Stephen Ukandu, News/Features Editor
Penultimate Sunday’s mindless killing of youths in Imo State allegedly by armed vigilante group suspected to be Ebubeagu security operatives, has once again brought to the fore the unending flow of blood on the streets of Imo State, and indeed South-East geo-political zone.
The controversy trailing the dastardly act has further exposed the culpability of both the state actors and non-state actors in the on-going hemorrhage in the zone.
Up till now, the actual casualty figures of the victims remain a subject of contention as some put it at 21, others 14, while Government only admitted 7.
Victims of the latest carnage were said to be returning from a traditional wedding in Awo-Omamma in Oru East Local Government Area to their base in Otulu, Oru West LGA when the state security outfit opened fire on them, and by the time their fingers were off the trigger, seven bodies were already lifeless while many others were critically wounded.
Piqued by the barbaric act, angry youths blocked the Owerri/Onitsha Road on Tuesday to protest the killings, urging the international community to intervene.
Then ensued allegations and counter allegations by the victims’ relations, the Imo State Government, security agencies, concerned members of the public, civil society groups including socio-cultural bodies and the Amnesty International.
President General of Otulu Community, where most of the victims hailed from, Chief Nnamdi Agbor, was first to give account of how the incident happened, pointing accusing fingers at the Ebubeagu security operatives.
Recall that Ebubeagu was proposed by South-East Governors to tackle the rising wave of insecurity across the zone following incessant unprovoked attacks by herdsmen, bandits and unknown gunmen.
But while the Governors were delaying in floating the regional security outfit with clear coordination like the Amotekun in the South-West, some states like Imo and Ebonyi announced, albeit ambiguously, the launching of their own Ebubeagu amid stiff opposition by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
IPOB had claimed that the security outfit would be spying on its members and the operatives of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, earlier launched by its Leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, to protect “Biafra land against murderous herdsmen.”
Ever since, there has been a crisis of confidence about the real mission of the outfit in the states where it is operational, even as members of the public do not also seem to believe so much in their efficiency as insecurity appears to have worsened in the two states where Ebubeagu has so far been launched.
On the Awo-Omamma massacre the PG, Chief Agbor wondered why security operatives would open fire on unarmed civilians.
“Youths from our community in Otulu had Sunday accompanied one of our brothers to Awo-Omamma for his traditional wedding rites. At the end of the event, many of the youths who came on motorcycles offered to convey their brothers and they all rode back in a convoy of motorcycles.
“On their way home, around the Ishieke area of Awo-Omamma, without any conversation or confrontation, the Ebubeagu operatives opened fire on the convoy of motorcycles killing seven persons on the spot. While they abducted some of the wedding guests some others escaped into the bush in a desperate flight for safety.”
“The Ebubeagu operatives took deliberate steps to make certain that the young men were dead. Those who still moved where finished off with a volley of bullets. Miraculously, one of our sons was mistaken for dead, after the operatives moved to their vehicle, he fled into the nearby bush and disappeared into the night. At about 1am, some of them that fled into the Bush called me and I called some of our brave youths to go and rescue them from the forest that same night.
“By Monday morning, we mobilized a search party, accompanied by an Army patrol team and we returned to the scene of attack and received seven dead bodies of our sons with five others still missing with several others nursing bullet wounds. As I speak to you, we are yet to be told the crime committed by our sons for which they were slaughtered like animals.
“The wedding celebrant is Chijioke Nnanna. The Ebubeagu operative also abducted his brother that same evening and one of the young men sent from our community to verify the shooting saw when they were bundling him away and attempted to explain to them that this was the brother of the celebrant, he was also bundled into their truck and whisked away to Oru East were they were held and only freed this afternoon,” he said.
He identified the recovered victims as Chigozie Obinwa, Chikere Anyadioha, Ifechi Ekesinachi, Emeka Ekesinachi, Aboy Ihegboro, and two others simply identified as Chijindu and Ozioma.
The President-General said members of the community were boiling with anger over the incident while calling for justice.
