On February 3, 2023, gunmen on motorcycles invaded the hallowed chambers of the Customary Court in Ejemekwuru, Oguta LGA of Imo State and killed Nnaemeka Ugboma, the judge (chairman) of the court, as he presided over a session of the court. In a commando-like operation, the killers arrived at the premises, entered the court, dragged the judge out, shot him dead, and fled.
This killing is one of the latest in a long list of murders that have become a daily occurrence in South East Nigeria, comprising five states – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. Gangs operating under different identities, including the different factions of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its militant wing, Eastern Security Network, have turned the region into a killing field.
In September 2022, a similar attack on the convoy of Senator Andy Ubah in Enugu Ukwu, in Anambra State, led to the death of about five people. On May 21, 2022, Dr Okechukwu Okoye, a member of the Anambra House of Assembly, was abducted and six days later, his decapitated body was found dumped by the roadside.
An attack by suspected IPOB members on the convoy of Ikedi Ohakim, a former governor of Imo State on January 2, 2023, left four policemen and a driver dead. The attack happened in Ehime Mbano, also in Imo State. And on Sunday, January 29, 2023, the suspected members of the proscribed group driving a Sienna bus, shot and killed three policemen who were manning a checkpoint on the Enugu/Abakaliki expressway.
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In another attack, on February 11, suspected IPOB members along the Ihiala-Orlu road, in an ambush, killed three security details of Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State and vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party.
A few weeks ago, suspected IPOB members operating in the region posted on social media the beheading of the administrator of Ideato North Local Government Area in Imo State, accusing him of collaborating with the state government. The former administrator, who was stripped to his underwear, was killed in the most bizarre way, with his killers recording the beheading on his own mobile phone and uploading same to inform his family.
These are just a tiny fraction of the killings going on in the South East. And, considering that most of the killings are not reported, it stands to reason that the actual numbers can only be imagined.
These attacks are not restricted to individuals alone. The militia group attacks public institutions such as police posts, courts, and facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission. Barely a week after the killing of the customary court judge, suspected IPOB members on February 12, razed the Oguta Court in the same LGA.
The orgy of killings in the region has continued to escalate, and can only be described now as anarchy. The men kill at will and at any time they want. When they kill, they do so in the most bizarre manner, sometimes razing down a whole village or community.
These killings are steadily achieving their aim, which is principally to instil fear in the residents of the region. The easterners now live in perpetual fear. Businesses have collapsed, as people are not sure whether their safety is guaranteed if they go out. Some businesses are steadily pulling out of the region. The decline of the business tempo in the region has also been accelerated by the sit-at-home order imposed on the people every Monday for which no reasonable explanation has been proffered.
Nigeria’s general elections are just a few days away and the people of the region are apprehensive. These suspected IPOB members appear not to be interested in the elections and are determined to do everything to scuttle the polls. They are threatening to kill anyone who dares to identify with the plan or come out to vote. If this is not checked, many people in that region may be disenfranchised.
This can no longer be allowed to continue. The governments – federal and state – must close ranks now and fashion out an urgent solution to this festering situation. They can no longer continue to look the other way while this continues.
The frequency and the success rates of these attacks indicate clearly that intelligence-based military operations have failed. And the fact that these attacks are occurring across the five states of the region is also a matter of concern. It will be dangerous for the region and the nation in general for the government to fold its hands and allow these groups to win the battle.
Therefore, Daily Trust calls for immediate action by the authorities. First, let there be an appraisal of the military operations in the area with a view to identifying the lapses and proffering remedies. In the run-up to the elections, there must be visible signs of the military power of the government in the region.
This should go on simultaneously with a dialogue involving the governments and all the parties involved. And it should be in addition to the military operation. The time to do these is NOW!