Despite frantic efforts by Anambra State Governor, Chukwuma Soludo, to restore peace and security in the state, the activities of ‘unknown gunmen’ terrorizing the state seem not to be abating, write LAWRENCE NJOKU (Southeast Bureau Chief) and UZOMA NZEAGWU (Awka)
Gunshot sounds are increasingly becoming familiar to many residents of Anambra State.
As if the trauma that arises from constantly hearing gunshots is not enough, the firers cause arson, They also kidnap.
The resultant effect is that their action has returned Anambra to the status of a state under siege.
Nowhere is safe anymore. Daily and weekly, stories of attacks on police stations, local council headquarters and other public institutions, killings and kidnappings are heard.
Those who perpetrate these acts do not kidnap humans alone; they also ‘kidnap’ vehicles and demand ransom in return.
What surprises residents is the level of confidence these marauders attach to their notorious act.
Brazenly, and dressed in black attires, with guns fitted to their chests and ready to fire, they move in choice cars unhindered to their various targets irrespective of the time of the day. They don’t leave any target without inflicting pains, dispossessing people of breadwinners and means of livelihood, among others.
This is indeed not what the two-month old administration of Prof. Charles Chukwuma Soludo bargained for. Soludo had promised goodies for the people of Anambra State. But since he took over the reins of power on March 17, this year, one singular challenge that has distorted his programmes and activities is the reign of ‘unknown gunmen’.
As if the headquarters of crime has relocated to the state, certain places in the state have become near impassable due the activities of these marauders.
If Soludo had not prepared to govern, perhaps his administration wouldn’t have been able to make the modest imprints the state has so far witnessed under his watch with the scale of insecurity bedeviling it.
He knew from the onset that there was insecurity in the state. On March 1, few days to his swearing in, no fewer than 12 people were killed in the state.
But not ready to succumb to the antics of the criminal elements, he quickly moved to address the situation when he assumed office by offering amnesty to those perpetrating crimes in the state.
He offered the hoodlums an olive branch while presenting his inaugural speech.
He had asked them to down their weapons and embrace dialogue, promising to rehabilitate those that would heed the call.
The governor, who condemned the incessant sit-at-home in the Southeast region, reeled out figures to justify how the economy of the region had suffered from the action, promising to interface with other governors in the region to ensure the release of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who is in detention.
On Wednesday, April 6, Soludo further demonstrated his intention to restore peace to Anambra State by constituting a 15-member Committee on Truth, Justice and Peace.
A statement by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, had explained that the purpose of the committee was to seek a restorative justice approach for truth-telling or real facts, for the healing of the victims of the violence.
It further stated that the committee would account for the responsibility and accountability of the actors, conditional mercy for the repentant perpetrators, restitution for certain losses and rehabilitation of the perpetrators, for the overall aim of restoration of peace and justice as well as the promotion of development in the state and the region/Nigeria.
“The terms of reference for the committee are to identify the remote and immediate causes of the agitations, restiveness, violence and armed struggle in the South East since 1999.
“Document victims/circumstances of death, brutality and incarceration.
“Identify stakeholders and groups who have played critical roles in the agitations and conflicts, their roles, capabilities and demands.
“Address any other issue(s) that may be germane to unraveling the extent of the crisis and charting the roadmap for the future.
“Make recommendations for sustainable peace and security in Anambra state/South-East,” Chukwulobelu said.
The statement added that the committee would have a direct reporting line to the governor or his designee and would be provided with administrative support.
Ogidi District Office of the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company set ablaze by arsonists
Members of the committee were Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, Chairman; Ambassador Bianca Ojukwu, Member/Secretary; Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, member.
Other members were Dr. Udenta Udenta, Dr. Uju Agomoh, Rev. Fr Jerome Madueke; Canon Dr. Okechukwu C. Obi-Okoye; Mr. Charles Oputa (Charly Boy); Dr. John Otu; Mr. Ngozi Odumuko; Ms Onyeka Onwenu; Dr. Joe Abah; Mr. Chukwuma Okpalaezeukwu; Mr. Sam Egwuatu and Prof. Joseph Ikechebelu.
Still to buttress his seriousness over the issue of peace and security in the state, he had summoned a meeting of market and association leaders aimed at finding ways of recovering the Mondays now being observed as sit-at-home days in the Southeast.
