Inside story of arson, killings as unknown gunmen terrorise Southeast
It would appear that the peculiar security situation in the Southeast region of the country is not abating. Almost on a daily basis, the zone records cases of arson on security facilities and the killing of security operatives. Snuffing precious life out of innocent residents has also become a common thing.
Consequently, there is no security official anywhere to protect anybody. The officials themselves are not safe! They appear to have been cowed to submission. They now go to work on mufti and hole themselves in their stations until the close of duty.
So, the unknown gunmen are operating undeterred. They set public institutions on fire; they seize arms and ammunition belonging to security officials and kill them in the process. Nowhere is safe in Igboland now. From Enugu to Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, and Abia state, residents now live and move about in great fear.
After what was described as the highest onslaught on security facilities in the zone on April 5, this year, when the unknown gunmen attacked both the headquarters of the Imo State Police Command and the Correctional Service Centre in Owerri, governors, and leaders of the zone, in what looked like a frantic search for solutions, had met in Owerri on April 11 and floated the Ebube Agu regional security outfit. Ebube Agu, which has its headquarters in Enugu, is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the activities of vigilante groups in the Southeast and checkmating rising unrest in the region.
In attendance at the meeting were Governors Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State; Willie Obiano of Anambra State; Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State; Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and the host governor, Hope Uzodimma.
Also in attendance were the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor and top security chiefs in the zone.
At the end of the meeting, the governors issued a communiqué, where they strongly and unequivocally condemned terrorism and banditry in any part of Nigeria, particularly in the Southeast zone, and announced the setting up of Ebube Agu.
Surge In Attacks After Birth Of Ebube Agu
Many observers had believed that though Ebube Agu was hurriedly put together, it would provide answers to the nagging security issues in the zone, especially those created by the unknown gunmen. However, since the Ebube Agu security outfit was birthed, the attacks on the zone have quadrupled to an alarming level. The unknown gunmen seem to have been emboldened by the creation of the security outfit.
In the last couple of days, several police establishments have been attacked and set ablaze. In fact, residents had barely digested the outcome of the Owerri meeting by the governors and other Igbo leaders when the unknown gunmen struck again on April 12. In the attack that took place at Otuebu and Obodo Ocha villages in Ohaukwu local council of Ebonyi State, six persons were reportedly killed while several others sustained serious injuries.
The attackers, who were said to have invaded the communities at 4.00 am, razed many houses, yam barns, farm produce, and vehicles, forcing many residents to desert their homes.
Inquires made in the affected communities indicated that some of the residents who deserted homes while the attack was raging were yet to return, even as normalcy was yet to take firm root in the communities.
Two days after, the gunmen struck again. This time, the attack was on operatives of the Safer Highway Patrol team at Nwezenyi junction in Izzi local council of Ebonyi State. The bandits killed three members of the team.
The state Police Public Relations Officer, Mrs. Loveth Odah, who confirmed the incident, stated that the assailants, who were in convoy, disguised as mourners and when flagged down at the checkpoint, opened fire on the officers before setting their vehicle ablaze.
Also on April 19, there were twin attacks on police divisions in Abia and Anambra states. A divisional police station in Uzuakoli, Bende local council of Abia State was razed in the early hours of that day.
It was gathered that the armed group attacked the police station around 2.00 am and freed suspects in police custody before setting the station ablaze. The attack in Anambra, which happened about the same time, was on the Zone 13 Police headquarters in Ukpo, Dunukofia local council of the state.
Spokesman of the Abia State Police Command, Geoffrey Ogbonna, had stated that the gunmen who razed the Uzuakoli police station used dynamite and rocket launchers, which frustrated the efforts of the policemen guarding the station to repel them.
The police in Anambra confirmed that two police officers were killed during the attack on Zone 13 while some vehicles parked on the premises were set on fire.
Also, last Monday, tension grew in Igbariam community in Oyi local council of the state when yet-to-be-identified hoodlums killed about 19 persons.
It was gathered that the hoodlums invaded a building in the community around 2.00 am and allegedly killed 12 women, seven men, and an undisclosed number of cows.
The police have confirmed the incident but said that only nine persons were killed in the attack, even as the Chairman of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) in the Southeast, Alhaji Gidado Sidikki, claimed that all those killed were Fulani.
