South-East Turns Battlefield For Separatists, Security Agents, 255 Killed
Information reaching Ibom Focus that South-East Turns Battlefield For Separatists, Security Agents, 255 Killed
Raphael Ede examines the killings in the South-East and the impact of the sit-at-home ordered by the Indigenous People of Biafra on the economy of the zone
The orgy for destruction of lives and property following the violent crackdown on Biafra secessionist groups has continued to spread sorrows and anguish in families. Between February and October 21, no fewer than 255 citizens, including security agents, had been killed in an undignified manner, while property worth billions of naira, including entire communities, had been destroyed.
The violence reached an alarming crescendo on October 19, 2021, with the killing of two monarchs in the Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State.
Attack on traditional institutions in Igbo land is considered sacrilegious as monarchs are regarded as the custodians of the people’s customs. During the attack, the Obi 1 of the Okwudor Autonomous Community, Eze Anayochukwu Durueburuo, and his counterpart from the Ihebineowerre Autonomous Community, Eze Sampson Osunwa, were gruesomely murdered at the Njaba Local Government Council headquarters in Nnenasa during a stakeholders’ meeting.
South-East Turns Battlefield
Our correspondent learnt that other traditional rulers at the meeting escaped with varying degrees of injury.
On September 28, 2021, Dr Chike Akunyili, a medical director and widower of the a former Minister of Information and Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Dora, was killed alongside his driver and police orderly at Umuoji in the Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
The murder of Chike Akunyili, brought to seven the number of high profile killings in the zone in the last six months, and altogether 255 killings within a period of nine months.
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress and former aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, was killed on Saturday, May 29, in Owerri, Imo State.
On May 31, a retired Enugu State High Court judge, Justice Stanley Nnaji, was killed in Enugu metropolis.
Similarly, on July 4, the Chief Executive Officer of AutoEase, Ifeanyi Okeke, was killed in Enugu and three days later, the Executive Director, Scientific Equipment Development Institute, Prof Samuel Ndubuisi, and his orderly were assassinated along the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway in the same town.
Investigation showed that the insecurity escalated when the IPOB announced the establishment of the Eastern Security Network following the inability of the South-East governors to address the invasion of local communities by armed herdsmen.
Many believe that attempts by the Nigerian security agencies to crush the group gave rise to the current insecurity in the South-East.
For instance, on January 22, 2021 when the Nigerian Army moved to crush the IPOB security outfit, the conflict in Orlu escalated after the ESN managed to repel the initial push by soldiers.
But IPOB ended the initial crisis by unilaterally withdrawing the ESN operatives from Orlu. After a few weeks of inactivity, the government launched a military offensive in the area to destroy the ESN, whose members were only going after armed herdsmen, who had turned the region into a kidnapping heaven.
On April 5, 2021, gunmen believed to be ESN members launched a massive attack on the Imo State Police Command headquarters and the Owerri Correctional Centre, where they freed inmates.
From then, attacks on police formations began to spread to all the states in the South-East.
Despite these developments, the separatists claimed that their militant operations were mainly aimed at defending local communities from armed herders and bandits instead of fighting the Federal Government.
Checks by The PUNCH revealed that between February and October 11, 2021, no fewer than 255 persons had been killed in the five states of the South-East region namely: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
Out of these, suspected herdsmen killed no fewer than 71 persons between April and July in Ebonyi and Enugu states; about 51 persons were killed in Ebonyi, while 20 were murdered in Enugu State.
About 68 personnel of the police, the armed forces, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Department of State Services and vigilantes were also killed, while 116 civilians were mowed down in the period under review. Their killings were carried out by state and non-state actors.
Abia State recorded the death of nine security personnel and one civilian; in Anambra, 76 persons were killed made up of 24 security personnel and 52 civilians; Ebonyi recorded the death of nine security personnel and 24 civilians; Enugu witnessed the gruesome murder of 15 security personnel and nine civilians; while Imo recorded the death of 11 security personnel and 30 civilians.
It is believed that more people were killed within the period as not all the killings were documented or reported.
Some residents and business owners, who spoke to our correspondent on the general insecurity in the region, said their businesses were crumbling and they were now living in fear.
Mrs Ifenabor Justina of the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, described Mondays as “suicide days, because if you go out hoping that there is security, you are on your own.”
She stated, “You can be killed or if you are lucky, your property will be destroyed and nothing will happen.
“In short, we are in a state of anarchy. Non-state actors continue to threaten state actors, and that has made things worse.
“You cannot freely move on the road with security checkpoints everywhere, yet hoodlums still reign supreme.”
Mr Dennis Ojobor, a trader at the Ogbete Main Market, said the sit-at-home, which had exacerbated the insecurity, had destroyed a lot of things.
He stated, “We now pay double or even triple to bring goods from Lagos to Enugu from what we normally paid. For instance, before the sit-at-home and upsurge of insecurity, I normally paid N180,000 to bring a full truck of goods from Lagos to Enugu, but now I pay between N360,000 and N400,000 to bring the same goods.
“Drivers are afraid to come to the South-East now. Checkpoints have multiplied and that is how they have multiplied extortions coupled with the dead-trap roads.
“The worst thing is that you cannot go to rural communities to buy anything, because of fear of the unknown. You can be killed by state security agents and labelled IPOB/ESN member or you will be a victim of hoodlums, who always cash in on the situation to perpetrate their evil.
