Even though one was not privy to the discussion held at the Owerri summit of the southeast governors, it was not lost on me why Agu (insert your choice of Tiger, Lion or Leopard) would become the favored totem for the regional security outfit. Every serious student of Igbo culture knows too well that there is a special place for the wild cat in the people’s mythology.
Agu is powerful, brave, undaunted and approaches life without fear. Which is why it’s not uncommon among Ndigbo to hear a praise name such as Omekagu (one-who-acts-like-the-Tiger), Isi-Agu (the traditional outfit so-called because of the Tiger head pattern on the fabric) and Agu na eche mba (the mighty Tiger that watches over nations and tribes). In fact, a good number of the people even bear Agu as their surname.
But there is also the other aspect of the Tiger that offers a little window into a crucial lesson in understanding the Igbo mindset and moral philosophy of life. No matter the economy of the jungle, Agu must not just live but thrive. In Igbo folklore, the daring exploits of the big cat is so often eulogised and his premier status guaranteed as the undisputed king of the wild. That said, there is a crucial distinction to me made between the revered king of the jungle and his caged brothers who live at the mercy of the zookeeper.
A caged Tiger is timid, powerless and stays conquered. Without being rescued, he may likely spend most of his life in captivity. He belongs in the clan of the captured and can no longer lay claim to his old glory. He has so lost his place in the jungle that even his cubs would not dare venture out to rummage for food. In place of his famed bravery is now the mortal fear of falling victim to a highly resourced predator.
In April 2016, an intelligence report warned that Fulani herdsmen were seen grouping at neighboring Odolu in Kogi State in preparation for an attack on a border community in Enugu State. The state governor summoned a security meeting with both the commissioner of police and the GOC 82 Division of the Nigerian Army in attendance. His Excellency was told that the situation was under control and that there was nothing to worry about. Of course, the reassurance came after the security chiefs had received all the needed “logistics” from the government.
But that was not what happened in the early hours of April 25, 2016. Tragedy struck. Fulani herdsmen numbering over five hundred turned Nimbo, a small agrarian community in Uzo-Uwani local government area into a theatre of bloodbath. By the time they were done, the entire community was littered with the bodies of more than forty dead. Their throats were slit and bodies dismembered. In fact, the entire landscape was covered in a sea of blood. Blood of pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, children and old men that couldn’t run fast enough to escape the horror of that day.
When the security chiefs were later asked to clarify what happened and why there was such a monumental security breach, they made it clear that they were only answerable to the man in Abuja. Few months down the line, we were told that some of the ringleaders of the murderous gang were later identified but none to our knowledge was finally brought to justice.
History kept repeating itself all over and two weeks ago, it was Ebonyi’s turn.
Herdsmen killed no fewer than 20 persons and destroyed property worth millions of Naira in Egedegede, Obegu and Amuzu communities in Ishielu Council Area of Ebonyi State.
In all these attacks, the governors felt weak, incapacitated and helpless. The irony of it all is that the man in charge at Abakaliki had been known to go above and beyond to court the friendship of the Fulani power structure. The attack was a sad reminder that those who decide to seek power by riding on the back of the tiger will end up inside the belly of the beast. But that statement is only true to the extent that one believes that the many innocent lives brutally cut down, were worth more than his Excellency’s political future.
More than twelve months ago, with the increasingly dire security situation throughout the country and the inability and in some cases, apparent lack of interest on the part of the federal security apparatus to protect life and property, a few regional joint security outfits were born. The southwest Governors first founded the Western Nigeria Security Network codenamed Operation Amotekun on January 9, 2020. A coalition of northern groups followed suit and inaugurated the Northern Nigeria Security Initiative known as Shege-Ka-Fasa. Despite the clamor for such an outfit in Igboland, the southeast governors held multiple talks and made empty promises. They continued to prioritise politics over the lives and wellbeing of their subjects who not only suffer incalculable loss of economic livelihood but are daily brutalised and murdered by marauding foreign savages.
Following a meeting between the governors and the then Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu in early 2020, news filtered out that the police chief literally bullied them into ditching the idea of a regions outfit. The big question being asked at the time was why the Federal government of Nigeria felt so confident in browbeating the southeast into submission, something they couldn’t do with the north or southwest regions of the country?
There has been a lot of theories as to why the southeast governors are so reluctant in seriously addressing the most crucial part of their job as the chief security officers of the states. Of course, we already know that most of their actions are filtered through the prism of future political interests. A future that desperately needs a heavy dose of blessing from their ogas at the top. But there is more to that. It’s no secret that a good number of the Governors were not duly elected in a free and fair election and so do not owe their position to the people. Many are products of a fraudulent election process and were only able to survive post-election litigation on the strength of the intervention by the northern oligarchs. To continue to enjoy the trappings of power illegitimately acquired, they become willing victims of unending blackmail. Of course, with the monumental graft under their watch, the fear of EFCC is the beginning of wisdom.
On Monday April 5th, a group of heavily armed gunmen, wielding all kinds of sophisticated weapons including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and improvised explosive devices, blasted through the gates of Owerri prison facility. According to a press release by the Nigerian Correctional Service, the massive jail break saw to the escape of 1,844 inmates in custody.
In another related development, the Imo state headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force was also attacked and the bandits attempted to gain access to the police armory but were successfully repelled. They however, succeeded in burning down multiple police patrol vehicles. They also made an attempt on the Government House, located just about 200 meters away from the prisons and left after about two noisy hours without suffering any casualty. They would later attack police stations in Mbaitoli, Orlu, and Ehime Mbano and other local government areas of the state.
For the Imo State Government, this was one attack very close to home and just a little over one week after, the southeast governors suddenly felt the urgency to converge in Owerri for an all-important security summit. Ebube Agu was born.The big question is, why did it take this long?
Since issuing the communique announcing the establishment of the joint regional security outfit, many Igbo intellectuals have expressed strong reservation about the real intentions of the governors. Many are worried that the touted ban on open grazing will end up being another political stunt given that the legal framework to back it up is nonexistent. Unlike solid steps taken by Gov. Ortom in Benue, there was no mention of the individual state Houses of Assembly passing an anti-grazing law which will ensure that anyone who runs afoul of it would be criminally liable. The people view Ebube Agu as just another attempt by the governors to appear serious in order to deflect a mounting political pressure while they continue to dance to the whims of Aso Rock.
While those are legitimate concerns, I think the people should be patient enough to wait and find out if indeed solid steps and concrete actions would be taken in the next few weeks to achieve the stated objectives. We should for a moment surrender our doubts and let hope triumph over past experiences. We do hope that the Owerri incident will serve as a pivotal lesson to all that no one, no matter how highly placed or heavily guarded is totally immune from the failure of his society.
As Ndigbo prayerfully await an end to the void of leadership, the southeast governors should not expect us to just rest our hopes in the glory of a caged Tiger. They had spent years clipping his paws and now he carries on like a neutered caricature. What is required on their part is a genuine concerted effort, serious hard work and a lasting commitment to severe the leash on the beast and inspire his return to old glory. It’s only by doing so that our region will be ready to put on notice those who have been holding the Tiger by his tail.
•Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.com