At the meeting, the governor hinted that restarting economic and other activities in the state on Mondays had become necessary since the IPOB, which gave the directive, had since withdrawn it.
However, no sooner had the meeting risen with a resolution to resume activities in the state every Monday than he came under threat and attack of the agitating groups who vowed to see to its failure.
To show that they were not in for games, some gunmen mobilized and launched an attack on the headquarters of Nnewi South local council few days after.
The attack took the life of a security man attached to the facility. A week later, they razed the headquarters of Aguata local council, which incidentally is the council area of the governor.
With the attacks, those who wanted to return to Monday activities withdrew and since then, the state has witnessed one attack or destruction of public property or another even as kidnapping incidents increase by the day.
In fact, last week, an anonymous group hiding under the aegis of ‘unknown gunmen’ notified the public of their intention to attack nine local councils in the state.
The group, believed to be responsible for disturbing the peace and security of the state, warned security operatives to “get ready for action in Biafra land.”
Among the local councils listed for attack were Ihiala, Aguata, Nnewi South, Idemili South, Orumba South, Orumba North and Anambra East.
“These local government areas should wait for us soon. We are warning our dear Professor that it is time for action and not time to speak big grammar and talking.
All the security men occupying should get ready for action,” they warned.
The Guardian gathered that since the letter of attack went viral, panic has gripped the affected local councils, as findings showed that majority of the staff either stay away from work or have developed eagle eyes while attending to their duties.
Soludo has, however, asked residents not to panic over the threat by the ‘unknown gunmen’, saying the ‘anonymous’ letter was a tool intended to create tension and fear among the people.
He re-assured the people of their safety and protection, adding that security agencies, with the support of the state government, were jointly working round the clock to maintain law and order.
But despite his assurances, Anambra has turned into another theatre of the absurd in the country with rampant killings and destructions.
Last Sunday, two persons were reportedly killed when the Nigerian military engaged some ‘unknown gunmen’ in a shoot-out at the Federal Housing Estate, 3-3 Nkwelle Ezunaka near Onitsha.
A source said that the shoot-out started when some unidentified riffle-wielding men stormed a spot near the military post but were confronted by troops, leading to exchange of gun fire, which saw expended bullets rain on roof tops of fear-stricken residents.
It was further learnt that the gunmen also visited the Government Reserved Area (GRA) in Onitsha, where they also shot sporadically before leaving.
Reports also had it that on the same day, a yet-to-be-identified policeman was shot dead at Eke Oko in Aguata local council of the state.
An eyewitness account recalled that the victim was riding on his motorcycle when he was intercepted along the road around 6.00pm by ‘unknown gunmen’ and killed. He said the shooting forced road users and residents to scamper for safety.
The following day (Monday), gunmen engaged security operatives in a gun battle and reportedly killed two soldiers while many others sustained injuries.
The same day, the marauders moved to the premises of Idemili North local council secretariat, which houses a Magistrate Court, a Police Post and Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) office.
They set ablaze structures within the premises and 32 vehicles.
It was revealed that the arsonists gained entry into the premises in the night to carry out the arson.
The State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Ikenga Tochukwu, confirmed the gun battle between security operatives and gunmen but said he was not aware of the killing of military men.
He said the Command was aware of the attack by gunmen on security operatives, who, he noted, engaged them in a gun duel and chased them away.
Tochukwu had blamed arsonists for setting Idemili North local council secretariat on fire, saying: “Yes, the incident was confirmed, and our men were there to restore normalcy.
Right now, the fire has been put off, and calm has been restored to the area.”
Also commenting on the attack on EEDC’s office, the Head of Communications of the company, Emeka Ezeh, said the inferno occurred about 1.45am, disclosing that it was the handiwork of unidentified criminal elements.
He confirmed that about 32 utility and operational vehicles were burnt, including other assets and equipment within the premises.
Ezeh stated that efforts made to reach the Anambra State Fire Service at the time to rescue the situation did not yield any positive result, adding that members of staff who were on ground could do nothing to salvage the situation.
According to him, it took the intervention of the Commissioner for Utilities, Anambra State, Julius Chukwuemeka, to drag the Fire Service team to the scene of the incident about 9.05am.
