Renewed insecurity, killings threaten guber poll in Imo
Weeks to the November 11 off-season governorship election in Imo State, renewed violence, killings and threats are not only disrupting governance and displacing residents, they are also stalling political campaigns and exercise of democratic rights, LAWRENCE NJOKU reports.
Tuesday September 19, 2023, Imo State was awoken by another ugly encounter in the sleepy Umualumaku community, Ehime Mbano Council, as gunmen laid siege on security operatives comprising soldiers, police, and Civil Defence Corps.
It was gathered that none of the members of the Joint Task Force, who were in two Hilux vans survived the attack, as they were set ablaze in the patrol vehicles by their attackers.
When the attackers left, security officials suspected to be soldiers invaded the community the next day and set on fire several houses and businesses in what was described by many as a reprisal attack; a development that made many to flee the community and now live as refugees in other parts of the state.
However, while the soldiers were busy demolishing shops, houses and displacing the residents of Umualumaku, members of the Biafran Revolution Army, which claimed responsibility for the attack were celebrating their successful onslaught against security operatives, warning soldiers to leave the “innocent people of Umualumaku alone.”
The group, in a video, which was recorded in Igbo language that went viral, vowed to undertake more attacks, and ensure no election is held in Imo State on November 11 or any other part of “Biafra land.”
They warned the rest of the governors in the Southeast region to withdraw “Nigerian security officials mounting security check points on Biafra land.
“We don’t want to see them. They don’t belong here. They are part of the problem of the Biafra people. We are not joking about our mission”, they said.
It is not clear what prompted the brutal attack on the security officials on joint patrol at Umualumaku. But on September 2, the self proclaimed Prime Minister of Biafra Republic Government in exile, Simon Ekpa, announced the commencement of what he described as “delegitimisation of the Nigerian government within Biafra Territory.”
He had ordered the continuation of the Monday sit-at-home, asked for the release of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu before September 15 and dismantling of all roadblocks in the Southeast region.
He stated further that failure to adhere to the request would result in another three weeks civil disobedience with a curfew, beginning from September 18 as normal Monday sit-at-home and six hours curfew from September 19 to 22 for the first week, second week and third week subsequently until October 6.
He added that during the period “every Nigeria government Secretariat in Biafra territory must be shut down in all states.”
Investigations by The Guardian, however, showed that the order had taken effect in several communities in Imo State.
Those who felt that it was merely an empty threat were forced to obey after the successful attack by the group that claimed lives of security officials in Umualumaku.
The attack on security patrol at Umualumaku was not the first time masked gunmen were attacking security operatives or even unarmed members of communities in the state.
In July 2022, there was uproar in the state over the killing of 14 youths reportedly returning from a wedding to their community in Otulu, Oru East Local Council of the state from Awo-Omamma in the neighbouring Oru West Council, by members of Ebube Agu security operatives, who opened fire on them.
In May this year, some gunmen killed two police officers at Okpala junction in Ulakwo in Ngor Okpala council.
The attack comes exactly one month after gunmen killed five police officers and a couple at the same location in the council area.
Same month, the traditional ruler of Orsu Obodo community, Oguta, Eze Victor Ijeoma was accosted at Umuamaka junction in the neighbouring Izombe town and killed.
Those who killed him set his corpse on fire. In June this year, indigenes of Amakpurudere, Izombe community, Oguta Council had accused security operatives of murdering five persons and razing more than 170 buildings in two weeks.
In July, the traditional ruler of Nguru community in Abor Mbaise Local Council, Eze James Nnamdi, was shot and killed in his palace. His killers were said to have stormed his palace where he was receiving some guests in the afternoon and snuff life out of him.
Last month, some gunmen invaded the palace of Eze Kanu Ekenoku of NdiaIchie Aroundizuogu, Ideato North Council and set ablaze his palace and vehicles parked in the compound, while injuring some of his subjects. They could have killed the monarch had he been around.
Few days before the incident, no fewer than three other persons from the Orlu zone of the state had their homes torched by arsonists. They include, a monarch, a traditional ruler-elect and an ex-House of Representatives member for Orlu/Orsu/Oru Federal constituency, Jerry Alagboso. He was said to have suffered the attack a few days after he left the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.
Already, the spate of violence and killings in the state has started taking their toll on the coming election with candidates postponing their campaigns while many who would have loved to participate in the process had either fled or been killed.
Information released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in January this year, said the state has about 2.4 million registered voters for the 2023 general elections.
However, when she addressed the public last week, State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Sylvia Agu, stated that there were over 134,000 uncollected Permanent Voters Card (PVC) in the 27 council-offices in the state.
While appealing to residents to visit the council headquarters and collect their PVC to enable them vote in the election, she, however, disclosed that the people of Orsu should collect theirs at the state office owing to security challenge in the area.
During the last general elections, it was alleged that voting did not hold in some councils of the state especially at the state House of Assembly election; a development that is currently the crux of the petitions at the State Election Petition Tribunal following the declaration that All Progressives Party (APC) candidates won the election.
National Vice Chairman (Southeast), Labour Party, Chief Innocent Okeke had while lamenting the insecurity in the state and in the coming election, stated that it was imperative that the native inhabitants who have been forced to flee the state for the past four years be allowed to return.
Okeke stated that the purpose of governance becomes futile if the lives of both the governed and the security agencies are not ensured as the case in Imo State.
He regretted that the state had descended into a state of lawlessness and total anarchy where individuals are uncertain about their safety in another thirty minutes without nursing the fears of death.
The party also condemned the subsequent acts of violence and destruction allegedly perpetrated by individuals suspected to be soldiers in the Umualumaku community.
“I respectfully urge the current government of Imo State to prioritise the restoration of confidence among its citizens in the realm of security. The government must equally embrace criticism and ideas from people. The habit of accusing opposition parties in Imo as being responsible for insecurity in the state is pedestrian and must discontinue,” he said.
On Saturday, September 24, apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo had expressed worry with the killings and bloodbath in the state.
President General of the organisation, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, lamented the amount of blood being wasted daily stressing that he would dedicate the greater part of this year to addressing “infighting and disagreement among the political class in Imo to engender development.”
Incumbent Governor, Hope Uzodimma of the APC; his opponents, Athan Achonu of the LP; Sam Anyanwu of the PDP, among others, have decried the rising insecurity in the state, even as they have continued to appeal to those behind it to have a rethink.
A university lecturer, Dr Odiegwu Obinwa, has expressed worry that with current development in the state, it would be difficult for the right candidate to emerge from the November 11 governorship election.
Fielding questions from The Guardian, the don said,“INEC has already told us that over 134,000 PVC have not been collected. What this means is that this number is already out of the election. There are many others who have collected their cards, but may not participate on that day either as a result of fear of attack or they may have left the state. That means that the election may not witness a large turnout of residents.
“It will be worse in the communities, especially the ones that have witnessed killings and attacks either by the security officials or the non-state actors. Nobody wants to lose his life because he wants to participate in an election.
“ So, I think the best the government could do at the moment is to restore confidence in the electorate if they want them to participate in the election, otherwise, only a few will elect the next governor of the state”, he reasoned.
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