File photo for illustration.
By Steve Oko
The resurgence of the activities of the ominous unknown gunmen in the South-East geopolitical zones in the recent weeks is becoming worrisome.
Unknown gunmen became a phenomenon in the zone in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests in 2020, got to an alarming height up till mid-2021 but began to show a downward curve before the end of the same year.
However, with the recent incidents in some communities in the zone particularly Imo, Ebonyi, and lately Abia (a hitherto relatively peaceful state), it is no longer in doubt that the unknown gunmen are on the prowl again in the region which prided itself as the most peaceful, enterprising and resourceful in the country.
The inability of the government to unravel the mystery behind this or to unveil the real identity of the masterminds of this group has also not helped matters, and in fact, is to blame for its persistence.
There has been a blame game between security agencies and the agitators of self-determination in the zone on who is behind the octopus masquerade and whose interests it serves.
While Government continues to point accusing fingers at the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, the pro-Biafra group has not minced words in their allegation that security agents in collaboration with some “treacherous governors” in the zone are sponsoring the activities of the group to disrepute, discredit and demonise IPOB, and ultimately justify the on-going clamp down on the group especially the Eastern Security Network, ESN.
There have also been allegations that the festering insecurity in the zone is politically motivated.
The mode of operation of these unknown gunmen in some instances leaves members of the public more confused on who actually is behind the mysterious masquerade.
For instance, could security agents really be the ones killing their colleagues to create a certain impression?
But another disturbing poser is: could agitators of self-determination truly be burning down houses of fellow folks as recently witnessed in Imo communities and in the Mgbowo community of Enugu State where men in security uniforms were conspicuously observed in a viral video carrying out these atrocities with impunity?
Who are truly the people behind the mysterious unknown gunmen?
Despite the narratives of each of the sides, the fact remains that South East is burning! The fire is ragging so fast that if nothing urgent is done to extinguish the inferno, the entire zone will soon be consumed.
In less than two weeks unknown gunmen killed security agents on roadblocks in Enugu, a number of houses in Umuonyeoka Community in Ihitteafoukwu, Ahiazu Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State were burnt down by armed men suspected to be law enforcement agents.
The “unknown gunmen” reportedly razed residential houses belonging to one Sonyval and Chinonso Madu, siblings of one Mr Uche Madu, who is alleged to be a member of ESN.
According to reports, the unknown gunmen stormed the area in seven cars shooting sporadically before heading to the Uche Madu compound.
A community source, who pleaded anonymity, told newsmen that “they came to apprehend Mr Uche Madu and when they couldn’t get him, all hell was let loose and they allegedly descended on the country home of his siblings, Sonyval and Chinonso Madu, which they set ablaze without allowing even a single pin to be evacuated from the building.”
Following the magnitude of damage inflicted on innocent folks in the community, the House of Representatives had mandated the Inspector General of Police, IGP; as well as the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, to investigate the incident and ascertain the true identify of the masterminds.
Despite denials of any involvement by the security agencies in the atrocity, what doesn’t add up is how armed men in seven vehicles would storm a community, operate for about two hours unchallenged, and disappear into the thin air without a trace.
It is certainly an ominous sign of a failed state!
There have also been calls for a probe of the alleged involvement of the operatives of Ebubeagu regional security outfit in the mystery unknown gunmen.
A coalition of South-East Youth Leaders, COSEYL, has called for their arrest describing their actions as “wicked and barbaric.”
The youth group while condemning the overzealousness of the security apparatus, expressed displeasure on the alleged jungle justice being meted out to suspects.
COSEYL in a statement by its President-General, Goodluck Ibem, over last week’s incident in Imo State called for the investigation and prosecution of the group over the barbarity.
”We are not in the stone age where anyone or persons will wake up one morning, accuse someone of being a criminal and kill the said person.
“We are in the 21st century where we have the rule of law and the constitution guarding the people and government activities as regards governance. For Ebubeagu security operatives to wake up and start killing Igbo youths in whatever guise is totally unacceptable.
“Most of the houses in the affected communities have been burnt down and destroyed while the little few persons who escaped being killed have run away leaving those communities empty without anyone or animal sited anywhere. Those towns are now ghosted communities, without any living thing.
