Southeast has remained relatively peaceful with low crime rate
Before now, the Southeast witnessed the Operation Python Dance I that had its base in Onitsha, Anambra State, following the wide scale kidnappings, armed robberies and other crimes in the zone, especially in Anambra and the rampant disruption of economic and social activities by Biafra agitators.
Although, the military operation improved security in the zone with the reduction in crimes among others, there was, however, uproar when the military authorities announced its readiness to commence the second round of Operation Python Dance in the zone with their base in Umuahia last month.
The exercise, which it stated would last for one month, was in continuation of its efforts to ride the zone of miscreants and other elements that have made life unbearable for the people, adding that it would checkmate herdsmen/farmers clashes as well as violent secessionist agitations.
The development attracted condemnations from the residents, who not only queried the motive on the grounds that the zone was the least in crime record going by police recent report and the fact that there were other sections of the country with greater security challenges. There were fears that it was targeted at quelling Biafran groups agitations.
What looked like a confirmation of the fears manifested two days to the official commencement of the exercise, when soldiers said to be on a show of force in Umuahia and its environs clashed with members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which resulted to casualties. Another clash with members of the group who had mobilised from various parts of the zone to the Afaraukwu home of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu followed.
That apparently was the height of the exercise as violent demonstrations spread from Umuahia to Aba and neighbouring Oyigbo in Rivers State. Journalists, who were on their official duties also shared in the bitter lesson of the exercise as soldiers invaded the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat in Umuahia, destroyed gadgets and assaulted several of them in the guise that they were taking pictures of the alleged brutality of civilians.
Several persons were either killed or arrested and property worth millions of Naira, including a police station was destroyed. Businesses were closed down and residents fled their homes. Schools that were billed to resume for another academic year were shifted, among other civil disorders.
Consequently, the Abia State government in a bid to contain the spread of violence imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Aba. As the uncertainties spread, bewildered governors of the zone summoned an emergency meeting of southeast leaders, where a resolution was reached to proscribe the activities of the IPOB and threatened to deal ruthlessly with anyone found supporting IPOB and its cause.
They also asked proponents of Biafra agitations to channel whatever grievances they had through them, assuring that it would be discussed and forwarded to the presidency for necessary action. Indeed, the action of the governors and Igbo leaders, many said, restored clam and perhaps allowed the Army to settle down to the objectives for which the Operation Python Dance11 was conceived.
Since the conclusion of the exercise on Sunday, October 15, the Southeast has remained relatively peaceful with low crime rate. Even as the secession threats and other activities that were the order of the day have drastically reduced.
Speaking on the development, a lawyer, Joseph Ugwu, said: “Though it was tough when the exercise began, I am happy that it has been able to check the rising agitation by the Biafra apologists. The truth is that I can now freely express myself on issues than before, where every young man, including criminals will harass you for holding a different view in the guise of Biafra.
“They were openly waving Biafra flags and several other materials and it was almost a taboo for anyone to walk on the streets without Biafra materials. I know too well that young boys will mount certain location to sell these things and even cajole you when you tell them that it was not a way to about agitation. Now we cannot see them anymore. Those making fortunes from sewing Biafra materials are no more, people can move freely.
He continued: “I was among those who got agitated by the kind of comments coming from Nnamdi Kanu. How he was harassing and abusing everybody and praising himself as the only knowledgeable person in the country. Those things are now in the past and our young men who were hoodwinked into the project should now look for what to do to make a living since it is proven that there is no road to Biafra.”
Ugwu further explained that what worried most residents was the building of a secret security service at Afaraukwu Ibeku in Umuahia, that allegedly conducts a guard of honour to be inspected by Kanu daily, stressing that such secret service was a time bomb waiting to explode if it had been allowed to continue”.
