From Magnus Eze, Geoffrey Anyanwu (Enugu), Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki), Stanley Uzoaru, George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Okey Sampson (Umuahia) and Obinna Odogwu (Awka)
The biggest challenge faced by the Igbo of Southeast Nigeria since 2016 is existential threat. Protection of Igbo land against consistent invasion by marauding Fulani herders has continued to top discussions of Ndigbo wherever they meet across the globe.
Aside maiming and killing of innocent people, including raping of women and girls in their farms; a new twist was added to the whole issue recently as colossal ransoms are now paid on daily basis to kidnappers by citizens in the Southeast; while many held captive were killed by bandits, making it impossible for the locals to freely move about.
The precarious situation had in 2019 moved the South East Governors’ Forum (SEGF) led by Ebonyi Governor, David Umahi, to propose a special security outfit for the region.
Jubilations which greeted the pronouncement of their readiness to establish a joint-security outfit with command and control in Enugu were cut short when the governors suddenly made a U-turn, preferring instead to embrace the Community Policing model prescribed by the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu.
Umahi had on February 24, 2020, explained that they would not subscribe to regional security outfit because, according to him, it ran contrary to the Nigerian Constitution.
He declared that the governors of the region were resolute in their adoption of Community Policing, stressing that the model fitted into the local security architecture in the area.
The Ebonyi governor stated that the zone was being careful because they could be easily misconstrued.
He, however, said that the governors and leaders of the Southeast were committed to restructuring and State Police because the various regions have their peculiarities.
He urged that the issue of state police be considered in the ongoing constitutional amendment by the National Assembly.
Umahi further said that the governors had explained the issue of community policing to the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other leaders in the zone to the point that there were no more grey areas.
“We have our laws since 2015 backing our various security outfits and nobody has come to tell us you’ve broken the law; we’re already doing that until the IGP came with a new idea saying, look you can integrate community policing into what you’re doing and I know very well that what you’re doing without bearing arm; you know is also giving comfort to our people, but not too comfort.
“So, our people are looking for what will give them comfort; assurance that their lives and property are secured and so that’s why the Southeast people will everyday support state policing as the only alternative that’ll assure them that their lives and property are protected,” Umahi stated.
But the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) kicked against the decision of the governors, declaring that Ndigbo totally and unequivocally rejected what it described as the so-called community policing for the Southeast.
ADF insisted that the Igbo as represented by the Ime-Obi caucus of Ohanaeze had in their earlier meeting with the governors in the region agreed to work out a security agenda for the zone.
The group noted that the community policing plan had always been there, but could not address the security challenges of the zone, emphasising that the only panacea was a regional security agenda designed, implemented and controlled by people from the zone.
ADF in a statement signed by Prof Uzodinma Nwala (President), Prof Narth Aniekwu (National Secretary), Bishop Obi Onubogu (Chairman, Board of Trustees) and Chief Abia Onyike (Chairman, Media and Publicity Bureau), said that the security of Alaigbo was a joint responsibility between the government and the people of Alaigbo.
“ADF is not opposed to any genuine and positive role of the Federal Government and her agencies in helping to tackle the prevailing state of grave insecurity in Alaigbo, provided –that such role by Federal agencies must be under the exercise and full control of personnel of our zone.
“The primary security outfit for the protection of Alaigbo must be that created by the government and people of Alaigbo,” the group stated.
IPOB’s ESN vs joint security outfit
This was the scenario, recently, when the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu in a video that went viral on the social media announced that it has established a special security outfit for the zone christened, Eastern Security Network (ESN). In the video clip, an army of youths dressed in black uniform with red strips and beret were seen having training and parades in a forest.
The pro-Biafra group claimed that the security outfit were already operating in the nooks and crannies of the Southeast.
The reported launch of the ESN Sunday Sun gathered may have jolted the governors to announce the establishment of a joint-security outfit for the region.
Umahi, who disclosed this in Abakaliki, after a Zoom meeting of their forum, said that the name of the group would soon be made public.
He further explained that the five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, would be sharing intelligence and other operational matters. The coming of the joint security outfit has also raised fears of possible clash with the ESN, especially as the IPOB leader, Kanu has indicated that his group would not allow the government’s joint-security to operate side by side with theirs.
