By Ori Martins
Most people in the South East had high hope about the establishment of the region’s security outfit, Ebube Agu, to save the people from the rampaging marauders who has practically taken over the area making life unbearable for the people.
Sadly, such seems to have been misplaced as its existence does not appear to have have anything. Indeed, the security outfit has become part of the problem.
An unimaginable insecurity situation is currently ravaging the entire five states of South East, as all manner of criminal activities ranging from kidnapping, armed robbery, arson, killing, and banditry have completely overtaken the Igbo country.
Almost on daily basis, there are pathetic tales of bloodletting activities of the men of underworld in one form or the other. In view of this dangerous situation, residents of some communities where insecurity has been adjudged as “too high” have fled such areas for dear life.
The South East Governors’ Forum, after its meeting in April 2021 in Enugu, signed a communiqué agreeing to float the Ebubeagu security outfit. Subsequently, in October, the governors resolved that a law backing Ebube Agu should be instituted in all the states in the region before the end of 2021.
Perhaps, in his capacity as the chairman, South East Governors’ Forum, Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, pointing the way forward, was the first to inaugurate the Ebubeagu security network. Umahi, while setting up the Ebubeagu security outfit at Pa Ngele Oruta Township Stadium Abakaliki, noted that the new team is to assist the police and other security agencies in fighting crime across the region.
On the structure and mode of operation of Ebubeagu, Umahi made it clear that in spite of the fact that the security team had been tailored to have a state commander as its highest ranking officer, it would still be under the supervision and control of the Ebonyi State Police Command.
According to Umahi on the inauguration of Ebubeagu; “Let me say that what we have here is very lawful and will continue to be for the benefit of our people. Let me commend the handlers, what I saw today is very, very encouraging.
“And let me thank in a very special way the Commissioner of Police and all his officers for the efforts they have made towards our security architecture in Ebonyi State….
“In 2022 we will make this outfit the envy of all the people seeking employment. We will pay you what a graduate in grade level 12 cannot get.
“Let me say that section 7(7) of the law says that the function of Ebubeagu is to assist the police and other security agencies in carrying out any lawful activity that will assist in maintaining law and order in the state. So this outfit is not alternate police, but this is an outfit that is totally under the tutelage, supervision, and monitoring of the police.
“There shall be no altercation or superiority fights as you are under the police force. Anybody who doesn’t like it and wishes to do otherwise can bow out because this is what our law says. You will not fight the police or disagree with the police. You will obey all lawful orders of the Commissioner of Police in the state.
“Let me also say that the outfit is not politically motivated, but those who have been sponsoring insecurity in the state, and who are afraid of the outfit, can go to court to challenge the law as this outfit will never be disbanded”.
From all indications, it was the apparent attempt by Umahi to subsume the outfit under the police that cost it lose of public confidence and deserved lack of performance as most believe that it was impossible to expect something different from the outfit when the police has reportedly failed to secure both lives and property.
Despite Umahi’s assurances on Ebubeagu’s ability and capacity in assisting to drastically fight crime in Ebonyi, the state has been witnessing the worst form of insecurity of all times. For instance, The Federal High Court was hit with explosives by arsonists.
When all thought that it was a time to heave a sigh of relief, suspected Fulani herdsmen struck, killing many, leaving others seriously wounded. Besides these two dastard acts, there have equally been other heartbreaking and highly devastating incidents occasioned by insecurity in the state.
As you read this, the people of Ebonyi State are sleeping with both eyes open as they do not know when and where the next attack will come from. They do not know who will be behind it – whether it will be masterminded by armed robbers, kidnappers, arsonists, bandits or herders.
The second South East governor that inaugurated Ebubeagu security outfit was Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State. This was accomplished when Ikpeazu approved the appointment of Mr. Chigozie Ubani as the Commandant of Ebubeagu Vigilante in Abia State.
This was made known in a statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Barr. Chris Ezem, and made available to journalists in Umuahia. The release from the SSG, noted that Ikpeazu’s action was made possible based on the resolution of the five governors of the South East who had on Sunday April 11, 2021 launched Ebubeagu regional security outfit to fight terrorism in the zone.
Soon after the launch of Ebubeagu in God’s Own State, Ikpeazu was very emphatic in his clarification that “Ebubeagu is functional in Abia State” when journalists took on him on the performance of the security group in the state.
According to him “I think it has taken off in most states. The problem is that those who are watching the socio-political firmament have come up with stereotypes and expectations, which according to them are not being met and therefore expecting a completely different thing.
