The South-East security outfit, codenamed Ebubeagu, is yet to be officially launched, more than 62 days after governors of the states in the region unanimously announced its formation in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Ebubeagu, with headquarters in Enugu, was charged with the responsibility to coordinate all the activities of vigilantes in the South-East and checkmate the rising insecurity in the region. It was fashioned after the South-West security outfit, Amotekun.
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The Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, who spoke on behalf of the governors during the announcement in Owerri, had said the establishment of the outfit was part of efforts to tackle insecurity in the region.
The zone has witnessed an increase in insecurity, including attacks on security operatives, their facilities and other critical infrastructure by suspected members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the paramilitary organisation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). There are also reported cases of banditry, farmers-herders clashes, armed robbery, among others.
One of the first reactions to the formation of Ebubeagu was from IPOB which warned youths in the area not to join the security outfit or risk death, insisting that ESN was enough to protect the Igbo land.
Meanwhile, Major-General Obi Umahi (retd), the chairman of the South-East Security Committee, charged to draft a framework for the establishment of Ebubeagu, recently resigned his appointment, citing lack of support from the governors who established the outfit.
The Commissioner for Internal Security, Peace and Border Resolution in Ebonyi State, Stanley Emegha, in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, confirmed that the Ebubeagu security outfit was yet to be officially launched in the region.
Emegha noted that the official launch of the outfit would be done in all the states of the South-East.
“The Ebubeagu security outfit has not been launched, so wait until it is launched. And Ebonyi State will not be the first. It is going to be launched in all the states of the South-East,” he said.
However, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the group is engaged in skeletal security activities, essentially in the rural areas of the state.
In May, the outfit arrested 37 suspected criminals in the Agubia axis of Ikwo Local Government Area, who were allegedly planning to attack police stations and some offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state.
Mr Okoro Emegha also disclosed that the operatives of the outfit arrested eight armed robbery suspects in the state.
The Abia State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, said the problem with Ebubeagu in Abia State was the same problem with the other states in the zone. He said the governors were waiting on the state lawmakers to come up with the appropriate legislation for the formation and operation of the security outfit in the area.
According to him, all the states in the region have their own vigilante services but there will be a need to amend the existing laws to allow for collaboration among the various groups.
He said there was no vacuum in the security architecture of the state.
“Homeland Security is still in place; the Abia State Vigilante Service is still in place. Once there is the enabling law that will rename them Ebubeagu and allow the handshake, what we will now do is to migrate.
“The difference in what we have in the existing structure is twofold—name and the capacity to have a handshake with other southeastern states’ security outfits.
“When you have the enabling law, it makes it possible for Ebubeagu Abia to share information with Ebubeagu Enugu or Ebubeagu Ebonyi. For instance, quite recently, we tracked a Hummer bus carrying criminals in Abia.
“The same bus was the one used by hoodlums to attack Ubani police station. As we tracked that white Hummer bus, it zoomed into another state, and that was the end of the tracking for us.
“If there was the Ebubeagu handshake, what we would do is to pass the tracking to people in that state and inform them that the bus was carrying unknown gunmen and that they should gun them down. That would have been the end,” he said.
The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment in Anambra State, Mr C. Don Adinuba, said he had not been briefed on the activities of Ebubeagu in the state.
He said he did not know when the outfit would take off in the state as there was no proper briefing on its operation.
According to him, whenever he is properly briefed he will make the stand of the government public.
Some of the residents of the South-East said there was nothing like Ebubeagu but vigilante groups trying to complement the activities of the police and other security agencies.
Mr Okey Uche, a civil servant, said that as far as he was concerned, there is nothing like Ebubeagu in Anambra State.
“I want to tell you that the governors of South-East, Nigeria are not serious with the formation of Ebubeagu. Whenever they are serious, they know what to do.
“What we have in Anambra today is a functional vigilante group and not Ebubeagu,” he said.
A retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Donald Iroham, said although the concept of Ebubeagu was a direct response to the exigencies of the time, the security outfit was set up in a hurry.
According to him, the governors must go back to the drawing board and fashion out how to equip and sustain the outfit.
He said the resignation of the chairman of the South-East Security Committee, who is the elder brother to the Ebonyi governor, showed that there were serious problems with the setting up of the outfit.
The retired cop, however, said that all was not lost as the governors could still go back to the drawing board and come up with a security outfit like that of the Amotekun in the South-West.
Iroham said, “I think that by and large, the setting up of Ebubeagu was done in a haste. It was not done like that of Amotekun in the South-West. There was no office and no personnel.
“I think it was done in direct response to the activities of some groups in the South-East. And it was done to protect the people.
“We can still go back to the drawing board and come up with something more sustainable. We can go back and see how Amotekun was set up, with offices and personnel and try to come up with something more realistic.
“If Umahi could resign and is somebody close to the governor, whose state is suffering more violent attacks, I think the problem could be more serious than we thought.
“You cannot set up an outfit without funding it and without an office and expect it to function effectively.”
Why Ebubeagu is yet to roar
Daily Trust on Sunday reliably gathered that the alleged sole appointment of Major-General Umahi (retd) by his younger brother, Governor David Umahi, who is the chairman of the South-East Governors Forum, is behind the lackadaisical attitude shown by other governors.
Major-General Umahi last week resigned his position as the chairman of the security committee.
In his resignation, which was copied to the governor (his brother) and to the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ambassador George Obiozor, he stated that since the formation of the security outfit, the governors had stifled it of funds and without providing it with an office space to operate.
