What is responsible for return of calm in S/East?

A crack team of soldiers and policemen arrived at the scene at Umuohiagu in Ngor-Okpala near the Imo airport where Ahmed Gulak lay dead. Next, they traced a lead and arrived at the popular Enyiogugu Market in AbohMbaise and met alleged armed men discharging and sharing onions from a truck. Shooting began and soon, some lay dead on the side of the suspected armed men. A security operative got injured.

A special squad was to claim later that the silenced armed men were Gulak’s killers. This was at a time a section of the north had given ultimatum to produce the killers or… The populace took the killing of the supposed Gulak killers with a pinch of salt, especially as the state Governor, Hope Uzodimma, had said investigation to track down the killers was still on. He though admitted some had been killed. This created some doubt of whether the killers divided into two groups. They also wondered if he meant that he was looking for their sponsors.

More encounters took place in many fronts. One big shooting at Orlu led to the killing of seven alleged armed men including a man (Ikonso) described as the commander of Eastern Security Network (ESN) in Imo State. They were killed on a Saturday by operatives of the Nigerian Army, the Nigeria Police and the State Security Service, though there were conflicting accounts of how he was killed. While Nigeria’s security agencies claimed Ikonso was killed in a gun battle at ESN camp, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) said he was murdered in his father’s camp while sleeping.

Perhaps, the Orji Sunday morning shootout when armed men allegedly attempted to break open the prison again and free prisoners including their detained members, remains one of the fiercest ones. Reports said both land and air assaults were deployed to overpower the attackers. At the end of the battle, five armed men were killed but one was captured alive. The captured one was soon put behind media microphones to talk about IPOB/ESN and about Ikonso. He freely (or was forced behind the scene) confessed the operational ways of the unknown gunmen and about IPOB.

In the Port Harcourt (Rivers State front), joint security squads took over the state on the northern areas such as Oyigbo, Omuma, Etche, Elele, and Choba/Emuoha axis where several security agents had been killed. A dusk to dawn curfew was slammed in the state. When more attacks took place, the governor brought it up from 7pm to 6am. Though this brought huge hardship, the governor said he looked at the gains; reduction of outright attacks on security installations in the state. The governor also awarded N20m per family of the murdered security operatives as is the tradition of the Nyesom Wike administration.

On two occasions, Governor Wike has moved to slam curfew or lockdown on the state and empowered soldiers to fight back. This, so far, seems to have kept Rivers State from being overpowered by unknown gunmen, right from the #EndSARS protests that led to attack of stations and killing of soldiers/policemen to the present seeming full-blown war against security formations by those now termed unknown gunmen. As far as the Rivers State government is concerned, the administration is fighting the insurrection.

Now, the guns booming in the south-east especially in Owerri and northern Port Harcourt (Rivers State) seem to ebb. Analysts have admitted that there seems to be calm in the South East at the moment. The killings and bombings by unknown gunmen are no longer happening.

The issue now is about what led to this seeming calm, and who truly attacked the state. Some people said it was because of the President’s tough talk and threat to deal with IPOB in the language they will understand. It was also believed that the suspension on Twitter by the FG may have reduced the inciting messages and directives by IPOB and their supporters.

First, sources interviewed are divided over who the attackers were. While the government keeps insisting on IPOB/ESN as the sources of attacks, the sympathisers say there is no such evidence, despite some arrested suspects in place such as in Imo and Ebonyi States that have confessed. In Nigeria, confession from police cells is hardly believed.

Governor Uzodimma has not made it easier by always pointing at his political opponents as those behind the Imo attacks, especially by saying majority of the attackers were not from the state. This has created the belief that what is going on is political war, not violent separatist activism. If this argument is anything to go by, many ask, how does that explain its spillover and alleged intrusion into Rivers State?

Recall that a statement recently signed by his Chief Press Secretary, OguwikeNwachuku, said that of 400 suspected criminals arrested in Imo, over 70 percent of them were non-Igbos. This also led to many different interpretations about who is really responsible for the heightened insecurity in the South East.

On what has led to some sanity, sources are also divided. Many even doubt if truly it has subsided. No source has admitted that President Muhammadu Buhari’s threat of “speaking in the language they would understand” is the cause of the reduction of violence. They rather say it is what he has done, not what he said, that may have led to some calm.

None also attributed the lull to the recent ban on Twitter that may have disrupted command signals. The command to the IPOBians to do anything may have since been communicated, needing no further command, the sources said. The alleged order to kill or burn down security outfits and take over their arms (if that was given) does not need Twitter to reinforce it, the sources said.

Now, what has happened, who is behind the calm?

But, have the attacks ebbed? The Niger Bridge into Onitsha in Anambra State may bear some evidence. During the heat of attacks, most travellers simply stayed back home. The number of vehicles passing through the bridge from the Asaba end drastically reduced, showing a very high reduction of travel appetite into the south-east.

An Asaba resident whose husband is a bus driver that plies between Upper Iweka in Onitsha and Asaba said apart from fear of attacks, another discouragement was blockage of the long bridge. Both Anambra and Delta governments were said to have blocked their ends. The curfew imposed in Onitsha also made movement difficult. “Some days, soldiers would block the bridge by 4pm instead of 6pm. This caused total traffic jam as sometimes, only one lane would be opened. Travellers, men and women and babies, often slept on the highway.

Most drivers whose vehicles are on hire-purchase basis no longer met their weekly remittances because travel stopped in the face of threats of attack either by unknown gunmen or by security operatives who have become trigger-happy.

Business however, seems to be reopening gradually as the region is driven by enterprise with private money that flows through business interactions.

