Recently, the wave of insecurity in the South-East zone of the country has reached an alarming state, with blood chilling incidents of daylight killings.
However, two States in the zone have taken the lead, with heightened state of insecurity. They are Imo and Anambra States.
While some of the cases of insecurity in both States can be attributed to cultism, the larger chunk of it is attributable to agitation for a separate State, as being championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
For cultism, its state in Anambra State is alarming, with very little being done to curtail it by security forces. In Awka, the capital of Anambra State, cult related killings have become a major occurrence, with one incident or the other being witnessed every week.
Last weekend, not less than 20 people were killed in a burial ceremony in Ebenebe, Awka North Local Government Area, where a suspected cultist was billed to be buried. Sources in the community said the deceased was a known cultist who had participated in several operations, killing rivals, and that his rivals had warned that as such he was not worthy of being given a proper burial. When his family members attempted to hold a burial for him, it resulted in the invasion of the area and its attendant casualties, and so far, no news of any arrest has been heard by security agencies.
But the bigger threat facing the people of Anambra is the persistence of rampaging gunmen, who have been dubbed: unknown gunmen (UGM). When the threat first reared its head in 2020, it had been attributed to the then upcoming governorship election in the State. Though there were suspicions that the gunmen were members of IPOB, many insisted the attacks were politically motivated, while IPOB leadership washed its hands off it. But long after the governorship election, the attacks have continued in Anambra, leaving many with apprehension on when the attacks will abate.
In the last two weeks, Anambra has witnessed a series of attacks from gunmen, to the extent that some parts of Anambra State have been described as no-go-areas because of the prevalence of attacks there. Such areas are primarily towns that have borders with Imo State, where some separatist elements are said to be using as camps.
Last week, the father of Prof. Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, winner of the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Literature, Prof. I.O Onyemelukwe was killed. The 84-year-old scholar was said to have travelled to Enugu from his community, Nanka, and was on his way back when the incident happened. He was said to have opted for the Umunze route, instead of using the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, but he unfortunately ran into the gunmen at Oko axis, who killed him, while abducting two men, who were said to have failed to answer questions posed on them by the gunmen over the agitation for a sovereign State.
Also, between Friday and Sunday, last two weeks, the Orsumoghu-Azia-Mbosi-Ihiala road, witnessed about four attacks, leading to warnings on social media, urging road users to shun the road. Melie Ajuluchuku, a social media user in one of the warnings said: “Please brethren, do not ply the above route for any reason whatsoever. It has been proven to be a major security flash point. These hoodlums known as unknown gunmen have taken over the place, randomly, wreaking havoc to lives and property.”
Also, Chief Gab Ofoma (Ojemba Enweilo Nnewi) Chairman/CEO of Ofoma Associates Ltd, a known businessman based in Port-Harcourt was gunned down in cold blood as his driver made a detour from Onitsha-Owerri highway enroute Port Harcourt, due to traffic jam on the expressway.
Another social media user, who gave his name as Osddy, also gave his account on how he was pursued by gunmen along the same road. He said:
“I was travelling with my cousin. Vehicles coming from the Onitsha lane had stretched over 500 meters, so we made a detour through Orsumoghu road. As we climbed the road breaker to enter Mbosi town in Ihiala Local Government Area, my cousin. Vehicles coming from the Onitsha lane had stretched over 500 meters, so we made a detour through Orsumoghu road. As we climbed the road breaker to enter Mbosi town in Ihiala Local Government Area, my cousin spotted a white Hilux pulling out from the side of the road. As I watched from my rear view mirror, it was unmistakable that we were the prey. They were driving so fast to catch up with me.
“By the way, I was driving a Toyota Tundra truck. I sped up immediately and what would turn out like a James Bond movie ensued. For almost a kilometre, we were jumping all the road bumps, and speeding like hell.
“After about a kilometre, they started shooting at us. I wasn’t deterred, and just continued to drive. They eventually hit one of my rear tyres, but I didn’t stop. The entire road was littered with abandoned vehicles, and there was pandemonium everywhere.
“At the point when my vehicle was barely moving, they stopped, turned around and left. I managed another 200 meters before I drove into a mechanic workshop, jumped out with my cousin and ran.
“Everybody started running and another pandemonium ensued. Long story short, after about 30 minutes, we surveyed the area and managed to get some Good Samaritans to change our tyre and proceeded on our journey to Port Harcourt.”
Another couple were kidnaped, at Okija, Ihiala Local Government area of the State the same Monday, but were later released. The couple, it was gathered, were heading to Owerri Airport, Imo State before the incident happened. They were later identified as a medical doctor and her husband, a businessman, both based in Lagos. A Senior Police Officer, who spoke to journalists on condition of anonymity, said the couple were later dropped off by the hoodlums at Ukpor, Nnewi South local government area of the State at midnight, Monday.
Recounting his own experience, an anonymous social media user, who narrated how his brother was kidnapped, said he was asked to bring N200,000 to free him. He said he set out to Lilu where he was asked to bring money to the kidnappers, but was later taken in a motorbike into the camp by a member of the gang who accosted him on the way. He stated that at some point along the Lilu road, chippings were used to block the road to stop security forces from invading their camp.
