Insecurity: Ebube Agu, ESN and the burden before South-East governors

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On April 11, 2021, governors of the South-East, after an emergency security meeting at the Imo State House, announced the setting of a regional security outfit codenamed ‘Ebube Agu’ (tiger’s glory).

The announcement came in the wake of violent on the Imo State Police Headquarters and the National Correctional Centre, all in Owerri, the state capital.

But the governors’ decision was not only greeted with surprise but also mixed reactions because the people of the region had long awaited the initiative.

Besides, many believed that the Indigenous People of Biafra-which was outlawed by the Federal Government, had taken advantage of the vacuum and the seemingly lacklustre attitude of the South-East governors to float a security outfit for the region, just like their counterparts in the South-West.

The IPOB said the Eastern Security Network was founded to drive away armed herdsmen from forests in the region and find solutions to the nagging insecurity that has made travelling a nightmare, farming near impossible and social activities organised with bated breadths for fear of being attacked.

Growing by criminals especially armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits, Boko Haram insurgents and armed Fulani herdsmen have, for several years, left many states in the country unsafe.

This was why the six met January 9, 2020, and established Amotekun, a regional security outfit.

In spite of the opposition by the Federal Government, the Yoruba stuck to their guns that Amotekun must stay and, thus, the state governments in the region have continued to provide the needed logistics for the security outfit to remain.

Although the South-East had introduced forest guards to protect the forests in the region from being converted to abode for criminals, it wasn’t enough to keep the region safe as the zone continued to suffer attacks, including the killing of Catholic priests, by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

Critics believe the governors of the South-East failed to act when the need arose but chose to hide behind community policing.

While many didn’t support IPOB’s ESN, some saw it as a timely intervention in the absence of a government response to the security challenges ravaging the region.

The governors had last Sunday, shortly after a security meeting, directed the Attorneys-General and Commissioners for Justice of the five South-East states to work with the joint security committee to come with the amendment of the existing state laws to reflect the new Ebube Agu security outfit.

The governors, in a communiqué read by the Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Chief David Umahi, said the security outfit, with its headquarters to be sited in Enugu, the Enugu State capital, would collaborate with the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies in the region.

“Ebube Agu will work with the Police and other security agencies in her operations to protect lives and property in South-East. The attorneys-general and commissioners for Justice of the South-East states have been directed to work with the joint security committee to come with the amendment of the existing state laws to reflect the new Ebube Agu outfit,” the communiqué read in part.

But there are those who still see Ebube Agu as one that only exists in name, with no structure, personnel and a law to back it.

There are also concerns about whether the novel outfit will operate together with the ESN without conflict of interest or even clashes that could worsen the security situation in the area.

Already, Ebube Agu has been rejected by the pro-Biafra group, saying the government outfit would be an extension of the conventional security agencies, warning that “one must give way for the other.”

IPOB’s spokesperson, Emma Powerful, described Ebube Agu as an imaginary outfit that won’t work, adding that the governors should not be trusted.

“When our people needed them for protection, they were nowhere to be found. Instead of standing to be counted, they were rather waiting for instructions. And now that their masters have instructed them on what to do, that is why they hurriedly announced the imaginary outfit. We know their mission. The outfit will be an extension of the Nigerian security agencies to spy on our gallant Eastern Security Network and other pro-Biafra groups,” Powerful said

“The so-called Ebube Agu will be infiltrated by thugs and saboteurs to hunt the ESN and IPOB members. They want to fight us using our own people. But we are smarter. We are miles ahead of their game plan. IPOB members and the ESN operatives can’t work side by side with any other group that does not know how we operate. In fact, Ebube Agu is a suspect. We can never operate together or co-exist. One must give way for the other,” he added.

He further said, “We can never trust any outfit formed by our governors for the security and defence of our land. Why are they suddenly realising that a regional security outfit should be set for the defence of the South-East after foot-dragging for many months? These governors who can sacrifice the collective interest of Ndigbo on the altar of their political future cannot be trusted. They are the worst set of Igbo leaders ever seen. They don’t have the interest of the masses at heart. Why have they been quiet over the atrocities of herdsmen in the South-East all along, if they truly care for the people?”

But political watchers in the region want the two outfits to work together in the interest of the region.

A former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said, “Well, this cannot be left to any group except the elders now. Those of us who can be called the elders in the whole of the South-East need to work hard, and very hard. We had wanted it long ago, not Ebube Agu but a central regional security system like Eastern Security Network.

“The ESN eventually came because there was no such central system; now that we have a central system, the best thing we can do as elders is to get the governors and IPOB together in whatever way we can do it without offending any group, and work out an arrangement whereby the ESN and Ebube Agu could cohabit.

“The point is really clear; everybody likes the ESN, but you know the ESN is not from an elected government. It is not a people’s movement as such because we voted for the people in government. We didn’t vote for IPOB but we are grateful to them for what they have done to help save our lives. But Ebube Agu, on the contrary, can be said to be a people’s security outfit because it was set by the government elected by the people.”

While stressing how difficult it would be to forge a unified ground between the governors and IPOB, the elder statesman added, “Ebube Agu, so far, is only a name – no law and nothing on the ground except an existing vigilante. So, I’m thinking the best that can happen is for the government to think deeply; IPOB should listen to the elders and to reasonable suggestions and, somehow, there will be an integration of the ESN and Ebube Agu.”

A former aide-de-camp to the late Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Bishop Obi Onubogu, said Ndigbo could not afford to have the two security outfits working at -purposes.

Onubogu said a clash of interest between them would leave the Igbo at the losing end.

He said, “We understand that the ESN was formed by a group of people in Igboland. We understand that the same people were agitating, complaining and also desire to have their own nation. It is not a hidden thing; everybody knows about it and it wasn’t done in secret. The issue is this; they got the sympathy of the people and appreciated the situation of the people because there was a vacuum. People have been demanding a proper security network to take care of their security problems in Igboland, such as the harassment of the people in their farms, harassment of women and the young ones with impunity by those who destroyed their farmlands.

(Sunday PUNCH)