There have been series of attacks in the Southeast, particularly Imo State, in recent time. Among others, Orlu LGA Secretariat, Isiala Mbano LGA Secretariat and Ehime Mbano LGA Secretariat have been burnt by hoodlums. Also, Isiala Mbano Police Division, Ihitte-Uboma Police Division, Orji Police Division, Ehime Mbano Police Division and Aboh Mbaise Police Division have been burnt. Security officials have been mauled down, arms and ammunition carted away. The High Court in Etiti, Obowo LGA, was also burnt. The highpoint of the attacks is the attack on the Custodial Center in Owerri and freeing inmates; attack on the Police Command and the house of the Governor in his village, Omuma, Oru East LGA. Elsewhere in the Southeast, public and private facilities have been attacked and lives lost.
Unfortunately, as the aggressors unleashed mayhem, they appeared to enjoy tacit support from some quarters. Each attack in the State has received some amount of justification, outright support, or blaming the government. The sympathisers claim that government failure over the years and the governor’s utterances are fuelling the attacks. Some had even canvassed the opinion that the involvement of security men in Orlu to address security breaches was the cause of the whole crisis. These claims are spurious. Before the involvement of the military in Orlu, there had been attacks on the populace and public facilities. Government was therefore compelled to take necessary actions to bring the situation under control.
We do not buy the false narrative that previous governments in Imo or elsewhere in the Southeast were tolerant of the secessionist group, whether MASSOB or IPOB. According to a report by the Austrian Center for Country of Origin and Asylum and Research Documentation (ACCORD), MASSOB members suffered brushes with security agents during the time of Chief Achike Udenwa as Governor of Imo State under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). ACCORD reported that on March 29, 2003, anti-riot police laid ambush against MASSOB members at Umulolo village, near Okigwe, and killed over 70 of them.
The Austrian group reported that the MASSOB members were travelling in a convoy of about 130 cars and buses to a rally when they were confronted by heavily armed police. It said that the leader of the group, Ralph Uwazuruike, and 300 others, were arrested. Under Okorocha, members of the IPOB also suffered brushes in the State. In one instance, about 114 women were arrested in Owerri while they engaged in a public protest, half-nude, on Friday, August 17, 2018. They were arraigned and detained. This incident forced IPOB to describe Okorocha as the Adolph Hitler of Igboland. The leader of the IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, also called the former Governor, Okoroawusa, and questioned his paternity. Also, it was during Okorocha’s administration that the group was proscribed and tagged a terrorist organisation. But no politician took advantage of the situations.
It is sad that each attack by the aggressors receive unwarranted applause in some quarters but actions taken by the government to contain the situation have been unfairly condemned. You would hear or read comments that claim that the cause of the insecurity in the State is because of the Governor’s victory at the Supreme Court on January 14, 2020. These utterances compel us to agree with the Governor that some disgruntled politicians are behind the attacks, for the purpose of getting him out of the government house or making the State ungovernable.
For example, one Ekene Bob-Ekechukwu Esq, a staunch member of the PDP in the State, wrote recently, arguing that “the controversial installation of Uzodimma as governor is the reason the State is turbulent today”. He posited that “What is playing out in Imo State today appears to be quite similar to the story of Laurent Gbagbo. Like Gbagbo Hope Uzodimma assumed power in very controversial circumstances. It is no longer news that like Ouattara, Emeka Ihedioha won the 2019 Imo State governorship election, but was later removed from office by the Supreme Court, which installed Uzodimma from a distant fourth position”. Ekechukwu added: “Similar to the case of Gbagbo, the people appear to be revolting against Uzodimma’s government which they believe lacks credibility and the people’s mandate. Recent comments by the IPOB Leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the renowned Prophet Elijah Ayodele of the INRI Spiritual Church Lagos, demanding the removal of Uzodimma and the reinstatement of Ihedioha further buttresses that fact”.
He made two prognosis. “With the way things are going in the State now, two scenarios may play out in the end. One, the activities of the unknown gunmen may escalate to a full scale revolution which may topple Uzodimma’s government…Secondly, there may be a declaration of a state of emergency and the introduction of martial law which also will automatically remove Uzodimma as governor of the State”. He added: “Now that it has become obvious to all and sundry that the people do not want the government of Uzodimma, won’t it be wise for him to bow out honourably than take the Gbagbo option?” He called on the Governor “to perish selfish interest…and take the path of honour to bow out now, to save our dear State from a cataclysmic end”.
Ekechukwu’s revelation of the cause of the attacks in Imo shows that some politicians can go to any length to achieve their selfish ends, even if doing so would set the State on fire. It is shocking that dirty politicking and politicization of the attacks have stretched to the media space. The media plays important roles in time of crisis. But studies have shown that in time of crisis, the public and the media should “rally around the flag”, not the aggressors. Watchdog journalism, otherwise called investigative journalism, involves fact-checking
information in the public sphere, or unearthing hidden information. The watchdog journalist does not need to embarrass or punch his resource person or guest, whether they are propagating government interest or refusing to divulge some facts. In time of difficulty, the onus is on the journalist to show his expertise and figure out ways of extracting the needed information or commitment from the public official.
Consequently, we frown at the embarrassment meted out to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Declan Emelumba, on Ozisa 96.1FM Owerri, on Thursday, April 29, 2021. He was at the radio station to answer questions and give perspectives on the spate of attacks in the State. But he was rather embarrassed. We hope that by now the management of the radio station and the presenters have reached out to Emelumba and apologized to him. Journalists are gentlemen of the press and should show decorum, impartiality and respect to their reaource person at all times. They are not thugs and they should refrain from reports that create heroes out of villains. If the media finds no reason to support the insurgency in the North, it should not support violent groups in the Southeast. Justifying the attacks by the aggressors could worsen the situation in the Southeast and provide the impetus the aggressors need for full scale insurgency. The media has an age long tradition of not backing the aggressors. It should not give way for unbridled political shenanigans, neither should it yield itself to be channels for spreading hysteria. Nothing works in an atmosphere of chaos and insurgency.
Governor Uzodimma has taken bold steps to restore normalcy. In a statewide broadcast on Saturday, May 1, the Governor, among other steps, called on all and sundry to sheath their sword and give peace and development a chance. He noted: “For us to see those better days we must refrain from acts that will impede developments and progress. We must resolve that this is the only State we have and we can call our own and we should not let any selfish political interest come between us and the State. Politics will come and go but Imo State will remain. Let us preserve and protect our commonwealth. Let us say no to banditry and anarchy. Both are ill-winds that blow no one any good”.
While we commend the Governor for meticulously working with security agencies in the State to identify and expose those behind the mayhem, we are glad he has resolved not to yield to the temptation of negotiating with criminal elements working in cohorts with disgruntled politicians to wreck havoc. “Security agencies have identified those behind the recent disturbances in the State. In the next few days, their identities would be unveiled alongside their actions so that they can face justice squarely”, he said on Sunday.