“Tempers are running high in our community and our people are angry. There is no justification whatsoever for these killings except for impunity and reckless use of firearms.”
Meanwhile, some members of the bereaved families have corroborated the account given by the President General of the Community, and demanded justice for their beloved ones.
One of the affected family members, Chidozie Ekesinachi, narrated his ordeal in the hands of the suspected Ebubeagu security operatives and, a gory detail of how he lost his two younger brothers in the massacre.
Ekesinachi said that when the news of the incident filtered into the community, they decided to go to the scene to see for themselves but regretted that while on their way they were arrested by the same Ebubeagu security operatives who whisked them to their office at Oru East Council, detained them till the morning before releasing them.
“I heard that my brothers were killed and I rushed there to find out if it was true. I got there and I saw my brothers and many others lying lifeless. Some of them were still apprentices in their various workplaces. Mainly those I saw were indigenes of Otulu, the names of my two brothers are Chukwuemeka and Ifesinachi.
“They were killed at the premises of the traditional wedding ceremony. Some started beating them and put them in the boot of the jeep vehicle. The Ebubeagu people carried us to their station in Omuma Local Government Area. The next day they brought us out and asked us to go.”
Ekesinachi vowed not to rest until his two siblings and other innocent youths sent to their early grave get justice.
But the Department of State Security in Imo State, Tuesday, claimed that “an exchange of fierce gunfire between a joint security team and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and its armed affiliate, Eastern Security Network (ESN), on Sunday resulted in the death of seven suspected hoodlums.”
DSS further claimed that the scene of the incident was at ESN camp located at Awo Omamma, and has nothing to do with wedding guests contrary to claims by the victims’ families.
The Secret Police insisted that the victims were members of ESN and not wedding guests contrary to claims.
DSS in a statement had said: “Following the arrest of Chinonso Mmerem (aka Network), a member of IPOB militant wing, ESN, a sting operation was conducted by a joint security team on 17” July 2022, to arrest members of the criminal gang terrorizing Awo-Omama and other parts of the state.
“In course of the operation, the elements opened fire on the security forces which was consequently repelled with superior firepower leading to the neutralization of about seven (7) members of the criminal group in the hideout used as their camp.
“The elements were gathered at the above location planning for the armed enforcement of the illegal Monday sit-at-home order in Awo-Omamma and other parts of the state which informed the operation to neutralize their plan.
“At this juncture, it is pertinent to inform that the elements gathered to plan their nefarious operations and not attend a traditional marriage as being speculated by members of the outlawed group.”
Meanwhile, the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders, COSEYL, has expressed rage over the incident, and called for Independent investigation.
COSEYL which claimed that “Ebubeagu is an illegal armed group” demanded immediate disbandment of the outfit, arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.
The Igbo youths group also issued a seven-day ultimatum to Gov. Hope Uzodimma, to resign or face impeachment by the state House of Assembly.
President General of COSEYL, Comrade Goodluck Ibem, in a statement condemned the act, and vowed to mobilise Igbo youths to occupy the streets of Owerri until Uzodinma is forced out of office.
The statement read in part: “We will not accept the killing of 14 innocent youths nor allow it lie low. Governor Hope Uzodinma must resign within 7 days from office as Governor of Imo State or be impeached by the Imo State House of Assembly else the youths will occupy the roads lawfully in protest to demand his resignation as Executive Governor of Imo State. What we are seeing in Imo is no longer democracy but tyranny took too far.
“We are now a laughing stock among the comity of nations because of not having any value for human life and respect for fundamental human rights.
“Democracy is about problem-solving, bringing democracy dividends to the people and making people happy but what we are seeing now in Imo State is the direct opposite of what democracy should be. It has been from one sorrow to another, from one killing of Imo youths to another who are killed under the guise of unknown gunmen.
“With the way and manner, in which Imo youths are being killed on daily basis, Imo youths face a threat of extinction before 2023.”
