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CON AWARD: ANOTHER FEATHER ON UGWUANYI’S FITTED CAP

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It was the 30th US president and lawyer, Calvin Coolidge, who once said that no person was ever honoured for what he received, rather honour has been the reward for what one gave out to the society.

By Samson Ezea

This, no doubt is a statement of fact and true reflection of the prestigious national award of Commander Order Of the Niger (CON) being conferred on the workaholic and peaceful Governor of Enugu State, Rt.Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi by the All Progressives Congress (APC) led Federal Government.

Governor Ugwuanyi, a renowned pacifist; humility personified and man of candour has given much to the society since coming into limelight.

The national honour is indeed well deserved of Ugwuanyi who has paid his dues in the politics, leadership and governance of Nigeria.

For the fact that the honour came at the twilight of Ugwuanyi’s administration is a clear manifestation and testimony of his outstanding performance in office, a development that has placed Enugu on enviable status and global map.

The national honour is an addition to the avalanche of the prestigious national and international awards, laurels and recognitions conferred on Ugwuanyi which include four unprecedented national newspapers awards from The Sun, Vanguard, Leadership and Independent, bestowed on him in 2018.

These awards were well deserved, historic and unprecedented in the annals of newspaper awards in the country. Unprecedented because that was the first time a governor scooped four newspapers awards at a time.

While The Sun, Leadership and Vanguard newspapers honoured Ugwuanyi with the Governor of The Year 2018, Independent honoured him with Governor Of The Year 2018 For Grassroots Development.

Early this year, Ugwuanyi was honoured with the most peaceful Governor award by Messengers Of Peace Foundation, an internationally recognised non-governmental organisation.

That these awards and honours came after painstaking assessments and scrutiny clearly provide proof and evidence of Governor Ugwuanyi’s verifiable and remarkable giant strides in office despite obvious and enormous challenges.

It is a pointer to the fact that while the governor had wholeheartedly concentrated attention on his core agenda of providing good governance, peace and basic infrastructural development in the state without noise or fanfare, the Nigeria government and these organisations were diligently keeping tab on his administration’s activities, taking recognition of its giant strides in all sectors of the state economy.

For those who may not have been following. governance in Enugu State and may ask what Ugwuanyi’s administration has done differently to deserve these awards, honours and laurels, Ugwuanyi is a governor with a difference and many firsts and feats.

He is the first governor to construct first flyover in the state at the T-Junction Nike Lake road. He established the first brand new specialised University named State University of Medical and Applied Sciences (SUMAS ) Igbo Eno, Enugu state. He is the first governor to establish Forest Guard to fight insecurity.

He is the first governor to establish Multi- Door Court House in the Southeast region and third in the country as alternative institutional and legal frameworks for dispute resolution.

Under Governor Ugwuanyi’s administration, Enugu Rangers Football club that was trophyless for more than three decades, won two trophies back to back. This is apart from numerous basic people- oriented infrastructural projects and human empowerments his administration has provided in the state.

This is despite the fact that it is a public knowledge that Ugwuanyi, on assumption office in 2015 was confronted with enormous challenges of paucity of fund, backlog of salaries, infrastructural deficits especially in rural areas, huge debt profile, insecurity, pre and post-election legal encumbrances and others.

Because of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) ’s loss of the presidential election in 2015, Ugwuanyi became the first governor of the state to be in opposition party since 1999. At the time, his predecessors were in office, PDP was in control at the centre and they leveraged on the situation to enjoy a lot of advantages. That has not been the case with Ugwuanyi since 2015 till date.

Many had expected that with the myriad of daunting challenges before him, Ugwuanyi would complain or engage in witch-hunt, blame game and buck passing.

Unlike his colleagues, Ugwuanyi didn’t do so for one day, rather he stoically and quietly took the bull by the horn, by humbly providing solution to these challenges.

With his wealth of experience in private sector and administrative astuteness in public office, Ugwuanyi knowing that Enugu State is third from the bottom in the monthly Federal Allocation sharing formula, quickly tightened the loopholes in the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) which shored up tremendously.

