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Ubah: Fears, tension over insecurity in Southeast

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
17 September 2022   |   4:05 am
There are feelings of unease in the southeast region of the country. Fear, worries and uncertainties, which had for some time now become the hallmark of the region, have exacerbated.

Ubah

There are feelings of unease in the southeast region of the country. Fear, worries and uncertainties, which had for some time now become the hallmark of the region, have exacerbated. No thanks to last Sunday’s attack on the convoy of the senator representing Anambra South Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Dr Ifeanyi Ubah that left many casualties.

The attack, which occurred at about 5.00pm, in Enugu Ukwu, Njikoka Local Council of the state claimed lives of security officials attached to the senator, as well as his aides. The attackers were said to have ambushed the convoy and continued to pummel it with bullets until they were sure that nobody was in sight any longer. They were said to have moved in and allegedly collected the arms of those they killed.

When normalcy returned, blood of those hit by the bullets were seen freely flowing on the tarred Enugu-Onitsha Old Rroad, with several shattered vehicles. Residents who were able to get to the scene of the attack early enough had expressed bewilderment at the superior firing powers of the hoodlums that shattered the quietude of the sprawling area. They had feared the bravery in confronting a convoy of such nature fitted with several security officials and yet made a breakthrough.

But Ubah had miraculously escaped. His Media Assistant, Kameh Ogbonna, had later confirmed that the Senator escaped the bullets of the assassins, adding, however, that some security men in the convoy were killed. 

“If not for the Bullet Proof SUV the Senator was riding in, he would have been dead by now. This is an attempt on the life Senator Representing Anambra South Senatorial District Dr Patrick Ifeanyi Ubah.

“We were passing Enugwu Ukwu junction when they hit us front and back from all sides and as I speak, one of the Special Assistants to the senator is dead and about seven security operatives were hit by the assassins bullets and they may have died”, he said.

The Police in the state later corroborated his story. Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Toochukwu Ikenga had in his initial reaction, however, failed to confirm the number of casualties from the sad incident.

Meanwhile, since the act was committed last week, no arrest whatsoever has been made by security agencies. While reasons for the attack, which has been branded as ‘assassination attempt” remained unknown as at press time, fear and tension have become the order of the day in the zone. This is because the incident has introduced another chapter in the ongoing insecurity in the region. Those who weigh the development ponder that these criminals may now be targeting high profile people.
 
Since last year, the quietude of the southeastern region had come under serious challenge, as gunmen have continued to attack the area. From what started as attacks on security facilities, the incident graduated to kidnapping for ransom and now certain targets. Aside from the attacks, the region has reeled in weekly Monday sit- at-home imposed on it by leaders of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) since August last year.

The Monday weekly sit at home, which has been accepted as a way of life by people of the region is further accentuated by a total lock down on activities in the zone anyway the leader of the IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was appearing in court as a mark of “solidarity”.

Part of what the current insecurity has created in the region is the anguish and poverty it has inflicted on the people daily, as there is no free movement of residents, goods and services over fear of hoodlums who ravage the zone with dangerous weapons. On several occasions, many have been waylaid, raped or killed even in their farms, while several other unfortunate travelers were abducted and set free after being made to pay huge sums as ransom.

Residents no longer travel anyhow unless it is of extreme importance. Posh cars are rarely seen on the highways, as they have become prime targets. From Enugu to Ebonyi; Abia to Imo and Anambra states, the situation is similar – insecurity has enveloped the region. It is now strange for a day to pass without stories of killing or kidnap.

Night life is gradually fading away. Businesses are shutting down due to a combination of insecurity and high costs. Businesses now operate and close at the latest 8.00pm for fear of attacks. Inside the city centres, are security patrols. The highways are littered with security checkpoints; yet rather than improve, the situation has continued to deteriorate.

In some communities, people are now forced to pay some criminals gangs if they must hold their events among others. These infractions are making life unbearable for the people of the region, as many can no longer feed due to extreme poverty and lack of paid employment.

