The recent relocation of 47 boko haram suspects to prisons in the south east generated a long protest by the people including their various leaders. The development also resulted into a poser, if it was the best way President Buhari could pay the Anambra Governor and the people of the zone for assuring his administration of Igbo’s support , writes correspondent, Odogwu Emeka Odogwu,
Anambra Governor, Willie Obiano’s assumption is that he is a friend of the President Muhammadu Buhari -led Federal Government. His thoughts are not faulted more so when he was the first executive governor to lead a high powered Ndigbo delegation to congratulate Buhari when he won the presidential election.
Perhaps Obiano’s intention for the visit was to court friendship with his boss, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and assure him of support and partnership by Ndigbo.
But the Governor and his people are having a second thought over the friendship which has translated into a strange midnight Sallah gift.
To the South East People and Anambra State in particular, they are at a loss over why the Buhari’s government at the centre will conceive the idea or figure the state as the most ideal point to relocate arrested terrorists and Boko Haram apologists.
Precisely on the night of Sunday, 28 June 2015, 47 Boko Haram prisoners were ferried secretly from a location up north to the Aguata prison, Ekwulobia, Aguata local government area of Anambra State.
As if that was not enough, armed soldiers and armoured tanks were deployed to the area in what residents termed ‘a measure aimed at intimidating and restricting the movement of local people in Ekwulobia’.
But worse off is the misrepresentation of the entire episode as the Nigerian Pilot Sunday learnt that but for wise counsel, youths in Aguata local government would have retaliated as they re-grouped to protect their territory.
The youths of Ekwulobia and Ezinifite communities in Aguata Local Government Area where the suspected Boko Haram detainees are held in Aguata Prisons, have resorted to self-help as residents of the neighbouring communities now live in fear of any eventualities.
They have reportedly armed themselves with machetes and sticks with the aim of defending the area against any possible attack by Boko Haram insurgents. Though laughable, the cutlasses and sticks are the ones the eyes could see, what of the ones the eyes cannot see.
The youths numbering about two hundred have also formed special anti Boko Haram vigilantes and mostly operate at night in the two communities, and the neighbouring ones of Uga and Amesi all in Aguata Local Government Area of the State.
At the last count, markets have closed three times as the Anambra Markets Traders’ Association had consistently staged protests against the continued incarceration of the high profile detainees in the state.
The market groups had advised the Federal Government as a matter of urgency to relocate the detainees to areas outside the South East to avoid polluting the relative peace currently enjoyed in the state.
‘Low prison offenders and hardened terrorists should not be kept at the same place as we witnessed with the detention of Al Qaeda prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay high security prison that is far from civilian population but Nigeria’s Federal government friendship with Gov Obiano has brought hardened criminals in rustic village of Ekwulobia in the midst of rural folks residents” said one of the resident in Ekwulobia who spoke in anonymity.
But the big question is: is Buhari an advocate of peace, equity, and good governance, judging by his inaugural speech? He had said: “I shall work for those who voted for me as well as those who voted against me and even for those who did not vote at all. We will govern for you and in your interests.” That was Buhari two months ago.
Is the relocation of Boko Haram terrorists to Anambra State not a mischief of the worst kind authorized by the Federal Government?
Is this the gift from Federal Government for Obiano’s support for his friendship? What a sinister Greek gift of terrorists to Ndigbo and an appalling experience for South-Easterners? These are the posers
However as it is the people are of the opinion that Buhari has imposed nervousness, fear, terror, restlessness, and suffering on the people in Ekwulobia and the South-East states. Will the Boko Haram suspects radicalize other prisoners who are serving time for minor offences in Aguata prisons, Ekwulobia or are the people of South-East being punished because they did not vote for the All Progressives Congress, APC in the presidential election in March this year? Or is it mere ethnic bigotry by another name?
Was Buhari’s decision to move Boko Haram prisoners from the North to the South-east wrong, offensive, insensitive, inappropriate, demeaning, and shameful even dishonorable?
But speaking to the Nigerian Pilot Sunday, the Anambra State chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC urged the federal government to order the immediate relocation of the Boko Haram detainees transferred to Ekwulobia Prisons.
NLC Chairman, Mr Jerry Nnubia, made the call at a news briefing at the union’s secretariat in Awka.
“We condemn in its entirety the relocation of the suspected terrorists to Ekwulobia Minimum Prison that has no facility for such high profile suspects.
“This period in Anambra, we are breathing the breath of peace and security courtesy of Gov. Willie Obiano.
“They should be transferred or relocated to the place where there is maximum security in case of jail break or attack from their sympathisers or where they committed the crime and where they will be tried.’’
He said that the relocation of suspected terrorists would stop the tension in Anambra, and indeed, the South-East geopolitical zone.
Nnubia said, “though the prison belongs to the Federal Government and as such has right to make necessary transfer but the calibre of these suspects was not good enough for South-East having recorded the highest hit of their operations since 2006.
Joined in the fray is the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA which further called on the Federal Government to urgently move the 47 Boko Haram inmates recently relocated to Ekwulobia Minimum Prison in Anambra.
The party’s National Chairman, Dr. Victor Ike Oye, asked the government to move the inmates to a more secured facility outside the state or take them back to where they were moved from.
In a statement by a spokesman for the party, Ifeanacho Oguejiofor, Dr. Oye also advised the Federal Government to consider the example of the United States of America when it was faced with the same debilitating situation that it built Guantanamo Bay detention facility located in a small island near Cuba, where terror suspects and convicts are detained.