In the area of appointments and project allocations, Ugwuanyi spread it across the three senatorial zones of the state, using necessity, impact and competence as a benchmark in making choice. His government has through prudence and fiscal discipline reduced drastically the cost of governance, thereby making fund available for projects executions and other obligations that have direct impact on the lives of the people.

Ugwuanyi had on assumption office, adopted inclusive, live-and-let live approach to governance, a development that created peaceful atmosphere for his perceived political opponents and opposition parties to operate at par with the ruling party in the state, without any qualms.

Enugu state being a civil service state, Ugwuanyi made workers salary a top priority of his government.

While many workers are at loggerhead with their state governors over salaries and other benefits, workers in Enugu are always on the same page with Ugwuanyi to the extent that they gave him award as Workers’ Most Friendly governor. This is unprecedented in the workers-governors’ relationship in Nigeria.

Under the governor’s watch, Enugu has remained the most peaceful state, having recorded the lowest crime rate in the country. Ugwuanyi is the most accessible and ever handy governor in the country today. He is not only always in the state most times, he is always handy to attend to urgent problems that require immediate solution or succur.

Across the state today, it is agreed that Ugwuanyi’s government has given much to the people, since coming into office, despite the obvious and daunting challenges, capable of derailing or distracting any government.

Conferring the prestigious national peace award on Ugwuanyi, at the Government House, Enugu, the National President of the foundation, Dr. Sulaiman Adejoh, disclosed that the honour was in recognition of the governor’s zeal, steadfastness and untiring efforts in ensuring that “there is calmness in Enugu State and Nigeria by extension”.

Dr. Adejoh said: “We have taken note of these efforts because it is not ordinary. It takes somebody that has something upstairs and a man of peace to be able to use all the connections including God to make sure there is peace in his state.

And by the power given to you as the serving Governor of Enugu State, you have used your God-given ability to make sure that there is relative calmness”.

The National President explained that the Messengers of Peace Foundation is the organizer of the prestigious National Peace Awards in Nigeria; the prominent Queen of Peace in the country and worldwide; and the African Peace Awards, revealing that “by June this year we will be going to London for first Global Messengers of Peace Awards in partnership with Her Royal Majesty, the Queen of England”.
“Your Excellency, we are here to identify with your success as the Most Peaceful Governor in the whole country. We have gone round, especially in the rural areas. We saw the good roads. We sampled opinions. We are going to send you video clips for you to see the positive things your people have said about you.

“So we are here to say thank you so much for all you are doing for your people and in Nigeria as well”.

Responding, Ugwuanyi dedicated the award to God and stressed that God is the one behind all his successes and the unmerited favour he has gained in life.

Noting that peace is the costliest commodity in life, the governor pointed out that it is impossible to achieve the primary purposes of government, which are security and welfare of the people, without peace.

Adejoh’s description of Governor Ugwuanyi is apt , factual and undiluted. Indeed, Ugwuanyi deserves the award of the most peaceful Governor in Nigeria, being a pacifist per excellence and a leader without boundary.

The award was timely, coming at a time the country is in dire need of a genuine peace maker and a leader that has capacity for and commitment to true national healing, national dialogue and enduring peace.

Since assuming office as governor in 2015, Ugwuanyi’s peaceful disposition to governance has endeared him to many within and outside the state. It has also put Enugu state in the global peace map as one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria.

It was because of these peaceful qualities, that Ugwuanyi was also honoured with the Peace Ambassador Award during the International Peace Day on September 21, 2020 alongside other Nigerian leaders.

So honouring Ugwuanyi with the National award of CON is not surprising to those who have followed his political trajectory and leadership exploits since he came to political limelight.

Despite assuming office at a time of fragile peace, communal conflicts and political crises in the state, Ugwuanyi has never been daunted or relented in pursuing peace and security in the state and beyond.

He has remained a champion, symbol and epitome of peace in the state. He has pursued peace with sincerity, diligence, integrity and fear of God.

He has rebuilt broken bridges, reconciled the irreconcilables and mended cracked walls within and outside the state. He has sacrificed a lot for peace to reign in the state. Even with his exalted and powerful position as governor, he had continued to stoop to conquer.

