Barrister Uche Orji is the Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State. In this interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA, he looks at the security situation in the South East, Ebonyi State and the moves to stem the spate of insecurity in the zone
These killings in Ebonyi State, the first one was blamed on Fulani herdsmen which prompted the South-East governors to set up Ebubeagu, a regional security outfit.
Just few days ago, there was another one that was blamed on one Addo Local Government in Benue State, which they denied. What exactly is the situation? What is happening to Ebonyi? In Ebonyi State, we are only having a share of issues of insecurity across the country. I will concede to you that before the recent time, Ebonyi has been very calm; communal issues were being sorted out. We had not much of these violent clashes but of a sudden, it came so surprisingly.
The case of Egedege in Ishielu Local Government Area, where about 50 indigenes were killed, gruesomely murdered and properties destroyed, the community fingered the herdsmen from the area; coming from the history of their relationship with herdsmen.
We are able to believe that there is more to it that government and security agents should step in and track the criminal elements and given the fact that when the incident was about happening, the herdsmen around pulled out and evacuated the area shows that by circumstantial evidence, it is traceable to them. Government’s position is that security agents should do their work to bring justice to that community . The Vice-President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, has visited affected areas, together with the governor.
I am sure that something is being done. The governor has also requested that some palliatives should be brought to the community. In the case of Anhaku and Igbor in Ohaukwu Local Government Area and Agila community in Benue, it was on the 12th of April that the community woke up to see about four people murdered and properties destroyed.
Initially, they were suspecting herdsmen because of their previous activities in Egedege but history and circumstance of that killing and destruction of property was traced compellingly to Agila community in Benue. Investigation is on and we do hope that security agencies would unravel the situation but generally, Ebonyi State like I have earlier stated, is very peaceful except for communal clashes arising from disputation of land ownership and of course, recent issues of herdsmen/farmers crisis.
With the arrangement on ground by the state government, all of those issues will be nipped in the bud. We are also looking at gathered intelligence in the remote and immediate causes of all of those violent crimes in Ebonyi State.
What’s the hope of Ebonyi State and the government per se in the commission of Ebubeagu Security Outfit in the South East? How are they going to work with bodies like the ESN and the rest of them?
I speak for Ebonyi State to say our dear Governor, David Umahi, who is incidentally the chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, had a security summit with governors of South-East in Owerri, Imo State on the 11th of April, 2021 and they came up with a resolution to launch Ebubeagu as their own zonal security outfit and being a federating state, each state is required to have a joint funding and to set up a committee to ensure the implementation of the whole concept of Ebubeagu in South-East.
I must say even before that time, each state has had a kind of internal vigilante group which I am sure will be integrated into Ebubeagu as South-East Security Outfit and I think that we don’t have any other government in the South- East except the governments of the various states in the South-East.
The governments of the South-East, talking about the five governors, come together in liaison and consultation with leaders in the South-East, the youth organisations, women organisations, religious organisations and they came up with this singular security outfit for South-East. I think that is just the issue. There cannot be any other outfits in the South-East zone. Is
it not better to incorporate the ESN into this? And the other time, IPOB said anyone that goes for recruitment into Ebubeagu should know that that person is on his way home…
We should learn not to attach so much credibility to social media posts. The youth in the South-East as far as I am concerned are going to be part of Ebubeagu and I don’t know whether anybody thinks these youths will be brought from any other zones apart from South-East.
Whether we are having any other organization, nongovernmental organization or not, what is important is that the governments of the South-East have come up with Ebubeagu as South-East Security Outfit and they are going to integrate all its able-bodied youths who must pass their credibility tests; they must be recommended by the town union leaders, traditional rulers, religious groups and other non-governmental organisations. That is the singular message.
When do you think that training for this will start?
I think the South-East Governors’ Forum will resolve all of that. Being the spokesman and Chief Information Officer of one of the states in the South- East, you should be able to know, for instance. In the South-West, before they took off with Amotekun, there were relevant laws that were passed in the state Houses of Assembly.
