Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia writes that a gale of criticisms has continued to trail the statement issued by the Department of State Services (DSS) alleging that the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) murdered five Fulani herdsmen and buried them in shallow graves in Abia
If the Department of State Services intended to throw a bomb shell when it announced that five Hausa-Fulani herdsmen were killed in Abia the effect was as explosive as expected. It attracted a rash of reactions and cast a cloud of gripping fear and anxiety over the area the DSS said it made the discovery of the “shallow graves” where they were buried. The palpable fear was made worse by paragraph nine of the 10-point official statement the DSS issued on April 9, 2016. “It is pertinent therefore to alert the general public that IPOB is gradually showing its true divisive colour and objectives, while steadily embarking on gruesome actions in a bid to ignite ethnic terrorism and mistrust amongst non-indigenes in the South-East region and other parts of the country”.
The import of the “discovery” made by the DSS and its allegation against IPOB was foreboding. There was palpable fear that it could ignite ethnic killings, especially in the North, which is usually tetchy in matters of such dimensions. Even the DSS acknowledged the implications of what it had discovered, noting that “tension is currently rife among communal stakeholders in the state with possibilities of spillover to other parts of the country”. Though the DSS said that “arrest and investigation conducted so far, revealed that elements within the IPOB, carried out this dastardly action” the separatist organisation disagreed vehemently. The spokesmen of IPOB, Emma Nmezu and Clifford Iroanya, said the allegation by DSS was part of the smear campaign by the intelligence agency to dress the pro-Biafra group in a borrowed robe of terrorist organisation. IPOB said there was no doubt about the intention of the DSS as contained in its statement accusing the group of culpability in the killings.
“Again, it is clear for even toddlers to see the game plan here. A government with a predetermined agenda to cloak IPOB in the garment of violent organisation deliberately designed such a cheap propaganda in order to ignite ethnic cleansing. This very cheap blackmail by the DSS is idiotic and unintelligent,” IPOB said. The organisation argued that since it commenced its agitation it had not employed violence and could not have gone after five hapless herdsmen as such surreptitious cold blooded murder would not I any way atone for the lives of 218 IPOB members allegedly killed by security agents during protests between November 2015 and February 2016. The separatist group noted that the DSS was already losing steam in its prosecution of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, due to the weakness of its terrorism charges against the pro-Biafra activist. According to IPOB, the DSS now faced with the dilemma of continued detention of Kanu has “rather resorted to concocting stories of abduction and killing and have subtly introduced terrorism with the hope that the label would stick on IPOB thereby prompting President Puhammadu Buhari to proclaim the group a violent and terrorist organization.
“It is not in our character to kill innocent lives in cold blood,” IPOB declared. It said that it would act secretly if it becomes necessary to take up arms to advance its cause, warning that “the day we will decide to go violent, the whole world will know, like we did in 1967”. It warned that “if we were to declare war, we will begin by killing at least 5,000 people, not just five”.
The linking of IPOB to the alleged killing was dealt a big blow after a joint security meeting involving the governments of Abia and Imo States. The controversy stoked by the official statement of DSS was still raging by Monday when the Governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, breezed into Government House Umuahia with his entourage. A joint security meeting ensued behind closed doors in the executive chamber of Abia Government House. Security chiefs in both states were at the meeting, including the Commander of 14 Brigade Ohafia, Brigadier-General Lawrence Fejokwu, AIG in charge of Police Zone 9 Umuahia, Yerima Fyarah, police commissioners from the two states as well as state directors of DSS. The traditional institutions were also represented by the chairman, South East Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Eberechi Dick. After deliberations on the security situation in the two states and review of reports from security agencies, the governors concluded that the killing was the handiwork of criminal elements operating along the border of the two sister states.
