By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Dennis Agbo & Chinedu Adonu
ENUGU- THE sudden influx of able bodied youths from different state in the Northern of the country to the states in the South East and South South is raising concern among the people of the zones. Their movements became more worrisome as they are invading the states at a time the Federal and the various state governments have restricted
movement and curfew even imposed. It is very curious why this sudden influx. Initially, it was being reported that Almajiris displaced from the Northern states were making their way to the South East. But a closer look at these people showed that that they were no almajiris but youths ranging from 15 to 30 years and above which belied the earlier speculation.
Incidentally, these youth are secretly entering the states as they hide under tucks conveying cattle and food stuff and some of them usually entered in the dead of the night. The question remains what their mission is, more so in a period interstate movements are banned and all the states in the country have closed their interstate boundaries because of the fight to flatten the curve of the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic.
Worrisome is that despite the Federal government’s ban on interstate movements as well as 8pm to 6am curfew, as measures to curtail the spread of this dangerous virus, these people beat all the security mounted from the various states all the way from the Northern States down to the states in the south. This exposes the compromise of
security men manning the various interstate boundaries. Some of the youth were so desperate in getting down to the
east that one of them rode all the way from Nasarawa state in a motorcycle to Enugu State where he was intercepted at Nsukka area and was asked to turn back to Nasarawa.
For an example, on Wednesday, 6th of May, about seven mini buses and a luxury bus conveying the youths through the Enugu-Benue -Kogi boundaries were intercepted by the Nsukka Vigilante group and other local security, with the assistance of soldiers.
They were escorted by soldiers out of Enugu back to where they were coming from. The frequency has become worrisome.
The matter has also give some of the governors concern that they now constantly come out in the night to monitor the compliance to the curfew and some of them like Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Willy Obiano have been monitoring and arresting offenders.
These movements have been witnessed in the whole of the five states of the South East zone. Also, in Enugu state, the local government areas boarding Benue and Kogi states are Isi-Uzo, Udenu, Igboeze North, Igboeze South, Nsukka and Uzo-Uwani council areas have been fortified with local security.
At Awgu local government area of Enugu that has boundary with Abia state, the Vice Chairman of the Council, Mr. Lotachukwu Ogbonnia, on May 7, intercepted a truck loaded with about 30 Northern youths who claimed they were coming from Port Harcourt and were travelling to Kano state. Initially, the driver of the truck told the Agwu Task
force team that he was carrying salt but when the team insisted on searching , 30 human beings were rather discovered instead of salt. They were made to reverse and go back to wherever they were coming from.
Also, on Monday, May 11, the Nigeria Air force in its check point at Penox junction, along Enugu-Ontisha expressway intercepted over 60 northern youths packed into a 40 feet container. They claimed they
were going to Nassarawa state. The interception in the daytime, drew the attention of different security agencies and civilians, including the chairman of Enugu East local government area, Mr. Alex Ugwu.
Public Relations Officer of the NAF in Enugu, Flt Lt. John Ogili told Saturday Vanguard that the Air force team handed over the arrested northerners to the police. The police, it was learnt, reloaded the northern youths into a truck that took them out from Enugu and headed towards north while the truck that conveyed them was impounded by
Still in Enugu, some Shua Arabs from Niger republic were, on Tuesday this week, apprehended along Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway with some loads and after interrogation the Chairman of Enugu South local government council, Mr. Monday Eneh turned them back toward the northern boundary where they said they came from.
The matter has been of concern to the people of south East prompting Ohaneze Ndigbo to react.
Ohanaeze Ndigbo has rejected the ferrying of Northern youths and Almajiris in large numbers to the South East States, saying that their movement was not with good intention.
The publicity secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Prince Uche Achi-Ogbaga wondered why the large numbers of youths from the North are making their way to the South East especially when interstate boundary movement is banned.
South East now on edge
By Vincent Ujumadu
THE people of the South East geopolitical zone appeared relaxed since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic for the simple reason that the number of reported cases in the zone had not been as high as those in the other five geopolitical zones. To many people in the zone, COVID 19 was a mere imagination of some world powers fighting for supremacy.
