Abia Onyike said: “We can’t take them seriously until they start doing something concrete. For now, they are merely playing to the gallery.”
Onyike added that it was not just enough to pronounce on the regional security outfit without a law banning open grazing.
Other people said that the greatest challenge now is how to manage the Ebubeagu and the ESN already operating in the region.
They expressed concern that having parallel security outfits for the zone was a frightful idea, especially as the ESN had taken shape and also gained ‘street credibility.’ For such people, the Ebubeagu of the governors was a mere pacification move.
An Abuja based legal practitioner, Ozioma Izuora argued that there was nothing like Ebubeagu until the state Houses of Assembly legislate the security outfit into being.
According to her, “It does not exist at the moment. This was not how Amotekun was established. There has to be enabling laws first.”
She also advised the Southeast governors to invite the leadership of ESN, noting that the IPOB had shown leadership in establishing the ESN.
“Governors should eat the humble pie and acknowledge that and draw them in so they can merge, in fact, leadership of ESN should be expanded with appointees of the governors while Ebubeagu should embark on training so that they can rise above mere vigilante groups,” Izuora suggested.
Similarly, former Chairman of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr. Sam Amadi dismissed the decision of the governors as feeble both in the quality of thinking and political will displayed by their communiqué.
He noted that there was so much hesitation, hedging and prevarication on the part of the governors, adding that they had no law backing the outfit and body to implement the anti-open grazing they mouthed.
Amadi said: “Sadly, everyday these governors prove IPOB right to say ESN is our only hope. I don’t want ESN. I wanted a state regulated, but effective security outfit and structure that will make it impossible for communities to be attacked like in Ebonyi. But it looks like we are condemned to ESN as long as these governors are in charge. I was already rejoicing that Ebubeagu has come to protect the Southeast so there will be no need for a private security outfit like ESN. Now, I have read the communiqué and hereby withdraw my excitement.”
Regardless, it is important to do a brief roundup of the security situation in the respective Southeast states before the proclamation of Ebubeagu, as well as the expectations of the people on the new outfit.
Ebonyi had been experiencing worrisome security concerns in almost all the corners of the state. The security challenges ranged from attacks on police stations and formations by gunmen to attacks on communities by suspected Fulani herdsmen as well as pockets of communal clashes, robbery incidents and some cult-related killings. In fact, Ebonyi has the unenviable record of having the highest number of attacks on police facilities and killing of their personnel since the EndSARS protests by youths across the country.
For example, there had been attacks on police stations at Ezza South, Onicha and Ebonyi LGAs. There were also attacks by suspected Fulani herdsmen at Egedegede community in Ishielu local government area of the state in addition to the latest killings in Umuoguduakpu Ngbo in Ohaukwu LGA. The Ezza-Effium intra-communal war has also raged on since January.
One other gory incident was when a graduate farmer, Joseph Oko, and his wife, were gruesomely murdered in their farm at Amata Ozizza community in Afikpo North Local Government Area. This particular case and many others, prompted the people of Afikpo to ban the sale and consumption of cow meat in the area effective from October 26, 2020.
The state government said that it was doing its best to maintain security and order in the state. Apart from the conventional security agencies, the Ebonyi State government has other security outfits complementing them in securing the lives and property of the people. There is a state-owned security outfit known as Ebonyi State Neighbourhood Security Watch under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Security. There is vigilante group across communities as approved by the state government which recently beefed up its manpower in each of the local government areas.
In fact, the LGAs had been mandated to immediately inaugurate the vigilante groups while communities were to reinvigorate the local vigilance groups after last month’s bloody attack in Ishielu community where at least 16 persons lost their lives.
But the state government has assured that the coming of Ebubeagu will help in the fight against crimes and all forms of criminality in the state. Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Okoro-Emegha, said the recruitment process has commenced to bring able-bodied and patriotic Ebonyi youths into the security outfit.
He explained that Ebubeagu will work in partnership with the Neighbourhood Security Watch, the vigilante and conventional security agencies already on ground to combat crimes in the state.
He noted that governors from the zone have taken steps to make laws backing the outfit, stressing that while the governors were making efforts to get the Federal Government to fund the outfit, funding of Ebubeagu will not affect its effective operations in Ebonyi beacuse the state government was prepared for that.
Also, the Chairman of Human Rights Defenders of Nigeria, Ebonyi State chapter, Sampson Nweke, said that the launching of Ebubeagu was a welcome development, but regretted that it came at a wrong time as he wondered why it took the governors of the zone so long to come up with a security initiative.
The current security crisis faced by the state started since December last year following the formation of the ESN by IPOB to flush out marauding herdsmen from Igboland.
The unleashing of security agents on the area had triggered skirmishes between them and suspected members of the ESN/IPOB in the Orlu/Orsu axis of the state.
While the crisis persisted, scores of people, including policemen and soldiers were killed and property destroyed leading to the imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew and subsequent invitation of the military to “flush” out the suspected members of the IPOB/ESN in Orlu and the state in general by Imo governor, Hope Uzodimma.