“We condemn the spate of kidnappings here, especially in relation to the five Fulani herdsmen kidnapped and murdered by criminals,” Governor Ikpeazu said after the joint security meeting. He said that the forest where the kidnappers use as their operational base would be destroyed by security agencies. Imo governor said that he had agreed with his Abia counterpart on the need to strategize on how they could flush out the men of the underworld that had been terrorizing the people, adding that “our weak borders” would be tightened up. He emphasized that the killing of the herdsmen had no ethnic colouration because “it was not a direct attack on any ethnic group” but rather the consequences of the “criminal activity we’ve been battling”. The Imo governor said that aside from the corpses of the five herdsmen discovered in the shallow grave, two bodies of Igbo people were also in the grave.
Just like the attempt by the DSS to portray the killing as “ethnic terrorism” has stoked controversy, the exact geographical location of the area where the graves were found has also been faulted. According to the DSS, the bodies of five Hausa-Fulani people “were discovered in shallow grave at Umuanyi forest”. But the traditional ruler of the agrarian community in Isuikwuato local government of Abia State, Eze Uwadiegwu Ogbonnaya, has disputed the claim, saying that his community is five kilometers from the area on the Imo State side of the inter-state boundary.
Given the stories that emanate every day from different parts of the country about the havoc being wreaked by marauding herdsmen, the royal father told THISDAY that his people “are very much worried” by the DSS mistake of linking the community with the killing of the herdsmen. “We are worried that our community could be turned to another Agatu,” the royal father said. He was alluding to the destruction wreaked on the Agatu community in Benue State by Fulani herdsmen. In fact, Eze Ogbonnaya revealed that the palpable fear in his community has equally caught up with their people in the Diaspora as according to him, sons and daughters of Umuanyi have been calling from overseas and expressing fear about the safety of the residents of the community.
Contrary to the DSS claim that following its discovery of bodies of herdsmen tension is currently rife among communal stakeholders in the state with possibilities of spillover to other parts of country, Abia is calm. The members of Hausa-Fulani community in the state are going about their normal businesses without any molestation. Though the Sarkin Fulani in Abia state, Alhaji Mohammed Danjuma was said to be away on a trip outside the state, some of the northerners who spoke with our correspondent did not express any fear of attacks. Haliru Ibrahim, a shoe maker at the Isi Gate area of the capital city said that he had not seen or heard anything to make him fear for his safety. Another northerner, Musa Galadima, told THISDAY that he was not even aware of the news of the killing of his kinsmen, adding that he would not like people to do anything to disrupt the peace being enjoyed in the state.
While condemning the alleged killing of the five herdsmen, many people have called to question the way the DSS generated uproar over its investigation and findings and even imputed ethnic motives behind the dastardly act. A civil rights activist, Mazi Chris Ugonna-Ike, said that the security agencies, especially the DSS “are giving us the impression that lives of certain people matter more than the lives of others”.
He said: I must state ab initio that I don’t condone shedding of innocent blood, no matter the colour or ethnic origin of victim, but one cannot but ask why the security agencies swoop into action if a herdsman is killed and do practically nothing when herdsmen kill other people. He pointed out that “Nigeria is awash with news about killings being perpetrated by herdsmen in many parts of the country and the nation’s security agencies have done nothing to end the atrocities and bring to book those shedding blood with impunity”.
It was gathered that the Hausa-Fulani community had reported the abduction of the five herdsmen to the police outpost at Uturu on March 31, 2016. They also reported to the Army and further dispatched a petition to the DSS headquarters at Abuja thereby prompting the immediate response of the security agencies. It was treated as special case as the security agencies in Abia State, including the state commands of DSS and the police, were kept out of the investigation.
Despite the uproar and attempts by some groups to sustain the ethnic motive of the killing as portrayed in the DSS statement, the governors of Abia and Imo have vowed to make sure that peace reigned in the two states. They have set up a joint security operation with plans to involve the governors of neighbouring states of Rivers and Enugu. “The time has come when criminals will not be allowed to launch attacks in Imo and run to Abia or vice versa,” Governor Ikpeazu said.