“One of the disturbing incidences in the community was a situation where a woman received matchets cuts in her head, hand and other parts of her body because of her inability to provide her husband or tell the Ebubeagu operatives where her husband went to.
“This is unbecoming of a sane society. Ndi-Imo and Ndi-Igbo must rise and condemn in its entirety this despicable act by these so-called Ebubeagu security operatives.
“The courts remain the last arbiter and no one has the constitutional right or powers to take the life of another man at will. It is unlawful and a criminal act to torture, maim or kill anyone on the premise of being a criminal.
“Houses and properties that were destroyed in those Communities, which court gave such orders? These operatives just assumed the duties of the courts and went ahead to destroy peoples homes and assets without recourse to the law of the land. Too sad.
“We warn those Ebubeagu security operatives to stop forthwith the extrajudicial killings now and we demand that those found wanting or culpable of extrajudicial killings in Imo State should be made to face the music. Enough said,” COSEYL warned.
South-East governors are yet to be forgiven by the people over the shabby way and manner they handled the inauguration of Ebubeagu contrary to the yearnings of majority folks that preferred a regionally coordinated security outfit. The governors are being accused of hijacking the Ebubeagu outfit and working in cahoots with the federal government to suppress the opposition and also use them to identify and spy on key supporters of the growing agitation for self-determination.
Unfortunately, the governors seem to be more consumed and preoccupied with their 2023 ambitions instead of genuinely and selflessly addressing the menacing security challenges in the zone.
Some of them have also not really delivered nor used their advantaged position to better the lots of their people, a sad commentary that accounts for the growing loss of confidence in the governors.
It’s only those who want to massage the truth that may still argue between the governors and promoters of self-determination agitators who truly calls the shots in the zone.
If the truth must be told, the governors have since lost the confidence of the people due to underperformance, insincerity and non-commitment to the cause of the zone.
As if those were not enough, the recent invasion of a Cattle Market in Omumauzor, Ukwa West, Abia State where about eight persons were killed and some others wounded in a midnight raid by armed bandits, are all pointers that South East is boiling.
The revelation by Gov Okezie Ikpeazu when he visited the scene where he disclosed that the yet-to-be-identified attackers did not come from the immediate community according to preliminary investigations, yet threw a challenge that much remains to be done by the intelligence community on the sources of the rising insecurity in South East.
So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack just as the motive of the invaders is yet to be known.
Although Government had announced some measures including siting a military base in the area to boost security in the environment, how these measures would prefer a permanent solution to the unknown gunmen malady remains a mystery.
Kidnapping for ransom has become regular around Abia North and Okigwe axis where a number of abductions by armed bandits have been witnessed in recent times.
Students and lecturers of Abia State University Uturu, Marist Academy Uturu, as well as innocent commuters plying the Uturu Isuikwuato route, have variously fallen victims of these hoodlums suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, thus compounding the sources of the festering insecurity in South East.
Worried by the ugly development, Co-Chair of Interfaith Peace and Dialogue Forum, Bishop Sunday Onuoha has blamed the intelligence community for the persistence of the activities of unknown gunmen in the South East.
Bishop Onuoha told Saturday Vanguard that it was either the intelligence community was not alive to its responsibilities or the government was not making use of the intelligence at its disposal.
He said that the persistence of the unknown gunmen saga in the zone was suggestive that there was a leadership failure in the country.
“If the intelligence community cannot gather intelligence to unravel those behind this, it then means we don’t have a country”, the cleric lamented.
He urged Government to quickly engage those who feel aggrieved in the zone and genuinely address their grievances in the interest of national peace.
“ If there are people who are angry, what stops the Government from engaging them in a dialogue to resolve their grievances?” He queried.
Meanwhile, the police have said the force was not yet overwhelmed despite the resurgence of unknown gunmen in the zone.
Zonal Police Public Relations Officer in charge of Zone 9, Umuahia, Mr Kingsley Iredibia, told Saturday Vanguard that the force was making efforts to put the challenge under control.
He said that police were synergising with other security agencies including the Ebubeagu security outfit to contain the challenge.
The Police Spokesman expressed hope that the challenge would soon be permanently overcome.
How long shall the zone wait for the much-expected federal succour or intervention?
Should South-East governors, the political elite and other critical stakeholders sit complacently and watch the zone go on flames?