That has not been done in the South-East. We just woke up one day and heard Ebubeagu has been floated. Are the South-East governors going to back up Ebubeagu with enabling laws? Your position is not a true position. The South-East governors under the leadership of our governor, Umahi, have been meeting over the security issues of South-East even before any other zones. I can say that they had set up a committee before now.
They had also consulted with various houses of Assembly. I think there had been a draft template for it for each of the state, given each of the houses of Assembly, and of course, the Commissioners for Justice in each of the state are in tune with all of this process to have a legal backing that will be common to all the states. Each state will have a legislation on South-East Security Outfit but it is going to be common similar by the letter and spirit of the law in each of the state.
These are the preparations they have made and I can tell you that they have so many processes and steps they have already taken, which might not be in the public space being a security issue.
In the South West, there is Amotekun, in the South-East, Ebubeagu and the north, Hisbah. Is Nigeria regionalizing through the back door?
It is by no way a regional system of government. This is a form of corporation collaboration, a form of security coordination that requires a central committee or connective point, so that they can be having peer review and feedback across the states of the zone. We operate a presidential federal system of government; we don’t have a governor- general that administers the activities of the entire zones.
The whole structure actually is managed by each state but there is central coordinating point that gives ideal for trading, intelligence, coordination and other things.
Part of the legal provisions is the fact that every security outfit of every state has rights and power and we have the rights and power to track every situation outside their jurisdiction. That is the corporation we are talking about. That is difference between state security outfit and this zonal security outfit.
What is Ebonyi doing presently to stop these killings?
Beyond the 4,000-member vigilante that we have across the state, just two weeks ago, the governor consulted with the stakeholders and a total number of 1,000 more vigilante members were recruited, five per community.
There are 140 communities in Ebonyi, that is 700, and for the metropolis and satellite towns, a total number of 300 were recruited, making it 1000. The governor is procuring 140 vehicles for each of the communities to enable the civilian security outfit together with the conventional security outfit to police the various communities. These 1,000 newly-recruited members will be supervising the existing 4,000 members.
This we hope will really help to curtail criminalities and help to clamp down on criminals wherever they maybe. This is not an Utopian state or society. We still expect that the much we can do is to curtail drastically the menace of security in our state. The government is also mobilizing more conventional security to the afflicted communities.
Egedege has about 100 more security officials that we had deployed to police the area and keep the peace to avoid further escalation or retaliation. In Ohaukwu LGA, the Efiom crisis has attracted not less than 600 security personnel, who are helping to police, the place and of course, we have a CCTV camera mounted in every major location in the state.
These centres are located in strategic places including the barracks and some quarters. Through this, we have actually given a hot chase to criminals within the metropolis. Some of these criminal acts are being carried out in the remote parts of the communities in Ebonyi State. It is hoped that as our network goes further, we will be able to connect those remote areas with our CCTV cameras.
How soon can that be? As you rightly said that those atrocities are being committed in the remote areas of the state and people there are living in fears?
Like I said, what we do is to ensure we give immediate attention to flashpoints. Issue of security is gradual process. We believe that with this Ebubeagu, with the recruitment of more civilian security personnel, we will be able to reach out to those communities and with time, when there is network, we will be able to connect the remote communities with the CCTV cameras.
The South-East had been relatively calm, but with the recent incidents, especially, in Ebonyi and Imo states, that are APC states, it is as if they opened their states and this is consequence…
It calls for concern that Ebonyi that has been very peaceful, with lots of transformational projects going on, all of a sudden, few months after declaration, justifiably, to the ruling APC, that is at the centre for us to connect and mainstream which has been the political culture of South-East we are now beginning to see pockets of violent crimes.
It appeared to be sponsored but we cannot speak on that, except we require intelligence gathering to find out the root cause of all these sudden attacks in communities of our state.
We don’t rule out the possibility of manipulations but it is only intelligence that can resolve all of these. We are not quick to given allegation in what we have not had prima facie evidence to substantiate any form of claim in that regard.