Ebonyi State is fighting against killings, attacks and banditry in order to return the state to its peaceful state, writes UCHENNA INYA
Before now Ebonyi State is regarded as one of the most peaceful states in the South- East and the country at large because of the peace and tranquillity that radiated the state.
But since the turn of the year, the peaceful status of the state has changed. On January 21, the state was confronted with a communal war in Effium Community, Ohaukwu Local Government Area of the state.
The war between the people of Effium and Ezza- Effium in the area which has claimed many lives became a source of worry to the state government especially as it refuses to stop despite its several efforts. Houses, vehicles and other valuable properties have been burnt to ashes in the melee.
The people had since deserted the community while the popular Effium market, where foods and other commodities are relatively very cheap, has become a shadow of itself with all the shops in the market shut.
Without adequate security by the government, the market where people from Benue, Abia, Enugu, Cross River, Kogi and other neighbouring states buy foods and other commodities in large quantities would have been razed by the fighters the way they burnt some markets in some villages in the Effium market. Because of the hostilities, people predict hunger in the land as no human activity is going in the community.
This year’s farming season has already commenced but the people of the community are not participating in the agricultural activities as the entire community is in disarray. It is against this backdrop that Governor Dave Umahi of the state adopted several strategies to return peace to the community.
The Governor first ordered the arrest of all the stakeholders of the two warring parties both those in his government and outside the government for not living up to their responsibilities in maintaining peace and order in the community as expected of them.
The killings, maiming and destructions which remained unabated, stopped in the community. But immediately they were released, hostilities returned to the community.
The governor then changed his tactics and started engaging the stakeholders in dialogue to bring lasting peace by holding several peace meetings with them in different places in the state.
The stakeholders of the two parties saw reasons with Umahi on the need for peace in the community and signed a peace pact which has been severally shattered.
The state Deputy Governor, Dr Kelechi Igwe, who has been working with the governor to bring lasting peace to the community, gave reasons why the government efforts have continued to suffer set back despite the many peace pacts the two warring parties signed.
He explained that the community has left the government with feelings of unpredictability having done a lot to restore peace and security in the area. “Government has done so much to restore normalcy in Effium.
Unfortunately, each time you think that all is well, they beat you to it. Either they hire mercenaries; I mean both sides; Effium and Ezza. They hire mercenaries and disguise themselves as real indigenes of the community.
The military and police are still considerate that there is a kind of force that they will deploy to this place and more people will become casualties,” he said. Killings, maiming, shootings, burning of houses and other valuable properties continued in the community forcing Umahi to impose 24-hour curfew in the area.
The government imposed the curfew through his deputy, while on an assessment visit to the community. He announced that military and police have been fully deployed to man all exit and entry points including forests and bush parts to enforce the order.
“Miscreants and hoodlums including mercenaries who are hiding in the forest and bushes are advised to vacate the community immediately in their own interest as security agents have been directed to root them out. “Also, those who are in the habit of raising a false alarm to distract and divert the attention of security agents are by this announcement advised desisting from doing that as such persons will be tracked, arrested and prosecuted as one of those promoting the crisis,” he said.
The curfew was followed by the deployment of more troops and mobile policemen to beef up security in the troubled community. General Officer Commanding 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Taoreed Lagbaja visited the community last Saturday to monitor things in the area.
He told journalists that he was in Effium community in response to the security challenges in the area. “I have come to familiarize myself with the environment and advised my Commanders on the ground on what to do to avert further crisis and challenges on peace and security in this general area”, he said.
Since the deployment of more troops and mobile policemen to the community, hostilities have reduced as no killings and destructions have been constantly heard in the community unlike before when the troops and the policemen were not deployed.
With this, peace maybe gradually returning Effium. As the government was working towards the return of peace to Effium, over 25 persons were massacred in three communities in Ishielu local Government Area of the state by suspected herdsmen.
Umahi was so embittered over the massacre which he described as unprovoked. He immediately visited the communities and ordered the deployment of security agents to the communities.
Following the massacre, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was forced to visit the communities and the governor used the occasion and urged the federal government to bring the perpetrators to book. He said such killings were capable of causing another civil war in the country if not stopped.