Military clampdown, killing of Ikonso and Dragon did it – lecturer

A lecturer in Imo State and public affairs analyst who has been a keen watcher of the insecurity situation in the east, Stanley Iwuoha, said the drop in the rate of attacks is traceable to the military operation launched by the Federal Government to checkmate the ugly situation. He also mentioned the massive deployment of security agents including the police, the army, the Directorate of State Security (DSS) etc in Imo State to clamp down on the attackers.

“They were moving around even in plain clothes, picking mostly innocent youths, and killing most of them at night as alleged. The lucky ones are locked up in detention facilities. Some individuals were harassed and most often extorted by security operatives. People’s cell phones were scrutinised and any trace of videos, chats or anything relating to the situation was enough evidence to rope someone in. It got to a point that the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri had to visit the Owerri correctional centre where hundreds of the arrested youths were detained and the Federal Medical Centre (FMC) mortuary where a staggering number of dead bodies mostly youths were supposedly deposited. The Archbishop, it was learnt, shed tears and made a broadcast which made the rounds in the social media. He sued for peace calling on the governor to stop the indiscriminate arrest and killing of innocent people, advising him to convoke Imo stakeholders’ meeting to address the issue. This move went a long way in stopping the spate of attacks and consequent indiscriminate arrest and killing of innocent people,” Iwuoha said.

According to him, “The public outcry against the activities of the attackers regardless of whom they are on one hand and against the indiscriminate arrest and killing of innocent youths by the army and the police on the other hand reduced the rate of attacks.”

Some other sources attributed the drop-in attacks to the killing of IPOB/ESN hit men- Ikonso and Dragon – by IGP Special Force. Some said the reason is the militarisation of the South East by the FG.

Church leaders wept and cried to governor – source

Other sources attributed the calm to the contributions of the heads of the churches – Catholic, Anglican, Methodist (plus the General Overseers of Pentecostal churches numbering over 50, including the popular Archbishop AJV Obinna of the Owerri archdiocese) who met with the governor of Imo State, compelling him to do everything within his reach to stop the bloodshed.

A source stated: “At the end of the meeting, the heads of the churches appealed to the warring parties to sheathe their swords. This intervention by the church, to me, may have led to the sudden cease. But there are still crimes in the form of armed robbery, abduction, and killings some of which have been traced to men in uniforms. This causes confusion as to who actually is doing it.”

Attackers lost steam – analyst

A public affairs analyst, ObyNdukwe, agrees with the above reasoning but added thus: “The ragtag army of Nnamdi Kanu is not only limited in war strategies but underequipped and infantile. Their modus operandi is very unpopular, that is, the killing of Police men and burning of police stations to procure their armory is unacceptable and must be resisted in anyway. They have lost sympathy due to the wanton destruction of public property and the killing of young and ignorant Igbo youths. They lack sophistication in every sense of the way, and so, have been overrun by the Government forces.”

Buhari’s delegation to S/East leaders helped matters- Observers

Some residents of Imo and other South East states who spoke with our correspondents said that the seeming calm being experienced in the zone is just a peace of the graveyard, made possible by a number of reasons, particularly the recent delegation from the Federal Government led by the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, a retired Maj-Gen.

The delegation met with governors, other political, religious and traditional leaders at a meeting held at the Government House, Enugu.

Army: We turned the tide

As if to celebrate victory, the newly appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) a Major-General, Faruk Yahaya, has visited the ‘war zone’ and the brigade leading the army in the state and lauded what he called the resilience and doggedness of troops of 34 Brigade and operatives of other security agencies in turning the tide of the recent spate of insecurity allegedly posed by IPOB in the state.

Yahaya made the commendation at Obinze Barracks near Owerri while addressing the troops during his maiden operational visit to Headquarters of 34 Brigade. He told the troops that his visit was informed by the need to have an on-the-spot assessment of the security situation in the state. He expressed delight in what he regarded as the successes so far recorded by the troops. He urged them to redouble their effort in order to consolidate on their successes.

The General further charged them to be loyal and exhibit high sense of duty at all times. He pointed out that more successes would be recorded through compliance to instructions and loyalty to superior authority.

The COAS also called on the officers to always lead by example and ensure that troops were adequately briefed and kept abreast of the mission at hand.

The COAS also paid a visit to troops of 211 Response Group, Nigerian Air Force, Owerri, where he implored the troops to be professional and alert at all times. He appreciated them for their spirit of collaboration and joint operations with synergy towards tackling insecurity in the state. According to a statement by a brigadier-general, Onyema Nwachukwu, the Director of Army Public Relations, the highlight of the working tour was COAS’ visit to the proposed Military Hospital Owerri and a tour of Obinze Barracks.

Police: We did it

The police remain the lead internal security unit of government. Thus, the Imo State newly posted Commissioner of Police, AbutuYaro, said it is the state’s police command that takes responsibility for the state of security in Imo State. He said: “The state is under the command of Imo State Police Command and it is the Imo State police that is doing the work and restoring peace. The IG came with a Special Squad and sent me. IG sent me with a Special Squad to go and restore peace and I have delivered the mandate and am waiting for him to send me to another journey.

“He called me specifically; I was in Zamfara when he called me to go and restore peace and law in Owerri. I started my work from the first day I came and on the next day, I went to Orlu and defeated them. He gave me time frame and I have achieved within my time frame. So, am waiting for further detective of IG to move to another place to go and restore peace. I am a mercenary fighter.”

Conclusion

Just as no one agrees he knows the attackers (unknown gunmen), so, is it that no one knows who calmed the situation, or if the situation has been calmed in the first place. The problem with terrorism is that it is ideology-induced (agitation) and guns alone hardly silence it. When the activists rest, heal and re-arm, they usually resume. Permanent solution is in looking into the cause such as restructuring, true federalism, sticking to rotational presidency, and addressing urgent cases of obvious marginalisation which seems to be the major problem and source of concern to every real South Easterner.

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