By Chidi Nkwopara
It is not in doubt that the South Eastern states, particularly Imo State, have in the past few weeks, been passing through perilous times. This is no thanks to the damnable activities of official and unofficial armed men. A very careful peep into the economic and social life of the people will show that it has been lying flat on its belly. Owerri that prides itself as the hospitality capital, became a ghost of it’s former self.
Most private business establishments in Owerri municipality and the adjoining communities, for instance, no longer open for business before 9am. Similarly, between 4.30 and 5pm, most shop owners, close for the day and start heading home, for fear of either the bandits, herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbers or unknown gunmen. You will not be far from the truth if you call it a self imposed curfew.
Truth is that life is no longer precious and inalienable in Imo State. It appears worthless and this may explain why it is snuffed out recklessly in this day and age. And mostly dreaded like the pandemic are the official and unofficial armed groups operating in the state.
It is from these groups that precious human lives have sadly been wasted, and still being wasted. It must be recalled that we still have the lucky ones who did not pay the supreme prize. These lucky citizens remain thankful to God because they are alive to tell their stories.
Some of these extremely lucky citizens actually had the opportunity to tell their stories, when the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Most Rev. Anthony J. V. Obinna, visited them Wednesday, May 26, 2021. It was the first and only opportunity they had, to tell their version of the story, not as told by the security agencies.
Although we count them lucky, they are nonetheless, unfortunate detainees because they keep pleading innocent. They told the visiting Catholic Archbishop, how they were arrested from various locations, accused and jointly charged to a Magistrate Court for planning to commit a treasonable felony.
As at the time when Archbishop Obinna visited the facility, no fewer than 106 detainees were known to be languishing in the Federal Correctional Centre, Owerri. This staggering number may have increased!
Yes, it obviously increased within a few days. It is now known that a combined team of security personnel, June 8, 2021, stormed Akabo community in Ikeduru local government area of the state. Details of this operation, at the time of writing this piece, remained a guarded secret.
Obinna was not done with the visit to the Correctional Centre. His next port of call was the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Owerri, and particularly, the hospital morgue.
It is now known that the purpose of his visit was to personally confirm the gory stories he was receiving on a daily basis, and from several quarters. This visit was most revealing. Naturally, he is in the best position to describe what he saw, and he did just that.
His words: “On Tuesday, June 3, 2021, I visited the Federal Medical Centre mortuary, Owerri. As I painfully surveyed the 35 corpses stark naked on the floor, stealthily dumped there within the last few days, victims of runaway killers, military, police and unknown gunmen, with no identification on them, I thought of many others who have been kidnapped, taken to unknown locations, killed and even butchered, as we continue to hear. Imo is bleeding!”
Archbishop Obinna’s findings formed part of his press statement titled: “Stop the killings, Convoke a ceasefire meeting, Save Imo State: A charge to Governor Hope Uzodimma and all stakeholders.”
Indeed, the state has been bleeding since the unknown gunmen descended on Owerri municipality with their large dose of mayhem, last Easter Monday. Owerri has never experienced that level of violence since the devastating Nigeria/Biafra war ended in 1970!
How the state degenerated to this ugly level rightly, became a cause of serious concern for patriots, especially clergymen.
The Anglican Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical Province, Dr. David O. C. Onuoha, brought in the principle of cause and effect. He rightly thinks there is much to the prevailing level of insecurity than meets the eye.
He is of the opinion that the palpable marginalisation and unfair treatment, may be some of the root causes of the growing agitations and insecurity in the land.
His words: “That the people of the South East have been unfairly treated by the Federal Government, is not in contention. It is also not in doubt that recent agitations by people of the South East Zone are fueled by their consistent and flagrant marginalization in the Nigerian project.
“The agitations are further propelled by persistent failure of agents of state to take the expected strong stand against killings and maiming of people in their homes by so called killer herdsmen.
“While the underpinnings of the provoked agitations are understandable, I wish to call on those who are agitating, to review their strategy and shun all forms of violence, as not to play into the hands of men, whose real goal may be to set Igboland backwards, by turning it into a theatre of war.”
The Anglican cleric however, warned that “the threat to wreck on Igboland, worse havoc than what we passed through during the Nigeria/Biafra war, must not be taken lightly.”
Honestly, people living outside the territorial boundaries of Imo State, may not fully appreciate what the hapless and innocent citizens have witnessed in the past couple of weeks.
Put simply, it leaves one with no other choice but to conclude that the threat of extermination of the citizenry, by people with access to instruments of coercion, is real.
Onuoha said: “The killing of Imo people by unknown gunmen and security operatives, has reached such an alarming level that we really need to stop, reflect and quickly find a way to bring back order.
“While not in any way absolving those who are guilty of shedding other people’s blood for whatever reason, we strongly insist that indiscriminate arrests and murder of innocent citizens, should cease.
“To this effect, it is necessary for government to note that its strong-arm strategy, has not been effective. If anything, it is worsening the security situation and creating room for further distrust.
“The present clampdown strategy is fueling the insinuation of enslavement and making it difficult to convince their young ones to look unto only God for justice.”
Whether the people concerned will listen and put to good use, the wise counsel of these religious leaders, remains a big questio, but this is where we must call on all well meaning and patriotic Igbo citizens, to shun partisanship and unite in an urgent search for a solution to the nagging problem.
Although Archbishops Obinna and Onuoha spoke at different fora, they are however, unanimous in their view that Governor Hope Uzodimma needs to rise up now and provide fatherly leadership that will ensure the return of peace in the state.
While Obinna urged Uzodimma to “convoke a ceasefire meeting of all Imo stakeholders, no matter their disposition or leaning, for a concerted approach to quench the bloody fire already ravaging Imo people and destroying Imo State”, Onuoha said: “A patriotic think-thank is required at this time for the best way out of this ugly situation. No sacrifice in this direction is too big for our survival as a people.”
May peace and good conscience prevail. The senseless banditry and killings must, please, stop. They are not in the character of Ndigbo. I rest my case.
*Nkwopara, a journalist, wrote from Owerri