Political Implications of Military Operations in Orlu

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Amby Uneze writes that the once peaceful towns and local governments in Orlu senatorial district of Imo State are under violent attack as a result of the confrontation between the Eastern Security Network, the security arm of the Indigenous Peoples of BiafrIa and the Nigerian Armed Forces

It is no longer news that the once peaceful area of Orlu senatorial zone of Imo State is under fire. The area is burning not as a result of communal clashes among the villages or communities over land dispute or any other thing, but because of some undercurrent interests that may not be far from the political. Ordinarily, the perceived activities of the security arm of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), known as the Eastern Security Network (ESN) could not have aggravated the level of military operations in the area.

Orlu is an old industrious town clearly known for her indigenes’ knack for drugs merchandizing which earned her business men and women the ‘drugs importers of the country’. This is a zone that produced notable personalities in political, academia, judiciary, industries and sports, religion and traditional icons. Such national and international figures as Chief K.O. Mbadiwe, Chief Collins Obi, Igwe Pat Acholonu, Eze Ibenyi Ugballa, Justice Ignatius Pats Acholonu (first Orlu indigene to become a Supreme Court Judge), Chief Anyaehie, Chief Iheme-Nwosu, Chief Achike Udenwa, Ambassador George Obiozor (the current President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo), Sam Okwaraji and Prof. Walter Ofonagoro.

Others include, Chief Rochas Okorocha, present governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, Chief Tony Ezenna, Chief Uzomba Nwaije of Finlab Nigeria Limited, Mr. Johnbull Okpara, who is the current Controller/Accounting Chief at Citigroup, also a former Vice President at American Express (AMEX) and former Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, New York. The list is long.

Orlu is the largest zone that has 12 local government areas in Imo State and has also produced the highest number of civilian governors in the state. It has a long history and played critical role as the headquarters for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU) humanitarian relief agencies during the civil war. The Nigerian headquarters of the British Cheshire Home is domiciled in the city.

So it baffles any sane mind how on earth, the zone that produces all these ‘timbre and calibre’ of distinguished personalities can sit down and allow the area to be bastardized with drums of war.

According to the Imo State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Chief C.O.C. Akaolisa, sincerely, the Imo State government is surprised at the selection of Imo and Orlu zone in particular as a launching ground for IPOB operations and attack. When the police stations in Orlu and Nweorubi (headquarters of Mbaitoli local government) and the Orlu local government headquarters were burnt, we were surprised because the #Endsars protest was not too serious in other parts of the state. We later discovered that it was the IPOB people that even killed the soldier at the check-point in Nweorubi.

“Why we were surprised is because the Imo state government has not taken IPOB the way they are reacting. It means that they are not showing any regard to the government even when we got the State Chief Judge to release about 68 of IPOB members who were languishing in prison custody on bail.

Why pick on the governor’s federal constituency, so it looks as if something is fishing under the waters. That is why I said silence of the former governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha on this development is worrisome,” he stated.

On the invitation of the military personnel to Orlu, the Attorney General said that government would not fold its arms and allow some set of hoodlums under the umbrella of IPOB to kill Orlu citizens. He observed that IPOB leader Mazi Nnamdi Kalu appears to have lost his objective.

“Recent events have shown that they have metamorphosed into very dangerous gang of hoodlums and cannot be persons to provide security for the South Easterners.

“The experience we have in Orlu where the Eastern Security Network has become the biggest threat to lives and security of Orlu people clearly shows that their intentions in Orlu are not what the ordinary people think. A situation where policemen are being killed, their arms taken away from them and their Hilux vehicles taken away and sold is the biggest threat to the security of Orlu people.

“Most of our people especially during Christmas found it difficult to come out because these IPOB people would come out in the open and brazenly showcase their arms. It was on that basis that security found itsr base station at the Umutanza in Orlu local government where they retire after finishing their activities on the road. And security agencies went to Umutanza to confront them and they killed some policemen, and the Army came to reinforce the police, they equally shot at the army. We discovered also that this set of gang are those that burnt down the Orlu local government headquarters as well as the same people that burnt down the police station at Nweorubi during the #Endsars protest.

“Based on that, the security agencies came on their own to rescue Orlu and they found out that they were camping at Uda in Orsu local government. So they deployed more bombardment to chase them. The federal government did the right time to come and secure Orlu people because Orlu was coming to be turned into a war zone,” he told THISDAY.

According to investigation, Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, on December 12, 2020 launched the ESN, saying the regional security outfit, just like Amotekun in the South-West, would help to tackle crimes and criminality.

However, Eastern Security Network (ESN) has been described as a security group instituted to tackle Fulani herdsmen and bandits who have for ages been kidnapping, raping women, killing farmers and wiping out villages.

Pundits say that since these Fulani herdsmen have been committing these atrocities, there had been no military or police confrontation against them. They also observed that these same Fulani herdsmen had killed about 300 men in one day in Agatu, Benue State and more than two dozen in Ụzọ Uwani, Enugu state and no military bothered to confront them.

“The Nigerian Army that is supposed to fight Boko Haram was seen everywhere searching for the camp of Eastern Security Network team. But they forgot they are dealing with sophisticated men. There are cameras and drones everywhere watching them,” an official said.

The Army however, did not deny carrying out operations in the Orlu axis in a bid to fish out the ESN boys. This was confirmed by the army spokesperson of the 34 artillery Brigade, Obinze, Owerri, Imo state, Babatunde Zubairu, who said the operations were not intended to harass the locals.