The operations which started in February with the deployment of helicopter gunships and other military gadgets in collaboration with the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team left bitter tales in the Orlu zone as security operatives raided private houses and even churches in search of suspected IPOB/ESN members. The joint-security team also arrested the presiding priest of Our Lord’s Sabbath in Umunam Atta Community, Njaba LGA, Rev. Chigozie Nwaka, as well as some other clerics and church elders in Ubokoro Atta, Okporo, Okwudor, all in Orlu council of Imo State.
They also invaded the House of Prayer International Covenant Church Okporo Orlu, and arrested over 20 members of the church as suspected members of IPOB/ESN.
But rather than the situation abating, it further deteriorated as gunmen continued their onslaught against police formations in the state.
In the last three months, no fewer than 12 police formations had been attacked and razed down by gunmen in the state at Obowo, Aboh Mbaise, Isiala Mbano, Etiti, Ehime Mbano, Orlu, Orsu, Nwaorieubi, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ezinihitte Mbaise, and Mbieri. Magistrate’s courts in Ngor Okpala and Ihitte Uboma councils of the state were also attacked.
The attacks got to a peak on Easter Monday when gunmen simultaneously attacked the Imo Correctional Services facility and the state Police headquarters close to the Douglas House, the seat of Imo State Government. The latest onslaught has heightened fear and panic amongst residents as people now say that nobody is safe in the state.
During the attacks, the gunmen said to have arrived in a convoy of over 12 Hilux and Sienna vehicles that early hours of April 5, operated unchallenged between 1:00 to 3:00a.m during which time they bombed the Owerri Correctional Centre to gain access to the custodial facilities and set free about 1,884 inmates. They also burnt all official files and documents in the facility.
The same scenario also played out at the state police headquarters as the hoodlums burnt down the entire offices of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), catered away their ammunition, as well as set free 68 suspects from the various cells of SCID. Not done, they also burnt 36 operational vehicles and 16 private vehicles which were parked within the premises of the state Police headquarters as the officers had already fled leaving the command headquarters undefended.
Although the Police authorities had blamed the series of attacks on their facilities in the state on the IPOB/ESN, the pro-Biafra group has denied its complicity in the attacks.
Meanwhile, Governor Uzodimma’s allegation that “desperate” politicians in the state were responsible for the dastardly attacks on police and the Nigeria Correctional facilities in the state has given new twist to the whole issue. He also alluded that an ex-governor of the state who he alleged had failed to stop the implementation of the government White Paper on the recovery of looted property of the state was the mastermind and sponsor of the hoodlums that wreaked havoc on security facilities in the state.
Sunday Sun gathered that recruitment of personnel to manage Ebubeagu security outfit in the state is ongoing.
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, said that the state was careful on whom to recruit, while assuring that a process was on to give it a legal backing.
Enugu State might still be the worst hit of the violent attacks of the killer Fulani herdsmen in the Southeast zone considering the invasion of Nimbo community in Uzo-Uwani local government of the state in April 2016.
The Nimbo massacre which witnessed the sacking of the whole community resulted in the killing of many natives and razing of several houses.
Aside other pockets of incidents in some of the remote communities, there was also the serious crisis in Awgu followed by constant kidnapping and killing of people especially priests by the same Fulani herdsmen which prompted Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to set a Security Committee and also established the Forest Guards.
The establishment of the Forest Guard which existence and operations were given a legal backing by the state House of Assembly and which was equipped with operational vehicles, motorbikes and gadgets by the governor, as well as the strengthening of Neighbourhood Watch in the communities brought some respite to the state.
However, shortly before the proclamation of Ebubeagu, there was a clash at Adani, Uzo-Uwani local government between Fulani herdsmen and members of Igga community resident at Adani where about eight lives were allegedly lost.
For now, the state is waiting for the full details of the operations of the Ebubeagu even as the State Commissioner for Information, Chidi Aroh said that “it is important to also understand that Enugu is on good stand with our Forest Guards, with our Neighbourhood Watch, with our massive collaboration with all the federal security agencies around Enugu, so I think that security-wise Enugu is in the hands of God.”
After the EndSARS protests, no fewer than 20 policemen and soldiers have been killed by gunmen since March, 2021, in Anambra State alone.
Different parts of the state have had various security issues. For instance, on Friday, March 19, 2021, gunmen attacked a vehicle of the Nigerian Correctional Service conveying inmates to court in Ekwulobia, Aguata LGA, leaving two officials of the service dead.
Earlier on Thursday, March 18, gunmen reportedly killed four naval officers at Awkuzu Junction, Oyi LGA of the state. Reports had it that the security agents were ambushed and murdered at their checkpoint.
On the same day, another set of gunmen killed three policemen at Okacha Junction, Neni, Anaocha LGA of the state, while their patrol vehicle was burnt. The state Police Public Relations Officer, Ikenga Tochukwu, who confirmed the attack, added that “the hoodlums, numbering over 20 in three Sienna vehicles and motorcycles, engaged the policemen in a gun duel, which lasted for over 30 minutes, before reinforcements from the state headquarters forced the hoodlums to escape.”