COSEYL solicited free legal services of eminent lawyers in the country to help get justice for the victims.
“We humbly solicit the pro bono legal services of Barr. Femi Falana, SAN, Barr. Mike Ahamba, SAN, Barr. Mike Ozekhome, SAN and all other legal luminaries in the country and outside the country, they should please come to the aid of Imo youths before they are exterminated from the surface of the earth.”
“We call on the Federal Government to move swiftly to ensure that they take care of the medical bills of those 32 persons in the hospital and that they are given the best medical care. We also call on good spirited individuals touched by the plight of these persons to assist in whatever way they can.
“We call on the international community, The Prime Minister of Great Britain, the President of the United States of America, President Joe Biden, and all lovers of democracy all over the world to beam their searchlight on Imo State in Nigeria to avoid a situation where Imo youths will all be unjustly and brutally exterminated before the gubernatorial election of the state in 2023.”
Amnesty International has also joined in condemning the cruelty, insisting that extrajudicial executions by Ebubeagu under the guise of combating insecurity in South-East must stop.
The human rights body also demanded a probe into the incident and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
AI, in a statement by its country Director, Osai Ojigho, said: “It is horrifying that unarmed young men who clearly posed no threat to anyone were gunned down, in utter disdain for the right to life.
”Such killings cannot be justified under any circumstances whatsoever. Nigerian authorities must end these unlawful killings. Authorities must promptly, thoroughly, and transparently investigate the killings and bring to justice, in fair trials, anyone suspected of criminal responsibility.
”Authorities must also ensure access to justice and effective remedies for victims and their families. At least seven friends, including two siblings were allegedly extra-judicially executed, by members of the Ebubeagu state security outfit at Awo-Omamma community in Oru East Local Government of Imo state on 17 July 2022.
“Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian authorities to put an end to the patterns of extrajudicial executions, by carrying out a prompt, impartial, independent and effective investigation into the killings and other human rights violations committed by the Ebubeagu security outfit and other law enforcement officials.”
Meanwhile, as accusing fingers are being pointed at Ebubeagu and the Imo State Government, a rights activist, Paul Amadi from Naze in Owerri North LGA, has vowed to seek legal action to disband Ebubeagu, and to drag Gov. Uzodinma before the International Criminal Court, ICC.
The rights activist who described the action as “summary execution of innocent youths,” said he had already reported the incident to the United Nations among other international bodies.
Amadi did not spare the Governor who he said was trying to cover up his culpability by using security agencies to twist facts, asking him get ready to defend himself at the ICC.
According to him: “Governor of the state, Senator Hope Uzodinma is culpable in these crimes against humanity. Because Ebubeagu militia group cannot operate in this state without the express knowledge of the Governor and his consent.
“I have already reported the matter to the United Nations, its affiliate in Nigeria, the European Union and the US government asking them to put pressure on the Buhari government to stop the killing of Imo youths and sometimes, their family members.
“I am begging them to declare Uzodinma as one who has committed crimes against humanity. So that he would be picked up anytime he leaves Nigeria and prosecuted. I wondered how Imolites could keep quiet while their youths are being grossly assassinated by a non-government entity.”
“Even criminals get their day in court, but this time what we are witnessing is summary execution and that is heinous, and unacceptable to me.
“Hope Uzodinma is the Chief Security Officer of the state and his primary duty is to protect the citizens of Imo, and not to raise a militant group to kill indiscriminately. Hope Uzodinma’s name would forever reverberate in “infamy,” and he owes Imolites more than an explanation. I will seek legal action promptly to stop the activities of Ebubeagu and wait to see what the international bodies I have reached out to would do,” Amadi vowed.
Former Deputy Governor, Prince Eze Madumere; and Immediate-past Secretary to State Government, SSG, Hon. Uche Onyeagocha, have also roundly condemned the barbaric killing, tasking the Governor to review his security strategies.
The former Deputy Governor in a statement said: “The sordid happenings and alleged killings directed at the youthful population of Imo West Senatorial zone must be condemned in its entirety.”
