A citizen’s threat to mobilise the youth in Isuikwuato, Abia State, Southeast Nigeria, for mass action over the high level of insecurity in the axis, has forced the state Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, to speak out twice in two days over threats to life and livelihoods in communities.
Prior to the threat by Emenike Iroegbu, a local journalist and owner of AF News, an online medium, facts about the high level of insecurity in Abia had remained unknown, except for occasions when members of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) had confronted the military and other security agencies.
Abia is the home state of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu and the activities of the group have been prominent in its communities, especially in the capital, Umuahia, where troops of the Nigerian Army and members had a confrontation during a military exercise, codenamed, Operation Python Dance, in 2017. During the encounter, the military invaded the home of Kanu and forced him to escape into exile from where he currently mobilises his supporters.
IPOB has a strong presence in Aba, the commercial city of Abia, where its members are known to have engaged the security agents on many occasions over the conduct of their affairs. The city with its large population of youth is probably the group’s operational headquarters.
Isuikwuato, Community Under Siege
Isuikwuato Local Government Area is one of the 17 local government areas in Abia State. Among its communities is Uturu, the host community of Abia State University and Gregory University, a private institution founded by an indigene, Dr Gregory Ibe.
Isuikwuato is known to be home to senior military officers, both serving and retired. Among them are Nigeria’s former Chief of Army Staff, retired Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, retired Maj.-Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and senator, the late Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, and retired Maj.-Gen. Chijioke Kaja.
During his tenure, Ihejirika influenced the establishment of the Nigerian Army School of Languages in Ovim, a community in the local government area.
On the political front, Isuikwuato is in Abia North Senatorial Zone, represented by the Senate Majority Whip, Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State. At the House of Representatives, it is represented by Mrs Nkeiruka Onyejocha, the House Deputy Chief Whip. It is also the home of the State Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr Samson Uche Ogar.
Iroegbu drew attention to the poor security situation in the local government area in a video last week. He accused the state and local government as well as the political leaders of a lack of interest in the safety of lives and property in Isuikwuato. He also accused the people of complacency and urged the youth to rise and protect themselves.
Iroegbu said he did not want to talk about the poor security situation in the area but was compelled to address it in the video because: “It is becoming a problem for those of us from Isuikwuato area.”
“The insecurity in Isuikwuato Local Government Area is becoming extremely frightening, scary, and it calls to question everything that the people of Isuikwuato are known for.”
“We are called the Land of Generals but the insecurity in the local government has made us, I don’t know what to call it, the Land of Puppets.”
“Kidnapping in Isuikwuato Local Government has increased consistently. There is no road now that you can use to drive into Isuikwuato and your heart will not get into your intestine or you will not get scared.”
He said the people might be forced to act if a prominent citizen fell victim to a kidnap attack.
“Probably until one prominent person is killed between Uturu and Isuikwuato or maybe from Akoli to Isuikwuato or maybe from Nunya to the main town, until one prominent person is killed and blood is shed, then that might be when the people might rise up to defend themselves.”
“Do we need a Sunday Igboho? I don’t understand. What is the government doing? What is the local government chairman doing? Nobody is making (any) statement, nobody is reassuring the people that there is hope,” Iroegbu said.
He said some few days ago a man in a Range Rover vehicle was shot at and kidnapped on Akara road and forced to pay N22 million as ransom.
He also said that an occupant of a vehicle was killed between Akoli and Akara a day before he (Iroegbu) released the video but that no one was talking about the attacks.
Iroegbu added that neither the local government chairman nor a state government official had visited the scene of the attacks.
“There have been no less than 50 kidnap cases in this area and kidnappers have collected over N100 million.”
“Every day, between Akoli and Akara, there is kidnapping. How do we expect our citizens that are outside the state or the country to come home with this kind of crime going on?” he asked.
Iroegbu alleged that there was a police station near the area where the attacks usually occurred but that rather than protect the people, the police engaged in extorting motorists and other members of the public.