He has become a pencil in the hands of God to keep the state on the right track and peaceful. He has strongly demonstrated his penchant for genuine peace in every situation, without minding whose ox is gored.

With Ugwuanyi’s numerous peace initiatives and overtures, longtime political rivals and warring communities in the state have embraced, dialogued and resolved thier differences in the interest of peace and unity in the state.

Even the oppositions in the state are in total agreement that Ugwuanyi’s peaceful and tolerant disposition has promoted democracy, rule of law, sustainable and enduring peace.

To the low and high within and outside the state, Ugwuanyi is a genuine peacemaker who is always ready to sacrifice anything for peace to reign. He has been consistent and practical in his peace pursuits and overtures.

It is for this reason that many laurels, awards and honours have been given to and conferred on him in this regard by some national dailies, reputable national and international organisations and groups before now.

Ugwuanyi’s milestones in peacemaking is worthy of emulation and a lesson to be learned. It is at the same time a challenge to political leaders, especially in Enugu State, where Ugwuanyi has become an exemplar and a model in leadership.

As one of my friends will always say, Enugu State has a priest in leadership and politics in the person of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who has resolved and settled lingering crises without rocking the boat or offending anyone.

Ugwuanyi’s enviable peace stride is not accidental. It is as a result of the diverse and multi-faceted crisis solving, peaceful measures and approaches he introduced and adopted in the state. They are unique and novel.
Even whenever crisis which is synonymous with human life occurs, Ugwuanyi’s government and other relevant agencies in the state had often intervene promptly and appropriately to nip it in the bud or resolve it amicably.

Severally, Ugwuanyi has surprised many by personally and directly getting involved in resolving some of these conflicts between communities, groups or individuals conflicts, deploying the stoop-to- conquer tactics and carrot approach.
This positive and peaceful method of Ugwuanyi’s administration is responsible for the tremendous development and giant strides of the state government, individuals and organisations across the state since 2015 till date.

It is not an overstatement for one to say that the major preoccupation of Ugwuanyi’s administration for years now is about building bridges, mending the broken hearts and reconciling the irreconcilable differences of political juggernauts and communities.

Ugwuanyi is like water. He has no enemy. He is a genuine and renowned peacemaker in leadership like no other. He is a governor of all irrespective of status, religion, political affiliation and gender. His peace model will remain a reference point to students of peace and conflict resolution.

Congratulations the people’s leader and national icon for the national honour well deserved

Ezea writes from Independence Layout, Enugu State.

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I WANT TO BE LIKE BUHARI

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By Barr. Ezugwu Okike

The late story teller, Chinua Achebe, was very consistent in calling himself and contemporaries, the members of a lucky generation.

As he travelled the world and lectured, he kept saying it. That was consistent with the Achebe character. He was a very modest and honest man. The more general attitude of mankind is to shake things out of the ordinary. The first man who travelled to Onisha from Nsukka returned and told his kinsmen that every route to Onitsha was tortuous and long. They gathered and admiringly looked upon him as a fabulous adventurer. He did not want another person to undertake the journey and return to render his accomplishment commonplace.  Achebe would not do that. He would have told his kinsmen that Onitsha was not that far and that the journey was easy.

Muhammedu Buhari was among the lucky generation of Nigerians who had everything going for them. They had the benefit of world class education; economy, as well as an unlimited, dignified access to the rest of the world. They knew Nigeria before it went to the dogs, if that better describes it. I was in the N.B.A Committee which interviewed Dr. Michael Ajogwu, SAN.  The 80-year-old told us that he was the first Masters student in the university of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. He lived in the Postgraduate Hall alone and had a large number of servants. When he was bored of staying in the PG Hall alone and moved up to the campus, the university authorities ordered that an entire hostel be vacated for him, his many servants carrying his belongings. When you compare this to the rat-infested and evil-smelling rooms in the hostels of the same school today, and the big task it is to even secure a room in these dingy places, you will have an idea of what it means to have been a member of a lucky generation.

