From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri and Solomon Mukwugwo, Nnewi
There is palpable tension and fear in South-East and South-South states following plans by the Federal Government to deploy more military assets, including troops, intelligence personnel and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in the areas.
Already, a clampdown is ongoing, targeted at pro-Biafra groups there including newspaper distributors and vendors selling published materials on Biafra.
The two regions, had, in recent weeks, come under attack by armed groups, who killed policemen as well as burnt police stations and correctional facilities in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Imo, Enugu, Akwa Ibom and Rivers States.
Imo has been the worst hit, as security forces have been combing the communities in search of members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and its vigilante outfit, Eastern Security Network (ESN). ESN commander, Kanayo Nwokike (Ikonso) was recently ‘neutralized’ by security forces in his community, Awomamma in Oru East, Imo State, while joint security operations continued in the Orlu axis of the state.
Residents have been severely traumatized by the heavy presence of the military there even as private homes had been invaded. In fact, the home of Awurum Eze, who according to the army was the second in command to the slain ESN commander, Ikonso, was recently burnt down in Mbano, Imo State by troops before his eventual arrest in Aba, Abia State.
IPOB has since denied that Eze was its member, much less a commander of the ESN.
Security challenges in the two zones have attracted the attention of the National Security Council at its series of meetings held in Abuja and chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Saturday Sun gathered that one of the decisions at the meeting last Tuesday, was a fresh ultimatum of three weeks given by the council to the security chiefs to check the rising insecurity in the country.
The council also announced that a new security strategy to contain violence in the two zones would be devised.
As part of the undisclosed security strategy for the two regions, the Inspector-General of Police, Alkali Usman, had in a wireless message with reference CB: 0900/DTS/DOPS/VOL.47/812X, titled “Attack on policemen, snatching of rifles by IPOB” warned police officers and personnel not to accompany their principals to Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Abia, Enugu, Imo and Rivers States until the security situation in the region improves.
But, it was learnt that security authorities were concluding plans for a massive troop and security assets deployment in the two zones to restore order.
A similar deployment in the two zones under the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (rtd), was codenamed Operation Python Dance in the South-East and Operation Crocodile Smile in the South-South and South-West, respectively.
A highly dependable top security source told Saturday Sun that the new security strategy for the two regions was aimed at neutralizing armed groups as a disincentive to further violence in the two regions.
Anguish in Owerri, Imo-Anambra boundary
The South East zone is presently bearing the fangs of the Federal Government in its fight against insecurity in the country.
In Imo, some innocent citizens have reportedly paid the price with their lives as the clampdown on the purported ‘unknown gunmen’ continued in the zone. A businessman and a first year student of the Imo State University are two known examples.
Still in Imo, vendors and some journalists in the state, including the Sales Representative of The New Telegraph newspaper, Chuks Ugwuoke, were arrested for allegedly propagating the Biafra and IPOB.
Ugwuoke was arrested and detained for being in possession of pamphlets from the stable of pro-Biafra activists. He has since been released, but media practitioners in the state expressed fears that if the matter was not addressed, the situation might lead to endangering press freedom.
Condemning the clampdown on vendors and journalists in particular, the Coalition of South East Igbo Youth Leaders (COSEYL), said such was a coup against democracy.
President General of the group, Goodluck Ibem, described the attack as a travesty of the Nigerian Constitution that gives citizens right to life, freedom of speech and association.
“Even in a banana republic, journalists are respected. In times of war, journalists are permitted to perform their legitimate duties. Now why is the army arresting and torturing journalists and vendors in Imo? Are they arresting and torturing them because they are Igbos? What reason are the army giving for arresting and torturing journalists?
“In recent times, Igbo youths have been used for target practice by the military in Imo State. A young businessman by name Noel Chigbu and a first year law student of Imo State University, Divine Nwaneri, were recently killed for no just reason.
“As representatives of the youths in the South East, we demand a halt to the wanton arrest of journalists, vendors and unlawful, barbaric and wicked killings of Igbo youths. It appears that the army is only efficient when they are deployed to South East zone.
“In South East, the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution are threatened by hate, conspiracies and lies,” Ibem stated.