Part of the letter reads; “Since this security committee was formed, we deliberated and agreed on ways to raise consciousness down to the community level in Igbo land, mode of operation, logistics and some types of equipment required, such as drones, vehicles etc.
“Additionally, I chaired a 21-man committee set up to draft a legal framework for the South-East security outfit.
“The committee was composed of members of the security committee, the attorneys-general of the five southeastern states and some prominent Igbo sons and daughters.
“The 21-man legal framework committee was funded to completion by the Governor of Ebonyi State.
“On April 11, 2021, governors from the South-East announced the formation of Ebubeagu in Owerri.
“Subsequently, the draft legal framework produced by the 21-man committee was reviewed by members of the South-East Security Committee and the attorneys-general of the five states to suit the Ebubeagu security outfit.
“The South-East Security Committee thoroughly prepared and submitted the modalities, including the structure, for the takeoff of Ebubeagu to the Governors Forum during their meeting, attended by the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide and some other Igbo leaders.
“A request was presented, to the effect that Ebubeagu should be jointly rolled out as a matter of urgency and funded by the governments of the five states in the region.
“From inception till date, the South-East Security Committee was never funded at all in any capacity, and not even an office space was provided.
“I respectfully request that Your Excellencies kindly permit me to resign my appointment as the chairman of the security committee in the spirit of my love to serve Ndigbo.
“I can assure you that I will always be available to advise on the success of Ebubeagu at no cost, just as I served as the chairman of South-East Security Committee from August 31, 2019 till date at no cost, directly or indirectly.
“I highly appreciate Your Excellencies for the opportunity you gave me to serve Ndigbo.”
A top government official who did not want his name in print said that infighting among the governors had delayed the launch of the security outfit, which made the outlawed members of the IPOB exploit the vacuum to float the ESN.
“The South-East would have had its own security outfit, if not before the launch of Amotekun, at the same time, but the infighting delayed the launch.
“The IPOB exploited this to launch the ESN, which was embraced by the people because they saw it as an answer to the frequent attacks by herdsmen.
“Unfortunately, the ESN abandoned its original task and started attacking security operatives and destroying facilities, which have made the people to turn against them,” he said.
He advised that this is the right time for the governors to fully launch Ebubeagu as the people are no longer in support of the ESN.
We’re unhappy Ebubeagu hasn’t taken off – Ohanaeze
The Professor George Obiozor-led Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide has expressed unhappiness over the pussy-footing exhibited by the governors of the South-East in the process of getting the Ebubeagu security outfit on board.
The socio-cultural body is also sad that the chairman of the South-East Security Committee resigned his appointment last week.
In an interview with our correspondent, the national publicity secretary of Ohanaeze, Chief Alex Ogbonna, recalled that the group had on several occasions asked the governors to roll out the Ebubeagu security outfit, which is for the interest and benefit of the people of the zone, but noted that each state in the zone had its own outfit.
“We are quite unhappy; and I tell you that nobody is happy about these developments,” he said.
Ogbonna, however, explained that the philosophy of the Ebubeagu security network “is to have a central coordination and uniformity to be able to know what is happening in Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra states, as the case may be.”
He noted that the legal or legislative angle of the law to back Ebubeagu was yet to be concluded or harmonised, adding that Ohanaeze would continue to persuade and advise the governors to ensure that the security outfit fully comes on board.
“If you ban open grazing without backing it with a law, it is as good as not doing anything,” he said.
‘Governors must not play politics with lives of citizens’
Meanwhile, a retired brigadier-general from one of the states in the zone, who preferred anonymity, described as “most unfortunate,” the fact that Ebubeagu is yet to be fully operational.
He noted that the governors’ attitude to the formation and harmonisation of the security “outfit simply shows the bad attitude of Igbo political leaders at the level of governorship”
The retired army officer, who spoke during a telephone chat with Daily Trust on Sunday, said, “Did you not see how our brothers in Yoruba land, despite their party affiliations, formed their Amotekun and it worked smoothly, baring all sorts of so-called oppositions from outside?
“That’s the kind of thing I expected from our governors, but they have fallen below expectations.”
He said it was quite sad that the “governors are not consulting those of us who are supposed to be consulted or contacted on security matters concerning the zone,” noting that “in this case, they will probably get certain things wrong.”
According to him, “If the governors could use a reasonable part of the security votes they collect monthly from Abuja, put them together to fund Ebubeagu, tell me why it won’t function well.”
“But they are busy doing it individually, thereby leaving a needless gap in the things that should join the security of the zone. The implication is that criminal elements, whether you call them armed herdsmen or unknown gunmen, will cash in on that gap to make life unsafe for the people in the zone.
“The governors know the right thing to do. Let them stop playing politics with the security of the citizens. Have they forgotten so soon that they took an official oath to protect the lives and property of the masses?”
Checks by our correspondents revealed that the bill for the establishment of the South East Security Network has not been presented in the State House of Assembly.
A senior aide to one of the Speakers in the region disclosed that the industrial action embarked upon by parliamentary workers affected the presentation of the bill.
“Don’t forget that the governors made the announcement in April. Shortly after, parliamentary workers went on strike which made it impossible to work on the bill.
“However, the bill will be presented in the Houses of Assembly in a matter of weeks now that the strike is over,” he said.
From Nabob Ogbonna (Abakiliki), Titus Eleweke (Awka), Jude Owuamanam (Owerri), Linus Effiong (Umuahia) & Tony Adibe (Enugu)