Buhari has been luckier than most. He is a man who does not take blame for his actions. If he promised that he would fight corruption — as a first instance — and corruption festers, it is not his fault. He had the intention but the judiciary refused to corporate. If he had talked about making one naira equal to one dollar, and the naira plummets shamelessly in the exchange market, he remains blameless. His predecessors did a lot of bad things and he is not a wonder-worker.

As he sank the country almost inexorably in debt, he is still free from blame. Buhari cannot, if you must be fair, make bricks without straw. Let us even assume that anybody heard him promise to fight terror, and you have some of the world’s most brazen ransom-framing happening in the country; well, you know who to blame: the Army Generals. Buhari gave them all the support they need — moral and material. Do you expect the old man to join in the fighting?  If oil marketers now halt distribution to protest the perilous state of federal Highways, Buhari has no hand in the pie. Jonathan and some other guys were president and could have done the roads.

The above are for those who love specifics.  Hardcore Buharists (and isn’t everybody a Buharist?), have a blanket approach with which they shield him from blame. Nigeria is now a fiasco. She is unflinching in her march into becoming a perfectly poverty-stricken Banana Republic. But you must not blame the indifferent man who sits on her destiny. He had or still has good intentions. Moreover, he did not steal your money. He is only a tribal bigot and that is a misdemeanor, not up to what you could call a crime against public service.

Muhammadu Buhari, a lucky child, is still stretching his privileges. After leading Nigeria twice, first as a coup and military leader and then again as a civilian head of state, two epochs of absolute economic turmoil and retrogression, the last thing he wants is any post-retirement headache. He wants a tranquil time at Duara. And he is already sending out strident notes of warning. First, he does not want to be blamed for the outcomes of a possible Bola Tinubu presidency. Like every rational Nigerian, he feels a premonition of the looming disaster. “I did not elect Tinubu. The Delegates did,” he told a reporter and grinned. But, did Buhari forget that nobody blames him for anything?

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He had warned also that he must not be summoned by any court to give testimony. I forgot to mention that Buhari has always lived above the law. He is not like Donald Trump whom you could disturb his peace for provoking a riot. Historically, the judiciary have always got on Buhari’s nerves. I am still wondering why he allowed one of his daughters to read law. “The nonsense of judicial proceeding,” he called it all with a cloudy grimace. He is not unmindful of the fact that his associates, since he became president, have been using the country essentially as a collateral for foreign loans. But you must not call him to testify before any court. Buhari is exiting the bustles of public life about which he has confessed his tiredness. He dreams of a pastoral life in Daura where he would be minding his moderate herd of cows.

What a life Buhari has had. Tell me if you don’t want to be like him?

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NAIRA REDESIGN: BAD DEAL FOR CRIMINAL ENTREPRENEURS

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CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed

From December 15, 2022, Nigerians would welcome a newly redesigned naira currency notes which the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said would replace the ones currently in circulation in N200, N500 and N1000 denominations.

Citing currency hoarding, inflation, and counterfeiting as key reasons for its decision, the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele had argued that an estimated N2.73 trillion of the N3.23 trillion currency in circulation in Nigeria, representing about 85 percent of the total had remained outside the bank vaults.

In addition to this, Emefiele spoke on the imperative of enhancing the security features of the Nigerian currency in a move that would give fakers of the Naira a bad deal going forward.

Even as the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed attempted to distance the supervisory authority from the project while appearing before the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent affirmation that the initiative has his backing appears to have taken the debate far beyond the realm of speculation and conjectures to action points.

Consequently, all things being equal, the notes are expected to go into circulation from December 15, alongside the old ones which will cease to be a legal tender by January 31, 2023.

To avoid a possible loss of value that could befall holders of the old notes, commercial banks have on the directive of the CBN have made special arrangements and in most cases extended their business hours to weekends to enable customers deposit their old notes and from December 15 receive new notes.

Although recent reports have that close N80billion held outside the banking system had since been lodged back into the bank treasury, observers believe this is still a far cry from an estimated N2.7trillion said to be in individual vaults outside the financial system.

