Red alert in South East states over insecurity

Posted by News Express | 14 July 2014 | 4,065 times

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After the South East governors visited President Goodluck Jonathan recently, the Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, told journalists that “Boko Haram cannot get to the South East, because we are very alert.” Obiano’s optimism might be comforting, for this is a governor, who on assumption of office, held a two-day summit on security.

But there is no comfort from recent events. On Sunday, June 15, there was the discovery of bombs, Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs), suspected to have been planted by members of Boko Haram Islamic sect at the Owerri branch of the Living Faith Church, as worshippers gathered for service.

On June 16, about 486 men, suspected members of the sect were arrested in Abia State. On July 2, Police in Afikpo, Ebonyi State, arrested 17 people, suspected to be members of Boko Haram. On July 7, 2014, soldiers raided the Central Mosque and other mosques in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia, searching for bombs.

The instinctive concern is whether this was a confirmation of the warning by the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shetima, that the Islamic sect was capable of extending its murderous tentacles beyond the North East, and probably to the South.

Hitherto, the major security concern in the South East had been the nuisance of kidnappers and Fulani herdsmen. But that has changed significantly. In the wee hours of March 8, 2014, the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) invaded the Enugu State Government House, hoisted a flag and threatened to invade other Government Houses in the zone.

If the March 8 adventure was considered “harebrained,” the BZM on June 4 got more attention when, led by its leader, a London-trained lawyer, Benjamin Onwuka, the group besieged the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) with the aim of broadcasting an “overthrow” of the government. In the wake of the “invasion,” some policemen and members of the group were killed.

Anxieties are high.

The Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, had called for the observance of at least 10 minutes of prayers at 12 noon daily to commit the security of the state to the hands of God. In Enugu, the South East Governors Forum insisted: “We are committed to the security of the zone.” At the end of its last meeting on July 6 in Enugu, the chairman of the Forum and governor of Abia, Theodore Orji, said that the governors reiterated the need for joint security operation, while he disclosed that security equipment would soon be supplied to the zone for better operations.

At the two-day Obiano’s summit on security, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, while commending Obiano for starting his tenure by confronting one of the nightmares of the society, noted: “The primary responsibility of any governor is to provide security for his people. No state or country in the world can pursue any meaningful development programme without tackling security.”

In addition to prayers, Okorocha with the Police, Army and Security Services launched “Operation Know Your Neighbour.” The eight point manual of measures include scrutinising vehicles bringing food items from the North, raising more awareness among residents to pay more attention to activities in their environment, among others. What has however become controversial is the suggestion that all Northerners in Imo should be registered and provided with an Identity Card. Although the governor has denied it, the National Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chris Oganah, was quoted in a newspaper to have said: “For anything that has to do with security, nothing is too much. Boko Haram is not made up of Yoruba people; it is not made up of Hausa people but it is from the North and we can’t rule that away.”

But it is in the Senate that the criticisms have reached fever pitch. Senator Ahmed Lawal said: “The policy is abominable, unacceptable and certainly driven to cause disunity in the country. We Northerners will not accept this. If you do this in Imo, we shall definitely retaliate.”

The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) had called on “the entire South East police and security institutions to set up efficient anti-terrorism task force and embark on widespread enlightenment campaign to educate the populace on strategies for identifying and reporting suspected terrorists.”

Recognising the emerging security challenges with its implications, Okorocha advised that every Igbo man in Imo should work to fight insecurity.

Like in Imo, the Enugu State Police Command has also provided its security manual for residents. The Public Relations Officer, Ebere Amaraizu, said that the Command has called on residents to “know your neighbours and strive to know not only the person living in your house but in your surrounding environment; find out their means of livelihood, as every strange face must be probed. You must observe what your neighbor brings home at night as this may be dangerous to the safety of all.”

It is perhaps in the churches that the scare has taken its toll. While some churches have moved to persuade their female members from coming with their handbags, car owners are not allowed to park within the church premises during service. A parishioner noted that many people would rather go for evening service than join the early morning service when the church is usually crowded.

The worry overwhelming churches followed the discovery of bombs in a church in Owerri. The Anglican Archbishop of Enugu Province, Emmanuel Chukwuma, said that the fight against Boko Haram would be better handled if top security officials were posted to their states of origin. Suggesting that top Police officers from the North should return home “because they, like the insurgents know the terrain,” he said: “I am calling on the President to urgently send all northern officers to go home and fight Boko Haram in their area.”

In Ebonyi, where Governor Martin Elechi told the Police Command that the security threat of Boko Haram is a challenge facing the security agencies, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Maigari Dikko, assured: “I believe our security operatives have the capacity and the will to rout those who are traducing and putting question mark on our sovereignty as one united nation.”