He said that unlike the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, access into the Ekwulobia Prison is as easy as gaining access into the National Stadium in Lagos.
“They did not consider the sensibilities of the people and the far-reaching consequences of the movement or was it a case of deliberate design to continue to spite the Igbo who have suffered many years of marginalisation and ill treatment?” he questioned.
And recalling that William Shakespeare’s play in 1598 and 1599 , ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and that is what it is becoming about the dumping of 47 Boko Haram suspects in the Aguata Prison Ekwulobia, Aguata local government area, Anambra State.
Nevertheless since the news filtered into the state, Ndi Anambra have not known peace to the extent that the development is becoming frustrating as captured by the Coordinator Transform Nigeria Movement, TNM, and leader of the 20 villages in Awka capital territory, Comrade Obi Ochije, who said the method of protesting by shutting down markets and business premises was baseless and unnecessary as it has frustrated the businesses of poor people especially those dealing on perishables.
Ochije a market leader too in Awka is angry with the second closure of markets in the state recently after it was shut previously . He stated that the market leaders were selfish and inconsiderate insisting ‘’enough is enough, markets should not close again because of this Boko Haram issue. We the traders and civil society groups have made our stand known and it is not by closing our markets that the Federal government will hear us.’’.
He queried why the civil servants as well as transport owners did also not stay at home while the shops were shut, admonishing that since President Buhari had assured of relocating the 47 inmates some grace period was needed before further protests and closure of the markets.
Ochije insisted that the closure was anti-poor and anti progress as many traders depended on their perishable goods to survive the hard economy and without notice, markets are announced to be closed by market association executives in what could be best described as conspiracy between them and their sponsors. ‘’Nobody is against closing the market when there is need but this one is not supposed to be under one week traders have closed shops twice not voluntarily but compulsory and I am asking Governor Obiano to be on top of the game as the advisers are not advising well’’
Also condemning the closure of markets is the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO Anambra State Branch led by Comrade Aloysius Emeka Attah. He said: ‘’ the continuous closure of markets in Anambra State in the name of protests for the relocation of Boko Haram suspects in Anambra should stop forthwith. The traders have made a statement through their shut down of markets and peaceful protests of Saturday July 27th 2015. The continuous/incessant closure of markets on the order of the central market leaders without any consultation on the traders and their separate unions with its attendant economic implications is undemocratic and smacks of high handedness coated with ulterior motives.
Attah further said‘’ While we welcome the reported meeting between the state government and a federal government delegation over the issue, we call on the Federal Government to as a matter of urgent national attention, return the Boko Haram detainees to their former base while putting in motion machinery for confidence building and damage control on the psyche of Ndigbo.
The states’ Traditional rulers led by Obi of Onitsha, Alfred Achebe also put their weight against the government’s move rejecting the prison transfer and urged the President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately direct for their relocation as Anambra is predominantly Christians and would not want the subtle Islamization policy to manifest in such a manner.
Achebe and five other monarchs endorsed a public statement in that regards insisting that Buhari should: ‘’ please use all the powers at his disposal to effect a reversal of this ill conceived even reckless and dangerous mien of the security operatives.
The monarchs condemned the transfer of Boko Haram inmates to Anambra describing it as a process of Islamizing South East which they would resist with everything at their disposal adding that Buhari would not enjoy the challenge …’’
While the protest rages, reprieve appears on the way as the federal government has agreed to relocate the suspects elsewhere. In a meeting between Governor Willie Obiano and a 7 -man representative of the National Security Adviser, Retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki at the instance of President Muhammadu Buhari, Ndi Anambra was assured that the 47 Boko Haram suspects transferred to the Ekwulobia prisons recently will be relocated soon.
The meeting took place at the Governor’s Lodge and lasted for several hours in a closed- door.
In attendance were Nigeria Prisons Service Authorities, representatives of all relevant Stakeholders including Service Commanders, Markets, Religious and Community Leaders, Heads of Youth and women groups among others.
Governor Obiano later confirmed the outcome of the secret meeting when he explained that during the meeting, all the Stakeholders inundated the National Security Adviser with their resentments over the recent deployment especially in view of the vulnerability of the Prison to which they were deployed.
Obiano noted that the visitor having been intimated with the facts on ground, promised to inform the appropriate authorities accordingly with a view to ensuring that the detainees are taken back.
It will be recalled that 47 Boko Haram suspects were last month, transferred to the Aguata Prison, Ekwulobia, a development that attracted demonstrations and verbal condemnation from various quarters against the Federal Government’s action.
This paper however gathered that whereas the Presidency was uncomfortable with incessant protests especially that led by 177 Community leaders and the advertorial of protest by the traditional rulers and decided to meet with them and sort out best way to resolve the issue, the Governor has been appealing on this issue silently but suddenly protests and mass cry out against the normal prison procedure grew to the extent that Governors of South East and Senators added their voices even with the latest protest by town union leaders and traditional rulers , so the National Security Adviser to the President on the orders of Mr. President sent a delegation to meet with Anambra people.
Aside the passionate appeal by Governor Obiano to the Presidency, endless protests and wide agitations by traders, the South East Governors’ Forum, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Aka Ikenga, members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, Anambra state Association of Town Unions, civil society groups and numerous social cultural associations across the region also lent their voices against the transfer of the dreaded Boko Haram inmates from North-East/Chad to Ekwulobia.
But how soon and where is their next destination, remains the question?