From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Governor Hope Uzodimma has defended his invitation of the military to Orlu, saying it was to weed out criminal elements who had murdered some people, including security personnel and raped old women.
Uzodimma spoke to State House Correspondents at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said he requested for a special military operation because those on ground were repelled by the criminal elements, stressing that the primary responsibility of government was to protect lives and property.
Uzodimma informed President Buhari who he described as “very peaceful man” that there had been “progress” after the joint police/military operations.
Asked why he preferred the application of military force instead of negotiating, he said: “Well, the issue of bringing the military to Imo State, you will recall that during the EndSARS protests, a lot of property were damaged in Imo, police stations were burnt down, soldiers were killed, their rifles taken from them. And immediately after the EndSARS, we thought it was over. Then, we have issues of kidnapping. A Catholic bishop was kidnapped. Market women were killed, old women were raped in Orlu area of the 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 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 riffles from the army, the police, AK 47, and so on, were recovered by the people that came. We have the responsibility to protect lives.”
The governor ruled out any possibility of negotiating with killers in his state.
“I don’t know what you mean. I told you 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 foodstuffs killed 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 defeated.
“So, we discovered the people had serious firing power. 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 maybe 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. That is why we are government.”
On his meeting with the president, yesterday, he said he informed Buhari about the progress on the effort to tackle insecurity.
“Of course, I informed Mr. president that we were already making progress. You know the president is a very peaceful man.”
On his confrontation with former governor Rochas Okorocha, Uzodimma denied there was an attempt to assassinate his predecessor in office.
“Who will assassinate him? I don’t know about any attempt to assassinate Okorocha. Rather, what I know is that I have no personal issue 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 lands, converting government lands to personal property, and then removing private lands from individuals and giving to other individuals.
“The panel chaired by a judge met 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 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 defence, in fact, a civil defence officer is currently in the hospital, and then broke in and entered.
“Of course, you must have heard him say 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.
“Imo State government sealed a property. And I think that if there is anything anybody consider 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 oath to protect the rule of law, to protect our laws, and we shouldn’t be part of any arrangement to violate our laws.”