From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, has defended his invitation of the military in the recent crisis in Orlu, saying that it is to weed out criminals who have murdered people, including security personnel, raping old women, among other atrocities.
Uzodinma spoke to State House Correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Imo governor said the operations by the security agents for a special military operation in Orlu district of Orlu Local Government Area, was necessary after militants in the area continued their kidnapping and murderous activities, including the raping of old women.
According to the governor, he requested for help because those on ground were repelled by the criminal elements, stressing that the primary responsibility of government is to protect lives and properties.
Uzodinma informed President Buhari, who he described as ‘very peaceful man’ that there has been ‘progress’ after the joint police/military operations.
Asked why he preferred the application of military force instead of negotiation, the governor said: ‘Well, the issue of bringing the military to Imo Sate, you will recall that during the #EndSARS protests, a lot of properties were damaged in Imo State, police stations were burnt down, soldiers were killed, their rifles removed from them. And immediately after the #EndSARS, we thought it was over. Then, issues of kidnapping came in. A Catholic bishop was kidnapped. And these militants came out and began to shoot. We’ve lost lives, market women were killed, old women were raped in Orlu area of Imo State and they visited this serious terror on the citizenry. And then, I came here, pleaded with Mr President for his support and he sent additional support by sending in police and the military who also came in. And that is where we are. It was on my invitation that the military came.
‘And I did that because I know the situation was beyond the local arrangement, we needed help. And the help was given to us. And as I speak to you, the situation has come down to normal, people are now going about their businesses. And those caught will soon be charged to court. And all those military rifles from the army, the police, AK-47, and so on, were recovered by the people that came. We as a government have the responsibility to protect lives…’
The governor ruled out any possibility of negotiating with killers in his state, stating: ‘I don’t know what you mean. I told you that our initial intelligence and the efforts to control the sporadic shootings in Orlu that led to many dead, innocent women in the market, people selling food food stuffs dead by a group of people that we were not able to identify; preliminary intelligence revealed where they were in a bush, our local police and local military went there and confronted them and they were repealed. So, we discovered that the people had serious fire power. And that, of course, Nigeria is a federation, Imo State is a federating unit, and all over the world you have provincial police, you have federal police. So, there was a need for me to report the situation and that I did and we were supported to deal with the situation.
‘It is not about crushing anybody and those that came didn’t do any crushing. Those that came through their intelligence identified where these people were and I can tell you, all the people arrested, all the rifles recovered are intact, the people are under interrogation, not even one, not even one soldier, or one of those militants died in the process. I must commend DCP Abba Kyari for a brilliant job he did. So, let anybody politicise it. But I have a responsibility to protect the lives of my people.
‘The federal government may be negotiating with the Boko Haram, but God knows if I have the opportunity to see any man who is taking lives, I will confront the person head on, he said.
On his meeting with the President, Governor Uzodinma said he informed President Buhari about the progress on the efforts to tackle insecurity.
‘I informed Mr Pesident that were already making progress. And, of course, you know, the President is a very peaceful man.’
On his confrontation with former Governor Rochas Okorocha, Uzodinma denied that there was an attempt to assassinate his predecessor in office.
The governor explained: ‘Who will assassinate him? I don’t know about any attempt to assassinate Okorocha. Rather, what I know is that I have no personal issues with Okorocha.
‘You will recall that before I became the governor, the Ihedioha administration set up a judicial panel of inquiry to look into acquisitions and allegations of land, converting government land to personal property, and then removing private land from individuals and giving to other individuals.
‘The judicial panel of inquiry chaired by a judge met and they concluded our job and a white paper has since been raised.
‘You know institutions and agencies that are involved with implementation are doing their job.
‘And the only thing I know is that a few days ago, one of the properties sealed by government, the former governor went with his thugs. You people saw it, it was live. He went there with thugs himself physically, wounded the policemen there, wounded the Civil Defense Civil people, in fact a Civil Defense officer is currently still in the hospital…
‘Of course, you must have heard him say that he is richer than government and that he is above the law. I am not directly involved. It is a position taken by government. There is a difference between governor and government.
‘The Government of Imo State sealed a property. And I think that if there is anything anybody considers that is not right, the person should go to court to address the issue…
‘I remember that under Ihedioha, there was a recovery committee, chaired by one Jasper Ndubaku. When they tried to visit Okorocha’s house, they were beaten to a stupor. And the same man who did that is now also doing the same thing and almost killed the man who did it during his time.
‘So, I don’t want to go into that matter, because government is a serious business, and I’m very serious. I don’t have enough time to run the affairs of the state.
‘But people should know the difference between being a governor and the government decisions and policies.
‘And, you know, we took an oath to protect the rule of law, to protect our laws, and we shouldn’t be part of any arrangement to violate our laws,’ the governor said.