Umahi said: “I want to thank you and thank Mr. President for this prompt action you have taken to visit this peace-loving community. We are touched and we are encouraged by this visit.
Your Excellency, we wake morning of Tuesday the 30th March to hear the shocking news of the unprovoked massacre of not less than 20. Every day, they continue to discover dead bodies from the bushes around.
“What happened was that these people divided themselves and were going towards the communities
So, every Okada with a passenger was hacked down. Initially, there were using knives, so nobody knew what was happening until they got to the communities and that’s where they started shooting and that is the time the people got to know and the villagers mobilised and started pursuing them.
“I am told when we visited over the attack that the murderers left a telephone, even three days later, the telephone was still ringing and I am happy that what the communities have been hiding from the government, they have given it to you and I am told it contains the call logs, it contains pictures of the murderers, it contains their contacts; who are they calling, who is calling them?
Your Excellency, these things are enough to get these people apprehended. “If the government fails to do something, sir, it will be on record that the people did their best by providing this very vital information.
The killers are not hidden; they are there sir with their pictures, the call logs. I am told they are a particular person they were calling, they call him Bishop Frank Shakespeare, and they called him before the attack, called him after the attack. Your Excellency, I am told there are over 50 contacts there, there over 50 call logs there.
“Your Excellency, we have made all effort to make peace between the farmers and herders in this state and by extension in the southeast, they have a platform that involves even the herdsmen even in our local governance.
There is no name the governors of south-east are not being called, they call us cowards and all kinds of names because we know there is a need for peace in this country. We know that one crisis in any part of this country can degenerate into a very serious civil war, we don’t want another civil war in this country but it is in the hands of everybody.
“I am told this afternoon that another set of calls are going to the herdsmen that are in Ebonyi, that they should vacate, they want to attack again.
Let me as the Chief Security Officer in this state say there will be serious consequences if another attack happens here in Ebonyi State because nobody will be able to hold the youths, nobody will be able to hold the people. It is very important that we do everything very important to forestall any other attack not only in Ebony but in the entire south-east.
“I have directed vigilantes all over to take charge of all the villages and time has come sir for the federal government to approve state police because we can use our bare hands to face people that have AK-47, its quite annoying. You see people with guns; you won’t do anything because you are obeying the law. If this kind of killings continues, definitely, people will begin to disobey the law; it is going to be anarchy and this very bad.”
Responding, Osinbajo vowed that victims of the massacre must get justice. He said anybody who watches another person killed next to him and does not feel angry and pain and does not feel that the person deserves justice, must answer to God.
Osinbajo was accompanied by Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Minister of State for Power and Steel, Dr Sampson Uche Ogah and other ministers. To strengthen security in the state, Umahi called for a Security Council meeting with all the Service Chiefs in attendance.
The meeting was held at Exco Chambers, Old Government House, Abakaliki on Wednesday last week. At the end of the security meeting, Secretary to the State Government, Dr Kenneth Ugbala, briefed journalists. He said the council approved 1000 vigilantes to tackle herdsmen menace and banditry in the state.
The 1000 planned local vigilantes are different from the state Security Network outfit known as Neighbourhood Security Network which has over 3,000 members Out of 1000 planned vigilante,
700 will be in charge of the grassroots while 300 will be securing the urban. Ugbala said: “The council had extensive discussions on the establishment of vigilantes and we want to take our security from the grassroots the way it has always traditionally been done.
Every community in Ebonyi state is to have five vigilantes and that will give us a total of 700 vigilantes at the 13 local government areas of Ebonyi state.
“They will be responsible outside our normal community vigilantes that have always been our traditional way of safeguarding our people which the government encouraged that all the villages and communities should set out their own vigilantes.
We all grew up to meet all these things being done and this is the right time to create barricades on the roads at odd hours and checkmating who is going out and coming in at our local government areas and communities.
“The state will equally set 700 vigilantes across the 13 LGAs and another 300 at the urban making it a total of 1000 vigilante members.
The essence of it is that all the necessary facilities that can help them do their work better including mobility and training will be instituted through the Ministry of Internal security immediately.
The vehicles have already been purchased by the government to make sure that they are strategically located in all the corners in the state to ensure that our people are not attacked by bandits”. Since the Security Council meeting, the state has been relatively calm.