How Southeast is responding to growing insecurity
At no time, perhaps, in the wake of growing insecurity in the country, had the Southeast been challenged as it is presently. Since the rise in Boko Haram insurgency to the herders/farmers clashes in parts of the country, killings and abductions for ransom, Southeast’s security had remained intact and was never a source of worry to residents.
However, a new wave of security worries has developed in the zone, and this is coming less than five months after the 2019 general elections. The trend of insecurity has created fears in the residents. This is because, while efforts were made in the past to solve lingering issues between farmers and herders, the rate of abduction, rape and killing of innocent residents associated with the new trend is unsettling.
Indeed, it is now common in the zone to hear stories of how a community was invaded or motorists attacked by suspected herders, who often dispossess the occupants of their vehicles. Only last week, a former Commissioner of Information in Abia State, Eze Chikamnayo recounted his near-death experience at the hands of men he suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.
In a post he shared on his Facebook wall, Chikamnayo said he was driving along the Isuochi-Enugu road, when he was attacked.Posting photos of his bullet-ridden car, he wrote: “Yesterday, around 5:30 pm. as I drove from Isuochi to Enugu, the unthinkable happened. This was just before UNTH after Awgu Junction. Suddenly, this hooded person jumped out of the bush in front of me and started shooting at my car. Before I could make anything out of it, another three appeared in front, and bullets started flying everywhere. I have been hearing about Fulani herdsmen, but what I saw yesterday is better imagined than experienced…”
It was against this background, among other dangerous developments in the zone that the governors met in Enugu few days ago to review the security situation. At the end, they resolved to establish Forest Guards in each state of the zone.
They also agreed to clear up to 50 metres into the bush on every road, so as to have a clear view ahead for motorists and road users.Although forest guards were said to be in existence before the war and operated under the Ministry of Agriculture, with the responsibility to ensure safety of forests and weaker animals, it was gathered that its reintroduction with the additional duties became necessary, following observation that hoodlums are exploiting the massive forests in the zone to perpetrate crimes.
However, since the Enugu meeting, which had in attendance some religious leaders moved for immediate implementation of the decisions, especially with regard to growing insecurity, feelers from the affected states do not indicate that they are fully agreed on the framework the exercise would take.
Investigations by The Guardian revealed that except in Enugu, where the Governor was allegedly pressured by circumstances into hurriedly adopting the Forest guards’ option, among others to improve security, the other states appear to be understudying a template that could be used for its implementation.
It was gathered that certain shortcomings associated with the Forest Guards, such as how to arm the operators, training and funding, especially with the existence of Neighbourhood Watch, may have brought about the need for a second look at the option.
There are beliefs that the security trend differs in the states, in that while killings and kidnappings are rampant in one state, the situation may not be so in another. And then, there is the fact that some states are believed to have done more to contain the situation than others.
For instance, while Anambra, Imo and Abia States have always sanctioned those involved in kidnapping or associated with it, by pulling down their buildings or proceeds from the illegal business, the situation may not be so in Enugu and Ebonyi States.Nonetheless, Ebonyi appears to have taken the bull by the horn, and is set to lead in the implementation of the decisions reached at the meeting with plans already being concluded on the training of indigenes to work as Forest guards among others.
A source revealed that the state government might also have decided to consolidate on the relationship existing between it and the herders as a way of improving security.The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Emma Uzor, said government was desirous of implementing the resolutions at the meeting, despite past efforts to improve security.He said with the Neighbourhood Watch in place, the government has decided to engage two persons for each of the 171 wards in the state to work as Forest Guards.
Explaining that the names of individuals were being compiled and that they would begin training any time this week, he said their training would be handled by security operatives in the state.Uzor, however, stated that those to be trained would not be armed, but would “function like taskforce on intelligence gathering. Their presence in the forest is to ensure that these problems are reduced. They would work with the police anywhere they are operating.”
He said the state government had started clearing 50 metres of forests near roads as agreed, and that government had gone further with dualisation of the Enugu-Abakaliki Road to make movement easier for the people. He urged other state governors to do the same.
In Enugu, which seems to be presently at the receiving end, sources said Enugu State government was woken up from its slumber by the serial attacks, killings and kidnapping activities by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen in different parts of the state, few days after the the governors’ meeting.
Ugly incidences in the state reached the climax on August 1, when a Catholic Priest, Rev Fr. Paul Offu, Parish Priest of St James Greater Parish, Ugbawka was killed by bandits. The same day, a taxi driver, Kenneth Igwe, was abducted by the killer gang, while fleeing from the scene of Fr. Offu’s murder. Igwe was taken to the bush and his decomposing body was discovered, two days later, in a nearby bush around the area.