“So, whichever way you look at the situation, everybody is losing. A lot of people went out and disappeared without a trace.”
A former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, lamented that the region was in ruin and advised the people to embark on prayers and fasting for God’s intervention.
“We have to keep on praying let God help us,” he said while alleging that insecurity in Anambra State was foisted by people who wanted to rig the November 6 governorship election.
“Some people want to rig the election and they want to create a favourable condition for it, but it will not work,” he declared.
A former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking, ProfJoy Ezeilo, described the situation in the South-East as alarming and called for a political solution to the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s issue.
While lamenting that insecurity in the region had inflicted more pain on the already battered economy, she said, “The South-East is crying for justice and fairness.”
Ezeilo, who is the Executive Director, Women Aid Collective, stated, “There should be a concerted effort for youth empowerment. If the governors and the leaders fail to take the engagement of the youth seriously, others will fill the void and nature abhors vacuum.
“Our youths feel hopeless when they think of their future in this country. Good governance and leadership responsiveness in addressing the root causes of insecurity are vital to finding a durable solution.
“There is so much anger and we cannot afford to aggravate the situation by pouring fuel on the fragile and fluid situations. I personally see a lot of opportunity in dialogue and negotiation for a political solution.”
On his part, a professor of Political Science, Obasi Igwe, described the current security situation in the South-East as pitiable.
He stated, “The sit-at-home is prayer answered for those who want to destroy Igboland and the society. The IPOB, we are told, has long cancelled it. Suspicions are increasing that the unknown gunmen now enforcing the sit-at-home are either the Miyetti Allah, other Fulani AK-47-bearing terrorists, or sundry actors enabled or protected by state institutions. Arrests and sundry encounters with kidnappers by escapees have consistently shown that they are not Igbo, but the Federal Government is not interested in following those leads.
“They are not interested in finding out why most of the police officers killed are Igbo, and why the non-Igbo often find a way to escape each attack. Communities in Nigeria have been disarmed, while the terrorists killing and destroying them are armed to the teeth.”
He asked the South-East governors, community and other leaders to demand the return of defensive weapons to the people, a halt to the policy of war against those defending their communities against terrorists, and an end to the export of violence to civilian areas and military games and manoeuvres outside areas of conflict.
The Enugu State Government said that it was working to implement the South-East governors’ resolution that every state should deploy all lawful means to stop the sit-at-home and ensure security.
The Commissioner for Information, Chidi Aroh, said in a telephone interview with our correspondent, “The South-East governors and leaders are all engaged; everybody’s hands are all on the deck to see that the situation is brought under control. I’m sure that soon it will be a thing of the past.”
The Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi, also condemned the sit-at-home and the killings in the region.
Umahi warned that counter-secessionist groups might rise in the South-East if IPOB did not caution its members and stop threats and killings.
A security expert and Board Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Chief Emeka Umeagbalasi, attributed the violent crackdown on the agitators for the increasing insecurity in the region, adding that far more people could have been killed within the period under review.
Umeagbalasi said the increasing insecurity in the South-East was as a result of hate policy of the present administration, including structural, physical and cultural violence and violent crackdowns on peaceful agitators, which he said led to “their violent self-defence.”
He stated, “Available statistics clearly indicated that no fewer than 480 unarmed members of self-determination groups and uninvolved members of the civilian population had been killed by security forces and 700 others shot with live bullets and seriously injured between August 2015 and September 2017. Several dozens also disappeared and hundreds abducted or unlawfully arrested and detained for years without trial.
“Then, the casualty figure on the side of security forces was acutely asymmetrical. Members of the self-determination groups in Eastern Nigeria also maintained a non-violence stance for five years from August 2015 to November 2020, but were forced into violent self-defence by the government in December 2020 following the formation of the Eastern Security Network.
“Conversely, recent statistics showed that out of over 600 non-state actor deaths perpetrated by security forces in eastern Nigeria since January 2021, a total of 550 were unarmed and defenceless citizens and about 50 were armed members of the self-determination groups. Security forces also recorded no fewer than 400 combatant or battlefield casualties.”
He, however, called for the immediate release of Kanu and an end to all forms of violent crackdowns and state persecution against agitators as well as innocent and defenceless residents of eastern Nigeria.
“The government is gravely breaching the constitution in sections 19 (1) (d), 35 and 36 of the country’s international and domestic obligations by refusing to ensure that Nnamdi Kanu is given a fair hearing and allowed speedy and fair trial within the constitutionally stipulated timeframes, irrespective of the gravity of the alleged offences or be granted bail or freed unconditionally,” Umeagbalasi stated.
He said the delays by the International Criminal Court’s new Chief Prosecutor and other world justice bodies to re-commence and consolidate their investigations into alleged atrocities by the regime of the President, Major General Muhammad Buhari (retd.), and its security forces against unarmed and defenceless citizens in eastern Nigeria were regrettable, adding that their silence “amount to issuance of impunity tickets to the perpetrators to continue to terrorise, kill, maim, abduct, torture and destroy en masse with reckless abandon and impunity.”
Meanwhile, the police have refused to speak on the matter.
Efforts to get the Force Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, were unsuccessful as he did not take his calls or respond to text messages.
When the Enugu State Police Command’s Public Relations Officer, Daniel Ndukwe, was contacted, he requested time to verify some information, but had not given any feedback as of the time of filing this report.
South-East Turns Battlefield