In Afikpo, a source close to the Police said: “We are not taking any chances,” amidst indications of beefed up security operatives at the Government House and the anti bomb squad taking a permanent station at the gate.

The discovery of bombs in the Church in Owerri and the arrests of the people suspected to be members of the Boko Haram are viewed with the same trepidation as the invasion of the ESBS.    

At a press conference, the Enugu State Commissioner of Police, Abubakar Mohammed, revealed that the mission of the BZM was to make a live broadcast announcing its overthrow of the “government of the state and possibly burn the station.”

He said: “They have a CD rom where they detailed what they wanted to tell members of the public. In summary, they made an appeal for all boys in Enugu to come out, all businesses, markets and schools closed and all government officials to surrender all property in their possession before midday.

“They carried arms, machetes, petrol, empty beer bottles and one Biafran Zionist flag. In March this year, this same group attacked the Government House, Enugu and we had earlier declared their leader wanted.”

On May 30, another group, a new movement for the actualization of Biafra, at its maiden commemoration of the Biafran Day, struck a familiar tune. At Ngwo in Enugu, the leader of the “struggle,” Mr. Nnamdi Kanu claimed that Nigeria as a nation would cease to exist by December 2015.

Before aging war veterans, gathered at the unveiling of a multi-million naira cenotaph in memory of fallen Biafra heroes killed, Kanu, the then Director of Radio Biafra, said that no National Conference can solve Nigeria’s problem because of deep-rooted hatred among the nation’s ethnic nationalities.

Describing Nigeria as “a failed nation, where nothing works,” he called on Igbo people to join the crusade of putting in place the Biafran Republic. He cited as injustice to Ndigbo the painful refusal of the Federal Government to pay entitlements and benefits to soldiers who fought on the Biafran side whereas, their counterparts in the North and West benefitted.

“There is no going back,” he said, “by December 2015, Nigeria would have ceased to exist; we shall get Biafra.”

Although the menace of Fulani herdsmen looks pale in significance in the face of bombs, they have remained a source of concern in the South East, a predominantly agrarian area. Resident subsistence farmers have remained in running battle with the herdsmen and their inability to keep them away from farms and green grasses has led to violent confrontations, rapes and deaths.

Last year in Enugu, a community in the Nkanu East Council petitioned the state government over the menace of the herdsmen in the area. They accused the herdsmen of destroying their farmland, preventing farming activities; attacking and injuring the farmers for daring to ask them to vacate their farmland.

On May 1, three Fulani herdsmen were arrested in connection with the murder of a 44-year-old father of four, Mr. Mathew Aniugo at Ogui-Agu Eke in Udi Council. The State PPRO, Amaraizu, said the murder was over a disagreement while cattle grazed on the farmland of the deceased. According to a witness, “Matthew was in his farm when they attacked him. He had warned them not to trespass in his farm. The Fulani left and returned with a gun and machete, shot him and cut him up. His wife escaped before they fell on her husband.”

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo had petitioned the National Assembly over the activities of the herdsmen with the President of Ohanaeze, Chief Gary Igariwey, said the recurring conflicts with the herdsmen was as much a security threat as it was an environmental nuisance.

Meanwhile, Chukwuma’s concern that the fight against Boko Haram in the South East would be better handled if top security officials and Police officers from the North should return home “because they, like the insurgents know the terrain,” was shared by those who fear that “it is of concern that if the Boko Haram sect invaded the South East, it will be difficult to deal with it because all the Police Commissioners in the South East are Moslems from the North. Mr. Maigari Dikko is in Ebonyi; in Abia, the CP is Adamu Ibrahim while Abdulmajid Ali is in Imo. Usman Gwary is in Anambra, while Mohammed is in Enugu.”

While welcoming Ali in February as the replacement for Mr. Katsina Mohammed, Okorocha, told the new CP that he should see himself as an indigene of the state and that, “my government does not play politics with security and I do not intervene in the work of any security outfit in the state.”

Recently, the leader of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, Professor Ben Nwabueze, accused Ali of shielding those responsible for the bomb incident in Owerri despite claims that they were mandated to bomb five churches. Nwabueze said that the Leaders of Thought compared the humiliating parade of the Biafran activists in Enugu with the hide and seek treatment of the suspected Boko Haram activists in Owerri and added, “Ndigbo are keenly watching developments as they unfold.”

At the end of a meeting in Enugu, Nwabueze said that “there are indications that Boko Haram are infiltrating the South East and the whole South. To find a way to handle this menacing situation, we have set up a committee to do a thorough study of the situation and make suggestions and recommendations on how we shall deal with the development.”

•Excerpted from a Guardian report. Photo shows South-East Governors.

Source: News Express

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