Painting a vivid picture, the man said: “I was shocked to see a woman selling beer there (kidnappers’ camp) and some girls who put spices to their lives (prostitutes) were there singing and clapping, I bought them beer and they were 25 in number. As soon as the GOC saw me, he queried them why they brought me there. They told him that I came for my brother. They brought him out and knelt him down before me. I told him how I got a call and how I came to save my brother, he said that he liked my guts, he asked them to bring out my brother, he ordered 4 of his men to escort us to that Ukpor junction. The GOC told me to be praying for MNK (Mazi Nnamdi Kanu) to be released. I gave them what they asked me to bring and I also gave them 20k to drink, but most of them were speaking Abakaliki dialect.
“The experience is not worth having for a second time, Lilu town is like Sambisa forest now, It has been taken over by insurgents. There is no life there now, they have Intelligence everywhere. We are in serious trouble in Anambra South, it is very unfortunate, these guys are mean, they are small boys. Lilu, Orsumoghu, Azia, Isekke, Ukpor are in serious trouble, it is very unfortunate,” he narrated.
Meanwhile, as the spate of insecurity continues, various stakeholders have been trying to weigh in on how best to stop the tide of insecurity. Anambra State Elders’ Council had condemned incessant crimes in the State.
In a communiqué signed by the Chairman of the Council, who was also a former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu during its last meeting before the end of Governor Willie Obiano’s administration, the Counci l said that empowerment of youths can be an antidote to youth involvement in crimes. The council enjoined traditional rulers and Presidents-General of communities and other stakeholders, to ensure their youths imbibe the right values and avoid destructive vices like violence and drug abuse.
Also, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the 2021 Anambra governorship election, Mr Valentine Ozigbo, has joined in the condemnation. Ozigbo, who rather opted to speak about the mass murder last weekend at a funeral ceremony held in Ebenebe, Awka North LGA of Anambra State, described the killing as a tragic incident, adding that it was shocking and unacceptable, and that it was a horror that should be collectively condemned.
Ozigbo also proffered solution to the general insecurity saying: “The South East, particularly Anambra State, has witnessed tragic waves of violence which have claimed the lives of hundreds of our people, both young and old. This latest incident marks a turning point in the decline of our values as Igbos and should be unacceptable to all of us, and we must take steps as leaders to intervene. This is not an issue to be treated with kid’s gloves or swept under the carpet.”
“We must address the root cause of this anomaly and not just the symptoms. We must go back to the drawing board, reaccess our value system, emphasise moral values and uphold the sanctity of human life. Importantly, we must assemble as soon as possible, the thought leaders, political, traditional, women, and youth leaders need to come together and re-evaluate our moral code. We must take steps to arrest this development before it consumes us all,” Ozigbo warned.
Bringing a spiritual angle into the quest for solution, Catholic Bishops in Anambra State, under the Archdiocese of Onitsha have declared 40 days of prayers and fasting over the level of insecurity in the State.
A press release signed by Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke, the Archbishop of Onitsha and Metropolitan Ecclesiastical Province, for and on behalf of the Catholic Bishops of Onitsha Province, stated that there was a need for divine intervention over what was happening in the State.
Part of the release read: “For quite some time now, the South-eastern jurisdiction which God entrusted to our pastoral care has become a theatre of ungodly and wanton destruction of life and properties. The forces of darkness and death seem to have cast its shadows over the south-eastern part of our Country. This has not been part of our history or who we are as a people. In the midst of these tragedies, many people are tempted to lose faith in God and hope in man.
“It is against this prevalent despondency, that we, the Archbishop and Bishops of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province send you this message of hope and call for prayers especially this holy season of lent. We are indeed convinced that those who put their trust in the Lord can never be disappointed.”
The release stated that the prayers will start on Wednesday, being the commencement of the Lenten period, and will last throughout the 40 days period that ushers in the Easter celebration.
The Bishops explained that the prayers are for security and peace in the South-East of Nigeria, for God to cause a change of heart in the murderers and make them once again realize the sacredness of human life, and that justice and equity will reign in Nigeria.
“We ask God to give the Federal Government of Nigeria and some of our own political leaders the courage and the honesty to discuss the challenges facing the South-eastern region which are part of the causes of youth restiveness and violence in our zone. The prayers for peace and security are now declared in all the dioceses of our Province to begin on Ash Wednesday, 2nd March, 2022. The prayers will last for 40 days (from Ash Wednesday, 2nd March to Palm Sunday, 10th April, 2022).
“There will be fasting for everybody on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in the season of Lent. We suggest that people should not eat before noon on such days.
“We appeal to all as individuals, Families, Associations, Parishes to say their
Rosaries daily and faithfully within this period of lent in order that this cloud of blood-letting hanging over our region will collapse like the walls of Jericho,” the clergy men said.
On its part, security agencies have been working to arrest the ugly trend.
Recently, the Army public relations unit revealed that it invaded the camp of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) in Lilu and dislodged its operatives, killing many and recovering arms and ammunition.
Also, the Anambra State Police command, through its public relations unit, also disclosed that it recently recovered exotic vehicles dispossessed from its owners by separatist elements, calling on its owners to come for identification and collection.