But, the Ebonyi State government has said that the ESN does not exist anywhere in the state.
Reports from Anambra, Imo, Abia and Enugu states, said that the ESN personnel were not there after all.
Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Okoro-Emegha said that the security challenges recently witnessed in the state were as a result of clashes between rival cult groups, stressing that the matter has since been brought under control within the last two weeks.
He disclosed that Governor Umahi had directed the re-activation of the Ebonyi Forest Guards to monitor and report activities in all the forests in the state.
“There is no presence of ESN anywhere in Ebonyi. You see them only in social media and speculations. We don’t need them in Ebonyi because we are capable of protecting our people from criminals. They are hoodlums and they are not permitted to enter this state”, the commissioner stated.
Okoro-Emegha revealed that the government has planted surveillance cameras in parts of Abakaliki, the state capital; to help in crime control and management.
He added: “The governor has also directed me to increase the number of the members of the Neighbourhood Security Watch in all the local government areas to support other security agencies in combating crimes in the state.
“He had also directed me to do everything within my power to re-activate Forest Guards. This is also part of the security measures we are putting in place in the state. We have Forest Guards already. The task now is to revive them to monitor what is happening in forests and report back to this office.
“Outside that, the governor has directed local government chairmen and town union leaders to come up with local vigilantes to complement the Neighbourhood Security Watch and other conventional security agencies to tackle criminality in the state. This year, we want to take security very seriously.”
Regardless, a resident of the state and student of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Friday Orji, told Sunday Sun that the IPOB ESN members were actually moving freely in many communities in the state.
Orji said the ESN members could be identified through their signature necklaces bearing the insignia of Biafra with the inscription of ESN.
“I have seen some of them. They mingle freely with people. They wear necklaces and bracelets with the inscription of ESN and Biafra logo. But I have not seen them cause trouble or fight with anybody. But they are in Ebonyi”, Orji said.
The security situation in Enugu for now is calm, but there is fear in town that if the IPOB becomes serious with its threat not to allow the planned joint security outfit by the Southeast governors to operate, there might be breakdown of law and order in the zone.
Though those who spoke to Sunday Sun said they have not seen the IPOB’s ESN on ground in Enugu and even Anambra, Media and Publicity Secretary of the group, Emma Powerful that said the outfit is on ground in all the “Biafra land in Southeast and South-south states.”
A legal practitioner who wished not to be named and another who gave his name as Okechukwu Udeh expressed disappointment with the Southeast governors, questioning why it took the IPOB’s formation of ESN for them to wake up to the joint security outfit the people had clamoured for since.
The lawyer said: “Let the truth be said; the governors of Southeast made the U-turn now because of the action of IPOB and they are afraid that it will jeopardize their authority. The situation on ground now is not the best because there must surely be clashes. Had they gone ahead with joint security when they mooted it earlier before abandoning it for Community Policing of the IGP; IPOB wouldn’t have come up with theirs.”
Okechukwu expressed the fear of possible clash between the two outfits which might even aggravate the security situation in the region.
“I just hope they will find a way to sort this out with IPOB so that our zone will not be turned to a theatre of war.
“Where did the governors abandon their beloved Community Policing now? They must not set our zone on fire. They can harmonize and fortify our zone,” he urged.
Despite the alleged presence of ESN in the region, the security situation in Imo has not been palatable in recent times.
The major security issues in the state are kidnapping and armed robbery. Penultimate Friday, a lecturer at the Imo State University was abducted.
Emma Ogueri, who was abducted by gunmen, has since regained his freedom after the payment of an unspecified ransom.
He was taken away at a pharmacy, opposite All Seasons Hotel, New Owerri, by gunmen in police uniform.
In another development, Obiezu, a sibling to the Accountant General of Imo State was killed by kidnappers on January 9, who made an unsuccessful attempt to abduct him in his village, Akatta in Oru East Council area.
Two officers of the Police Mobile Force also lost their lives recently at Nwantaeze in Orlu in an ambush by gunmen while on their way to recover a stolen vehicle in the community.