From the CBN’s analysis of the monetary aggregates, volume of cash outside the banking system has severe implication for policy formulation especially in present inflationary dispensation where too much money is chasing too fewer goods and services.

Two other moral high grounds that tend to justify the redesign of the naira according to economic experts include the high corruption index as established by several global agencies such as transparency international (TI) which insists Nigeria run a corrupt bureaucracy and political system.

According to TI Nigeria’s Corruption Index is expected to hit 28 points. The index offers an annual snapshot of the relative degreeof corruption by ranking countries from across the globe.

It’s believed that huge physical cash in the hands of corrupt political and business elite has badly mitigated the Buhari government’s ongoing war against corruption.

In the opinion of some analysts, the current naira redesign would further take the Central Bank of Nigeria cashless policy initiative a nudge higher by raising the bar for more stakeholders’ onboarding of the Central Bank Digital Currency CBDC.

They had argued that since its launch on October 25, 2021, the CBDC had struggled for recognition and adoption even among the Nigerian business community given commercial banks’ apparent reluctance to buy into the vision behind the scheme.

Meanwhile Nigerians in the public and private sectors have been commenting on the CBN’s decision to roll out new naira notes in the weeks ahead.

Speaking on the issue, the President, of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines And Agriculture (NACCIMA) Chief John Udeagbala said the chamber supports the redesigning and reprinting of Naira notes announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

According to him at a recent press conference, NACCIMA wishes to commend the apex bank for this development aimed at controlling the quantum of Naira in circulation.

NACCIMA is totally in support of redesigning of naira notes because it’s long overdue. This will help our economy and also reduce crime. Though the time is short, the security and the presidency know the reason.

The redesigning of the Naira notes would help the banks to retrieve about N2 trillion that is outside the banking system. Also, banks will be able to give loans to businesses.

When the redesigned notes are released, it would curb crime and the N2tn cash outside the economy would be brought in, making more loans available to the manufacturers.It is going to dry septic tanks and other places where the notes have been piled.

There is no doubt that the measure will significantly help to control currency circulation outside the banking system and enhance monetary policy control as a measure to further control inflation, improve currency security, improve electoral transparency and reduce corruption arising from possible vote trading during electioneering campaign towards 2023 elections and improve use of technology in our banking system and enhance a growing adoption of cashless money transfers.

While we note this useful decision of the CBN, NACCIMA encourages appropriate mix of both monetary policy and fiscal discipline and expenditure by both the government and political gladiators.

It is important that the current government focuses on governance and achieving election promises made during the last elections while current political players should deemphasise vote buying and focus their campaign on socio-economic issues of importance to the ordinary Nigerian.

NACCIMA is willing and ready to work with various agencies of government to achieve economic growth and prosperity of the nation through policy recommendations that will enhance ease of doing business and improve the GDP.

Also reacting, Dr Frank Onyebu, Chairman, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Apapa branch, said “If the CBN governor’s statement to the effect that a very huge percentage of the money in circulation is out of the banking system then obviously the redesign of the Naira, reissue of the Naira or whatever name it’s called, is the right thing to do. The important thing is that a substantial percentage of the currency gets back into the banks.

This initiative, in addition to other objectives, would aim to boost Naira digitalisation, expand the tax net as well as expose monies being held by criminal elements.

But the extent top which, these goals are accomplished would be determined by the effectiveness of the process and the integrity of the officials who would implement it.

Unfortunately, there are always collateral damages to any good initiative that come with a cost both to the economy and to the people. The cost of printing new money and the logistics of handling the withdrawal of the existing currency is huge. But most of all, the cost to the people of Nigeria in terms of human suffering could be overwhelming”.

He noted “Based on the experience of India some years ago and our previous experiences here in Nigeria, Nigerians should expect some tough times ahead. People are going to be queuing up in banks for hours on end just to change their currency. Corruption, as usual will take centre stage.”

