From Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
This is not the best of times for Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State, as the security crisis in the state is testing his leadership acumen. But, like a man who came fully prepared, the governor has confronted the issue with the boldness and resilience of an ordained leader.
Some persons may not endorse his methods and tactics, but Umahi has not hidden his inclination to the carrot-and-stick approach, which even former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently recommended to the nation in tackling its festering security challenges.
Ebonyi was hitherto regarded as one of the most peaceful states in the country. That enviable credential was, however, lost in the twilight of 2020 when the state, regrettably, turned into a hotbed of insecurity in the South East. The state government and security agencies were tackling the situation and were almost returning the state to its previous peaceful status when the Effium intra-communal war broke out in January this year. The crisis turned bloody such that it claimed several lives between January and April.
While government and security agencies made concerted efforts to calm the situation, Fulani herdsmen and bandits unleashed mayhem on the state, killing people, including police officers and other security agents, in three months. This ugly development has taken a big toll on governance as the state government now concentrates more funds and efforts on fighting the ugly menace.
How it all started
Ebonyi started witnessing violent crisis in October 2020 when pockets of protests against police brutality in some parts of the country sparked off nationwide mass protests and calls for the disbandment of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police. The protests, with the hash tag, #EndSARS, spread to almost all parts of the country and nearly resulted in total breakdown of law and order in Nigeria. Many police officers were killed and stations and formations razed across the country. As the protests and attacks on police stations went on, some hoodlums used the opportunity to cart away firearms and ammunition belonging to the police. In Ebonyi, police structures like the Central Police Station (CPS) Abakaliki, Kpirikpiri Police Station, Ohaozara Police Station and Onicha Police Division, among others, were attacked and vandalised.
Although the #EndSARS protest ended after a few days, the effects and fallouts lingered long in the state. Daily Sun gathered that some criminal elements took advantage of the porous security situation, occasioned primarily by the reluctance of the police to return to their duty posts, to terrorize the state. It was so bad that, between November and December 2020, no fewer than 50 robbery cases and criminal activities were recorded within Abakaliki municipality. In December last year, inmates in Old Peoples Home, Alo Street, Abakaliki, were robbed several times at night and their phones, wheelchairs and other valuables carted away. The state government battled to arrest the situation using the state’s Neighbourhood Security Watch, with the help of other security agencies, and was recording success, until January 22, 2021, when an intra-communal war broke out in Effium, Ohaukwu LGA.
Another calamity hit the state on March 20, when suspected Fulani herdsmen attacked Egedegede community in LGA. They killed more than 20 indigenes and destroyed their property.
The attack drew nationwide condemnation, causing Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to visit the state. Osinbajo, during the visit, assured the people that the Federal Government would investigate the incident and ensure justice for the victims.
“This massacre is very sad indeed and very unfortunate. I am here not just myself; I am here also at the direction of Mr. President. At times, when things like this happen, when people are killed, when incidents like this happen, you feel particularly outraged.
“The reason is that those who have been mercilessly massacred are people like you who have hopes and aspiration; young ones, females and children who are people who woke up in the morning and expected to go about their normal business, they are expected to go out and fend for themselves but they ended up dead not because of anything they have done wrong but because of cowardly, wicked acts by some other people who live in the same community with them. I sympathize with not just the governor and the people of Ebonyi State but, in particular, people of the communities that have been affected; these peaceful communities that have lived with the assailants for many years. I think that what we have seen here is very cowardly and all of us condemn it and we say that it must not be allowed to happen again,” he said.
Addressing the Vice-President earlier, Umahi had appealed to the Federal Government to release the sum of N5 billion to the state for the compensation of the Egedegede community in Ishielu and the rehabilitation of war-ravaged Effium community. He also appealed to Federal Government to send the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to bring relief materials for victims of the two incidents.
Painfully, a few days after Osinbajo’s visit, gunmen suspected to Fulani herders again attacked Umuoguduakpu Ngbo in Ohaukwu LGA of the state, killing no fewer than 17 persons.
Governor Umahi was highly disturbed by this particular attack and he vowed to confront those behind it.
Stopping future attacks
After the Umuoguduakpu attack, Governor Umahi visited the community and condoled with families of the victims. He accused their Agila neighbours of Benue State of hiring Fulani herdsmen who carried out the attack and vowed that the attacks would not recur. He used the opportunity to direct the formation of community vigilance groups to be funded by his government. He stated that the vigilance group would work with security agencies to protect the community. He then promised to give the community a total of N40 million to mitigate the effects of the attack, explaining that N20 million out of the money would be for the families of the victims, while N20 million would be used to fund the formation of the community vigilance group.
Matching word with action, the governor, about a week after, fulfilled his promise as he presented cheques totalling N80 million to the Egedegede community in Ishileu and Umuoguduakpu Ngbo in Ohaukwu. Council boss of Ishielu, Henry Eze, led community leaders from the area to pick the cheque, while the Commissioner for Inter-Governmental Affairs, Eze Nwachukwu, with other community leaders from Umuoguduakpu Ngbo, picked theirs. Presenting the cheques before security chiefs, council chairmen and members of the state executive council at the New Governor’s Office, Centenary City, Abakaliki, Umahi urged the two communities to set up vigilance groups without delay.
Being chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum, Umahi led his colleagues to launch Ebubeagu, a joint security outfit for the region. He was the first governor to unveil the outfit and procured 60 operational vehicles for the group and other security agencies in the state.
Unveiling the Ebubeagu after the state security council meeting in Abakaliki, Governor Umahi noted that it would work with the police and other security agencies to fight crime and criminality in the state. He believed that God was central to peace and security, hence he announced eight-day fasting and prayer to seek the face of God in the fight against insecurity. The exercise, which commenced on Saturday, May 1, ended on May 8.
The governor also announced a curfew at all entry and exit points of the state, from 8pm to 6am, even as he banned wake during funerals beyond 6pm. He warned that anyone who disobeyed the directives would pay a fine of N1 million.
“We have directed that all wakes in the state must end by 6pm and the local government chairmen, security agents and Ebubeagu must enforce this. All social activities must end by 6pm. When you defy this order, you will pay a minimum of N1 million because a lot of hoodlums’ activities happen during this wake going into the night,” he said.
The vehicles, comprising 40 Sienna vans and 20 Hilux trucks, have been distributed to members of Ebubeagu and other security agencies for the task of protecting the state.
Security heads laud war against insecurity
Commissioner of Police in Ebonyi State, Aliyu Garba, responding on behalf of other security chiefs in the state, commended Governor Umahi for providing them with the operational vehicles, adding that they would go a long way in the fight against crime in Ebonyi.
Noting that part of the major challenges in the fight against crime anywhere was the lack of operational vehicles, the police boss stressed that, with the vehicles and some motorcycles he also distributed recently, security agencies in the state had no reason not to deliver.
Aliyu, who urged residents of the state to always give the police useful information on the whereabouts of criminals, noted that security was for everybody and not security agents alone.
Also, Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Okoro-emegha, described Umahi as a security-conscious governor who has shown exemplary commitment and responsibility in the fight against insecurity in the state.
“The governor has done a wonderful thing by procuring these vehicles for members of Ebubeagu and other security agencies in the state. With these, no security agent will complain oflack of mobility or operational vehicle. It is now left for us and our men and all the security agencies in the state to reciprocate the governor’s gesture by doing our utmost best to fight bandits and criminals out of this state,” Okoro-emegha enthused.
Meanwhile, the governor, on May 5, commenced engaging the various clans in the state to secure their buy-in in the emerging creative approach in the fight against crimes.