Akwa Ibom: Return of Peace as Militants Down Arms

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Picture caption: Some of the reformed militants who surrendered their weapons
Picture caption: Some of the reformed militants who surrendered their weapons

Okon Bassey in Uyo writes on the return of peace and normalcy to Akwa Ibom council areas as militants, kidnappers and cultists have put down their arms and ammunition as part of the new amnesty deal proferred by the state government

Recently, peace and normalcy returned to councils in Akwa Ibom State as militants, cultists and kidnappers put down their arms and ammunition and returned to their homes, as against in the past where they lived in bushes and thick forests. As expected, with this new found peace, life has returned to normal for the communities involved-Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo Local Government Areas

Reign of Terror

Prior to this new found peace, Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo Local Government Areas of Akwa Ibom State had been two most terrorised areas in the state for more than two years. Residents could not go to bed with their two eyes closed just as many fled to neigbouring villages, towns and even Uyo, the state capital. For visitors passing through the two local governments, it was even worse as they lived in fear of the unknown.

Local administration in the areas almost collapsed and schools were shut down. It was a reign of terror and impunity by these set of hoodlums who stole food crops, livestocks and other items from their owners at will. This was because of the combined activities of the dreaded militants, cultists and kidnappers. In the past two years more than 200 persons were reportedly killed, hundreds kidnapped, properties including vehicles and houses were burnt. The aged, clergy, students, civil servants, politicians, farmers and businessmen were not spared whenever the heavily armed hoodlums decide to go on rampage. In such instances, it was like a near breakdown of law and order as security operatives including army, mobile police force, Directorate of State Security (DSS) and others special security teams deployed to the areas couldn’t contain it. Thus, the situation deteriorated on a daily basis with some of the security operatives being killed. Their arms were snatched and their vehicles set ablaze by the hoodlums.

Subsequent peace talks by concerned groups and even several solemn assemblies organised by various church leaders to calm the rampaging cultists had no tangible result.

An Olive Branch

When all hope seemed lost, Governor Udom Emmanuel extended an olive branch to the war lords. Their initial response was not welcoming but with further dialogue, they bought into the sincerity of the government to grant total amnesty to all of them.

The amnesty deal was put together by a committee inaugurated by the state government. The committee members include the police, and other heads of various security operatives deployed to contain the crisis.

As at the last count, the hoodlums numbering more than 420 had keyed into the amnesty project and surrendered their cache of ammunition to the then State Commissioner of Police, Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi, who coordinated the amnesty committee with all the heads of various security operatives as members. Ogunjemilusi has since been posted and promoted as AIG Zone 6 Calabar, Cross River State.

The amnesty programme was the latest strategy adopted by the state government to bring to an end years of wanton killings and destruction of properties in the areas by the cultists.

Grievances

With the kicking off the amnesty deal, it also brought to the fore the grievances of the hoodlums. When the governor visited the locality to witness the kick off of the amnesty deal, the shocked communities watched as the cultists and militants came out in their numbers, went on their knees and prayed for forgiveness for the pains melted on people and the communities over the years.

According to them, some of their grievances against the government that made them take up arms and cause instability in their areas was the poor social amenities, lack of government attention to their communities for several decades, lack of good public schools and lack of employment opportunities. These they said compelled them to take up arms and rise against the society. Also, they lamented that they had no government appointment for their areas, just as they complained that politicians over the years abandoned them after being used to attain their political height without providing good jobs for them, hence they were frustrated to start living a life of crime.

Plea for Rehabilitation, Empowerment

Praying the governor to right all the wrongs the past administrations failed to look into, they also asked for rehabilitation and empowerment for them to kickstart a meaningful means of livelihood. They also urged government to help in the rehabilitation of the destroyed markets and power supply infrastructure in their communities.

Some of the repentant cultists regretted being part of the clash that led to the maiming of lives and destruction of properties in their communities, as well as the closing down of economic and social activities.

In tears before the governor, they revealed that they had been living in the bush for years in the course of their illegal activities. Expressing happiness for the window of peace extended to them to return to their communities, they however pleaded with the governor to restore freedom to members apprehended earlier in the spirit of forgiveness, adding that their readiness to sustain the peace would in no way be compromised.

The Pact with Government

The governor who said he was saddened by the condition of the repentant militants recounted how difficult it had been for him to bring development to their areas because of insecurity.

He said: “I wanted to bring a World Bank assisted project to Ukanafun, but those people preferred to go elsewhere. At the moment, because of you people, no contractor accepted our offer to come and execute a project in Ukanafun.”

While commending them for embracing reconciliation and rehabilitation, he however warned them from listening to any politician who may come back to lure them back to cult – related activities.

Following the successful amnesty deal, the ex- hoodlums were invited to the state government house in Uyo and were received by the State Deputy Governor, Mr. Moses Ekpo, whose office co-coordinated the programme. He expressed the state government’s happiness over their action to renounce cultism and other crime related issues in the state.

Ekpo revealed to them that the government has signed an undertaking on their behalf to protect them from harassment by security agencies, adding that there were plans by government to organise a rehabilitation programme that would reform their lives.

He said: “Government is proud that most of you have said you want to live a meaningful life. I am glad that some of you want to work in the security agencies and want to rise to the level of even a police commissioner. Government is happy with you and will give all of you start up skills and education to enable you realise your dreams in life.”

