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Battling to save Imo state from throes of insecurity

By Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
16 January 2022   |   2:56 am
In recent times, the preponderance of insecurity in Imo state has risen to alarming levels, sending most residents into a state of perpetual fear. Its manifestations are seen in banditry

Hope Uzodimma

Govt Spends Over N30b To Combat Malaise

In recent times, the preponderance of insecurity in Imo state has risen to alarming levels, sending most residents into a state of perpetual fear. Its manifestations are seen in banditry, kidnapping, including wanton killing and destruction of innocent lives and property. The incidences have become so worrisome that residents in over 600 autonomous communities of the 27 local council areas in the state have seemingly resigned to fate while influential persons now find it difficult visiting their ancestral homes for fear of being attacked, kidnapped or even losing their lives.

With criminality escalating in geometric magnitude, security operatives have not been spared from the onslaught of the bandits and marauders. Soldiers and policemen in their numbers have lost their lives just as a good number of police stations in some communities across the state have been set ablaze.

Imo was a worse hit in the immediate past year. Unknown gunmen invaded the Owerri Correctional Centre situated along Okigwe road, near the seat of power, in the early hours of Easter Monday, freeing about 1,870 inmates. According to the authorities, not up to 100 of the freeing inmates have returned since then.

Subsequently, the bandits intensified their assaults, trying to overrun the conventional security operatives, as the headquarters of the Imo State Police Command, situated opposite the Government House, Owerri, was bombed the same day the inmates were forcefully set free, resulting in the alleged burning of about 50 vehicles parked in the Command’s premises with the aid of explosives.

After that, masked hoodlums seized part of Owerri for days from the Flyover Orji axis, before they were dislodged by the superior firepower of joint police and soldiers. Before then, some persons had been executed within the vicinity.

As events unfolded, the bandits moved to the ancestral country home of Governor Hope Uzodimma, in Omuma, Oru East, beheading his gatekeeper and killing some other security men in the area. They subsequently set ablaze part of the entrance (security house), torched his private vehicle and another vehicle parked inside his premises.

Determined to stop the destruction spree, Uzodimma relocated to Abuja for almost one month. He met with President Muhammadu Buhari who approved the dispatch of soldiers to the streets and communities. Afterwards, there were reported cases of some of the youths allegedly killed and arrested.

In addition to that step, the governor sent a supplementary appropriation bill of over N30 billion to the 27-member Imo State House of Assembly to tackle insecurity. After approval, the governor procured vehicles fitted with security gadgets. He was also able to put in place, among other things, welfare packages and facilities for the special squad from Abuja and the State.

Soon after, a strong man popularly known as Ikonsi was killed at his base at night. Some officers also lost their lives in the process. The killing sparked another round of attacks and counterattacks, further fueling insecurity in the state. The ancestral homes of both the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba and the Attorney General of the state and Commissioner for Justice, Cyprain Akaolisa, were also invaded and torched by the hoodlums.

It got to a point that the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastic Province, Dr. Anthony Obinna, visited the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, to verify what he was told that many bodies of youths were dumped in the morgue there by the military without recourse to identifying them. No fewer than 35 bodies were counted there.

The cleric’s words after his visit: “I am very worried about the senseless killing of our youths. I am extremely worried that scores of unidentified corpses are lying in the FMC mortuary in varying degrees of decomposition…bodies of our youths, the fathers of tomorrow, who were senselessly mowed down by both state and non-state actors.

“The question we must ask now is – with the rate of killing in our land today, are we likely going to have fathers in the days ahead? Only a few hours ago, I got wind of killings by soldiers and the arson that followed at Izombe, Oguta local council area of our state. Bloodletting is getting out of hand. Soldiers have been pumped into the South East, militarising the area, to the discomfort and temptation of the citizenry.” 

While burial was being planned for the dead, another round of killing occurred in Awomama area. A soldier was said to have been killed by unknown persons at a checkpoint. That infuriated his colleagues who allegedly stormed the area, burning down houses, shops and vehicles. Away in Orlu and Orsu local council areas, people were also being beheaded and their heads hung at popular squares.

The latest, which took place around early December last year, was the uncovering of a hideout of hoodlums by the joint military forces in the boundary area between Orsu, Imo State and neighbouring Anambra State. Human bodies were allegedly found in a deep round pit in a lonely bush with some of the bodies roasted.

Harvest Of Kidnaps And Deaths
AT the last count, five traditional rulers had been killed after abduction from their palaces while others were set free. One of the monarchs is the father of a former deputy governor of Imo State, Eze Madumere. His father, the traditional ruler of Achi Mbieri, in Mbaitoli local council, Eze Henry Madumere, who is visually impaired, was being driven to a function. At Iho Junction in Ikeduru local council, the bandits accosted them, abducted him and kept the 89-year-old in their dungeon for six days before he was set free.