Residents in the area have been so agitated by the development that a good number of them were said to have vacated their homes apparently in fear of reprisal. The police, on the other hand, have deployed their operatives to the area to check the further rise in hostilities.
The state government in reaction to the incident imposed a curfew on Igbariam, Aguleri, Umeri, Nteje, Awkuzu and Umunya from 7.00 pm to 6.00 am daily.
The incident was closely followed by the burning of the palace of the traditional ruler of Ifitedunu, in Dunukofia local council, Dr. Emeka Ilouno. The arson caused some damage to the monarch’s property, including his official vehicle while two persons sustained injuries and were still receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital.
The monarch attributed the attack to “men of sudden wealth” living in the community, even as the police said it had commenced investigation into it.
On April 21, it was the turn of Enugu State. A Police Division at Adani in Uzo-Uwani local council was attacked in the early hours of that day at about 2.30 am. The gunmen, during a gun duel, killed two police officers and freed inmates in the cell before setting the station on fire.
Police Public Relations Officer in Enugu State, Daniel Ndukwe, who confirmed the incident, insisted that the station was attacked unprovoked, assuring that efforts had commenced arresting those responsible.
It was gathered that residents in the area live in fear since the incident. One Uchenna Onyeji told The Guardian that the people were afraid because they were in the dark over the next move of those behind the attack.
“They looted the armory before setting the station on fire. They killed some policemen and fled. We are living in fear because this is the only police station in this area. We don’t know their next move,” he stated.
Uzouwani is a border town with Anambra and Kogi states. In the past, attackers of the agrarian council had escaped through the boundaries.
Gunmen had also in the early hours of Tuesday, April 27, attacked the Federal High Court, Abakaliki, burning some sections of the building, including the library and security post.
The police confirmed that the hoodlums came in a large number and set a section of the court ablaze, noting that the intervention of firefighters saved the situation but security guards on duty sustained injuries.
How Ikonso’s Killing turned Imo Into Near-War Zone
While police commands in the state were putting heads together on how to checkmate further attacks, last Saturday’s killing of the Vice President of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and Commander of Eastern Security Network (ESN), popularly known as Ikonso, in a joint security operation comprising soldiers, policemen and Department of Security Service (DSS) has turned Imo State into a near-war zone.
The incident took place at about 4.00 am. Also killed were six other members of the group. On the part of the security operatives, a second lieutenant in the army and three policemen were also killed during an exchange of gunfire. According to military sources, a total of 10 persons lost their lives in the incident.
The same morning, suspecting that the governor of the state had a hand in the operation that led to Ikonso’s death, some persons suspected to be on a revenge mission stormed his ancestral home in Omuma, Oru East local council of the state about 9.00 am and attacked it. During the attack, a car said to be Rolls Royce owned and treasured by the governor, and a bus that looked like Coaster, parked in the premises, was razed.
The security house in the compound was also torched. A security officer said to be an operative of the Nigeria Civil Defence and Security Corps (NCDSC) was also killed during the incident. But the rampaging hoodlums, who came in vehicles loaded with used tyres and other weapons, were successfully repelled from further destroying the imposing property. On their way home, they were said to have killed a police sergeant and two other NSCDC operatives who were in their patrol vehicles at a nearby junction in Mgbidi.
The state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Orlando Ikeokwu, a Superintendent of Police (SP), had confirmed the attack and the killing of the four security personnel. He, however, denied knowledge of the killings of Ikonso, six ESN members, and four of the security operatives that went after them. Nevertheless, a total of 14 lives were lost that day.
Immediately after the attack on the governor’s home, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Declan Emelumba, had issued a statement saying the governor had directed the security agencies to expeditiously arrest the culprits and bring them to book.
But two days after the attack on Uzodimma’s home, gunmen attacked the Okigwe South Police Area Command headquarters in Orieagu, Ehime Mbano in Imo State. They allegedly killed five police officers and injured several others.
The bandits, who also made away with weapons, reportedly released suspects in custody in the police facility during the incident, which reportedly caused serious panic in the area with villagers escaping to surrounding bushes to hide.
A source was quoted as saying: “We started hearing gunshots around 7.00 pm and the gunshots became heavier around the Orieagu market. We thought it was the First Bank there that was being robbed until after the attack that we discovered that it was the Area Command. It was after about one hour later that some of us emerged from the bushes to check what happened and counted about six policemen lying in the pool of their own blood.”
