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Many factors responsible for insecurity in South East – Odinkalu

Many factors responsible for insecurity in South East – Odinkalu By Zilka Bobby July 3, 2023 | EASTERN PILOT  Interview with Prof. Chidi Odi...

Many factors responsible for insecurity in South East – Odinkalu

By Zilka Bobby

July 3, 2023 | EASTERN PILOT 

Interview with Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, the chairman, Anambra Truth, Justice and Peace Commission (ATJPC) constituted by Governor Charles Soludo  in June 2022 to inquire into the violent agitations and restiveness in the state and in neighboring states.

In this interview, the internationally acclaimed civil rights crusader bares his mind on the intractable insecurity in the South East, the conspiracy, the bias narrative and commercialisation of the crisis.

It’s about one year since this commission was inaugurated, what has been the activities so far ?

In the first eight months of the Commission, we tried to understand the situation, so we met over 100 interest groups including community leaders, security agencies, faith based Organisations, non indigenes in Anambra, vocational groups, drivers, market people and traditional medicine providers.

We have made some recommendations which are contained in our inception reports submitted in February, the recommendation led to the Bureau of Missing Persons by the Anambra government in April.

There are also other institutional adaptations that will result from that reports, these include establishing of Safety and Environmental Commission

The Environmental Commission is informed by the fact that most people who claim to be agitating have taken over the forest. It is important to ensure that our forests are conserved as assets for the people and not converted to platforms for violent operation, whether justified or not.

These forests should not become centres for warfare between forces of agitation on one hand and forces of counter supposed insurgency on the other hand, which means that the forests will no longer be available for farming and subsistence, that will imply hunger.

So, having finished with the inception phase, we needed to allow the election period to pass before starting the public health phase, that is where we are now.

Why traditional medicine practitioners?

You will discover that some of those people  killed in this violence had charms and amulets supposedly to give protection by making them invisible or impregnable.

So it is important to find out why people will give them such items, that is why we had a meeting with traditional medicine providers, our meeting with them was very fascinating and it is important to what we are doing.

What is the overview of violence and insecurity in the South East?

Different people have different levels of understanding of the problem that is why it was important to find a common baseline, a shared analysis of what the situation is all about which is what the Commission has come to do.

At the heart of our problems as a people is attitude, part of it is this notion that security issues can only be solved by those who carry guns like soldiers and Policemen.

We have to do away with the notion that security can not be discussed in public. The interesting thing is that when these people run into problems, they begin to tell you that security is everybody’s business.

This is the first thing we want to address: the idea that the only way to get an answer to this situation is military solutions,

What is the historical background of the insecurity in the South East region?

The situation in the Southeast has been a continuum of metastasis since 1999, if you go back to the history of political assassination since 1999, the worst and most persistent cases are in the Southeast,

Kidnapping, it dates back to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. In Anambra State, a sitting governor was kidnapped with the complicity of the then Federal Government. AIG Ralph  Ige who was in charge of Zone 9  died immediately before Investigation started, so he could not tell the story.

People will easily forget that every major government establishment was destroyed in one day by elements who were working with the Federal Government which was Chinua Achebe, an Anambra indigene from Ogidi, Idemili North declined national honour.

At that time, there was nothing like IPOB/ESN, at that time Nnamdi Kanu was an admirer of Nigeria but a lot of people have forgotten this.

The absence of a sense of history is the reason why the single narrative of IPOB being the reason for the problem in the southeast is reigning, I think it is important to address that misconception.

But people say IPOB/ESN are solely responsible for the violence in Southeast and a greater number of deaths resulting from it.

That is not correct, the insecurity situation in the Southeast is not just a regional problem but a concentric circle of issues.

The hottest spot of killings in the Southeast as we speak is in Idemili, Anambra State, particularly Obosi in  Idemili North which has the largest population density in the Southeast.

In these places, you don’t have IPOB,  the criminal gang there will ensure IPOB does not survive because their survival will put the criminal gangs out of business.

The killings in Idemili are endemic and they have nothing to do with IPOB. In the past year over 100 person have been killed in Idemili, no week passes without three, four young men being killed in Idemili.

This is organised crime involving small arms, light weapons, cultism and drugs peddling of transnational dimension.

These are more endemic than the IPOB problem but nobody wants to deal with it, Ozubulu massacre does not have anything to do with IPOB, it waa a transnational drug crime but nobody has called for accountability on that.

There is an interstate dimension, that is where every state has to take steps to address its internal problem.

For instance, in Anambra the areas bordering Imo show high susceptibility to violence, these are Ihiala, Nnewi South, Orumba North,  Orumba North and Aguata Local Government Areas.

There are Igala people that are indigenous to Anambra, so on the borders of Anambra with Kogi State, Enugu, Delta and Edo states there are massive killings going on there, but does not have anything to do with IPOB that is why it is not being discussed.

Because these causes of insecurity do not fit into the narrative of IPOB, they are not getting attention.

If you go to parts of Imo and Abia states which share borders with Rivers State, there are serious security issues.

Recently about 50 persons were wiped out in Izombe, Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State, also in Ukwa Abia State crisis is going on and this is defined by natural resources, exposure to crude oil.

It is not by accident that, that is the area where Osisikankwu operated during his years of terror. Most Twitter generation youths may not know who Osisikankwu was and because those things don’t fit into the IPOB narrative, it will not get attention.

What other factors are responsible?