Again, on Sunday, March 28, a cult war claimed three lives in Awka, the state capital, while three young men were gunned down across different locations of the city, a day earlier.
Eyewitnesses said that one of the deceased was killed at Umubelle in Awka, while the other two were killed opposite the headquarters of a popular Pentecostal church at Unizik Temporary Site, Okpuno, both in Awka South.
Also, another cult war claimed two lives in Okija, Ihiala LGA on March 20. It was learnt that the victims were beheaded, and their heads taken away. On March 24, four policemen were also killed at Nkpologwu, Aguata LGA by suspected gunmen. The attackers also carted away their rifles. The assailants were said to have met their victims at a checkpoint in the community, they also set the patrol vehicle ablaze after killing the policemen.
And on March 31, gunmen also attacked former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Chukwuma Soludo, killing three of his orderlies. This happened when the former CBN boss was holding a meeting with youths of his community. Commissioner for Public Utilities, Emeka Ezenwanne, who was abducted by the gunmen, was released days later.
These ugly developments and many others joined in giving impetus to the formation of Ebubeagu, even though there was an existing Anambra State Vigilante Services backed up by law in the state.
Prior to the present democratic dispensation, Abia State had a security outfit known as Bakassi Boys. When the civilians took over in 1999, the activities of the security outfit were streamlined for effectiveness and its operations backed by law.
Within that period, the Bakassi Boys as they were popularly known were very effective as they reduced criminal activities to the barest minimum in the state.
Despite not disbanding the Bakassi Boys, the state government sometime last year, came up with another security outfit it called Homeland Security.
The Homeland Security was formed to counter increasing rate of kidnapping in the state, particularly along the Uturu-Isuikwuato axis. Many have been attacked and abducted along the lonely road that is also dilapidated by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Also many police stations in Aba and Umuoba in Isiala Ngwa South have been attacked in recent times while some Point of Sales, POS, operators in the commercial city have equally been attacked or killed.
The state Homeland Security outfit had hardly began work when the governors of the Southeast states birthed Ebubeagu.
Although the two security outfits in Abia are backed by laws made by the state House of Assembly and have been in operation, their effectiveness of late has remained in doubt, hence the people embracing with two hands the Ebubeagu outfit.
Perhaps, as a result of what happened in Imo State on Easter Sunday in which the Correctional Centre and police headquarters in Owerri were attacked, the Abia State government imposed a dusk to dawn curfew.
Speaking about Ebubeagu, Emmanuel Igu, a security expert said: “The state has an existing security outfit (Homeland security) whose officials are scattered across the 17 local government areas of the state and it will be duplication of function and additional financial burden on Abia State to add another security outfit to the existing one”.
For him, personnel of the two already existing outfits should be drafted into Ebubeagu to save cost and for effectiveness.
“Enugu State has the Forest Guards already in place. What will become of Abia Homeland and Enugu State Forest Guard is what nobody will tell.”
Igu equally suggested that activities of Ebubeagu should be decentralized if the aim of setting it up should be achieved.
Also Boniface Eke said: “Security is local, every Igbo should understand the perilous situation they are in for and, therefore, must do everything to ensure that Ebubeagu succeeds as a Security outfit.”
Other personalities speak
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Anambra State, Valentine Ozigbo, is optimistic that Ebubeagu would boost community policing in the region.
He said: “I believe that with proper funding, meaningful synergy with national security organizations, and adequately motivated personnel, this nascent regional security outfit will complement the activities of our federal security agencies to achieve positive results. This is a combination that will be a panacea to the security challenges in the region”.
Also in Anambra, Nzubechi Udenna, a legal practitioner, commended the establishment of the outfit, and urged governments at all levels to fund the outfit adequately to enable it work.
A veteran journalist, Abuchi Anueyiagu said that the people should give the Ebubeagu outfit a chance to perform first before they will criticize it.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria ((SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, also applauded the formation of Ebubeagu, but advised the governors against using it for personal interest.
Ahamba also noted that the outfit should be totally separated from politics for it to succeed.
Meanwhile, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, saw Ebubeagu as a tactical move by the Southeast governors.
Saluting their courage, MASSOB urged them to make it the true security outfit of the Igbo.
“We support this tactical move. We shall work with them for the security of lives and property of our people if they are willing to partner with MASSOB.
“Ebubeagu is a welcome development. Our governors should not give room for any intimidation, subjection or private harassment from the Fulani-controlled Federal Government,” Madu said.
However, IPOB has since dismissed the new security outfit though the pro-Biafra group had two weeks ago said that it was disposed to working with any security outfit in Igboland to flush out the marauding Fulani herders provided such groups were not set up to counter the ESN.
Unconfirmed reports said that IPOB leader has also warned Igbo youths not to join Ebebeagu, threatening that those who want to enter their graves should join the outfit.