Earlier in the day, residents were woken to the news of the remains of Mrs. Gloria Chiawa, who was killed and dumped at Affa Street in Uwani axis of the state. Mrs. Chiawa, a mother of five, was allegedly lured out of her shop around the Police Detective College, Agbani Road around 6.00pm by a phone call. She had left her car in front of her shop. She was said to have been strangled to death by her abductors and dumped at Affa Street.
Earlier in the year, Revd. Fr. Clement Ugwu, the Parish Priest of St Mark’s Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno, Ezeagu Council of the state was similarly killed. The Priest was abducted in front of the Parish house and taken to an unknown place. His decomposing body was discovered in the bush several days later.
The incident was closely followed by the killing of Dr. Nnamdi Oguche, a lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Oguche had attended a peace meeting called to resolve herders/farmers problem in Uzouwani, but was murdered on his way home after the meeting. There was also the murder of Head Nurse at the Enugu Psychiatry Hospital, Dr. (Mrs.) Maria Amadi, who was brutally killed in front of her residence at Trans-Ekulu, Enugu, on her way from work.
While the dust raised by Fr. Offu’s murder was yet to settle, bandits returned to the same Awgu axis on Enugu-Port Harcourt highway on August 4, to kidnap the traditional ruler of Obom-Agbogugu autonomous community in Awgu Council, Igwe Sunday Orji and his wife.The couple was returning to Agbogugu after attending a thanksgiving service at the Catholic Church in Awgu. They allegedly paid N20m ransom to secure their release last Wednesday.
The cold-blooded murder of Rev Fr. Offu sparked off chain reactions in the state. Aside Offu, another Catholic Priest, Ikechukwu Ilo is recuperating in the hospital, following the bullet wounds he sustained while escaping from alleged herders who attacked his vehicle last month.
All these triggered a wave of protests and discontent penultimate Friday, as Catholic Priests in the state marched round the streets with placards and green leaves, demanding improved security from government.The priests, who dressed in their white gowns, chanted songs to contradict Enugu Governor’s popular slogan that “Enugu is the hands of God,” but rather “In the hands of herdsmen.” They blamed government for the rising insecurity in the state.
Rising to the situation, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had summoned an emergency Security Council meeting the same day, where the decision to implement Forest Guards was taken, as well as engage the services of drones for security surveillance and joint security operations.
To give impetus to the Forest Guards initiative, the Governor ordered immediate employment of 1, 700 persons as members of the Guard and promised to overhaul the Neighbourhood Watch structure and law in the state.
The idea is to assign 100 members to each council in the state as “Forest Guards to work with the 5, 240 Neighbourhood watch personnel, already working in the state.The government also plans to send an anti-kidnapping bill to the State House of Assembly for review and passage to improve security in the state.
There are, however, opinions that sending a new anti-kidnapping bill to the House of Assembly was not the solution, but the effective implementation of the existing one that prescribed death sentence.In Abia State, the state government appears to be working out a more acceptable template, especially with the convoluted atmosphere that had always pitched the residents against security forces.
The Secretary to the State government, Chris Ezem, told The Guardian that government was desirous of protecting the people and ensuring peace. The Commissioner for Information in Anambra State, Mr. Don Adinuba, hinted that the state had maintained a robust and efficient security system, thereby effectively checking upsurge in crimes.
He maintained that had Anambra security system been replicated in the zone, it would have reduced crimes to the barest minimum.He said: “With due respect to what other states are doing, Anambra State security remains the best, and if other states had done what we are doing, the insecurity being experienced will not be of this magnitude.
“For instance, Enugu and other states are talking of using drones. We were the first to use drones, but when we realised that a drone does not last up to one hour on air, we started using helicopter, which lasts longer for up to four hours, and there are things it can detect, which a drone cannot.
“There is a committee in place called the Cattle Menace Committee. It is headed by the Commissioner of Police. The traditional rulers, leaders of the herders and government officials are members. The farmers and herders in Anambra are so integrated that they do joint business. And once you enter Anambra as a herder, you go and register. We have sanction for anyone who kills cow and likewise for anyone who uses his cow to destroy crops belonging to another person.”
He stated that, though there was need for joint security operations to check rising crimes in the zone, government would continue to research into best practices that could enhance security of life and property in the state.Osmond Ugwu, a Labour leader, said the idea of Forest Guards was not new, as they were basically meant to protect deforestation.
Ugwu insisted it was unnecessary to begin to announce the strategies intended to be employed to solve security challenges in the zone, stressing that efforts should be geared towards ensuring the problem did not get messier.He said: “Some of these governors have always lied on what they are doing to protect the people. Now that we are faced with the reality, we shall see how far they can go in handling the situation.
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