Even when their respective governors ordered for total lockdown of their states, many of the people still engaged in inter- state travels and were hardly obeying the safety measures, like keeping social distancing, wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers and washing hands frequently with soap and water.
However, most people in the zone became frightened when it was reported that many truck drivers from the northern part of the country conveying cows to the southern part of Nigeria, were also carrying the almajirai and some youths along with cows.
The people’s fear increased when it was reported that the Kano State governor, Alhaji Abdullahi Ganduje had sent the almajirai packing from Kano State after many of them tested positive to the COVID 19 pandemic. Shortly after, many of the trucks carrying people found their way to some states in the South East, the lockdown notwithstanding.
In view of the seriousness it required, governors in the zone set up special task forces to properly man their boundaries to ensure that such trucks did not find their way into their states.
In Anambra State for instance, the commissioner for transport, Dr. Christian Madubuko virtually relocated to Onitsha and also stationed many security operatives at the Niger Bridge in Onitsha to ensure that the interstate travel ban was respected. Members of his task force were also stationed at the border town of Amansea to intercept such trucks coming from Enugu State. Others were also stationed at Ufuma, which shares border with Enugu State on the Oji River end, as some of the trucks were said to be diverting at Oji River to avoid the Amansea checkpoint near the capital city of Awka.
One particular incident at the Onitsha Head Bridge was when the task force members had to turn back a bus carrying seven youths who turned out to be from the north. All of them in the bus could only speak Hausa language, even though the bus they were traveling in had ‘PRESS’ boldly marked on the body.
At the last count, almost all the states in the South East have had stories to tell about incidences of trucks from the North conveying almajiraai to the various states.
In fact, the fear of the influx from the north had changed the perception of many people in the state about the existence of COVID 19 as they have become very conscious of social distancing, especially when they see people from the north begging for alms.
A businessman in Awka, Mr Frank Nwadike wondered the motive behind bringing the almajirai to the Igbo land at this dangerous period of coronavirus pandemic.
“To me, those bringing these people down to the East have a wicked motive. Look at all the states and distances they traveled to come down. Do they have houses or relations here? I expect security operatives to have discovered them and turned their vehicles back before they reached our borders,” Nwadike said.
Among the questions being asked were, How did the trucks carrying the almajirai pass through the various checkpoints in the states that were observing total lockdown? How had they been feeding as they journeyed? Who was planned to receive them as they arrived their destinations? Since the almajirai are supposed to be kids or teenagers, how come able- bodied men are in the majority of those intercepted?. According to Nwadike, the governors in the South East zone seem to be more concerned about their relationship with the seat of the federal government in Abuja, than protecting their people, adding that it is not enough to intercept the trucks, ask the occupants few questions and ask them to return to where they came from.
While many people were afraid that the almajirai being dumped in the South Eas and other southern states posed health risks, others felt it might be the grand design to launch terror attacks in the area. Human rights activist, Mr. Joachin Nwosu argued that those being brought from the north to the south might not even be almajirai, but well trained fighters of the Boko Haram terrorists who are dangerous.
Nwosu said: “This might be a window of opportunity for Boko Haram to come down en masse! The annihilation has been long planned out. No doubt, the governors in the south may be making a show of their efforts at stopping the spread of coronavirus without giving a thought to the more dreaded Boko Haram. They sincerely believe they are working hard, and very hard, to stop the spread of Covid-19. But what has presented ought to be seen to be different.”
He recalled a recent statement credited to Boko Haram in which it boasted that it would strike in the South-South and South East. . “Most of these men being moved down to the south are not almajirai. They are young men on a mission,” he said.
A former diplomat and former Secretary to the Anambra State Government, SSG, Mr. Oseloka Obaze was also worried about the manner the various tiers of government were treating the coronavirus pandemic. He said: “Both the Federal and State governments have responded constructively to the Covid-19 pandemic within the scope of their governance abilities. But as a nation, our overall response has been very weak.
“Some states have done well, while others have failed woefully. We have also witnessed some draconian measures. But overall, we failed in healthcare delivery; we failed in communications; we failed in education and orientation; we failed in mobilization and logistics and we failed in our responsibility to protect the average citizen.