By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Chidi Nkwopara, Peter Okutu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Steve Okoh, Chinedu Adonu & Ikechukwu Odu

WORRIED by the high rate of insecurity in the South-East region, there was huge clamour by the people for Ebubeagu, a regional security outfit, in the pattern of Amotekun in the South-West, to operate in the region which has been taken over by high calibre criminal elements, especially killer Fulani herdsmen.

Unfortunately, this idea of a central security outfit could not be realised because the governors of the zone did not show seriousness, commitment and sincerity. But Ebonyi and Imo states separately set up their own and maintained the name, Ebubeagu, while Abia, Anambra and Enugu states have their own different outfits with different names.

However, the activities of Ebubeagu in Ebonyi and Imo states have been shrouded in controversy and questionable in many ways, with wide spread allegations that the governments of the two states are using them for political persecution and hunting down real and imagined political opponents, hence the people view them with suspicion.

Residents of the region blame the failure to have a central  Ebubeagu on leadership. They said the governors never cooperated on common issues concerning the region, even their South-East Governors’ Forum is in comatose. In fact, apart from the period of Mr. Peter Obi and Senator T. A. Orji as chairmen of the Forum, the current governors in the zone have not been meeting on a regular basis to sort out common security problems in the zone. There was hardly a period the governors attended a meeting together to take decisions concerning the zone, unlike their counterparts in other zones.

Kingsley Nnajiofor, a community leader lamented the carefree attitude and poor leadership of the current South-East governors. “One had thought that the growing problem of insecurity in the zone would spur the governors to unite and fight it together. For instance, if the governors of Imo and Anambra are cooperating, the frequent infiltration from Imo State Ebubeagu outfit into Anambra to cause havoc, will not be happening. Because of the  proximity of the two states, the border local government areas in Anambra State have become so insecure.”

A security consultant, Dr. Freedom Onuoha, in his opinion, said the governors should make room for regional recruitment structure, training and evaluation of the Ebubeagu personnel before deploying them.

Onuoha, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, explained that a regional Ebubeagu would help to standardise the outfit so that operatives can easily interface across the region to check security breaches.

According to him, a well designed structure for the outfit would help to reduce political manipulation of the personnel by the governors.

“If the governors of the South-East are going to get it right with Ebubeagu security outfit, there should be a regional structure that would deal with the whole issue of recruitment, training, standard, and evaluation of the security personnel before deployment.

“That way, they would be operating as a regional force, even though their areas of responsibilities might be circumscribed by each state.

“But then, the criteria for recruitment, the training and the nature of deployment would be so standardized across the states, such that the personnel can easily interface in managing security situations in the South-East states. This would reduce the chances of political manipulations, especially, by the governors.

“However, if each of the governors decides how to go about Ebubeagu recruitment, structure, training and evaluation, it would be very easy for the governors to manipulate them.

“I am not surprised that many of the personnel have been accused of excesses and extra-judicial killings of innocent people in Ebonyi and Imo states due to the way their operations were structured. It is a good idea but the operational structure is faulty,” he said.

Imo Ebubeagu and Awo Omamma killing incident

Since the establishment of Ebubeagu in Imo State, the outfit has been in the news for bad reasons. The operatives are almost on daily basis accused of one atrocity or the other, including killings, with the recent controversial killing of 14 youths of Otulu in Awo Omamma, Oru East Local Government Area, as the climax.

The killing, allegedly attributed to Imo State operatives of Ebubeagu, drew national outrage. Tried as it could, the state government could not successfully convince Nigerians that it was not its Ebubeagu that committed the atrocity.

Accounts from natives and relatives of some of the slain youths, said they were going home on their bikes after a wedding ceremony when some members of the Ebubeagu security outfit allegedly shot and killed 14 of them.

But the government claimed that those killed were members of Eastern Security Network, ESN. IPOB has since dismissed the claim, insisting that the young men were murdered by Ebubeagu operatives. Also, family members and relatives of the victims had come up to identify them as their kith. The government specifically claimed that the youths were killed by operatives of Department of State Services, and not Ebubeagu.

Imo State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Declan Emelumba said: “We all know that security agents do not just descend on innocent people and murder them in cold blood. Being mindful of the fact that their primary responsibility is to protect the citizens, they only use force or deploy their weapons in extreme cases, especially when they are threatened or their lives are in danger.

“Exceptions can be made for isolated incidents of accidental discharge, or when a drunken officer or one with mental health problems goes berserk. Even in these circumstances, 14 innocent people cannot just be slaughtered as if they were goats. It would even take a certain degree of callousness to shoot and kill 14 goats. Yet, that is the narrative that detractors and political opponents of the government of Imo State have been feeding the public since the unfortunate events of Sunday, July 17 when the Department of State Services stormed the camp of members of the Eastern Security Network in Awo Omama, resulting in the exchange of gunfire and the killing and arrest of some people. However, the DSS has neither confirmed nor refuted the claim by the state government.