Community government is a serious component of the problem, there is a fight for Igweship, in many places outside Onitsha which has a very strong stool, there is also the tussle for Presidents General (P) of Town Union in many communities.

There is tussle between the Igwe and the President General for the Control of resources and control of vigilance groups and that has to do with access to Development fund which comes from the government and access to political patronage from politicians.

The fourth is the collaboration between the Igwe and the President General on the one hand and militias of violence on the other hand and these complex relationships lead to killings.

So the parties involved in these tussles go and rent the militias and arm them to shoot and kill the people on the other side, so this circus is the big part of the issue.

Until recently, they used to settle these things through the courts but many no longer go to court, they bow go to the militias and that is the cause of a major part of the killings you are seeing today.

In the past 18 months about six presidents general have been assassinated the last being that of Obosi. I am not talking about Igwes and PGs whose houses have been destroyed and burnt down,

The natural resources dimensions which we see in parts of Anambra North, in parts of Imo West and in the border communities with other geopolitical zones, so they require attention.

There is also the dimension of gun running, if you notice weapons are no longer being run by roads, they are being run through the river transport system, this is where Anambra becomes important because it has rivers that are very the River Niger.

These tributaries empty into the creeks of Niger Delta and a lot of guns are now being shipped through these paths to parts of Niger State, it goes well beyond the borders of the Southeast.

There is also the collaboration between criminal elements in the Southeast and those in the Niger Delta, we need to look at them.

For us in the Commission these are very important, there are different dimensions to this insecurity in the Southeast, which unfortunately, has been reduced to a single narrative.

Why did these issues become more manifest in recent times, and do you think they could have been handled differently?

The Muhammadu Buhari administration messed up big time and unfortunately, they did not mess up in the Southeast only, it cut across the regions.

But the Southeast was a peculiar problem. Buhari approached the situation in the Southeast with a unique prejudice, he had something in his head about the Igbo people, unfortunately so, but that is what it is.

He also surrounded himself with people who spoke his language and worshiped where he worshiped and people who pandered to his prejudices.

The absence of people from Southeast who could tell him and the security agencies some informed opinion about the situation in that part of the country also did not help.

The defense and security Council and joint leadership security Services without anybody from the southeast, so it was easy for those who did not wish the Southeast well and by extension, who did not wish the country well to take advantage of the situation to cause carnage.

Unfortunately, the leadership of Buhari did little or nothing to address the real problem, it actually made things worse with its optics, analytics and prejudices.

That is why a lot of casualties of the violence tragically are uniform people, for instance, how many Police Stations are left in the region in Imo and Anambra, the endSARS took out most of them in areas where you can say the agitation is much.

There have been additional attacks just to make sure the police do not regroup in these areas which are Imo West and Anambra South Senatorial Districts.

In these places, some of the policemen are still there no longer to work in uniforms, soldiers also have to be very careful, usually they go with overwhelming force to respond to small situations.

It is now a contest of militias, militia of agitation, militia of organised crime. The problem can not be solved by bringing the military to  shoot all of them,

You cannot shoot all of them, that is why we have to find a complementary approach that is not based on uniform, kinetic and tactical.

Do you think there has been a genuine intention to fight insecurity in the South East?

Sadly, in Nigeria today, insecurity is a money making venture and these people do not want to share the money with anybody, as long as they are making money from insecurity, security is not everybody’s problem but when they are no longer making money from it, it becomes  everybody’s problem.

If you tell somebody you want money to run an operation to root out IPOB in a particular village, they will give you money for quick action and you will make money very quickly.

The problem is that people are using these things as avenues to make money not really to address the fundamental problems, addressing these problems cannot help you make money.

Again, there is no theater of insecurity in Nigeria that has ever got better through only military operation.

In Southern Kaduna, we had the first Kafanchan riot in 1987 and the area has got worse since then, the Joint Task Force in Niger Delta was first deployed in 1994, we still have JTF almost 30 years after but JTF is supposed to be an interim and temporary response to the problem of the Niger Delta agitation spearheaded by MOSOP.

Even with the killing of Ken Saro Wiwa and the other eight, all the junior military officers who were sent there have retired but the JTF is still there .

In Borno we went from anti terrorism to counter terrorism operation to counter insurgency and the war is still there. It all started in 2009 and in 2023 it has not ameliorated.

In the Middlebelt, since the Fiberesima report in 1994 we are still there, in all of these, the initial crew that got involved in what was supposed to be a temporary intervention have all left, the region have become militarised.

In Plateau, the only thing that gave them a breathing space was Plateau Resolve of 2005 which was led by a woman, Elizabeth Pam. It was a Civil engagement which got the state together at a table to get answers to addressing coexistence problems in Plateau North.

Based on the findings of the ATJPC, what appeal are you making for an enduring peace in the Southeast ?

This is where Governor Soludo deserves some credit. He has invested quite some attention to the issue of insecurity and we are all seeing a return to normalcy, nightlife is back in Awka, people now club to early morning and go home safely by 4am.

The peace building process can start in Anambra but it cannot end here, we need other governors to buy into it. We welcome the fact that Southeast governors have resumed meeting. It is a very significant step and hopefully we shall see some progress.

Commission would like to appeal for a greater interest by Federal officials and Federal Government in understanding and addressing these dimensions, these more intractable don’t lend themselves to money making.

We need non kinetic approaches which enjoy some legitimacy in the communities which these actors can trust and that is what this Commission is here to do.

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