Recall also, that the Auxiliary Catholic Bishop of Owerri Archdiocese was abducted on December 27, 2020, alongside his driver, close to his residence around the World Bank area.
Though, the ESN is not quite visible in Imo State, several residents have applauded the initiative by the Kanu-led IPOB.
Former President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Imo State, Akpaelu Azuka said that the U-turn by the Southeast governors to form a regional security outfit was a direct consequence of the launch of the ESN.
He pointed out that the formation of the ESN jolted the governors from their lethargy.
Azuka said: “We must be grateful to Nnamdi Kanu for floating the Eastern Security Network because before now the North has its own security outfit called the Civilian JTF, the Southwest has the Amotekun but rather than the governors of the Southeast forming a regional security outfit, they preferred to go with the IGP’s community policing which is an appendage of the Federal Government. How would you depend on Federal Government which has failed on the issues of securing the lives of the people?”
He then urged the governors to collaborate with the IPOB’s ESN to secure the Southeast from the infiltration of “marauding Fulani herdsmen who have been harassing our farmers and raping our women.”
Also, one-time President General of Imo Youths Assembly, Dr. Haroldwilson Onuimo reasoned that it would be a good thing if the governors have decided to do what their Southwest counterparts had done regardless of the opposition from the Federal Government.
In Abia State, both the ESN and the purported joint security outfit of the governors were yet to be operational. The State Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu said that irrespective of whatever arrangement being made by the governors of the zone, that the state already has an internal security outfit known as Home Land Security (HLS).
Okiyi-Kalu said that the Abia HLS which is distinct from community policing was formed in August last year to tackle security challenges facing the state and was inaugurated by the Inspector General of Police.
The HLS, according to the commissioner, has over 500 personnel trained by security agents and deployed to various parts of the state with the sole responsibility of helping in tackling the security challenges facing the state.
He denied that the Abia Home Land Security was formed as a result of the recently established ESN by the IPOB. “Abia government formed HLS in August last year, by then, where was the IPOB ESN,” the commissioner queried.
But he was not forthcoming on the fate of HLS; whether it would be subsumed by the contemplated joint security network when finally established, or any likelihood of partnering with the ESN.
An official of HLS, Chikezie Alala who spoke to Sunday Sun in Umuahia, said that his men had already gone down to business, disclosing that in the past three weeks, they had arrested two kidnappers; one at Opobo Junction and another at Ovom, all in Aba.
Alala said that contrary to expectations that his men have not encountered any problem with herdsmen, he is optimistic that the challenges they presently faced would be taken care of when the mobile courts the state government promised to establish, had eventually taken off.
A politician from Ohafia, Chief Uma Onuoha, who spoke to our reporter in Umuahia, felt that having a parallel security entity in the state could worsen the security situation in Abia, expressing doubt if both the HLS and ESN might be in agreement for a common purpose.
The situation in Anambra was not any different even though government officials there declined to speak on the matter, citing different reasons. Chairman of the Anambra State Vigilante Supervisory Committee, Ikechukwu Aduba; a retired Commissiner of Police told Sunday Sun that the organization under his watch was a non-state actor and as such, he was not the right person to speak on the development.
Also, Commissioner for Information, Don Adinuba told the reporter that he had not been briefed by any government official.
“Nobody has ever briefed me on the joint security network. I have not been briefed by any government official formally or informally. Therefore, I decline to speak officially on it in my capacity as the Commissioner for Information, Anambra State”, he said.
However, a former member of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Tony-Uche Ezekwelu, blamed the Southeast governors for creating a vacuum which IPOB has started to fill.
“I think the governors of the Southeast, what they just did was a second thought. They are just reactionary to the very courageous move by the IPOB to help in securing the Southeast they have woefully failed to secure.
“In Ohanaeze, we have been pushing for the establishment of Ogbunigwe security outfit for quite some time now, but the governors frustrated every effort to establish it.
“They rather, out of cowardice, went to align with the Inspector General of Police to adopt the Nigerian policing strategy. If the police have been very effective would there be this insecurity in Nigeria?
“It means that our security network has failed woefully. And the people needed an alternative rooted in the grassroots by the people and for the people. But the governors failed woefully out of cowardice.