Chairman of the Correspondents’ chapel of Nigeria Union of Journalists in Imo, Chris Njoku of The Nation newspaper, who spoke jointly with the South East Bureau Chief of the New Telegraph newspaper – Steve Uzoechi, had decried the harassment, intimidation arrest and detention of some newspaper distributors, sales representatives and circulation staff by the police and called for its immediate stoppage in order not to stifle information dissemination by journalists.
Our investigation further showed that travelling from one state to another has also become a nightmare, as soldiers, who mount roadblocks at strategic interstate boundaries, subject travellers to tortuous experiences.
The military roadblock at the boundary between Akokwa in Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, and Uga community in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, has been a frightening point to those on that route for whatever reason.
Those crossing the area are made to come down from whatever means of transportation they use, and move on foot, raising their hands up before walking through.
A resident of Akokwa community, who gave his name as Izuchukwu Ikezuagu, who claimed his house is close to the military checkpoint, told Saturday Sun: “Before now, it used to be a police checkpoint. But after a confrontation between the police and some citizens of the area that led to the setting of police patrol van on fire at the place, soldiers took over the checkpoint.
“Since then, I always see people complaining about the behaviour of soldiers at the checkpoint. Then, one day, when I was travelling from Akokwa to Uga on my motorcycle, I had a similar experience. I was actually taking some commodities to Oye Uga Market for sale when I was stopped at the checkpoint by soldiers. I was made to push the motorcycle with the heavy load on it till I was able to cross the checkpoint,” he narrated.
He said since he had that experience, it had become difficult for him to take his commodities to Oye Uga for sale, as it could be hellish.
Women, who have shops both at the Uga and Akokwa areas, who also shared their experiences with our reporter, including Eugenia Ikenga, Uzoyibo Udechukwu, Ngozi Ibe and Anthonia Anah, said doing businesses at the area had become unbearable, as people, especially young men, coming from either community to patronize them were either arrested, tortured on baseless grounds or made to go back.
Meanwhile, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Aligbo Development Foundation (ADF) and other prominent Igbo groups, have warned the Federal Government to avoid indiscriminate shooting of Igbo youths.
They said the pattern of deployment of northern military officers to the South-East supported the intelligence report that Igboland would be ruthlessly dealt with by the soldiers.
The apex Igbo organization was disturbed that the Nigerian army had posted Northern Muslims as commanders over its operations and brigades in Anambra, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, Benue, Edo, Delta and Rivers.
It asked the Federal Government to refrain from the use of force in resolving the present national crises.
President General of Ohanaeze, George Obiozor said: “In Anambra State, the Cantonment Commandant of the 302 Artillery Regiment, Onitsha, is Col Abdulsalam Abubakar Sambo, a Hausa-Fulani Muslim; while in Imo State, the Brigade Commander of 34 Brigade, Obinze, is Brig Gen Ibrahim Tukura, another northerner; in Abia State, the Brigade Commander of 14 Brigade, Ohafia, is Brig Gen M. Ibrahim, still, a northerner; while in Akwa Ibom State, the Brigade Commander of 2 Brigade, Uyo, is Brig Gen Faruk Mijinyawa, another northerner. This is truly worrisome.
He, then warned that using the military and violent means to solve the national question was bound to fail as it had never worked anywhere in history. Instead, it “leads to further national fractionalization, anarchy and eventual or inevitable disintegration, as in all empires or multi-national states or countries”.
In the same manner, a think-thank of Igbo intellectuals and professionals world over, Nzuko Umunna, within the week, dragged the Nigerian military authorities before the United Nations, Governments of the United States of America (USA), the United Kingdom (UK) and other leading nations.
The group said the recent purported ‘shoot-on-sight’ order by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru to troops in the South East, was a declaration of war on the Igbo.
Its open letter to the Chief of Army Staff, said that last weekend’s movement of new batches of troops to the region, clearly confirmed its fears.
The letter signed by Dr. Ngozi Odumuko and Dr. Paschal Mbanefo, observed that the hush-hush manner the directive was given made its intent and purpose more ominous, adding that was why it had brought “this properly to your notice with the hope you will take peremptory action.
“We most respectfully urge you to use your good offices to intervene, as a matter of urgency, in this very critical matter to douse the tension and apprehension in the region arising from rumours and the expectation that the killings and unnecessary waste of human lives will escalate.