“Having said that, why you have not heard something so much about it is because Ebubeagu is designed to respond according to the peculiar circumstances of every state.
“Abịa State Ebubeagu cannot reflect Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra or Imo Ebubeagu because our security challenges are not the same both in diagnosis and outlook. They are different.
“But we converge at a point where we want to share intelligence so that the identified criminals in those states are same. We can deploy economics of scale so that we can procure pieces of equipment that can serve our geopolitical zone without having to replicate expenditure in all the states.
He added; “Let me embellish my comments in this regards with what is happening in Abia. Just a few days ago, we officially inaugurated our Ebubeagu but we played down the relevance in the media because based on the strategic role envisaged for Ebubeagu the location is in the forest, and inside the bushes in our various communities.
“Their strategic response is to provide the various security units with intelligence, so, I will not because I want to please my spectators and begin to dance naked in the market.
“But I want to encourage you by saying, if the essence of Ebubeagu is to ensure peace and tranquillity, ensure safety of lives and properties, then it is very effective in Abia because we have peace, tranquillity and people are going about their businesses. Our Ebubeagu is working, if you want to see them, we will make them available for you to see but they will not dance naked in the market”.
Just as it was the case in Ebonyi, criminals literally went on rampage in Abia after the governor who is equally the chief security officer of the state had given his land a clean bill of health.
As a matter of fact, hell was let lose! First, banks were attacked and robbed in both Umuahia and Aba as millions of naira were carted away and several persons – bankers and their customers got injured. On top of that, police stations were set ablaze in Umuahia just as POS operators were also attacked leading to loss of their machine and money.
Armed robbers waylaid travellers on the ever boisterous Enugu – Umuahia – Aba – Port Harcourt Road and disposed them of their valuables. However, the height of the insecurity threatening the foundation of Abia State was the mindless kidnap of the Methodist prelate Bishop Emmanuel Uche Kalu at Lopka, Isiochi LGA.
Narrating how he was kidnapped, he said his driver had attempted to outwit the kidnappers when they came out of the bush but they had fired shots and also deflated their vehicle’s tyres.
“After two of them fired shots at our tyres, our vehicle started swooping and fell,” he enthused. He continued; “They forced us inside a forest after their leader introduced himself as the commander-general of the forest in the area and also in charge of kidnappings from Lokpa, Isuochi, Ihube and Isikwuato, in Abia State.
“The commander later told me that that they were not robbers but only kidnap for ransom, assuring that we would be freed if we were able to pay the agreed ransom. The commander made it clear to me also that we would be beheaded and our corpses dumped in a big gully without being traced if we failed to pay the ransom.
“Two of us who were younger ran away during the attack. They said the least money you can pay us and we will accept is N100 million. When they went to collect the ransom (from our people), they brought in more people hidden somewhere with more guns.
“And they were heartless. When they said, ‘you can go,’ they didn’t even give us even N200 to board a bike. Nothing. They just allowed us to walk like that. It was the worst humiliation I have ever witnessed in life. They stole my wedding ring worth $150 and other valuables”.
The prelate revealed that IPOB had no hands in their ordeal. According to his account, “It was a full kidnapping by Fulani herdsmen. Their cattle were very close there. And I am suspecting that those who cut off peoples’ heads are not really Igbos.
“Igbos are not known for cutting peoples’ heads”.
The Methodist prelate, who hails from Ihube in Imo State, said when he spoke to his colleague in Igbo language, the leader of the kidnappers interrupted in Igbo language explaining to the prelate that he grew up in Umuahia and also understood the language.
The gang leader also told the cleric that he joined the kidnapping business because he has been shouldering the responsibilities of fending for his younger siblings after he lost his parents.
“There are Fulanis children born in Igboland. You cannot differentiate them (from original Igbos). They grew up there (in Igboland) and integrated themselves into Igbos. They are stack illiterates. Only one (of them) was communicating fluently, ” he explained, insisting that the kidnappers had military backing.
“In fact, people saw one (unidentified) boy at the front of the military checkpoint (close to the area). So, our man wanted to harass him (by shouting) ‘what are you doing there? Who are you?’ (but) the military said ‘hey., three times.L
“Leave him. He came to drop something for us. And it is the same military people that normally say to people, ‘don’t cross here, if you cross this line, we will fire you. Don’t go inside the bush”, he narrated.
The question is, contrary to Ikpeazu’s claims, is Ebubeagu functional in Abia State? Is it not the same bush he said the outfit occupied that the kidnappers also operated from?