The CBN would need to be on top of its game and guide the entire process to avoid grounding of the economy. This initiative, if properly managed could boost the economy but if poorly managed would do a lot of damage to our already weak economy

But according to the CEO/ Founder, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprises (CPPE), Dr Muda Yusuf, it is rather difficult to see any compelling value proposition of this currency redesign idea. The cost of such an action would be outrageous and disproportionate compared to the expected benefits advanced by the CBN.

At a time when the government is grappling with high fiscal deficit, debt crisis, severe revenue crisis and underfunding of many government projects and programmes, it is most inappropriate to embark on such a profligate exercise.

“Currency in circulation as a percentage of money supply is less than seven percent. Currency as percentage of GDP is less than 2 percent.

The exercise therefore has no monetary policy significance.

Besides it will come with huge logistics costs, and avoidable dislocations to small businesses, most of whom are in the informal sector. The pronouncement on the Currency redesign has worsened the dollarisation of the economy. Our local currency is facing a major crisis of confidence.”

“This is one intervention we can do without. There are more urgent issues demanding the attention of the CBN. We have issues with liquidity in the foreign exchange market, the depreciating currency the recent Moody’s downgrade of nigeria, soaring inflation and many more. The CBN should save the citizens and the economy the trauma of this currency redesign. It is a distraction we can do without”. He concluded

Also reacting to the debate, Chairman, SMEs Group of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Daniel Dickson -Okezie.

One of the advantages of the redesigning of the naira by the CBN is that it will reduce the rate of counterfeiting of the currency.

Presently the counterfeiting of the currency has increased as a result of modern technology which makes it easier for counterfeiters of the currency.

Another economic benefit is that

It will cause reduction of money supply and further tighten money supply. The is one of the measures to use to counter the effects of excess money supply. Nigeria is in a state of hyper inflation and one of the measures to curb hyper -inflation is to curb excess liquidity in the system, which the redesigning of the naira will tend to do.

He said “If it leads to large deposit in banks, it means banks may have more money to lend which may reduce interest rate. That is the economic theory. The more money you lend the more you reduce interest rate. It may have the effect of reducing speculative attacks on the naira in the parallel market which has been the order of the day”.

Financial intelligence will be up as banks will be on the watch out for huge deposits, monitoring illegitimate transactions including ransome taking and terror financing which will be exposed by the exercise.

“It will help to tackle ransome payments which has now become the order of the day in Nigeria.

Today, we all know that a lot of money is starched away by kidnappers and people demanding ransome payments”.

For the disadvantages of the redesigning of the currency, there is this issue of naira value errosion.

The moment the announcement was made, the dollar to naira increased to #800 to a dollar.

That is another consequence of the naira redesign. Customers will rush to the banks, which will affect the bankers because they might not be able to meet up with the rush from customers coming to return their notes

The naira in the interim will lose value because those starching away the currency presently both criminal and those who are into illicit drug business who have so much stored outside the banking system will rush to convert their money rather than coming to deposit them.

They will rush to the parallel market to buy dollars, this will put pressure on the value of the naira. So the naira will suffer in the interim.

“In the next few months, there will be more pressure on the naira and we should be looking at #1000 to a dollar by December 2022.

The new policy will put a lot of operational pressure on commercial banks and the financial system in general.

As a matter of fact, the window for this exercise should have been a 90-day window which would have been better, but obviously because of its likelihood to affect the election cycle, the CBN decided to reduce the period for the exercise.

Hopefully, on the positive side of it, all politicians that have starched trillions of naira ready for rigging elections and other activities have a bad deal with the redesign. But with the policy now, they will be forced to bring those funds. Some will then have to buy dollars and use dollars to bribe voters, which will cost them more.

Meanwhile, Group Head, Transaction Banking, United Bank for Africa (UBA), Osilama Idokogi believes the redesigning of the naira is something that the CBN is pushing. He said “As an institution we report to the CBN, so we would do exactly what has been instructed. There are positive aspects, and so we don’t focus on the negative aspect. To a large extent the country will benefit from it. We are here to support the policy.

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S’EAST FORESTS OF KIDNAPPERS: GOVERNORS OF REGION IN FRANTIC SEARCH FOR SOLUTION

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Southeast governors in emergency meeting over insecurity in the region

Insecurity has persisted in the Southeast. From Nnewi to Isikwuato, Nsukka to Afikpo and Mbano, the issue has continued to dominate discussions, especially the changing trend of kidnapping in the zone.

