T he bedlam trailing the alleged disruption of the 2022 august meeting of Ebonyi women by Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State through the agency of Ebubeagu Security Network is instructive. August meetings have become trademarks of Igbo women who hold it annually to discuss and raise funds for community development.
This year’s Ebonyi women august meeting organised under the aegis of Ebonyi Federated Women Organisations, with the theme: “Women as nation builders” was to be held at the People’s Club, Abakaliki on Saturday, August 20, 2022. Resource persons like Anambra-born chartered accountant, Mrs Uzoamaka Okoli; Kebbi- born development consultant and Gender/ Human Rights Advocate, Dr. Bilkisu Magoro; among others were on hand to hone Ebonyi women for their roles as nation builders when gun-toting Ebubeagu Security operatives allegedly stormed the venue, manhandled the women and abducted some to Ebonyi Government House where the women were said to have been beaten up, stripped naked and detained.
When the hapless Ebonyi women and their guests from Ebonyi, Anambra, Edo, Bayelsa and Kemi states marched through the streets of Abakaliki in protest, the Ebonyi State Information Commissioner, Uchenna Orji, denied any such incident and branded the women mere dramatists. In a doublespeak, Ebonyi State Commander of Ebubeagu, Panchris Eze, who allegedly led the operation, said that on receipt of security information, Ebubeagu operatives actually went to People’s Club to “prevent a breakdown of law and order”! Umahi’s administration has been notorious for rights abuses like intolerance to dissenting opinions, intimidations, unlawful assaults, imprisonments, etc.
The rights’ abuse profile of Umahi’s administration in Ebonyi State peaked with the infamous life bans from “all government facilities in Ebonyi State” handed down to two journalists – Chijioke Agwu of Sun Newspapers and Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspapers respectively in April, 2020 over their respective factual publications. The bedlam generated by Umahi’s primitive decree from civil society organisations and the international community forced him to renege on his resolve to enforce the life ban.
In May 2021, Governor Umahi refreshed his discomfort for free speech and advocated for social media censorship even after the Nigerian national assembly had failed in that area. Umahi alleged that: “The most dangerous attack on the Nigerian nation is the social media”! He charged his aides to “Research all the constitution and then, let’s see how we can make a law on fake news”. On September 28, 2021, Governor Umahi assented to the Ebonyi State Cybercrimes (Prohibition) Bill 2021 which, apart from being a strait-jacket reinvention of the infamous Decree Number 4 of 1984, was a product of radical perversion of legislative procedures.
To drive home the fact that the law was designed to gag the people, section 8 of the law provided that “No person(s) shall be prosecuted under this Law (sic) without the written consent of the Honourable Attorney-General”! No timeline was given for the Attorney-general’s written consent. Armed with this obnoxious law, Umahi launched out against Ebonyi people and trampled upon their fundamental human rights. Paschal Etu, Godfrey Chikwere, Chika Nwoba, Ibiam Junior and others were the guinea pigs of that law. They were all arrested, tortured and detained under inhuman conditions before the Federal High Court set the law aside for being unconstitutional.
The implementation of the Abakaliki Capital Territory Law was another negative spot in the human rights record of Umahi’s administration. Through the strange law, Ebonyi people were tried by ordeal by the government. Ebonyi citizens’ property or means of livelihood could be destroyed with earth-moving equipment or confiscated and oftentimes diverted for private use without recourse to the law courts. At a point no reprieve appeared in sight for Ebonyi people as the Catholic Diocese of Abakaliki alleged that Ebonyi State judiciary was operating an “executive order” from the governor! All those abuses seemed to subside when Justice Inyang Ekwo handed his landmark judgement sacking Umahi, his deputy and 18 Ebonyi State legislators for mandate diversion. Ebonyi people, especially the women folk, poured out in jubilations over the judgement which they believed marked the exit of Umahi as well as his regime of vegetable tax and other forms of economic asphyxiation against the masses.
The current gender-based violence streak of Umahi’s administration which culminated in the clamp down on Ebonyi women’s rights to wit: forced exile of the APC female Ebonyi South senatorial aspirant, Princess Ann Agom-Eze; the seizure of the salaries and allowances of Afikpo North East State legislator, Mrs. Ngozi Eziulo, for 26 months; and assault and unprecedented disruption of the innocuous Ebonyi women’s august meeting are merely Umahi’s ways of squaring up with the Ebonyi women folk who celebrated Inyang Ekwo’s sack order.
Umahi is further irked by Ebonyi women’s refusal to support his current political bids, especially his alleged intention to install his lackeys in sensitive elective positions come 2023. Whether Ebonyi women and their children will succeed in checkmating Umahi is a question which the answer lies in the womb of time, but before then, the world should rise for the protection of Ebonyi women from the obvious gender-based violence programme of the outgoing governor of Ebonyi State.