Of course, Anambra has been a harvest ground for criminals even in the face of Ebubeagu. In recent times, gunmen have killed scores of people in the state while kidnappers and armed robbers are also on rampage. For instance, gunmen killed a man in Nkwelle-Ezunaka community in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State.
The incident happened in the early hours of Monday at a popular junction in the area. An eyewitness said the gunmen, who stormed the area through Nkwelle Road, zoomed off through Onitsha Road, a different route, after killing the victim.
“We don’t know the identity of the guy. But some (people) are suspecting that he could be a security agent,” he said. The police spokesperson in the state, Tochukwu Ikenga, confirmed the incident in a statement. He identified the victim as Ikechukwu Udeozor.
Again, gunmen, on May 23, attacked Anambra State, killing seven persons, hit police station and set vehicles ablaze. Among those killed included a mother and four of her children at Isulo, Orumba North Local Government Area. Gunmen also struck at Abatete in Idemili North Local Government Area just as a man was killed at Nanka Orumba North Local Government Area.
They equally attacked a police station in Anaku in Ayamelum Local Government Area and set vehicles ablaze. The Anambra Police Command spokesman, Ikenga Tochukwu, said the incident was reported and that investigation was underway.
Probably, Imo State can rightly be labelled as the hotbed of insecurity in the South East. In about two years now, Imo State has been very much in the news for all the bad reasons. The police command headquarters was attacked for more than three hours on Easter Monday, 2021.
The hoodlums headed straight to the Federal Correctional Centre, very close to the command, located at the ever busy Okigwe Road, attacked it and freed prisoners. It is now alleged that those forcefully freed prisoners have hands in the criminal activities that have turned the once peaceful Imo into an enclave of gunmen and killers.
This newspaper can authoritatively report that the insecurity in Imo State hit an all infamous scale when on Saturday, April 24, 2021 an armed gang set ablaze the home of Governor Hope Uzodimma, in Omuma, Oru East Local Government Area.
The attackers also set cars in the premises on fire after killing two guards. It was gathered the assailants were to be on a reprisal for murder of Nwokike Anyinayo Andy, popularly known as Ikonso, allegedly the deputy commander of Eastern Security Network (ESN), the security arm of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
There were discrepancies on how Ikonso died.
While the police claimed Ikonso died alongside six ESN members during a shootout with a combined force of police, Department of State Services and the Nigeria Army at the operational headquarters of IPOB in Awomama, Oru East Local Government Area, IPOB countered that he was attacked and killed in his house.
In view of this, the governor invited the army and since then there has not been any peace in Imo, particularly in the 12 LGAs in Orlu Zone. The consequence is that communities have been sacked by both the gunmen and the soldiers, traditional rulers killed and individuals murdered.
The insecurity in Imo State got worse when members of the state executive council were attacked and their houses burnt. Among those whose houses were burnt include the commissioner of information, Hon. Declan Emelumba, the attorney general and commissioner of justice and Barrister C.O.C. Akolisa.
After their respective houses were attacked, the gunmen went to the streets and commenced the attack on innocent and harmless citizens.
One of the most controversial actions of the Ebubeagu security unit which Uzodimma inaugurated in the state was it questionable operation in Mbaise. The attack which came inform of invasion and killings commenced in the early hours of Saturday, February 12, 2022 whereupon five communities were severely brought to ruin.
The five communities included Ihitteafoukwu, Umu Okirika, Oparanadim, Mpam, and Ogbor Umeze in Ahiazu Mbaise/Ezinihitte Federal Constituency. The attack was so painful that the Federal House of Representatives had urge the both the chief of army and the inspector general of police to investigate the matter.
As the spate of insecurity worsens by each passing day in the South East, the masses have been asking of what relevant is Ebubeagu? Ikechi Aku, a businessman at the Ikenegbu area of Owerri, Imo State, noted that Ebubeagu itself is a part of the problem.
“What is Ebubeagu? We do not know. Where is their head office? Who is the commander? When did they recruit? There have been so many unanswered questions on Ebubeagu and that is the problem”.
Another respondent from Orlu who pleaded for anonymity stated that Ebubeagu might even be responsible for the recent killings in Orlu as nobody really knows the identity of the security outfit who goes out in black attire and most times cover their faces.
Also, Innocent Obima of Azikiwe Road Umuahia enthused that Ebubeagu had failed in its primary responsibility which is assisting in curbing crime in the South East. He was of the opinion that the group should be should be stopped.
The situation is also the same in Ebonyi state where the people are saying that the outfit had outlived its usefulness.