Of particular interest is the revelation that most of the kidnap cases occur around forests in the various states, be it in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, or Imo.

For incidents of kidnapping that did not happen within the precinct of the forests, Sunday Sun finding showed that the victims were usually taken to thick forests.

In fact, it was only in Anambra State that kidnap victims were mostly attacked in towns and cities.

One of the high-profile cases of kidnap in the region was the abduction of the Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Dr Samuel Kanu Uche, along with a bishop of the church and one of his aides on May 29, 2022, at the Umunneochi, Abia State axis of Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway.

Since then, several other kidnappings had taken place in the area, including that of a Catholic priest, Rev. Father Chinedu Nwadike, the Deputy Registrar of Spiritan University, Nneochi (SUN), Umunneochi LGA.

Bandits abducted the priest alongside a seminarian on their way to Enugu for an official assignment, along the now notorious Leru Junction of Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State axis of the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway.

Though it could not be confirmed whether ransom was paid, but their abductors made contact with the school, demanding N50 million ransom before their release.

Again, on September 7, 2022, bandits intercepted a hearse conveying corpse to Isuikwuato Community in Abia State, and abducted the driver and others, around Umunneochi/Ihube Okigwe axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway.

A source, who disclosed that the victims were coming from Abaraka, Delta State, said “the armed bandits waylaid the vehicle conveying the corpse and dragged out the occupants, abandoning the coffin in the vehicle on the road.

While the Umunneochi forest, which borders parts of Imo, Enugu and Anambra states, is the most notorious in Abia State; the Enugu-Ugwuogo Nike-Opi-Nsukka Road, has been its equivalent in Enugu State.

Since criminals operating in the Awgu axis of the state were cleared; the forest which extends to parts of Igbo-Etiti, Isi-Uzo and other LGAs has remained a haven for kidnappers.

Former Secretary to Enugu State Government, Dr Dan Shere and many commuters, including students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, returning to campus after over eight months strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) were between October 16-20, abducted along the road, by hoodlums suspected to be Fulani herdsmen.

The abductors had reportedly demanded a ransom of N300 million for the release of the students.

Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi visited the scene of the abduction on Thursday, October 20, alongside heads of security agencies in the state.

The state government then moved bulldozers into the location two days later and commenced clearing of the thick forest.

Shere and many of the victims were eventually released on that day by their abductors, though it was not confirmed whether any ransom was paid.

According to the released victims, some of their abductors were actually security operatives.

Anambra, Imo under attack

In Anambra State, the current wave of insecurity where criminals seem to specifically target security agents, politicians and important public officials, whether serving or retired, started sometime in 2021.

From these classes of people, the criminals came down to businessmen and women and, indeed, other innocent people going about their businesses; killing and sometimes kidnapping them for ransom.

In Imo State, the situation has been clearly restricted to the Orlu axis where security forces have had running battle with criminals, including those claiming to be members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) sponsored by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

These persons occupy camps in the border communities of Ihiala and Orsu areas of Anambra and Imo states. There had been military bombardments of the area in the past.

Although, the IPOB accused Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma and the military of killing their members in the area who were protecting the forests from Fulani herdsmen occupation, Sunday Sun investigation gathered that criminals had already taken over the area and made it their dens; from where they came out to wreak havoc in Imo and Anambra.

Available records show that these hoodlums have also burnt public facilities, especially local government secretariats. At the time it was intense, Nnewi South and Aguata LG secretariats were set ablaze by the hoodlums.

Innocent people who were very important to the society because of their expertise in their professions had their lives cut short by these hardened criminals.

One of such important personalities was Dr Chike Akunyili, husband of the late former Minister of Information, Prof Dora Akunyili.

To contain these gunmen, the state government has been making spirited efforts to flush them out. It was, however, in the course of trying to end the insecurity that it made some discoveries.