Imo police spokesperson, Orlando Ikeokwu, who confirmed the attack when contacted, said: “I can confirm an attack on Okigwe South Area Command headquarters in Ehime Mbano local council by yet to be identified gunmen. Five officers have been killed while one is yet to be accounted for.”
Amid heightened attacks in the state, the military further increased its presence in the affected communities and Owerri, the capital city, especially at the Government House axis.
As a result, residents in the state cannot move about freely. In fact, some persons have lost their lives in the current situation in the capital city and environs. An instance was the case of Divine Nwaneri, a 24-year-old student of Soil Science and Biotechnology in the Faculty of Agriculture at the Imo State University (IMSU). Born on June 12, 1997, Nwaneri, a native of Umukam in Obollo community in the Isiala Mbano local council of the state, was reportedly felled in a hail of bullets released by a soldier guarding the Government House, Owerri, Imo State last Sunday while driving in a Lexus IS 250 car with number plate, Lagos KSF 407 GT, with her friends, around 10 pm.
Nwaneri, said to be a first-year student of the institution, was riding with a male passenger in their car when the soldier guarding the Government House shot them.
President of the institution’s Student Union Government, Arinze Oguike, had stated that the incident threw the entire IMSU community into sadness.
Meanwhile, vexed by Ikonso’s killing, the IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, in a statement, accused the governor of being behind the incident, adding that he had stirred the hornets’ nest. In another statement last Wednesday, IPOB renamed the Imo State Government House, Owerri, after the late Ikonso.
In the statement, Powerful said: “We the global family of the IPOB and Biafrans worldwide ably led by our great and indomitable leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, wish to announce to the world our unanimous decision to rename the Imo State Government House, Douglas Road Owerri, and Awomamma Junction after the late heroic Commander of the ESN Ikonso, murdered in cold blood by cowardly Nigeria security operatives.
“The affected places will henceforth be called Ikonso Government House, Ikonso Way, and Ikonso Junction respectively. This is with immediate effect and compliance is required of all ministries and parastatals beginning from today, April 28, 2021.
“This decision is one of the ways IPOB members and Biafrans all over the world have agreed to immortalise the name of our brave Ikonso and other fallen heroes with him.”
Amid the rising tension in the state, many fleeing residents in the affected Imo communities have called for the restoration of normalcy so they could return to their homes and continue with their businesses.
According to one of them, who identified himself as Damian, members of his household have been living like refugees since the problem started.
His words: “We have been made to face a very precarious situation. This is like a war situation. We don’t like this. Look at how the military has occupied our communities in Awomama, arresting and punishing people. We are living in fear. Gunshots everywhere. My family and I have relocated to our neighbouring area in Orlu. You know what it means to a surgeon with others. No freedom. Please let our governor resolve this matter.”
Another resident, Ngozi, a mother of five, who fled from Omuma community, said she and her children were mentally tortured by the problem.
“Our area had been peaceful before this abnormal situation. Now we have run for our dear lives to another community. We cannot go to our farms to get food. Feeding is difficult with these children. I am calling for normalcy,” she said.
A civil servant who hails from Awomama but resides in Owerri also expressed worry over the safety of her mother in the village.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she said: “My worry is where my mother is. I do not know how to move across where the soldiers are. I want to go and take my mother to a safe place. We are being made to suffer in this situation. We are calling for help and an end to this problem.”
Many residents suggested that the governor should convene a security summit where persons across party lines, including former governors of the state, would proffer solutions to the security problems. But as at the time of filing this report, the governor was still in Abuja.
The Person, Ikonso
Popularly known as Ikonso Don, findings showed that the real name of the deceased commander of the IPOB’s ESN was Andy Nwaokike. He was a staunch supporter of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Born in December 1985, he was married with three children even as his mother was still alive.
A source said he hailed from Awomama in Oru East local council, stressing that it was for “this simple reason that the headquarters of the ESN is situated in Orlu, Imo state.”
“He hailed from Oru East local council, the same local council with Governor Hope Uzodimma. He was a known youth leader and one of the boys Uzodimma used in every election he contested in Orlu Senatorial Zone,” the source added.
