Anger in Southeast over governors, elders’ roles in regional security

There is anxiety, anger over Southeast governors and elders’ handling of regional security outfit, as youths, others accuse them of selling out for some personal political gains, reports Associate Editor, Sam Egburonu

Since January 2021 bloody clash between the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and a combined team of security operatives in Orlu, Imo State, which led to loss of many lives, more stakeholders have expressed concern over the attitude of Southeast governors and other leaders on the worsening state of insecurity in the region, especially the governors’ decision to abandon the idea of creating an independent regional security outfit after assuring the people that they were set to do what other regions have already done to contain the rising state of insecurity.

The Nation learnt that many residents in the region have also expressed disappointment over other leaders and elders’ failure to hold the governors to task in order to address the degenerating state of insecurity in the region, alleging that if the governors and the elders have played their roles well, the region will not be turned into a theatre of bloody clashes.

“The kind of politics the current crop of governors in the region have been playing is generally disappointing, but most worrisome today is their cowardly politicisation of insecurity in the region at a time more far sighted governors of other regions have taken the Bull by the horn,” said Mr. Onyebuchi Nkemdirim, a political analyst in Umuahia. He said “the attitude of the governors requires further examination because it is surprising that in spite of the fact that they do not belong to one political party, they seem to have agreed to allow alleged political consideration and personal interests to inform their decision to the detriment of their people.”

Nkemdirim also accused the governors of the region of politicizing a sensitive issue like security. “Everybody here knows that the governors wanted to float a regional security outfit. They said so themselves. So, when they suddenly reneged on their promises after meeting with officials of the Federal Government, including the Inspector-General of Police, we all believed it was a decision informed either by cowardice or unprincipled personal political gains. Whichever, the politics being played by the governors over this issue is of grave concern to all of us. They are playing games with the people and this leaves so much to be desired.”

He is not alone on this. The Founder of Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) and Secretary of Eastern Consultative Assembly, Evang. Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, in a brief chat with The Nation on Thursday, also expressed disappointment with the way the issue is being handled. He said: “The Southeast governors are a huge disappointment. I am reserving my comments because I don’t want to create an earthquake. I convened a meeting between Nnamdi Kanu and the Southeast governors, three and half years ago, August 2017. Because I said let us bring in Prof Ben Nwabueze, who is an elderly man in the talks, Kanu agreed. So, we held the meeting with the Southeast governors. It was at that meeting that I realised the influence of the late Abba Kyari and the then DG of DSS, Lawan Daura, over the Southeast governors. It was there that I learnt that the Southeast governors placed their political careers; their vice presidential dreams over and above the interest of the people of Southeast. It was at that meeting that I discovered that our Southeast governors are not their own men. Every one of them wants to please their masters and owners of Nigeria. That is the truth. I do not support the Eastern Security Network (ESN) but I know that there was a creation of a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. Twice, in the last 15 months, the Southeast governors promised to create a regional security outfit; twice they failed and or reneged. At a time they told us they have agreed on the outfit but that they were looking for a name to call it. I even congratulated them and thanked them then, though people warned me that they will not do as they said. At the end of the day, the governors failed to fulfil their promises.”

On the position of Southeast elders now that IPOB had gone ahead to create its own version of security outfit, the ESN, leading to embarrassing clashes, deaths and destruction, Elliot retorted, “Do we still have elders in Igbo land? “ He added: “The so-called Ohanaeze Ndigbo conveniently split itself into four factions. They are a disgrace. None of them is genuinely committed to Igbo interest. As you know, I have been here for over 30 years, receiving the bullets here in Enugu. I should therefore know if the so-called leaders and elders are genuine. I should know. I can only say they are only pseudo-leaders. Most of them are working for a presidential aspirant from Adamawa, who lost election last year. They believe he will win the election this time around.”

“I can tell you that our people, whose mothers, sisters and daughters were being raped or killed in our bushes, are scared and disappointed. And IPOB has taken advantage of the vacuum to create its own security network. This is a very sensitive situation. We should be very careful with the situation.”

“The people, who blame the helpless victims that accept the ESN, should be asked what they expect them to accept. Do you expect the people to accept murderous herders instead? The truth is that because there is a vacuum on the ground, and the state of insecurity is degenerating every day, people have no option than to accept the Eastern Security Network, which is available.  If the governors have fulfilled their promise to set up a regional security network, there would have been no ESN. The Southeast governors are a huge disappointment. They are only interested in their vice presidential dreams.

On whether the security network controversy has divided the Southeast politically, Uko said, “All I know is that our people are united on the fact that our governors are a total failure. Our people are also generally disappointed on the politics being played by the governors of the region on the issue of insecurity.”

Governors embraced community policing

Some people have said the Southeast is one of the earliest geo-political regions to come up with the idea of setting up a regional security outfit that would tackle the rising state of insecurity in Nigeria. But ironically, when this idea became a reality in the Southwest region and many observers of Southeast socio-economic political development called on the governors of the region to follow suit, the governors of the region only held several meetings after which they embraced the Federal Government’s sponsored community policing.

It would be recalled that at the height of insecurity in the zone in 2020, the governors, who met in Enugu on July 28 that year, reportedly resolved to set up a regional security outfit to be coordinated by its joint security committee, headed by Maj.-Gen. Obi Umahi (rtd).

Also, at another meeting, held in Enugu on February 9, 2021, the governors reassured concerned stakeholders that the planned joint security outfit is still realistic. After the meeting, they said they were “satisfied with all the arrangement that will lead to South-East Houses of Assembly to enact a law to back up the security programme with a name to the outfit.”