“We call for an independent investigations into some of the reported mysterious killings. Some families have been wiped out while others have been eternally injured. Most of these people are said to be innocent of any gangsterism, banditry and other criminal activities.
“I will suggest that Forensic Experts should be deployed to resolve some of the killings.
Carrot and stick are part of the strategies and everything is wrong if we continue to keep quiet just to be politically correct.”
Similarly, Onyeagocha who described the killing as “horrific and barbaric,” lamented that “enough blood has been shed in the state.”
The former SSG in unambiguous terms, demanded explanations from Gov. Uzodinma why Imo has become a slaughter ground since the inception of his administration.
“This mindless killing spree has continued unremittingly. It is heartbreaking to note that since the unfortunate imposition of Hope Uzodimma by Justice Tanko’s Supreme Court in January 2020, more than three thousand innocent Imolites have been butchered by government sponsored gunmen.
“Governor Uzodinma has never shown any modicum of concern but instead has remained nonchalant and arrogant in the face of deafening public outcry.
“This indifference is an assault on the collective sensibility of Imo people and a height of wickedness and heartlessness.
Government has as its primary responsibility, the protection of lives and property of its citizens.
“Obviously, this duty is lost on Governor Uzodimma who has remained obstinate in his resolve to wipe out Imo youths. Enough blood has been shed in the state, and Ndi-Imo cannot continue to mourn anymore.”
Meanwhile, IPOB has accused Gov. Uzodinma of recruiting some “imported militia groups” into Ebubeagu for hatchet job, vowing that the Governor will not escape justice.
IPOB in a statement by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, accused the Governor of complicity in the various killings in the state with an intent to demonise ESN operatives.
The pro-Biafra group which placed N2 million bounty on the head of the Ebubeagu Commander in Imo State, vowed not to allow ‘imported elements’ destroy Biafra land.
IPOB accused Uzodinma of using the Department of State Services, DSS, to twist facts about the real murderers of the wedding guests, dismissing claims by the DSS that the victims were ESN members as blatant lie.
“The statement credited to this lying Administrator in Imo, has it that the security agents neutralized criminals in their camp in Awo-Omamma, but never explained which camp they were referring to. The people of Awo-Omamma wonder what kind of camp Hope Uzodinma is talking about.
“The indigenes within the location of the massacre know that Hope Uzodinma’s house in Omuma is also referred to as “Ebube-Agu camp” because that was where the Ebube-Agu militia who murdered the 14 youths came from and they returned to the same Omuma residence of Hope Uzodinma after their murderous operation.
“We ask again: which camp in Awo-Omamma is Hope with his partners in crime referring to? Is it the one at Omuma Community in the stadium where they murder and burn human beings alive or another?
“We also wish to remind the DSS to stop lying. They did not kill any ESN member, they are trying to cover up Hope Uzodinma from his evil. If they claim that the slaughtered wedding guests were ESN members killed in their camp, let them tell the very camp in Awo-Omamma they killed these 14 innocent youths. No liar will have peace!
“It is imperative to elucidate with accurate information regarding the death of these innocent young men murdered in cold-blood by Uzodinma’s militia boys whom he equipped with sophisticated weapons.
“Hope Uzodinma equipped the special squad amongst Ebube-Agu militia with mandate to kill any young person that is not a member of his party or his errands boys. The Ebube-Agu militia that guards his country home uses the Mini and dilapidated Stadium in that locality as a slaughter house which Hope and his men refer to as “abattoir.” At this particular abattoir is where they slaughter those suspected to be members and sympathisers of IPOB.
“The head of this murderous militia named Ebube-Agu in Imo State is one returnee from Mozambique, popularly called Ogwu. As a result of his murderous activities against our people, IPOB hereby declares this Ebube-Agu Commander in Imo State wanted. Any body who gives useful information about him will get a reward of N2 million from IPOB. ESN Imo State Command has also been given a matching order to look for him to account for the innocent blood of Biafrans his criminal gang has wasted.”
