By Sunday Ani
A civil society organization (CSO) and political advocacy group, the IGN SPEAKERS has called on the Enugu State governor, Dr Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; the General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, Major-General Umar Musa, and other relevant political stakeholders to take “immediate and decisive steps” towards removing soldiers from Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area of Enugu State.
The group said the removal of the soldiers is to ease tension in the LGA and prevent a breakdown of law and order that could result from a possible clash between the soldiers and members of the communities in the LGA.
In a statement entitled ‘LET SOLDIERS REMOVE THEIR KNEES THAT OUR WOMEN MAY BREATHE’ and jointly signed by its spokespersons, Chief Emeka Mamah and Mr. Felix Oguejiofor Abugu, the political advocacy group also urged the lgbo-Eze North local government chairman, Prince Ejike Itodo; member, House of Representatives, Igbo-Eze North/Udenu federal constituency, Mr Simon Atigwe; and all other political and traditional leaders of IGN to use their good offices to secure the LGA “as much from further attacks by hoodlums as from rampant deadly attacks by security agents-turned molesters of the local population they were detailed to protect from attacks by UGM.”
Soldiers and related government security agents were deployed to IGN in August this year following an attack by gunmen that killed two policemen.
Since then, however, villagers have constantly alleged that the security agents deployed to the local government area have become the villagers’ worst enemies and that several deaths in several villages in IGN have been traced to extra-judicial killings by government security agents themselves.
Reacting to a viral video which hit the social media on Friday, November 25, 2022, and in which soldiers on special duty in Igbo-Eze North were captured torturing local women who had gathered at Ogrute, the headquarters of the LGA, to protest against insecurity and killings in the area, the group lamented that Nigerian soldiers “who have mothers, sisters and daughters” could descend so low as to torture unarmed local women whose only offence was protesting against insecurity and other social ills in their communities, urging leaders of the LGA “to do something about the ugly situation in IGN.”
“It is difficult to explain the rationale behind the high-handedness with which the soldiers handled the women’s protest by the women of Igbo-Eze North,” the CSO agonized.
It added, “is it that the women had no right to protest or that the governments in Igbo-Eze North and Enugu cannot be protested against by aggrieved citizens? Exactly what security threat did unarmed women, all clad in black and marching against insecurity in Igbo-Eze North, pose to a detachment of Nigerian soldiers on assignment in the area?
“Women from different villages in Igbo-Eze North, a sprawling, one-town LGA (only three of IGN’s 20 electoral wards are not in Enugu-Ezike town), on November 25, 2022, gathered at Ogrute, the local government headquarters, to march against insecurity in the LGA which has resulted in “massive arrests of our sons and detention without trial.”
The women, during the protest, also called for the removal of soldiers from the LGA, alleging that security in the area had deteriorated since they came.
“The women who wore black attire started the demonstration from Imufu-Ogrute Junction, and trekked to the local government headquarters at Ogrute before they were joined by other women from neighbouring communities.
“The women, who chanted solidarity songs in Igbo, demanded the stoppage of extra-judicial killing of their sons who are often branded IPOB followers or members before being killed off, as well as other extra-judicial killings going on in IGN”, he said.
The women’s protest came against the backdrop of a deteriorating security situation in IGN where corpses of youths are routinely picked from bush paths and other major roads almost on a daily basis.
Miffed by the protest, which they alleged was staged without police permission, soldiers from 82 Division Enugu, who had been on special assignment in Enugu for some time now, descended on the hapless women and tortured them, as was captured in a video clip that has gone viral on social media, generating bad blood for the army and other government security agents operating in the LGA.
Still taking umbrage at the “awful behavior of the soldiers against women of Igbo-Eze North,” the group queried: “Pray, all that brutality against women was to make exactly what point? For us, the action came as another low for the Nigerian army, indeed, another degrading outing in peacetime Nigeria by an otherwise well-trained and professional army, under the watchful eyes of civilian authorities.”
Insisting that the time had come to remove soldiers and “other malevolent security agents” from Igbo-Eze North, “as their presence no longer provides any assurance of safety for communities in the local government,” group said: “there is no tenable reason any more to keep soldiers and other malevolent security agents in IGN.”
“In truth, of what use are the soldiers in the security arrangement in Igbo-Eze North? “Rather than the solution, soldiers, indeed practically all the security forces, have become the main source of insecurity in IGN. Today, the hoodlums they were invited ostensibly to protect our people from are no longer our problem but soldiers and the rest of the security forces agents who have turned their inexplicable anger –and their weapons — against the very people they were supposed to protect.
“Soldiers now torture (as evident in the viral video) and extort the local people, sometimes watching in feigned helplessness as masked ‘security’ agents kill, maim and rob our people with impunity.”
In light of the foregoing, the group called for a thorough investigation of the torture incident as well as similar cases of ill-treatment and extra-judicial killing of innocent people in Igbo-Eze North by security agents sent to secure them from attacks by hoodlums.
“We demand an investigation to know who ordered the onslaught on the women. We believe that that will help to stop such impunity from the forces on rural people”, it said.
In addition to investigating the incidents, advocacy group demanded that, going forward, IGN women/citizens, if they so choose, must be allowed to engage in peaceful demonstrations as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and their right of free expression and assembly.
“We also demand that the Enugu State Government, in particular Igbo-Eze North Local Council, issue a public apology and compensation to the women who have been harassed, detained, and violated,” the group stressed.
On the overall security crisis in IGN, it said: “We believe that the security challenges facing IGN do not need the high-handedness and escalation that government security forces have brought to bear on the management of the situation, to resolve. What they need is a more reconciliatory approach by the relevant authorities, with the local government chairman leading the charge.
“We believe that the local government chairman, as the chief security officer of the local government, working in tandem with the governor and the political leader of Igbo-Eze North/Udenu in the person of Hon. (Engr.) Simon Atigwe, should be able to dialogue with, not shoot, us out of our current security mess. Let, therefore, the soldiers who came in peace go back in peace to where they came from.”