“But thank God that IPOB came to the rescue. Whatever the governors are doing is just ‘follow follow’; second thought. I think what they should have done is to have reasoned with Ohanaeze and IPOB so that we have one security outfit in the Southeast and not having a parallel one. Any parallel outfit will cause more trouble.
“The Fulani herdsmen terrorists are everywhere around Southeast. They stored their arm caches and ammunition everywhere in the Southeast. And if something serious is not done, one day, they will overrun here and turn the Southeast to what they have turned the Northeast, Northwest and North-central, but God forbid”, Ezekwelu said.
But the newly elected Vice President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Damian Okeke-Ogene, has a deferent view; as according to him, the governors never abandoned the joint security network.
He said: “There is no other reason than that whatsoever the Igbo man wants to do, he plans for it. People are saying that the governors abandoned it; they did not abandon it because they set up a committee made up of all the Attorneys General of the states in the Southeast and some top government functionaries to study it. The Southwest didn’t just wake up one day and established Amotekun and they (Southeast governors) are not imitating anybody. So, now that they have come out with a workable document, I think it is a right time and they have come up to tell people that they have not abandoned it; they have been working underground on it.”
The Ohanaeze chieftain wondered why people are taking IPOB seriously with its alleged security outfit: “The Southeast governors’ security will be visible; you will see them as human beings. I don’t think you can ever identify anybody now and say he is in charge of security in IPOB, it’s not a masquerade; it’s something we want to see physically happening. We must all realize that we don’t have two governments in one government.”
On security situation in the region, he said: “So far, so good. I tell you Southeast is the safest in all the zones in Nigeria today, you must give it to them. Some of these big men in the North and some zones do not go home, but Christmas was celebrated in all nooks and crannies in Igbo land and there was no major security breach, you must give it to the governors of the Southeast. We should not continue to underrate them.”
Meanwhile, IPOB spokesman, Powerful told Sunday Sun that nothing can stop them from securing the region, even as he accused politicians in the area of fighting to ensure that “our security network did not function, but it will not work for them.
“We have made a statement on this and I want to repeat that we will not allow any other security outfit in our territory. We have come to stay and nobody born of a woman can stop us.
“We are calling on parents not to allow their children join the outfit the governors are planning because they cannot operate in our territory.”
He mocked those who claimed that the ESN merely exists on the social media, citing their gallant outings at Ogboro and Umuaka, both in the Orlu area of Imo State.
The ESN was said to have clashed with the joint task force of Nigeria security agents in the forests but the ESN stood tall above the well-trained and equipped Nigeria security personnel. They were alleged to have been chased out of the forest by the non-weapon wielding ESN, a situation IPOB has described as God’s acceptance of their mission in the forest.
“What happened at Orlu was just a warning to the Nigeria security that God is with his own people, we have earlier told them that we are not in the bush for them but for those who are raping and killing our women in the farms,” Powerful boasted.
But, former youth leader of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Tony Uche, described the recent action of the Southeast governors as reactionary.
He applauded the ESN which to him was a welcome development. “ESN is a welcome development; anything put in place to bring about security of lives and property in the Southeast is a welcome development. I support it no matter who is doing it.
“We are under siege by the Nigeria security, under siege by the Fulani cattle breeders and yet our governors are not protecting us, so we have to protect ourselves, so what Kanu is doing is a welcome development as long as it will keep us secured in Igbo land,” Uche stated.
Regardless, former Military Administrator of Delta State, Rear Admiral Luke Ochulor, believes that the formation of a joint security network by the Southeast governors is cheering news if they have sincerity of purpose, but warned that they should speak with one voice and not allow party differences scuttle their efforts.
“There is nothing bad if the Southeast governors have finally decided to launch a vigilante, but are they speaking with one voice, can they do it without allowing their various party differences spoil their plans?”
On the formation of the ESN by IPOB, Ochulor warned that “it’s not good to just wake up and form a vigilante without due consultation, it will make everybody to start running from outside to the bush when the problem arises.
“I believe if they want to form a vigilante, there should be a proper set out guidelines that should be followed, to me it amounts to anybody getting up to form his own vigilante.”