By Uche Nwosu
With the spate of killings, kidnappings, raping and various attacks on police stations in Igbo land by unknown gunmen as well as the rumoured plan to fully attack some facilities in the South East geopolitical zone by Fulani Herdsmen, the establishment of a security outfit to protect the entire South East known as Ebubeagu has become very expedient, so say security experts across Nigeria.
Even before the announcement of its formation by the South East governors which Engr Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State is leading, Ebubeagu, as metaphorical as it is, has become a symbol and a myth to the people. Therefore, they are praying that it will also be a protector, a security shield, a harbinger of life and not a betrayal of trust and confidence. Remarkably, the outfit was announced with great aura and expectations.
At the Government House, Owerri on April 11, 2021, where it was formed, the aura of a lion which the Ebubeagu represents enveloped the vicinity as the Agu in the Ebube literary roared ceaselessly; prompting newshounds and government workers around the Imo seat of power to herald the birth of the new baby with an exclamation of ‘hurray’! Ebubeagu, it is said, will be an amalgam of vigilante outfits in the South East geopolitical zone.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State disclosed in a media interview that his government had some years back established a Homeland Security outfit to fight crimes and criminalities in the state. According to him, the creation of Homeland Security Service which is under the Ministry of Homeland Affairs is to protect lives and property including the numerous investments being built by his administration.
Undeniably, since 2015, killer Fulani Herdsmen have gone haywire in Nigeria; killing, kidnapping, raping and often times demanding ransom which they collect with impunity. Their destruction of crops via their cattle as well as the fragrant flouting of laws of the natives they invaded community are without limit. Even though this willful attacks and murder are not peculiar to Abia State, the government, under Okezie Ikpeazu decided to act fast to save further bloodshed and more loss of crops and farmlands by farmers. Regrettably, security agents under the command of the federal government continually shied away from their responsibilities of not only maintaining law and order, but ensuring internal security of Nigerian citizens.
Ikpeazu, believing that an attack on Abian is an attack on all Abians, ceaselessly encouraged the Nigerian Police, Department of State Security (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) including Nigeria Correctional Centres in the state by providing them with operational vehicles and gadgets. However, despite the release of these working instruments and equipment to these security outfits, crimes and criminalities still persisted; hence the need to bring in a more focused force on board.
This is because these security agencies take instructions from Abuja and carry out the instructions of their masters with religious diligence in clear disregard of the situation on ground. Based on these obvious lapses, Abia and other five South East states, known for their relative peace, began to experience some level of security slip as unknown gunmen take advantage the laxity security maintenance to attack police stations and police outposts. Institutions that should have been a place of protection become scenes of vicious attacks. Police stations that have fallen under the rains of bullets of these barbaric gunmen include Umuoba, Osisioma, Uzuakoli etc. With all these staccatos of bullets on police and its personnel thundering in on daily basis, the eyes of the Command-in-Chief remains blighted to them.
The Ebonyi State governor while announcing the birth of Ebubeagu in Owerri, shortly after the meeting of South East Governors” Forum there, said it is not meant to fight the Eastern Security Network (ESN) or confront security agencies, but to compliment their efforts. However, the outfit’s coming into being was rectified on April 23 2021 during a meeting of South East Governors Forum with religious leaders, traditional rulers and Leaders of Thoughts in the zone.
Interestingly, Ikpeazu has become a reference point to the forum and the South Easterners as he now gives insight on how Ebubeagu would perfectly perform its functions of protecting lives and property in the zone. He revealed thus, “A committee was set up to work out how a security outfit that will protect lives and property in the South East will be formed, that committee came up with the setting up of Ebubeagu”, adding that “the formation was an initiative that commenced many months ago”. The Abia Governor used the opportunity to dispel the speculation that Ebubeagu is coming too late to duty.
“This is not new; what we did was to integrate the activities of our various vigilante groups from the various states to a central command to help drive intelligence gathering, information sharing and help drive digitalization of policing since we have porous borders amongst one another. We want everybody to synergize and come to a convergence in terms of intelligence gathering, in terms of operations, in terms of logistics support”, the Abia chief executive declared, adding, “the time to start is now”.
Uniformed officers, he revealed, cannot do everything unless the general public assists them; hence the presence of the vigilantes. “I want to tell everybody that this issue of security is for everybody. Any individual that constitutes itself to the insecurity of the state will not be allowed to operate. On how Ebubeagu will operate as ESN also operates, the Abia chief executive, said though he does not speak for ESN, he nonetheless believes that the operations of Ebubeagu are clear; to protect the people; and their properties. This is the right time, he added, for all hands to be on deck to overcome insecurity in the South East.
Governor Ikpeazu also reacted to the issue of giving the outfit the legal backing and disclosed that the various Houses of Assembly have done the needful, saying “we don’t expect legal frame work to be an impediment”. He stressed further that “our fight to secure our place has become existential and in that regard every other thing is secondary”.
On cost and equipment, Ikpeazu stated that he may not give the exact cost of running Ebubeagu, asserting however that the South East governors would not spare any effort to protect the people. “We must ensure adequate security for people to investment. We have created adequate environment for investment and if we don’t make adequate arrangement to protect them, we would lose out.
“The bulk of the Ebubeagu is intelligent gathering, while they’re also meant to defend their territories, arrest and prosecute criminals. Their major mandate is to ensure that anybody or group that constitutes itself an enemy of our people will not be allowed to achieve that mandate and the government is prepared to assist them to achieve this. We are prepared to identify who and who are behind the security challenges and why they are now being perpetuated”.
On the agitations of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), the governor believed that if the authorities have taken time to listen to the issues raised by IPOB, the issue wouldn’t have escalated; “issues of injustice, issues of marginalization, issues of trust deficit within the corridors of power and I think that they are valid, they should be addressed squarely, so that everybody, especially some of us in government can have our foothold in the South East and continue to promote the unity of Nigeria”.
He, however, stated that he was opposed to IPOB’s style of pursuing their strategy, pointing out that what Nigerians should engage in for now is wide spread dialogue. “We cannot continue to pretend that those issues IPOB is raising are not valid, but we must engage in discussion, in dialogue and in talks at the conference table”.
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.