But one of the survivors of the tragic incident, Nnamdi Nnanna, dismissed the Imo Government’s claim. He said it was his brother, Chijioke Nnanna’s marriage ceremonies which the slain youths attended.

His account: “As we finished the traditional wedding ceremony, we set out to go on four motorcycles. Three motorcycles were ahead of us while we rode behind. Suddenly, the Ebubeagu people opened fire and killed the ones ahead of us. As I noticed that, I told the rider of our motorcycle to make a turnaround and the Ebubeagu people came after us.

“As we sped, we got to a road bump and fell. They caught up with us and immediately shot the rider dead and shot the other person on his arm. I immediately started shouting, telling them that we were not criminals or ESN people. As they approached, I identified their leader and asked him not to kill me. One of them had already cocked his gun to shoot me but he ordered him to stop. I was bundled into their operational vehicle, tied and blindfolded.

“They took me to their camp at Omuma and locked me up. I kept telling them that I was not a criminal that my immediate younger brother had his traditional wedding and we were returning home from Awo Omamma. They then brought me out and asked me to take them to the venue of the traditional marriage. We went there and they equally took me to the compound of our traditional ruler and later brought me back to their camp where I spent the night,” he said.

Last Saturday, the same Ebubeagu was again accused of going to Izombe, Oguta Council Area, to destroy shops, leaving many with various degrees of machete cut injuries. All these  allegations have made the people of Imo people to lose faith in the security outfit; they see them as enemies rather than people out to protect them.

Ebubeagu is also controversial in Ebonyi

In Ebonyi State, there have been  cases of controversial killings allegedly by Ebubeagu. Even some opposition members had once alleged that Governor David Umahi unleashed the outfit on them, an allegation the Government promptly denied. Whatever is the case, the controversy hanging on Ebubeagu in Ebonyi is far less than what is happening in Imo. Ebonyi’s Ebubeagu is said to be made up of about 3,000 personnel and are paid N30,000 and additional N10,000 as allowance which is for the purpose of fuelling their operational motorbikes and batteries for their torch lights. This is for junior  operatives.

We don’t need Ebubeagu—Igbo youths

Evaluating the activities of Ebubeagu, Igbo youths roundly rejected the outfit, saying that is not the Ebubeagu the region needs. They described the outfit operating in Imo State as “agents of death and ritual tools targeted at innocent Igbo youths.”

The youths called for its replacement with community-based vigilante group by the people devoid of any government influence.

Ebubeagu has become a nightmare in Igbo land

Speaking under the umbrella of Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, COSEYL, President General Comrade Goodluck lamented that the name “Ebubeagu”, had become a nightmare in Igbo land.

Ibem said that Igbo youths had lost confidence in Ebubeagu which he alleged, is being used to hunt down perceived political enemies and tag them members of IPOB, or the Eastern Security Network, ESN.

“The people don’t need Ebubeagu again because the name now sends fear into the spine of every Igbo youth. Anyone you mention Ebubeagu to, will die before you complete the name. So, we don’t need anything called Ebubeagu again. What we need is for the youths of every Community to mobilize themselves  and protect their community without the influence and control of Government.

“If you mention Ebube in Imo State, it connotes fear and death. It is same in Ebonyi. So, the name as it stands now signifies death and extrajudicial killing. South East people do not need anything like that again. What we need is community-based vigilante that will be funded by the State Government not the one to be controlled by Government. They should work in collaboration with security agencies. The Governors are using Ebubeagu to hunt their perceived political enemies and tagging them ESN. Ebubeagu is now seen as a ritual tool. It is now a crime to be a youth in Imo State because you will get killed as a youth”, Ibem said.

Governors use outfit against opponents – CAN Chairman

The Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Abia State chapter, Apostle Emmanuel Agomuo, accused the Governors of the states where Ebubeagu is operational, of using the outfit against perceived foes.

“Governors are the cause of the killings in their states. They are not protecting Igbo interests but are only after the interest of their parries.

The man in Imo is only protecting APC interest for his masters to praise him. The one in Ebonyi was doing well before when he was doing many projects but when he defected to APC because of his presidential ambition, he changed and turned against the people”.

It can’t work under this FG- Prof. Igwe

Renown professor of political science, Obasi Igwe, in his contribution, said that the Ebubagu cannot perform under the present federal government administration which he accused of sponsoring crisis and insecurity in South East and other zones.

Igwe also alleged that the South East governor failed to sponsor effective poeple-oriented Ebubeagu to avoid being probe for corruption and stolen mandate.

“The Ebubeagu Ndigbo need is one that will expel the armed Fulani and other terrorists from the Igbo/Eastern forests, farms, homesteads and highways; end the raping, kidnappings and extra-judicial killings of the people; stop the reign of fear and terror in the East; expose those labelled unknown gunmen and other criminals, whether imported into the East or  homegrown; and restore peace and order”.

“Under the present federal government, there is no Ebubeagu that can be allowed to pursue those laudable objectives of protecting the Igbo people”.

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