In Isuikwuato we have a military base, we have DSS (Department of State Services), we have police headquarters. I am not just here to complain. It is about asking leadership to take action. Our people must rise up to protect themselves.”
“Isuikwuato is under siege. It is time for the youth to rise up. It is time for youth community leaders to rise up. We cannot keep sitting docile. We cannot sit to expect leadership to take action. State government should do something. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu should do something; people should rise up to defend themselves,” he said.
Prevailing but Ignored Situation
HumAngle learnt that the situation in Isuikwuato had remained precarious over a long period but escalated in the last two years but no one seemed to care.
In the past, there had been disputes between natives and herders around Ulonna Farm Settlement in Umuahia North Local Government Area, near Isuikwuato, established by the defunct Eastern Region government but currently occupied by families whose parents worked in the farms.
A journalist in the state told HumAngle that in the recent past, while the disputes had escalated and degenerated, the state government pretended it was not a problem.
Also, the political leaders in the area refused to address the issues, except a recent effort by Dr Osita Igne, a former Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly and Transition Committee Chairman of Isuikwuato Local Government, the journalist said.
HumAngle learnt that the information of Isuikwuato Local Government was kidnapped recently but he escaped from his abductors, while a lecturer with Abia State University and his wife were attacked on the Akara-Uturu road on their way home.
Mr Patrick Ugochukwu, a lecturer with the university, said the kidnappers had taken advantage of the poor condition of the road, cut off by erosion, to attack those plying it.
A New Front
While the issue of Isuikwuato raged, another video began to circulate on the internet of members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant arm of IPOB, killing livestock in communities in Abia State.
The video shows youths killing livestock and burning houses of livestock farmers in Ozu-Abam, a community in Arochukwu Local Government Area of the state.
The video, ostensibly recorded in the night, shows youth who claimed to be ESN members, flashing torchlights and moving from house to house burning animals, particularly cows and goats, whose owners had been chased away.
In the background, a female voice, which directed affairs, boasted that the group had chased away the owners of the flock because they had no place in Biafraland.
After Iroegbu released his video, Ikpeazu, the state governor, tweeted on Saturday, “I acknowledge with sadness the sudden rise in violent crime around a bad spot before Akara Junction in Isuikwuato LGA of our dear State, Abia, and the recent spike in attacks on POS vendors in Aba! I frown seriously at this turn of events and have changed the law…
“With the mode of operation of these criminals, it becomes imperative now as always for the leadership of Keke operators to purge themselves of criminal elements or face dire consequences!’’
The governor said the state Ministry of Works had been directed to repair the ” failed portion of the federal road within 7 days.”
He added that the government would arrest criminals who operated on tricycles in Aba within 10 days and appealed to the citizens to cooperate with the security agencies.
On Monday, the state government issued a statement condemning the destruction of farmlands by herdsmen.
It also condemned the burning of livestock by unknown persons and said that the security apparatus in the state had been activated to ensure the maintenance of law and order.
The government statement issued by Chief John Okiyi Kalu, the Commissioner for Information, Abia State, reads:
‘’Abia State Government wishes to condemn in its entirety the recent destruction of farmlands by cows grazing openly in violation of extant laws of the state and Nigeria.
“It also condemns, without reservations, the activities of criminal herdsmen suspected to have masterminded recent brazen kidnap of innocent citizens around Abia North Senatorial Zone of the State.
“Consequently, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has directed security agents in the state to bring to justice all those involved in the criminal activities.
“Government also frowns seriously at the wanton destruction of cows by yet to be identified individuals whose aim is to exacerbate already existing tensions.
“Government has fully activated all relevant components of the state security architecture
to ensure the safety of lives and property of law abiding citizens, residents and visitors to the state.
‘We, therefore, call on the people to go about their legitimate businesses without fear as the government is on top of the situation and will spare nothing in protecting Abians’’
Conflicts between herders and community members have raged across Nigeria in recent time.
The situation escalating recently in the Southwest region where the indigenes are asking Fulani herdsmen to leave because of the destruction of their farms, kidnapping, rape and associated crimes.
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