He confirmed the deployment of helicopters and other military gadgets in the operations, saying “the operation was an offshoot of military intelligence”. The military was reportedly combing camps believed to have been occupied by the Eastern Security Network (ESN) in Imo state, an operation that involves use of airstrikes that sent residents scampering into safety.

In another development, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has accused the federal government of Nigeria of finally declaring war on the South-easterners. IPOB said this in reaction to the air operations taking place in Orlu and Orsu local government areas of Imo State.

In a statement signed by Mazi Chika Edoziem, the Head of Directorate of State of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) said; “The Nigerian government through its military has finally declared open confrontation with the Biafran people in their bid to harass, intimidate and cow us into submission to relinquish our ancestral lands to foreign Fulani terrorists.

“IPOB worldwide must gird their loins and be prepared for the long drawn out battle ahead.

“From all indications, war is unavoidable at this point. The Federal Government is directly calling for a war. Let them consider 1967. It was a genocidal war because the international community joined hands with Nigeria to fight against Biafra, and people were killed more by hunger in Biafra land than anything else. Except that, Biafra would have won that war. Now, the Igbos know how to go about winning the war using the 1967 experience. The Federal Government must understand this.

“The leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra make bold to state unequivocally that there shall be no inch of Biafra land (Biafra territory) to be ceded to the Fulani marauders from the Sahel.

“The Nigerian army has thrown the gauntlet and we the Indigenous People of Biafra Shall accept their challenge because there will neither be retreat nor surrender on this our journey to liberty and freedom.

“Now that the Nigerian government has activated its final solution to the Biafra question with Helicopter gunships in Orlu, they have crossed the line of no return and for us the Indigenous People of Biafra there is only one option that is open for us.

“We must defend every inch of our ancestral land and we must defend our inalienable right to live in the land of our ancestors as a free people to develop our God given talents for the benefit and elevation of our people just like our ancestors did thousands of years before us.

“Every IPOB family member should be very conscious of the time we have entered and exhibit the highest level of discipline and be ready to follow every directive as will be issued by Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu”, he stated.

The group said that they are ready to protect their ancestral land against any form of encroachment and trespass.

On why the leaders of the South East are not talking about the issue, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide, Reno Omokri slammed the leaders in the South-eastern geo-political zone for keeping silent while the federal government uses airstrikes to terrorize communities in Orlu zone of Imo State.

In series of Tweets he shared in reaction to the military operations taking place in Orlu, Omokri accused Igbo leaders of failing to come together to kick against the injustice melted out against their people.

He wrote: “Buhari is a tribal bigot and I’m not surprised he sent troops and helicopters to Orlu. However, I’m more disappointed in South-east leaders. If the North ever faced this type of injustice, Northern leaders will unite against their common oppressor. Where are South-east leaders?

“Why are South-east leaders not speaking or raising hell? I do not like everything Nnamdi Kanu does. But I respect him for his passionate love for his people. True leaders don’t keep quiet when their people are under attack. Where are the true leaders of the South-east?

“There were ethnic clashes between the Yoruba and Hausa in Sasa and in less than 48 hours, four Northern governors went to Oyo to pressure Oyo’s government to give Northerners justice. 96 hours after Orlu’s invasion, how many South-east leaders have visited Orlu in solidarity? he observed.

In the editorial comment of the Leader Catholic Newspaper of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province of Sunday, February 21, 2021, captioned “Insecurity: Supporting ESN, worthy choice for South-east, the paper observed that while it obvious in the country of today that insecurity trails only behind corruption as Nigeria’s biggest problem, the South-east need to follow their South-west counter to have a formidable security outfit to safeguard their territory against the invading Fulani herdsmen and other bandits.

“In the usual fragmentation approach of the South-east to issues of national importance, our leaders are yet to come up with any security arrangement to deal with the challenges facing us. Right now, there is nothing else within our reach, hence the need to build on the foundation already laid by the ESN. If what happened in Orlu recently is anything to go by, ignoring the paramilitary ESN is dangerous.

“There would have been no need for regional security network, if what we have is working. But by taking sides in issues of security, whom to support or criminalize, the federal government has shown it cannot be depended upon, especially when the criminals are Fulani herdsmen” the paper said.

Allaying fears that Orlu is unsafe, the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Declan Emelumba said that the situation in Orlu has since been brought under control. “There is absolute peace and calm in the city as people are going about their normal duties”.

He admitted that government was aware that opposition elements instigated the crisis for selfish reasons as they are not happy that government quickly arrested the situation.

“Government assures all law abiding Nigerians living in Orlu or passing through the town that the city is completely safe. There should therefore go about their lawful businesses without any let.

No matter the level of provocation, Imo State government under the leadership of Governor Hope Uzodinma will continue to discharge its primary duty of protection of lives and property,” he concluded.

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Why we were surprised is because the Imo state government has not taken IPOB the way they are reacting. It means that they are not showing any regard to the government even when we got the State Chief Judge to release about 68 of IPOB members who were languishing in prison custody on bail. Why pick on the governor’s federal constituency, so it looks as if something is fishing under the waters. That is why I said silence of the former governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha on this development is worrisome,” he stated. On the invitation of the military personnel to Orlu, the Attorney General said that government would not fold its arms and allow some set of hoodlums under the umbrella of IPOB to kill Orlu citizens. He observed that IPOB leader Mazi Nnamdi Kalu appears to have lost his objective