In another development, some yet-be-identified gunmen invaded the palace of the traditional ruler of Ebeteghete community in Njaba local council area of the state, Eze Edwin Azuike, at night, and kidnapped him. The next morning, his body was displayed at a market square.

The monarch of Mbutu Ancient Kingdom in Aboh Mbaise local council area, Eze Damian Nwaigwe, was also abducted from his palace at 2.30 a.m. He was released after about three days. But the traditional ruler of Etekwuru Autonomous Community in Ohaji/ Egbema local council, Eze Kenneth Okereke, fled his community after two of his subjects were allegedly killed and his palace burnt. 

In Okigwe local council area, kidnappers also went to the palaces of two monarchs, Eze Acho Ndukwe of Amagu Ihube and Eze Paul Ogbu of Ihitte Ihube and kidnapped them. According to sources, the gunmen came in Hilux vehicles, abducted the two monarchs and burnt their palaces and vehicles. It is instructive to note that Eze Ndukwe is the Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers in Okigwe Council. The hoodlums killed one of the monarchs while one was freed.

In Izombe, Oguta local council area, precisely last year October 8, soldiers allegedly set ablaze not less than 70 houses. According to sources, a young man was shot dead by a soldier in the community. The action triggered the reaction of the youths who marched to the palace of the monarch of the community where some soldiers had gone to seek refuge, killing two on the spot and seizing their guns. There were other civilian casualties. It took the intervention of Uzodimma to calm the situation. 

Barely two weeks ago, another set of hoodlums gained access into the palace of the chairman of the Imo State Traditional Institutions, and Community Policing, Eze Emmanuel Okeke, and destroyed things, but the security operatives quickly repelled them. One of them was killed, while explosives were recovered according to the police spokesperson in the state, Michael Abattam.

Call To Action
IN a statement by its acting Publicity Secretary, Emenike Mmeregini, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) accused the governor of not caring about the poor state of insecurity in the state.

The statement read: “Our party and Imolites feel pained that Imo State is now under an ungodly regime where abductions, arson and killings of near-genocidal proportion have become daily realities. No leader who has fear of God would jubilate over the ill-fate of fellow citizens brutally massacred in the manner Uzodimma has done. 

“Our party profusely condemns these senseless, callous and provocative actions of Senator Uzodimma and urge him to retrace his steps and seek restitution. Uzodinma has overstretched the patience and perseverance of the people and if nothing is done quickly to address these and other issues bedeveling the state, we are afraid that the people might decide to probe further the actual intention of this regime. 

“We appeal to the good people of Imo state to remain resilient, prayerful and vigilant. We feel your pulse and all the maltreatment of the Uzodimma regime. We assure Imolites that help is on the way and soon the Egyptians you see today, you shall be no more.”

Before the incident, some unknown gunmen had on October 19, last year, gained access into a meeting ground at Nnennasa, Njaba local council area Council, shooting sporadically. Two monarchs were silenced there, while others were injured. The monarchs killed included Eze Anayo Duruebere of Okwudor Autonomous Community and Eze Sampson Osunwa of Ihebinowerre Autonomous Community. The killings led to altercations between the police and the local council.

Assailants As Known Men
Governor Uzodimma is of the view that some of the unknown gunmen are known, gunmen. Speaking at a religious function late last year, he attributed the malaise to the selfish ambition of politicians. “They should stop killing our brothers and sisters so that by the time they will emerge Governors, Senators and occupy other political positions, they will see the people to lead.”

The latest problem occurred last year December 26, when Uche Nwosu, the son-in-law of Okorocha, was inside the St. Peters Anglican Church, Eziama-Obaire, Nkwerre local council, attending the outing/thanksgiving service after his mother was buried recently. A squad of armed security operatives invaded the church, shot sporadically, and whisked Nwosu away. Worshipers scampered to safety.

Initially, the people thought the invaders were abductors. But police, through a statement issued by the Imo state Police Command’s spokesman, Michael Abattam, set the record straight, saying: “This is to inform the general public that Chief Uche Nwosu was not kidnapped but was arrested by the police. Imo State Police Command is aware of the arrest. He is presently in police custody….”

Okorocha, in his reaction, accused Uzodimma of deceiving Abuja into arresting Uche Nwosu. “Hope Uzodimma is 1,000 per cent responsible for the arrest. Using diversion for his non-performance can’t work. It is either Uzodimma is the IGP or the governor of Imo state… the CP said that IGP approved Nwosu’s arrest.

“The shock of such arrest without warrant and humiliating members of my family is unfortunate. Most security operatives in Imo know nothing about the arrest. The IGP could only have done this due to high-level misinformation from Hope Uzodimma. Over one hundred gunshots to arrest Uche Nwosu.

“Hope Uzodimma has shown tremendous hatred to me and members of my family. Lawmakers who attended the burial were suspended. I am waiting to hear the offence of Uche Nwosu. Recall that Uzodimma said he is going to name sponsors of insecurity in Imo state on January 3. I know he has nothing to offer other than to cook up story. Last time he ordered my arrest and one security officer ordered me to enter the pickup vehicle.