Some major roads in the zone that witnessed large turnout of young men and women on daily basis, who plot on how to ensure the success of the agitations do not witness such turnout anymore. Those left behind have now changed the subject matter to rumours of Kanu’s whereabouts.An Aba-based businessman, Uchenna Ugorji said that calm and normalcy has returned to the commercial city, stressing that schools have resumed. He, however, stressed that the scare caused by the exercise, especially on residents who either lost loved ones or businesses was still very glaring.
He added that businesses were gradually picking up as those who fled in the wake of the disturbance are returning and picking their pieces together to continue with life here or relocate to new places. Although, the meeting of the southeast governors is yet to convoke again, what is certain is that with the way things are at the moment, their proscription of IPOB which has heavily been criticised would remain at least for now.
The Army on the other hand has continued to count on the exercise as living up to expectation and has helped to stabilise and improve the security situation of the Southeast, aside the medical relief it has brought to thousands of residents.
Army Deputy Public Relations Officer, 82 Division, Enugu, Col Musa Sagir, said about 106 suspects were arrested for different offences in different parts of the Southeast and all were handed over to various police commands in the region.Giving a breakdown of the figure he said: “In Imo State, 86 suspects with exhibits recovered at the time of their arrest were handed over to the State Police Command at different times. In addition, 26 assorted arms and some quantity of cartridges were recovered in the state.
“In the same vein, in Sector 1, 14 Brigade jurisdictions (Abia State), 15 suspects involved in armed robbery, kidnapping two and drug six related cases were arrested and handed over to the police for further action.
Also, a total of 11 assorted arms; 1 AK 47 rifle, two Pump action guns, four locally made pistol, one serviceable pistol, two locally made single barrel guns and one locally made short barrel gun were recovered. Other recoveries in the state include 15 rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition and seven cartridges.
“Similarly, in Sector 6, 13 Brigade Area of Responsibility (Cross River State), criminals were denied freedom of action, no arrest was made and only one locally made gun and a rocket launcher were recovered.
‘While in Sector 3, – 82 Division Garrison Area of Responsibility (Enugu State), farmers-herdsmen clash was averted as reported in the previous update. Also, a suspect was arrested at the Abakpa Cantonment Main Gate on his way to enter the Cantonment with some quantity of substance suspected to be Indian hemp and many sachets of Tramadol drugs.
“In Sector 4, -302 Artillery General Support Regiment, Onitsha Anambra State, criminal elements appeared to have sneaked out of the state throughout the period of the exercise. This is without prejudice to the unfortunate but isolated killing of a Sun Newspaper Staff in Onitsha general area.“In Sector 5, 24 Engineer Support Regiment’s location in Ebonyi State, the emphasis was majorly on inter communal and farmers-herdsmen clashes, which were well checkmated during the exercise. In addition, five suspected Indian hemp hawkers and four persons were arrested in connection with communal crisis between Obubra and Abakaliki localities of Ebonyi and Cross River States.
He said the latter were, however, released by the regiment after interrogation, adding that a total of 10,446 persons excluding school pupils, benefited from the free medical outreach conducted by the Division in Isukwuato (Abia) 2005, Abakaliki (Ebonyi), 1401; Orji River (Enugu), 1985, Mbaise (Imo), 1875, Ozubulu (Anambra), 1205 and Obubra (Cross River) 1975
‘People Are Happy That The ‘Dance’ Has Ended’
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
Without a doubt, there were skirmishes and kidnapping of some persons in Imo State and the Police have been dealing with the cases to a certain extent. A Catholic priest, the late Cyriacus Onunkwo, was kidnapped at a popular Banana Junction, Amaifeke, in Orlu Local Council Area. He was driving to his hometown in Osina, Ideato South Local Council, to arrange for the burial of his late father when he was taken to unknown destination in his vehicle. His body was found in a gutter the next day near a bush in Oru East Local Council. His remains have since been buried, while his suspected abductors, including a dismissed corporal from the Nigerian Police have been arrested and are presently facing trial.
