•Blame South-East Governors for porosity of the region

•We don’t want Fulani herders, their cows any longer in our community —Abia monarch

•Relocate the cattle market, we don’t want it again; it harbours the criminals —Umunneochi people

•Lokpa regional cattle market, a security threat —Cleric

Empower monarchs as chief security officers in their communities —Enugu monarch

Be brave, unite and expose killers —IPOB leader to Ndigbo

By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Nwabueze Okonkwo, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu & Steve Oko

FOR long, the identity of the people behind the series of kidnapping for ransom in the South-East region has been enmeshed in controversy. When it was pinned down to a group of murderous Fulani herdsmen, the Federal Government vigorously rose against such classification, calling it hate speech. IPOB, individuals and many communities that were victims insisted that Fulani herdsmen were behind it. Even Miyettti Allah did not exonerate the Fulani but clarified that the evil acts were being perpetrated not by their members but by foreign Fulani who had illegally invaded the country.

But the Federal Government did not want to hear Fulani mentioned at all. They treated the matters with kid gloves. This position emboldened the perpetrators and their business boomed. They killed, raped and maimed. This was when IPOB muted the idea of setting up ESN which they said was meant to operate in the bushes and checkmate the evil activities of the murderous Fulani herdsmen who committed their atrocities in the bushes. IPOB and ESN were infiltrated and all manner of evils began to be committed in their names. They lost control. But the recent high profile kidnap of the Prelate of Methodist Church of Nigeria, His Eminence, Samuel Uche, has once again brought to scrutiny the issue of who actually are behind the business of kidnapping for ransom in the region. His ordeal was very revealing and called for urgent action from South-East leaders. He recalled that they kept their cows in nearby bush and went for kidnapping business. However, the herders are not alone in this evil act as some natives may be collaborators.

All blame should go to the South-East governors. They never cared for the security of their people. When they resolved to enact laws on anti-grazing, they had divergent opinions, and it failed. Their Chairman and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, never supported the idea. He said his state has an understanding with the herders.

Meanwhile, killings were going on. Abia State that made the law had no political will to implement it. They were afraid to confront the murderous Fulani herdsmen and the result is what the region is harvesting today.

The kidnap of the Prelate and payment of a whopping N100 million ransom under 24 hours, as well as the revelations from him, sparked protests from Umunneochi youths and even woke Abia State Government from its slumber over security. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu was forced to move to Umunneochi to meet the people and chart a way forward. The people were enraged.

For fear that the people may rise against his government on account of the reaction generated by the abduction of the Prelate; Abia State Governor held interactive sessions with Umunneochi leaders, stakeholders and security agencies and took serious decisions, among which is that the Abia State Commissioner of Police, alongside Umunneochi youths, should provide immediate security along the Ihube-Isuochi road, stretching from Ngodo through Lomara Junction all the way to Ihube. He directed the Chairman of Umunneochi Council, to, with immediate effect, open the road leading from Ihube through Lomara Junction to Ngodo Isuochi.

Governor Ikpeazu directed that all settlers, herders and individuals residing inside the forests around Umunneochi Council Area should vacate such locations, saying that Government can no longer guarantee the safety of any person or group found to be residing in the forests around Umunneochi Council Area.

The Government also directed that all cows and herders around Umunneochi Local Government Area be restricted strictly to the Cattle Market at Umuchieze until a final decision is reached concerning the menace in the Cattle Market.

The traditional ruler of Isuochi ancient kingdom, the largest community in the council, Eze Godson Ezekwesiri was very angry over the various atrocities, including kidnappings for ransom in the area and its environs being committed by the herders. He said they were no longer welcome in the area, insisting that the people have made up their minds that they would never again labour for strangers who wreak havoc in the area. He said the youths of Umunneochi are determined to provide security to the communities since Government had left them at the mercy of the herders unleashing sorrows on the people.

“We have told the Federal Government that we don’t want the Fulani and their cows again in our land. They should go. We also don’t want the Cattle Market again in our land. It must be relocated out of Umunneochi. The criminal Fulani herders doing all these things are being harbored in that market. We want to protect our land by ourselves,” the monarch said.

The youths while protesting, demanded the immediate dismantling of a military checkpoint at Lomara junction, alleging that the soldiers at the post were frustrating their efforts to comb the surrounding bushes where the criminal herders hibernate. They accused the army of shielding the criminal Fulani herders, an accusation the Army headquarters has challenged.

Igbo youths under the aegis of Coalition of South-East Youth Leaders, COSEYL reacting, said: “It is now obvious to all that criminal Fulani herdsmen are responsible for the atrocities in Igbo land just to give Igbo youths a bad name. The Prelate has courageously revealed what he saw, and he did not tell lies. He said Fulani boys not Igbo youths kidnapped him. He said he saw their cows. But till today, the Army has not arrested any single Fulani person. Any time there is this senseless killing in Igbo land which these criminals carry out, the Army arrest Igbo youths, tag them IPOB and ESN members. The military should stop serving ethnic interest,” COSEYL alleged, saying that “it is worrisome that such evil practice will be happening in Umunneochi and Isiukwuato that harbour military formations and checkpoints.”