It was further reported that the Chairman of Southeast Governors’ Forum and Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, said after the meeting that they had written the Federal Government on the development and that at an appropriate time, “We shall be inviting the Federal Government to note the details of our joint security programme.”

However, on February 12, 2021, just three days after, the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, called what they termed a security summit in Enugu. Many who thronged the venue of the summit, hoping to hear of the commencement of the regional security outfit were disappointed as the governors, after meeting with the Federal Government’s delegation changed their position and rather endorsed and adopted the Federal Government’s community policing model.

Insiders had alleged that the adoption of the community policing idea came after several hours of closed-door meeting at the Government House, Enugu, involving the IGP and the five governors, including Umahi (Ebonyi); Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Willie Obiano (Anambra) and Hope Uzodinma (Imo), who was represented by his deputy, Placid Njoku.

As would be expected, many analysts and critics have expressed disappointment over the governors’ failure to come up with the region’s security outfit.

As if he anticipated the criticisms and the disappointments, Governor David Umahi, the Chairman of Southeast Governors Forum and Ebonyi State’s governor, had told the zonal security summit that they adopted the Federal Government’s community policing model because “the content of the new community policing strategies are not different from the security measures already in place in the zone.”

One of the first major critics of the development is the then President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who argued that one of the challenges the community policing idea would face in the Southeast zone is that the police currently enjoys ‘little or no confidence’ of the people.

Entrance of ESN

The confusion created by the prolonged politicisation of the proposed security network was further displayed when the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), took advantage of the vacuum created and quickly set up its security outfit, the Eastern Security Network (ESN. Interestingly, soon after the creation of ESN, Governor Umahi reportedly announced that the Southeast regional security outfit was ready and would soon commence operation.

In its reaction, in a statement issued by IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, the group cautioned the governors against compromising the security of the region through what it described as “the mischievous advice of certain elements.”

“We, therefore, advise all Biafran fathers and mothers to caution their children against joining Umahi’s vigilante group as such outfit is an enemy of the people. Their agenda is sinister and anti-Biafra.

“We are happy to state that the grand conspiracy by our oppressors to take over the South with the help of compromised leaders is dead on arrival!

“We declare that any other group parading as Southeast and South-South Security outfit will not be allowed to operate on Biafra soil. Our people have already launched ESN, as our self-acclaimed leaders were nowhere to be found when it mattered most. Anyone who enlists in any treacherous security outfit in our land to destablise our territory will regret such a decision,” the statement reads.

The IPOB insisted that attempts have been made in the past to foist leadership on Ndigbo, stressing: “Now they have moved to form security outfit for us because our governors and political leaders are blinded by their greed and selfish political ambitions.”

He added that “IPOB would not allow terrorists any breeding ground on Biafra forests and farmlands, adding: “The raping, killings and unprovoked attacks must stop in Biafra territory.

“Anyone against the people’s resolve to defend themselves against foreign occupation will be crushed. ESN has been launched with the mandate of securing Biafra land and no force can disband this great movement until it finishes its mandate.”

More questions, answers

Reacting to the confusion created by the development and the resultant fears in the communities, Nkemdirim said, “Today, there is fear in the land. People are afraid all over the Southeast that the confusion created by the governors’ delay in creating a regional security outfit backed up by laws passed by the five legislative Houses of Assembly and the existence of ESN will continue to attract the kind of bloody clash recorded in Imo State recently. So we are asking, when will the Southeast governors come up with the regional security outfit to secure the region? When will the proposed Gen. Obi Umahi-led Southeast Security Committee commence work? Even if the said committee starts work today, won’t it be belated? Will the youths operating ESN agree to leave the forests?

Perhaps. Gen Umahi’s reassurance during the week that all is set to flag off the regional security outfit may answer the questions and restore confidence.

It would be recalled that soon after ESN was formed by IPOB Gen. Umahi, was quoted in some reports as saying that for the regional security outfit to be effective, all the states Houses of Assembly are supposed to come up with legislations as they affect the network. He also said it is after the Assemblies have come up with the legislations and the Governors’ Forum comes together and gives the outfit a name, that the power of the security committee can be said to be legally operational. “Yes, I know that the South-East Security Committee has passed the framework that was worked out. I think maybe the delay is in the various state Houses of Assembly or wherever but we are still waiting for the state Houses of Assembly to amend as appropriate and pass the legal framework.

“We have been inaugurated, yes, but the moment we are given the wherewithal to operate, then we move. It’s not as if we are not doing something quietly, we are giving advice quietly but there are certain things we cannot do without the legal backing. Members of the committee are security advisers to all the governors. The framework/architecture was passed to the Governors’ Forum to deliberate on and then put to a bill and then pass to their Houses of Assembly,” he said.

On ESN, the retired general was quoted the as saying: “Well, Nnamdi Kanu is just looking for relevance. That’s what I can say because illegality cannot become legal. You have formed a network and the job of security is that of the government. I can assure you by the little I know, that the various state governors are still on their own doing everything possible to provide security in their various states. So, how can you form security to protect someone who has not asked for it? That network is illegal and remember that talking legally, talking about a civilized society, IPOB has been proscribed and the same proscribed IPOB cannot provide a legal framework for anything at all, let alone security; that is the job of a constituted authority,” he said.

As the gladiators regale in their battle of words and high political intrigues, common farmers and other residents are worried that Southeast forests and local communities have continued to be threatened by bandits.

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