It was apparently in response to these negative virtues that Anambra State governor, Prof Charles Soludo, on assumption of office in March 17 this year, offered amnesty to those perpetrating crimes in the state to down their weapons, promising to rehabilitate them for the benefit of the state.

Soludo who during his inaugural speech decried the huge revenue losses the region incurred every Monday that sitting at home was observed had promised to take deliberate steps to restore peace to the peace and in the long run the southeast region.
However, no sooner had he summoned a meeting of concerned unions in the state than the gunshots increased, returning the area to the status of a state under siege. The “unknown gunmen” became more daring as they increased their attacks on local governments in the state.
 
Days after, the member representing Aguata 11 State Constituency, Okechukwu Okoye was kidnapped alongside his driver. Okoye’s head was later found dumped inside a carton without other parts of his body. In Imo state, it is almost strange to hear about any passing day without a story of killing or kidnap.

Apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo insists that growing insecurity in the region is worrisome, even as it blames the development on the inability of the governors of the region to implement the Ebubeagu security component.

Ohanaeze, which lamented the alienation of the southeast region from the security architecture of the country by President Muhammadu Buhari, added that the April 13, 2021 attack on the Correctional Centre, Owerri, Imo State, where 1,844 inmates were set free, has continued to compound the security of the region.

Ohanaeze’s National Publicity Secretary, Dr Alex Ogbonnia told The Guardian: “ At the onset of the George Obiozor led Ohanaeze Ndigbo, we initiated what we call Ebubeagu due to the crime in the southeast and that was on the believe that the government will have that consciousness to embrace and domesticate it in all the communities and villages. What we were thinking about was supposed to have a central command structure of security architecture within the southeast of Nigeria. Why we came up with that was because federalism is supposed to have some level of security outfit. To believe that the federal security outfit was enough to cover the entire area is erroneous. We felt that we should be able to compliment federal security by having our own southeast security outfit. Unfortunately, it did not work out. Not all the governors keyed into the programme, even those that keyed in had a lot of stories following them due to wrong motives.

“So, for us, it is entirely difficult to know what to do next, because Ohanaeze is very persuasive and we are coercive. We can only persuade the governors in the southeast who are the chief security officers and they know the extent they comply”

“But we cannot continue to fold our arms,” he said, adding, “That is why we have called on the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to intensify efforts on the security architecture of this country. Ohanaeze had condemned the alienation of the southeast from the security architecture of this country. If you look at the service chiefs of the country, they are from almost the same ethnic group. When competence is no longer the issue in appointing people in authority, especially that of security, it becomes a problem. So, what has really happened is where security has been politicised such that track records of accomplishments are no longer things to reckon with, rather we use religion and ethnicity and that is why security has collapsed in this country. It is very unfortunate and painful the way insecurity is escalating in the southeast.

“All these things started by 13th April last year, when the Correctional Centre at Owerri was attacked and the prisoners let loose. Before then, the southeast was a secure part of the country, but since then, all manner of things have been going on. It is unknown gunmen, Fulani herdsmen, and criminals of any kind. Killing used to be rare in our area, but today, it is an entirely different ball game. It is unfortunate.

“I had the opportunity to go through Enugu-Port Harcourt express road recently and before I came into Enugu, I passed about 15 check points. These are measures. Before, we used to complain about these numerous checkpoints, but the way it is now, nobody should complain. But beyond that, we still call on the federal and state governments to intensify efforts at improving security to protect our people. The business of government at any level is to protect lives and property and when protection of lives and property are no longer guaranteed, it becomes questionable why the government is there”.

He, however, ruled out notions that the increasing insecurity could be a ploy to ensure that eligible voters in the zone do not participate in the 2023 general elections, stressing that insecurity is ravaging the entire country.

Speaking on the economic implication of the recent onslaught in the zone, a Development Expert, Dr Chiwuike Uba stated that the economy of the zone was on auto decline, stressing that there was a huge decline in its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) as well as productivity due to insecurity.