The Methodist Archbishop of Okigwe Archdiocese, The Most Rev. Biereonwu Onuagha lamented that Umunneochi has been turned into a money-making centre for kidnappers and other criminals. He called for the re-opening of the Ihube-Lomara road, saying that its closure has turned the area to a notorious flashpoint for criminals. Archbishop Onuagha also called for the immediate relocation of the Lokpanta Cattle Market which he described as a security threat to the people.

The Chairman of the Umunneochi Traditional Rulers Council who is also the traditional ruler of Aro Ikpa Autonomous Community, Eze Ernest Onwuka stressed the need for urgent action, saying that Umunneochi as a council that shares borders with all the South-East states, is naturally vulnerable to all sorts of crimes. He said over 12 incidences of kidnapping have been recorded along the Leru-Lomara-Nneato road recently and agreed with the stakeholders’ call for the dismantling of various military check points in the area as they now constitute security risk.

Leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, urged Igbo communities to be brave, unite and expose the people causing havoc in the region. Kanu who spoke through his lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said exposing the people committing the atrocities in the region would restore sanity in the zone.

“We are enthused with the news of seeming de-escalation in criminal activities in the South-East and urged for sustained action towards total sanity on our land. No son of the soil should pause until all form of criminality is eradicated from our land; our land should no longer be a haven for those who kidnap for ransom, kill or indulge in any form of prohibited acts.

“We thank Chukwu Okike Abiama for exposing these criminals behind the sacrilegious activities on our land. We are profoundly pleased with the unprecedented success so far recorded in containing these monsters who have no connection whatsoever with my freedom movement. IPOB has been vindicated”, Kanu said.

To checkmate this evil acts, the traditional ruler of Igga Community in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State, Igwe Herbert Ukuta, urged the South-East governors to make laws empowering traditional rulers to be the chief security officers of their respective communities, saying that the law should be backed up with security votes to enable the monarchs empower the personnel who would secure their localities.

According to him, the monarchs know the criminal elements in their communities, and disclosed that the bad eggs liaise with criminal herdsmen due to hunger, greed and envy to breach security in different communities. Ukuta also bemoaned the activities of some traditional rulers, Presidents- General and people in some Igbo communities who collect money from herdsmen and cede lands to them for grazing, which he said provides opportunities for disagreements between the farmers, villagers and the herdsmen.

The Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Abia State chapter, Apostle Emmanuel Agomuo, who is a member of Abia State Peace and Reconciliation Committee for farmers and herders said he knew that the Fulani herders and not IPOB or ESN were behind the senseless killings, rape and kidnapping for ransom in parts of Igbo land.

“I have always said it that Fulani herdsmen and not IPOB or ESN are responsible for the killings in the region. Fulani herdsmen commit atrocities in most cases in Bende and Ohafia areas. Even the killings in Anambra and Imo states are by them.

“You know that most of the Fulani herdsmen are from Mali, Senegal and Chad. The Prelate said that one of those who kidnapped him is from Sudan but was born in Umuahia. These people are brutal,” he said and urged the Federal Government to take action to secure the South-East and stop living in denial of the real source of insecurity in the zone.

The traditional ruler of Oriendu Autonomous community, Eze Philip Ajomuiwe, said that anyone who is still pointing accusing fingers at IPOB or ESN for the atrocities in Igbo land is hypocritical and should have his head examined, saying the revelation of the Prelate and available evidence, point to Fulani herdsmen for the killings and kidnappings in the zone.

“I will emphatically say it that Fulani herdsmen are the ones behind the killings in Igbo land. When they were being brought by trucks, we raised the alarm but Government didn’t take it seriously. They are the ones who rape, kidnap and kill our people. South-East governors must rise up now against the killer Fulani herdsmen.

“Buhari may not come from Abuja to arrest them. We have always been told to defend ourselves, and the time for action is now. Our communities have been surrounded. Governors should empower traditional rulers to mobilise hunters to guard our forests. We should defend our communities and our youths are ready but government must be willing to mobilise them.

“It is an error for the security operatives to go after IPOB and ESN who volunteered to secure the communities while allowing the killer herdsmen to move about freely. Anybody still doubting that the Fulani herdsmen are the ones behind the kidnappings and senseless killings in the South-East is insane,” the monarch stated.

While the Army has denied any complicity of their personnel, a civil rights group, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, has urged them not to sweep the revelations made by Prelate Uche after he was freed by the kidnappers as well as what CSP Johnbull Obiorugo, the commander of Abia State Rapid Response Squad said concerning the activities of the soldiers in the area.

Lamenting the level of insecurity in the area, proprietor of Gregory University Uturu, Prof. Greg Ibe said that it has become “an issue of great concern, especially within the Isuikwuato/Umunneochi axis. It is a menace that has the potential of threatening our economy and the education sector seriously if left unchecked. I therefore want to enjoin the governments of the South-East particularly to formally incorporate local vigilante groups in their security architecture in order to check this ugly trend.”

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