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S/east leaders vow action against renewed threats

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S/east leaders vow action against renewed threats

By OBINNA EZUGWU

With heavily manned military checkpoints at every pole in major roads, the Southeast geopolitical zone has all the trappings of war zone. But not even the disproportionate military presence in has helped rid the zone from the menace of gunmen, whose stated objective appears to be to ruin the economy of zone, which major strength is enterprise.

 

The presence of the military checkpoints, manned by soldiers who routinely demand bribes from motorists, have made movement a stressful undertaking. A few minutes journeys now take hours, with telling impact on commerce.

 

“You can’t find this sort of checkpoints in northern states, which are worse in insecurity,” lamented a passenger in the same bus with this reporters from Onitsha to Enugu on Friday, a remark greeted by a chorus of sighs and lamentations from the rest of the passengers.

 

“This is military occupation, nothing short of it,” another passenger quipped. “Here we are under military occupation, and it’s terrible.”

 

Anger over the heavy presence of soldiers and policemen in the zone, helped to fuel the resentment that led to separatist agitation that has now apparently morphed into terrorism.

 

Unknown gunmen, as they are often referred to, have gone from ragtag outlaws attacking mostly security agents to gangs of bandits holding the zone by the jugular with violently enforced sit-at-home orders issued by Simon Ekpa, a Finland based, self acclaimed follower of Nnamdi Kanu, the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

 

Ekpa, who has since fallen out with the Kanu-led IPOB, now runs a breakaway faction of the separatist group, IPOB Autopilot, and refers to himself as the Prime Minister of a phantom Biafra government in exile. He claims to be the real successor to Kanu, and has apparently managed to seize control of armed men formed by the detained separatist agitator, the Eastern Security Network (ESN).

 

The concept of sit-at-home protest was first muted by the Kanu-led IPOB. The group first came up with the idea of Monday sit-at-home to press home its demand for Kanu’s release. However, following an outrage that greeted the idea from within the zone, the group backed down.

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But Ekpa seized the opportunity. He insisted on proceeding with the sit-at-home order, and the zone has faced dire consequences. Ekpa has gone from enforcing Monday sit-at-home to whimsically ordering that the zone be on lock down for whole weeks. And both the economy and social life are reeling.

 

“Everybody is unhappy with the constant sit-at-home orders now. It’s so irritating. Businesses are suffering severely. Both private and corporate businesses are feeling the impact,” said Nnaji Ken, an entrepreneur based in Enugu.

 

“Salaries of workers are now being slashed. Many have lost their jobs altogether, and people, who run private businesses are suffering. I know some that have relocated their businesses out of the Southeast. The zone is being destroyed. Even those, who used to have sympathy for the Biafra quest are angry now. Nobody supports the madness of Simon Ekpa and his gang of lunatics.”

 

Charles Soludo, Anambra State Governor, noted recently that an estimated N19.6bn has been lost in the state as a result of the Monday sit-at-home.

 

Ekpa had declared Monday, July 3 a total lockdown, the following Tuesday as no movement, Wednesday for sit at home, Thursday for opening of markets, Friday as don’t come outside day, Saturday as ghost-town day and Sunday as stay indoors day. And although people initially ignored the order, his band of gunmen soon began to unleash violence and soon businesses began to shut down, as many stayed indoors for fear of being attacked.

 

“Many families have lost loved ones to this violence,” said Ijeoma Eze, a student of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. “Some have lost their shops, businesses, cars, keke and trucks. Nobody is happy with the violence, and it’s hard to understand how punishing people of the Southeast will lead to the release of Nnamdi Kanu. If anything, those, who are holding Kanu will even continue to hold him so that the zone will continue to suffer.”

 

Southeast governors last week, along with the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, met in Abuja, at the Imo State governor’s lodge, with a resolution to seek audience with President Bola Tinubu with a view to finding solutions. This, Hope Uzodimma, the state governor, seeks to lead the charge in this regard.

 

In response to the meeting, Ekpa issued yet another two-week sit-at-home order, from July 31.

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“Following the demand by the Biafra people for more sit-at-home civil disobedience, the Biafra Republic Government In-Exile (BRGIE) and Biafra De Facto Government In Homeland wish to notify Biafrans that there will be a sit-at-home civil disobedience starting from 31 July, 2023 to 14 August, 2023,” Ekpa said.

 

Southeast leaders have stepped efforts to tackle the challenge. But efforts by Soludo and the Enugu State Governor, Peter Mbah, among others, to put an end to the menace have yet to yield any result.

 

Yet conspiracy theories have been flying. The Imo governor, has been accused of being behind some of the attacks, especially on political opponents. While Ekpa’s expression of support for

Tinubu previously, has led to many alleging that the president may have his backing.

 

“Hope Uzodima is fueling the crisis in Imo State. I have evidence to back that. If you go to Ohaji-Egbema, Osu, you’ll agree with the report of an international organi­sation that over 12,000 people have lost their lives as a result of Ebube Agu activities,” alleged Hon. Ikenga Ugochinyere, a lawmaker representing Ideato North/South at the House of Representatives.

 

“Was it not the same people that attacked Hon. Kingsley that he couldn’t participate in the election? Is that how to maintain security? I can­not vouch for him (Uzodin­ma), but I know that Charles Soludo is trying to adopt both the political and security ap­proach to end insecurity.”

 

The home of Ugochinyere, spokesperson for the CUPP, had come under attack a number of times in the past.

 

Meanwhile, a support group for the governor, the Imo State Political Awareness Group, IPAG, on Thursday, hit back at Ugochinyere, asking to answer the accusations made by Citizens Center for Democracy Awareness (CCDA), to the effect that he’s a sympathizer to the non-state actors causing insecurity in the name of enforcing sit-at-home order in the South East region.