“Personally and based on available evidence, we are suffering economically. One of the ways you can check it is that when you look at southeast Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) compared to other regions and from where we are coming from, you will see that the southeast IGR is already on auto decline, which is as a function of the inability of the people here to do business anymore. If we can’t do business in the southeast, what it means is that the economy of the region keeps drying up; there won’t make money; no parties; no workshops in the region.”

“The other component is agricultural productivity. If you look at the last inflation figures released last month, you will discover that even in Ebonyi State that is supposed to be the food basket of the region, prices of goods there is one of the highest in the country and shows that the supply of food items in those areas have diminished, which is as a result of insecurity and that has implication on poverty rate that is rising in the southeast. When you cannot work, you cannot produce and people will begin to suffer. You find out now that even Ndi Igbo are doing traditional marriages in Abuja, Lagos and other areas, which was not the case before now. You know in the past, when some of these things happen in the southeast, people bring in a lot of money, those things are no longer happening due to insecurity”, Uba said

On how the development could impact the zone should these attackers target prominent people in the region, the Economist said: “It means that these big individuals will run away from southeast. I have been complaining that southeast is the only region in the country where its elites are living outside the zone and it is because of this fear of insecurity and given a situation whereby the insecurity is increasing daily, you will find out that, even the ones that are coming may decide not to be coming to the southeast again. This has an implication, because when these guys are around, they spend huge and people benefit from those things and businesses thrive. So, if they begin to run away, what it means is that some of the existing businesses will be moved out of the southeast and that have grave economic implication of the zone.”

On what should be done, Uba said there was need for reorientation among the youths: “Overtime, as a people, we have begun to celebrate riches irrespective of where such riches come from and that is why we are having kidnapping involving our people. Whether we like it or not, Igbos are part of the kidnapping ring in the southeast. We need to have a reorientation where we begin to place little emphasis on money and place more emphasis on productivity over get rich quick syndrome.

“We need to practice community policing, a policing that will ensure that in any locality, you have at least 75 per cent of the indigenes of those areas as security workforce then you can have others. When you have that, it will be difficult for outsiders to penetrate to do the kind of thing we are seeing now.

“It is also important that we begin to punish disobedience, because people are using money to do all manner of things. People do things and the law will not take its course. The judiciary should be strengthened to be able to enforce laws. We have enough laws, but our problem is that we do not enforce the laws. The way our judiciary functions, it is important that we take a look at that from our recruitment process, as you can see that the recruitment of judges is more tilted towards political consideration.

“Our youths and younger ones need to understand implication of some vices they are getting themselves involved”

National President, International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISFPAHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu said the failure of governance has seriously thrown up security challenges, stressing that increasing poverty and lack of paid employment have fuelled contentions.

“Government needs to engage the people, provide jobs and improve governance and the economy. There is so much corruption in the system and that is why there is this increase in insecurity. We have failed to address the fundamentals; what is happening today did not just start now. We have had situations where people in the name of cattle rearing were busy killing and raping people and in the process eaten up crops in the farms and government did nothing. When IPOB rose against those people, the government fought back and that is the result of what you are seeing now. So, we need a responsible government,” he said.

For President, Cultural Credibility Development Initiative (CCDI), Chief Goddy Uwazurike, failure of the intelligence system by security forces has given rise to insecurity. He stated that those who attacked the convoy of Ubah must be located within the area, urging security operatives to live to their expectations.

He said: “The menace of criminal gangs has increased such that if you have a nice car, you become a target. Now that a public figure has been attacked, it becomes big news and we are calling on the government to step in. The Anambra state government has removed the masks on those people.

“It is a failure of the intelligence system for the security forces to fold their arms and continue to watch. A good intelligence system will tell you where these people are. Those criminals are human beings and they leave marks wherever they strike. Those who attacked that convoy have their den around there. It is something the intelligence system will analyse and step on it. To continue to wait for a report is a failure.”

He, however, added that as 2023 general elections approached, there was the tendency for politicians to employ all manner of things to outdo their opponents including creating insecurity, stressing that the security forces must rise to the occasion.