There were also cases of loyalists and Biafra agitators, mostly the Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), some of Ralph Uwazurike-led Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) and the Uchenna Madu’s Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
These agitators have been championing the cause of actualising the Biafra Republic through their actions, use of insignia and organising rallies. Kanu had in a massive rally in Owerri, Imo state capital, blocked the major Roundabout at Ware House-Orlu Road-Freedom Square. As a result, members of IPOB disrupted economic and social activities and while Kanu addressed the crowd, security agents could not stop them.
So, when Operation Python Dance 11 was announced, some persons, especially the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) converged on Owerri and condemned it. They argued that there was no war or serious cases of civil disobedience as witnessed in the Northeast to warrant the exercise, whicg many described as military occupation of the Southeast.In a statement by leader of the Network for Police Reform (NIPRO), Okey Nwanguma condemned the exercise. Governor Rochas Okorocha also enlightened the people of the zone about the operation, urging residents to be loyal to civil authority.
He urged them to submit without hesitation for stop-and-search, after which they will be asked to go about their normal businesses unhindered, provided nothing incriminating was found on them.Uwazurike had told The Guardian in an interview that BIM had maintained the culture of non-violence in their quest for the realisation of a sovereign state of Biafra.
He also condemned IPOB’s approach, because he felt that they were propagating hate-speeches. The BIM leader said he realised the need for the brotherly cooperation of the people of the North and South to actualise it harmoniously.So, before the soldiers arrived, the flags and other insignia and symbols of Biafra being carried along by the groups disappeared. Even the ones usually hung in tricycles and driven around were removed.
Firstly, there was unusual heavy presence of the soldiers in a long convoy of vehicles painted in the Army colour (luxury buses, hilux and lorries) moving round Owerri and its environs with soldiers. This instilled fear in the civil populace. The people also engaged in spirited discussions about the military operations in the region.
As this was going on, information about the clash between some soldiers and some residents of Aba, Abia State broke, coupled with the alleged killings during the clash. The alleged invasion of Kanu’s ancestral home in Umuahia, also raised more fear in the area and even beyond, especially among adherents of Biafra.In Imo, there were no reported clashes between the civilians and the soldiers. There were military checkpoints at Obinze, Avu, Owerri West Local Council of the state, just before the entry points to Owerri. The vicinity of the Army base in the state, 34 Field Artillery Brigade (FAB), Obinze, Owerri West Local Council was fortified.
The soldiers secured all the Ama Hausa quarters (where Hausa people reside and do business in the state). There were also cases of some soldiers calling some youths to order, especially those wearing dreadlocks and hair that did not depict sanity.
Suspected criminals were thoroughly frisked. Patrols were also made, but generally speaking, Imo was most peaceful throughout the period.Also, the Army in a statement informed the people about the medical outreach programme, among others, that would be extended to the people of the state, as part of its Social Corporate Responsibility (SCR). But the residents took this with a pinch of salt, considering that an institution trained to kill, could administer medication on a civil population.
Only recently, parents rushed to the schools of their wards and children to take them back home, after it was rumoured that the Army were allegedly injecting school children with Monkey Pox virus by force.It took a statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Sam Onwuemeodo and subsequent visits by the governor Okorocha, to handle the situation, giving assurances that nothing like that would happen in the state under his watch.
According to a Biafran agitator and driver, Patrick Eze, “There was the need to agitate for Biafra in view of the gross and crass marginalisation of the Southeast.His words: “I must tell you the truth, the only federal presence in the Southeast is the prisons in Aguata, Anambra State. Federal roads are in bad shape, yet oil is being taken from here to the North and money made to keep the nation. No president of Igbo extraction has ever ruled the country. So, on what basis are we staying in unity in such huge diversity?
“There are no good appointments for Ndigbo since the present administration came into office. The best we can do is to respect the military they brought in the state. That is all, so that there will be no case of killing of our people. One day they will go back to the barracks and our agitation will continue.”Several other persons hold the same view with Eze, but many residents are at least happy that the exercise has been concluded and the days of annexation are over at last!
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