A member of the group, Ogbonna Uzo, told The Guardian that the death of Ikonso was devastating stressing that, “he was a mobiliser.”
“On several occasions that we held rallies in Owerri and some other places, he will always lead and does not fear anybody. He was a firm believer in the struggle for the realisation of Biafra. He was a trusted follower of our great leader, Nnamdi Kanu, and gave his life to the struggle. If he had done any other job in his life other than the struggle for Biafra, I do not know. He was someone that we counted on seriously and now, they have ended his life,” he said.
Reminded that he was accused of being the mastermind of the attacks on police stations in the Southeast region, he retorted: “They gave him the bad name to hang him. We don’t carry arms; they are the ones that carry arms. We are people who have vowed to resist this slavery being imposed on us by the Fulani-led government. Our resolve is to protect our people. That is all. Killing Ikonso and his followers though painful will not deter us. I only pity our leaders who are being used to clamp down on our activities. They should know that it is their turn today but not forever. Those who killed Ikonso may be feeling that they would have peace. I tell you that rather, their trouble has just started. We know them and we shall repay them at the due time.”
Yet Another Meeting Of Governors
Apparently worried by the continued decimation of the zone, Southeast governors and leaders again met in Enugu last Sunday, as part of efforts to tackle the growing insecurity. The meeting was attended by Governors Umahi (Ebonyi); Ikpeazu (Abia), Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Imo State Deputy Governor, Prof. Placcid Njoku, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Obiozor, some federal ministers, and religious leaders.
After the meeting, which lasted over four hours, the leaders restated the need for restructuring of the country to tackle rising insecurity, even as they asked the state Houses of Assembly in the zone to amend existing state laws to accommodate the new security outfit, Ebube Agu. They also restated the ban on open grazing and called on security agencies in the zone and local vigilante groups to enforce the order in all states of the region as a way of improving security.
As it is, the Ebube Agu regional security outfit is yet to take off, as its personnel, funding, and operational guidelines, among others, are still in the works. Governor Umahi, however, last Wednesday unveiled some young men at the Ebonyi State Government House as members of the Ebube Agu regional security outfit. The young men were seen dressed in full uniforms with an emblem of a tiger. They were however not armed.
Nonetheless, it does not seem that the police and other security agencies have found the right rhythm for the ongoing onslaught on the zone. The actions of the security agencies have been more reactionary than proactive. Currently, most businesses close once it is 6.00 pm even as many people are finding it difficult to travel around in the zone due to escalating insecurity.
Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, Convener of the New Nigeria Group (NNG), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, stated that convening a national conference of all ethnic nationalities was necessary to proffer solutions to insecurity in the country.
He added that it would be a misnomer to think that the Southeast region could be secured when the rest of the country was lacking security, stressing that “the issue must be holistically addressed.”
He said: “There is a short way to it. I have said that what is happening in our country is not normal but it is not a problem we are going to solve by getting more police or getting more army. This is because when we didn’t have up to 50,000 policemen, the country was safe. So what changed?
“The significant thing is that there are things deeper than what we can see. It calls for the convocation of leaders of Nigeria from every ethnic nationality. They should bring them together to discuss some contentious issues. There is no way that if the people of Southeast understand that Nigeria is ready to listen to their issues, likewise the North and South-west, they would go home and try and hold their people together even if they are miscreants.
“But if we say that the only way to solve our problems is by buying more arms and employing more policemen, then we are not yet ready. The more security personnel you recruit the more problem you have. We have changed the Inspector General of Police (IGP); we have changed Service Chiefs; we have bought more equipment for the army and we are still nowhere near to solving the problem.
“So, while I am for enforcing the law, punishing criminals, what I know is that what we are facing is not a normal thing. I think there is something much deeper than we can find and the solution is to call the elders of the country to talk on how to solve the problems.”
He said that should the level of insecurity continue, it would be difficult to hold the next general election, adding that there was a need to stem the tide before it was too late.
Ohuabunwa’s views were not different from those of the National President for International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (ISPHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu, who noted that the way the attacks had gone so far was indicative the “those behind it are interested in mopping up arms within the zone before unleashing their real motives.”
He stated that security operatives must scale up intelligence to tackle the trend, adding that it was worrisome that no arrests had been made on the attacks that had lasted for over two months in the region.
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