He reaffirmed that their deserted communities would begin to experience a new lease of life as work would restart on projects abandoned by contractors in those communities due to insecurity.

One of the leaders of the repentant cultists, Mr. Unyime Ibanga alias Overcomer, commended the state government and security agencies for the opportunity offered them to live normal lives again. He pledged the commitment of his members to restoration of lasting peace in the area.

Ibanga, who spoke for his colleagues identified unfulfilled promises from government as one of the reasons for their violent lives. He called on government to ensure they abide by their promise of rehabilitating them so that they would not be tempted back into the former way of life.

Commitment of Security Agencies

Also speaking, the then state Commissioner of Police, Ogunjemilusi, had said that the cultists having surrendered had turned a new leaf and were willing to be rehabilitated and re-integrated into the society.

He praised the repentant cultists for commitment to restoration of peace in their respective communities, but tasked them to surrender the remaining weapons still in their custody, in order not to be tempted back into crime.

Ogunjemilusi who spoke for other security chiefs pledged the commitment of all security agencies in the state towards the success of the amnesty programme and restoration of lasting peace in the areas. He however warned that the amnesty would only cover their past and not those after the amnesty programme.

Christian Assembly Reacts

The move by the erstwhile hoodlums in allowing lasting peace and normalcy to reign has been embraced by Christian community in Ukanafun. Under the aegis of Ukanafun Christian Elders Forum, (UCEF), and the Ukanafun chapter of the Akwa Ibom Christian Assembly (ACA), the clergymen lauded the governor for the wisdom and steps taken to herald a cease-fire by aggrieved youths in the areas.

They specifically appreciated the governor for having a large heart and forgiven spirit, exemplified in granting pardon to the repentant militants and efforts to re-integrate them in the society as responsible citizens.

On behalf of the Elders Forum and the president, Reverend Friday Umoren, the vice president and prelate of Rapture Trust Ministry International, Maranatha Square, Ikot Akpa Nkuk, Ukanafun Local Government Area, Bishop Moswill Umoh said his people were so excited to see that peace has returned to the land.

Umoh, the immediate past chairman of the Ukanafun Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN), and a one-time chapter chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria at a special thanksgiving service arranged by the Elders Forum and ACA, described Governor Emmanuel as God sent, a man of vision, intellect and wisdom.

The chapter chairman of ACA said, at a point, they were in a state of despair and despondency, wondering what they had done or where they had disobeyed God to warrant such visitation of calamity.

“Innocent people were killed in droves; businesses became comatose; schools were shut; responsible householders abandoned their homes for strange lands and in fact, there was a general atmosphere of insecurity for the past two years. Alas! When all hopes failed, our God used his servant, Governor Emmanuel, a deacon of the Church to redeem the land,” Umoh stated.

The renowned cleric said, with the first stage effectively executed, there was need for the repentant militants to be fully rehabilitated, trained, empowered and redirected in the Christian way, stressing their readiness to partner the government in this direction.

He appealed to all the indigenes who fled their homes to return by faith to the land and “help build a new Ukanafun of our dream”. The cleric attested to his members support for Governor Emmanuel’s second term bid. He maintained that for the fact that Obong Victor Attah from Ibibio ruled for eight years, Senator Godswill Akpabio also ruled for eight years, it was natural and lawful that Governor Udom Emmanuel should as a matter of right, be allowed to rule for eight years.

Umoh noted that the people of Ikot Ekpene senatorial district and Ukanafun specifically, should not “chop God” in their decision on who becomes the governor of Akwa Ibom in 2019, premising that by customs, tradition and culture of Annang Land, “it will be suicidal, if we betray Governor Emmanuel.”

“Governor Udom Emmanuel is our in-law; the wife, Martha, our sister; his children, our grand-children; his late father-in-law, Chief Sampson Udo Idiong, was one of the 10 paramount rulers who fought for the creation of Akwa Ibom State. Besides, during this first term, Governor Emmanuel has performed creditably well. So, he deserves a second term from us,” he stressed.

Encomium for the Governor

Further reacting the development, the state commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon Udo Ekpenyong said through the peaceful disposition of the governor and the support of the police and other security agencies, the lingering security crisis, which almost consumed the two local government areas, was gradually being put under control.

This, he said has opened a window of grace for erring youths who in their numbers have surrendered arms and dangerous weapons in their possession, thereby seeking a return of peace to the affected communities within the two local government areas.

Describing the governor as a man of peace, whose sincere approach in providing security to the citizenry has yielded positive outcomes, he said the people of Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo are grateful to him for his swift intervention to remedy the situation that has enabled the fleeing indigenes of the areas to return to their respective communities without any fear of molestation.

The governor, he said demonstrated sincere love for Ukanafun and Etim Ekpo people by facilitating the return of peace and normalcy to the areas, adding that the people of the affected areas will continue to reciprocate the good gesture by voting massively for his re-election in the forth coming 2019 governorship election.

The commissioner who equally warned parents and guardians to expose their children to proper moral and sound educational training in order for them to remain useful citizens to their families and society, condoled with the families of those who may have lost their loved ones and other sources of livelihood during the crisis, urging them to continue to render their support to the Udom Emmanuel-led government for more democratic dividends.