He regretted that the ugly incident took place at a time the company had invested so much to improve its operations and transform the socio-economic landscape of the area.
Also last Monday, the ‘unknown gunmen’ kidnapped a member of the State House of Assembly, representing Aguata II State Constituency, Okechukwu Okoye popularly called Okey Di Okay.
He was kidnapped alongside his driver. As at the time of filing this report, he was yet to be rescued.
The traditional ruler of Isuofia community, His Highness, Igwe C.A.O. Muoghalu expressed shock over the development. He described the act as “one of the worst crimes unimaginable committed against not only Isuofia community, but also Aguata II State Constituency and the generality of Anambra.”
A statement issued on his behalf by the Secretary of Palace, Chukwujekwu Orajiuka, said there was no excuse for the wicked act, adding that no one should ever go through the traumatic experience of being a victim of violence, be it political or otherwise.
“Nigeria seems to be living through the normalisation of political violence, and abduction has remained a stubbornly grim part of the electioneering life in the rest of Nigeria.
And so, the plot to vanquish the political pursuits of Dr. Okoye is totally condemned,” he noted.
The monarch urged security agencies to spare no efforts in taking significant steps to rescue Okoye.
He called for his immediate and unconditional release and safe return “failing which the land of Isuofia shall fight her own cause” till the contrivers are brought to book.
Some residents who reacted to the ugly developments in the state wondered why the ‘unknown gunmen’ have chosen to sustain the attacks on the state.
They stated that Soludo, like any other concerned Igbo, “is interested in the good and development of Igboland and has not done anything to compromise on it.”
“If they say he is not supporting Biafra, they should know that he started from his campaign days to insist that those agitating for Biafra should be listened to.
As governor, he has visited Nnamdi Kanu and held fruitful discussions with him. That is why we are worried that these attacks may not be coming from the IPOB.
They may not be coming from those agitating for Biafra. They may be targeted at ensuring that they unsettle him as governor and on the long run, create problem for the economy of the state,” a resident, Ibe Ugochukwu said.
President General of the Coalition of Southeast Youth Leaders (COSEYL), Goodluck Ibem, also admitted that the attacks on Anambra State were no longer funny, stressing that the collective effort of the leaders of the state was required to handle it.
Speaking specifically on the burning of Idemili local council headquarters, he noted that those who caused the mayhem were the enemies of Ndigbo, urging the security agencies to fish out the perpetrators.
“While some religious extremists are busy destroying the properties and goods of Igbos in Sokoto and Yobe States in the northern part of the country, another set of criminals is in our doorstep burning down government property in Igboland.
This smacks of a conspiracy to scuttle the progress, security and development of Ndigbo.
“But the recent burning and destruction of Idemili North local council secretariat and the Magistrate Court in Ogidi barely 24 hours after the governor visited Mazi Kanu at DSS custody confirms our earlier stance that those behind the attacks, killings and burning of government properties and institutions in Anambra State are elements opposed to the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the progress of Igboland.
“These elements are making huge profits from the incarceration of Kanu and his release will scuttle their illicit business hence the attack on Anambra State government properties just in a bid to discourage the governor of the state from his legitimate pursuit that will bring lasting peace to the Southeast zone,” Ibem added.
The Int’l Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) also condemned the rising attacks on critical public utilities, insisting that time has come for security forces to improve on their intelligence skills to save the country.
The Principal Officers of Intersociety, Emeka Umeagvalasi and Obianuju Igboeli, said the burning of the administrative headquarters of the EEDC in Idemmili North local council was an act of sabotage.
“We renew our call for total overhauling of intelligence and securitization services in the Southeast which have totally failed and are on a verge of collapse so as to effectively track troubling criminalities in the region and stop the rampancy of civilian deaths and property destruction.
“We also urge all the fighting parties in the Southeast to immunise and spare all critical public utilities from their attacks and grievances for sake of humanity and decent, peaceful, progressive and cohesive living and development,” the duo said.
As it is, what dominates discussions in the state now is how long this carnage would last, as the gunmen seem emboldened by the day to unleash terror on innocent citizens. Thus, nobody is sure what would happen next.
How the governor and the security agencies would tame this tide remains to be seen.