IPOB traced the formation of the “murderous Ebubeagu” to last year’s burning of Gov. Uzodinma’s house, accusing the Governor of being on vendetta mission.
“Immediately the house of Hope Uzodinma was burnt down early last year by unknown gunmen, Hope Uzodinma became enraged and designated all the young men and ladies in Orlu Senatorial Zone as household enemies for slaughter. To terrorize and kill his perceived youth enemies he recruited some criminals from Igbo land, Ijaw land through Alhaji Dukubo Asari and some Fulani boys and branded them as Ebube-Agu militia.”
“Remember that Ikonso was murdered for rejecting the offer of a hatchet man’s job. Ikonso rejected his devilish offer to kill his fellow Igbo people instead he chose to protect the people and the land as ESN Commander. Persons close to Ikonso murdered him in his sleep.
“We, therefore want to remind Hope Uzodinma that one day nemesis will catch up with him. He will surely pay for his atrocities. The day of reckoning is coming as he will not be Governor forever. We wonder if he will relocate from Biafra land or return to his house at the end of his murderous regime.”
IPOB claimed that Ebubeagu and some criminal elements are the masterminds of various senseless killings in parts of South-East, explaining that such suspicion informed its opposition to the formation of the security outfit.
“This was the reason IPOB opposed the formation of Ebube-Agu security outfit by South-East Governors because we knew they did not mean well for our people but unfortunately some people misunderstood us. We knew the wicked South-East Governors were briefed by their Fulani slave masters to use the criminal outfit to spy on ESN and eliminate more innocent Biafran youths. They were promised Vice Presidential slots in return but little did they know the Fulani wanted to use and dump them as is now the case. We knew Ebube-Agu was evil. If the Governors were sincere why didn’t they follow the way the South-West Governors used in floating Amotekun security outfit that is today helping to secure Yoruba land?’
“It’s very unfortunate that instead of supporting the gallant ESN operatives launched by our leader to protect BIAFRA land against criminal herdsmen and jihadists, South-East Governors because of their selfish political interests colluded with the Federal Government to attack innocent volunteers sacrificing their lives to protect their ancestral land.”
But when contacted, Gov. Uzodinma denied any culpability, saying that those accusing him of masterminding the killings in his state are blackmailers bent on tarnishing his image.
The Governor who spoke with Ikengaonline through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Oguwike Nwachukwu, said that the allegations by the IPOB “are completely unfounded.”
He denied importing any militia group into the state, and said he never recruited any criminals into Ebubeagu security agents.
The Governor further said that he allied himself with the position of the security agencies, adding that it will be premature to jump into conclusion while investigations into the incident are still ongoing.
He said security agencies should be allowed to carry on with their investigations to establish the true identities and mission of the victims.
The CPS had earlier in a statement said: “Governor Hope Uzodimma has said that the Government will not be deterred by propaganda and blackmail in her quest to protect the lives and property of Imo citizens.
“The Government had been briefed on the incident by the Director of State Services in an interim report made available to members of the Security Council.
“The DSS Director confirmed that his men carried out an operation in a Camp at Awo-Ommama with the assistance of their informant and not at a wedding place as claimed by the youths and that it was in the process that some bandits were neutralised.
“The Security Council awaits a detailed report on the incident, it is important that the public are wary of those using the incident as a propaganda tool to blackmail security agencies and the Government.”
The eruption of Anti-Ebubeagu protest in Aba on Tuesday, August 2, by COSEYL, is a danger signal that the youth population is growing impatient with the controversial security outfit and its founders.
Meanwhile as members of the public curiously await the outcome of the investigations over the incident amid the rising outrage, there are pertinent questions begging for answers: Who is truly behind the bloodletting in the South-East? Why are the killings in the South-East more pronounced in the states where Ebubeagu is operational? Whose interest is Ebubeagu serving? Has Ebubeagu ever confronted kidnappers and murderous herdsmen rampaging the zone? When will the South-East stop bleeding?