 

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There’s enough blames and conspiracy theories to go round. And even members of the IPOB sometimes accuse the state itself of being behind the insecurity.

 

Yet, the unknown gunmen menace is only one aspect of the insecurity bedevilling the zone. Bandits suspected to be Fulani herdsmen are also having a field day, and although the zone still ranks low in terms of fatalities compared to much of the other zones, disruption of business activities have caused more anguish.

 

The suspected herders have since returned in full force on the Ugwogo-Opi-Nsukka road, Eke in Udi, Adani Uzouwani, Four Corners in Enugu; Umunneochi axis of Enugu-Okigwe-Port Harcourt road in Abia, and in Imo state, the Ihube-Umulolo-Obinetiti road leading to Anambra road.

 

This Imo route is said to be the deadliest with Aku community said to be their major camp. The situation calls for a collective effort of the five governors in the region to tackle it.

 

The people of Umunneochi in Abia State are again living in fear following a resurgence of killings and kidnapping allegedly being perpetrated by the suspected herders.

 

On June 25, 2023, suspected killer herdsmen attacked some people returning from a wedding ceremony and other travelers around the Leru area of the Enugu-Okigwe-Port Harcourt express road. An account of the incident given by a resident of the community claimed that the herders numbered over 30 including teenagers, attacked four vehicles, and kidnapped some of the passengers.

 

“The people are from Obuletiti. They went to a wedding on Sunday and were on their way back when they were attacked around Leru. Killer Fulani herdsmen filled the bush, they were over 30. They had accosted a vehicle and marched the occupants into the bush, another vehicle was coming but because the driver was on high speed, he stepped on his brake automatically as the hoodlums stopped him, the vehicle somersaulted; some ran away while they held others, who couldn’t run.

 

Worried by the development a group, Concerned Umunneochi Youths sent a save our soul message to Governor Alex Otti to come to the rescue of the people of the area.

 

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“Our local government has become a battleground, similar to a war-torn zone. The safety of our people is at stake, and we are living in constant fear. These deadly kidnappers are more than a hundred in number; most of the victims that had regained freedom confirmed that the kidnappers are all Fulani. These men have made more than one billion naira from ransom.

 

“Umunneochi Youths can no longer afford to turn blind eyes to the urgency of the situation..

 

“We don’t need Lokpanta Gariki market again. We don’t need the army barrack/base/checkpoint at Lomara junction again. We call upon the government, at both the State and Federal levels, to listen to our cries for help.

 

On April 21, 2023, about four policemen were killed at Okpala in Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of the state by unidentified gunmen. A month after on May 20, another two policemen were shot and killed at the same axis, while one other cop was injured. A few days later, a priest of the Catholic Church, Rev. Fr. Jude Maduka was abducted while preparing for Sunday service in Okigwe. On May 26, another priest, Rev. Fr. Matthias Opara was kidnapped while returning from a burial ceremony held in Izombe, Oguta Local Government Area of the state.

 

The state Police Public Relations Officer, Henry Okoye, said the command was raiding the hideout of the criminals and heightening its Operation Show of Force in the state.

 

In Anambra State the situation is not better as the people live in fear, especially communities in local government areas that share boundaries with Imo and Abia states such as Aguata, Orumba North and South; Ihiala and Ogbuaru councils.

 

Recently the gunmen attacked the Okija Vigilante outfit in Ihiala council area, but paid dearly for that as two of them were killed.

 

A member of the gallant vigilante group said: “These people, who call themselves unknown gunmen attacked us at our camp at Ogbenabo Okija around 3 am and started firing at us. We did not provoke them and they came to kill us for no reason.. We killed two of them and many others escaped with injuries.”

 

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In Azia, also in the Ihiala council area, the gunmen no longer allow burials to take place. For instance, a woman from the community who died in Lagos could not be given a proper burial last week because of the near-impossible conditions given by the gunmen to the family to meet.

 

According to a member of the family, the gunmen demanded a down payment of N7 million before doing anything. Because the family did not have much money, the woman was buried early in the morning, while the burial ceremony was suspended indefinitely.

 

Anambra State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, said the state Police command would continue to work with the state vigilante outfits to ensure that gunmen do not have any opportunity to operate in any part of the state.

 

Enugu state is also having a large dose of insecurity as kidnapping, armed robbery, and car theft have been on the increase in the state with recent activities of kidnappers on the busy Opi-Nsukka-Ugwogo-Nike-Enug road, Four Corner road, the Adani-Nsukka, Eke community and environs in Udi council area, from where a save our soul message emanated was last week.

 

Increased activities of kidnappers on Opi-Nsukka-Ugwogo-Enugu last week drew public outrage, which prompted commercial vehicle drivers plying the route to barricade the road in protest. The action seems to have reminded both the State Government and security agencies that it is time to wake up from their deep slumber as sanity seems to have returned on the route.

 

One of the enraged protesters said: “Government should urgently intervene on this road. We cannot continue to ply this road in fear. Men, women, and children are in the bush and the government is not doing anything about it. Criminals are increasing on this road and security operatives are reducing. The attention of the government is highly needed. It is either the government intervenes or nobody will ply this road again”.

 

In Ebonyi, the situation is not different as criminal activities, including kidnapping and killings, are being witnessed. A few days ago, a staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Emmanuel Igwe, was killed and his wife was kidnapped allegedly by Fulani herdsmen along the Ivo axis of Afikpo-Okigwe road. Another gory incident was the slaughtering of the father of Ohaneze youth leader, Ajah Okeafor, who was on his farmland, harvesting his yam.

 

But the Ebonyi state police Command said they have arrested the killers of the INEC worker and Aja Okeafor and other criminals terrorizing the people of Ebon

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