“Uzodimma wants to frame me up by all means. Uzodimma has to answer for most of the activities going on. He must mention the names of those who are responsible for insecurity in the state or he should be held responsible for all the killings. Hundreds of citizens are been killed in this state… You can’t governor people by intimidation,” Okorocha concluded.

But the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba, reacted swiftly to Okorocha: “What is the haste in this press conference trying to politicise an ordinary thing? Nwosu is just an indigene of Imo state and a citizen of Nigeria, and if he has run foul of the law, the police have every right to arrest him, and nobody should dictate to them how they do it. It depends on the gravity of the offence, and it depends on the information at their (police) disposal.”

On January 2, the Chief Press Secretary to Imo State Governor/Media Adviser, Oguwike Nwachuku, issued a statement specifically alerting the public of an alleged failed attempt to arrest some security personnel at the Imo Government House. It was before the hitherto scheduled sixth Imo Stakeholders Luncheon, which Uzodimma had planned to use to unearth the names of the sponsors and financiers of the terror in Imo.

The statement accused Okorocha and Nwosu of complicity in the insecurity according to the suspects’ confession. It read: “Plot by those believed to be fueling insecurity, particularly kidnapping, banditry, arson and cannibalism in Imo state ahead of January 4, 2022, Imo Stakeholders meeting got to a head-on Monday with false news of the alleged arrest of the security officers attached to Governor Hope Uzodimma. 

“Governor Uzodimma, it is believed, will use the Stakeholders meeting to expose the identities of those behind insecurity and other forms of criminality in the state. This has prompted Imo citizens to become more curious to discover the identities of those undermining their peace and prosperity. Thus, the current media frenzy by both Rochas Okorocha and Uche Nwosu appears to be strengthening the notion of their culpability.

“To discredit the government and undermine the peace which the Governor has achieved so far, as was evident in the large number of Imo people who came back home from around the world for Christmas and New Year festivities, the duo have resorted to publishing falsehood yet again about security officers in the State Government House. 

“Their claim of the arrest and detention of a certain Shaba, whom they falsely allege to be the CSO to the Imo state Governor is strange as the Governor’s CSO is not known by the name of Shaba both officially and otherwise. In addition, no security officer in the Governor’s security team was either arrested or is currently unaccounted for. As such, the entire story can best be described as a poorly scripted fabrication aimed at misleading the unsuspecting public.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Okorocha and Nwosu have been specifically mentioned by suspects who are in the custody of security agents, as being sponsors of kidnapping and banditry in Imo State, using their relationship with former ex-militants to perpetrate the crimes.

“Rather than clear their names, they appear bent on using both overt and covert means to blackmail the Police High Command, which legitimately arrested Uche Nwosu. They are also actively seeking to dent the image of the fine security officers attached to the Governor. 

“The public must be informed that the entire report is false and a failed attempt to frustrate the Imo Stakeholders meeting taking place on Tuesday. The mass of Imo People, who are undoubtedly peaceful and fun-loving are enjoined to discountenance the serial falsehood that continues to be churned out by the embattled duo. The focus and direction of the Gov. Uzodimma-led government, it must be emphasised, will continue to be about the wellbeing of the people of the State, no matter what it takes.”

Okorocha did not reply Uzodimma’s CPS, until after the stakeholders’ interactive meeting. The Senator’s Special Adviser (Media), Sam Onwemeodo, issued a statement, lambasting the Imo governor’s media officer. “Governor Hope Uzodinma had ended his much-orchestrated stakeholders’ meeting and at the end of the day, he failed or refused to name the sponsors of insecurity in the state… This government has made Imo state a laughing stock. The government has become a nightmare to itself and an embarrassment to the state and her people.”

Taming Insecurity Needs Will Of Wealthy, Political Class
President General of the Elders Club of Nigeria (Retired Senior Police Officers Association), Dr. Moses Ejeka, who is a security consultant, while sharing views on the causes and anti-dote to the seemingly perennial insecurity in the Southeast, told The Guardian that the causes were multi-faceted, and as such required the political will by the politicians and the wealthy in society to interface with the youths and empower them. 
Ejeka opined that useful information on criminal elements in society should be unearthed and availed the relevant security operatives for action. He warned that a situation where political leaders and wealthy ones live ostentatious lives without caring about the poor youths in their population has the potentials of triggering insecurity.

“Security is not one man’s job. Everybody can help in saving the situation by providing information for the security agencies and constitutionally empowered authorities.

“On government’s part, we must realise that the current situation is partly because political leaders failed to empower the youths. We can invest massively in agriculture, for instance. There are several other things you can engage the youths to do to take them off the streets and communities. By so doing, you will be curtailing insecurity,” Ejeka said.