The murder of over 20 persons in cold blood in three communities in Ebonyi State by suspected herdsmen and an enduring deadly clash fuelled by two influential politicians jostling for control have awakened the security instincts in Governor David Umahi, writes Benjamin Nworie
Tuesday, March 30, 2021 was one of the saddest days in the David Umahi-led administration in Ebonyi State. Though, it has recorded pockets of communal clashes, the state has been largely adjudged one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. It has been relatively free from kidnapping, which seems to be major security challenge in the South-east.
However, the pains and agony of the attack on three communities in Ishielu local government area of the state will remain for a long time. It was the first bloodletting terror unleashed on Ebonyi people by yet-to-be-identified herdsmen. Officially, over 25 persons were sliced to death in cold blood. The victims included children, women, men and a pastor.
The attack came at a time the state is battling to resolve another dreaded communal clash between Effium and Ezza-Effium community in Ohaukwu Local Government Area. The clash has claimed several lives. Both communities have almost been razed down and have been deserted. The clash which has entered the fourth month has taken a heavy toll on both communities. The carnage is monumental and outrageous.
Though, currently under dusk-to-dawn curfew, the effect of the war maybe felt for years. The main actors are behind bars. The council Chairman, Barrister Clement Odah and member representing Ohaukwu North, Hon Chinedu Awo are said to have instigated the war for political control of the area. Odah is from Effium while Awo is from Ezza-Effium. The two men were arrested and released but when the clash became more severe, Umahi ordered for their arrest with a directive to the Commissioner of Police not to treat them.
Since the killer herdsmen issue became a national discourse, Umahi has been deeply concerned about how best Nigeria can resolve the widespread clashes in different parts of the country. The govenor has advocated for national unity by insisting that herders who have lived in the state for decades should not be ostracized.
This position, nevertheless, didn’t not go down well in some quarters. Some people had wished that all herders should leave the state but the govenor always holds a contrary view for the sake of Igbo people outside the South,east.
So, the attack on Egedegede, Obegu and Amuzu communities became the most unexpected and most shocking. It was shocking because the governor admitted that all the local herders vacated the local government before the incident. Thus, he suspected conspiracy on the part of the local herders, whom the governor may have seen as untroublesome and have lived peacefuly in the state. The reason for the attack was reportedly told as a retaliation for the murder of a herdsman over one year ago, which was even said to have been amicably resolved. The community never knew that the herders still harboured grievance in the heart.
The attack was also shocking to Umahi because some of the local herders are political office holders in the state. They attend security meetings and were actively involved in the administration of the state. So, to contemplate and execute such carnage has become an eye-opener for Umahi. The attack has stinged Umahi to the bone and he has declared that he can’t control the consequences if another attack happens in the state.
Ebonyi people are known warriors. If retaliation was an option, if allowed, the effect may have been catastrophic. But, the governor was proactive and the people saw his sincerity and the people have seemingly calmed down. He also appealed to the Federal Government for N5 Billion intervention fund for the families of the victims to help them shelter, feed and cloth themselves.
Umahi said: “I want to thank you and thank Mr. President for this prompt action you have taken to visit this peace loving community. We are touched and we are encouraged by this visit. Your Excellency, we woke up in the morning of Tuesday 30th March to hear the shocking news of the unprovoked massacre of not less than 20 persons. Everyday, they continue to discover dead bodies from the bushes around.”
“What happned was that these people divided themselves and were going towards the communities and so, every Okada with the passenger was hacked down. Initially, they were using knives, so nobody knew what was happening until they got to the communities and that’s where they started shooting and that is the time the people got to know and the villagers mobilized and started pursuing them.
“I am told when we visited over the attack that the murderers left a telephone, even three days later, the telephone was still ringing. If government fails to do something Sir, it will be on record that the people did their best by providing these very vital information. The killers are not hidden, they are there Sir with their pictures, the call logs.”
“Your Excellency, we have made all effort to make peace between the farmers and herders in this state and by extension in South-east, they have a platform that involve even the herdsmen even in our local governance. There is no name the governors of South-east are not being called, they call us cowards and all kinds of names because we know there is need for peace in this country. We know that one crisis in any part of this country can degenerate to a very serious civil war, we don’t want another civil war in this country but it is in the hands of everybody.”
“I am told this afternoon that another set of calls are going to the herdsmen that are in Ebonyi, that they should vacate, they want to attack again. Let me as the Chief Security Officer in this state say there will be serious consequences if another attack happens here in Ebonyi state because nobody will be able to hold the youths, nobody will be able to hold the people. It is very important that we do everything very important to forestall any other attack not only in Ebony but in the entire South-east.”
The Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo who visited the communities on behalf of the President assured that justice will be served. He was accompanied by Minister for Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Minister of State for Mines and Steel, Uche Ogah.
According to the Vice President, the massacre was very sad and very unfortunate. Osibanjo said, “This massacre is very sad indeed and very unfortunate. I am here not just myself, I am here also at the direction of Mr. President. At times when things like this happen, when people are killed, when incident like this happen, you feel particularly outraged.”
“The reason is that those who have been mercilessly massacred are people like you who have hopes and aspiration; young ones, females and children who are people who woke up in the morning and expected to go about their normal business, they are expected to go out and fend for themselves but they ended up dead not because of anything they have done wrong but because of cowardly wicked act by some other people who live in the same community with them.”
“I sympathize with not just the Governor and the people of Ebonyi state but in particular people of the communities that have been affected. These peaceful communities that have lived with the assilants for many years. I think that what we have seen here is very cowardly and all of us condemn it and we say that it must not be allowed to happen again.”
However, the security situation in the state is highly troubling. Tension has reached fever pitch all over the state. Peddlers of fake news have a field day. Rumours of herders attack in other communities have increased. Gunshots and similar sounds, whether real or imaginary, filter into the town, as signal to another attack. But, Umahi seems prepared on all fronts. He is deeply prepared to save the live of every resident in the state outsiders.
In the last enlarged security council meeting, the state government announced he immediate recruitment of 700 vigilantes to safeguard the 13 local government areas. Security agencies were seriously ordered to secure themselves, their facilities and the people.
Briefing newsmen after the meeting, the Secretary to Ebonyi State Government and Coordinating Commissioner, Dr Kenneth Ugbala noted that the state government would no longer rebuild any police station attacked by hoodlums. Solar light and closed circuit television will now be installed at police stations and strategic places.
The Commissioner for Internal Security, Mr Stanley Okoro announced that 80 Sienna vehicles and over 30 Hilux vans would be procured for the State Neighborhood Watch and vigilantes groups.
These security measures have started in the capital city, Abakaliki. The fear of herdsmen and other hoodlums who have declared war on government facilities have reawakened the security consciousness of the state. With the bombing of the Correctional Centre in Imo state, there has been heightened tension that the Abakaliki Correctional Centre may be the next target. To this effect, heavy security barricades have been mounted on some streets in the vicinity of the centre and other strategic locations in the capital city. Part of these security measures include a restriction of vehicular movement in some parts of the state capital, in the day time. At night, the city is totally locked down.