One of such was that the criminals terrorising the state usually came from other states in the Southeast region. The government also said that some of the criminals it arrested so far were all from other states in the region with about 80 per cent of them coming from a particular state.

Former Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano, while in power, made it open that a security report on his desk showed that outsiders were responsible for the insecurity in the state.

Upon assumption of office, his successor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, reechoed that claim, but vowed to crush the gunmen.

Soludo, however, later discovered that there was some degree of local support for the gunmen.

A few other criminals arrested by security agents were of Anambra origin. These persons, according to reports, were aiding these other criminals from the other states to operate in Anambra State.

Soludo has, however, labelled the insecurity in his state a criminal enterprise. He said that some of the notebooks recovered from the forests where these criminals camped had details of their daily transactions.

According to him, some of the kidnap victims and the ransoms they paid were recorded in these books.

But as part of measures to curb insecurity in the state, the state government slammed 6:00p.m to 6:00a.m curfew on the seven affected local government areas in Anambra South Senatorial District.

However, it is strongly believed in Anambra that the gunmen terrorising Ihiala and Nnewi South LGAs operate from the neighbouring Imo State.

It is also believed that the gunmen that killed three soldiers and one civilian recently in Umunze community, Orumba South LGA came in from either Imo or Abia State as Anambra has boundary with both states in that axis.

These gunmen came in again a few days ago to attack the military, but three of them were killed by the army who had superior firepower. It was gathered that the gunmen first opened fire on the soldiers, but were overpowered.

The state government has, however, said that it would not leave any stone unturned in its efforts to end insecurity in the state.

The governor reiterated that commitment recently in Onitsha, during the 20th Coronation anniversary of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe.

Renewed attacks, fresh fears and interventions

It has been established that hoodlums who terrorise the Southeast, be they herdsmen or not, operate from then forests.

In Ebonyi, the Agbebor/Agba forest in Onicha and Ishielu LGAs has been spotted.

Recently, the Ebonyi State Police Command said it arrested the alleged leader of the ESN in the state alongside his gang members, in a thick forest in Agba community of Ishielu local government area of the state.

The command’s spokesman, Chris Anyanwu, said the arrest of the suspects was carried out in a joint operation involving the DSS, Army and other security agencies in the state.

He revealed that the joint security team also carried a similar operation in Isu, in Onicha local government area of the state.

“Ebonyi State Police Command under the able leadership of CP Aliyu Garba armed with credible intelligence, stormed three big Camps of the outlawed IPOB/ESN operatives (including a new one under active construction), located in a thick forest close to Opeke River, in Omege village Agba Community, of Ishielu LGA.

“The gang is also highly suspected to have partaken as a criminal participant in the attack of the Provost of Federal College of Education, Isu Onicha along Agba axis a few days ago judging from the proximity of their camp to the scene of the incident and many other similar ones in the state,” he stated.

The forest extends to the Nkanu East area of Enugu State where military helicopters were recently seen dropping explosives in forests within Ajeme Akpawfu village. Credible security sources confirmed that hoodlums terrorising parts of Nkanu land and Enugu town were believed to be hiding there.

There was a major military operation in the forest last year where stunning revelations were made.

Worried by the growing rate of insecurity in Enugu State particularly those perpetrated by purported Biafra agitators, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) recently condemned the criminal attacks on the indigenous people of Oduma in Aninri LGA and the neighbouring communities of Nkerefi, Nomeh and Mbulubu in Nkanu East LGA, all in Enugu State.

According to Enugu State Coordinator of MASSOB, Comrade Chukwu Daniel, in a statement on October 29, 2022, information from Biafra Intelligence Agency (BIA), the group’s secret security, showed that these gangsters operated in a camp within the borderline between Nkerefi and Oduma forest called Ngene Awa by Oduma people, then, Okobo by Nkerefi people.

Alleging that these hoodlums had subjected the people of the above mentioned communities to subjective slavery, MASSOB added: “The indigenous people can’t go to their farms during this harvesting season because of fear of being kidnapped, raped or killed by these youths.

“It is very clear that these people are not fighting for Biafra actualization, because Biafra agitators cannot be involved in kidnapping, stealing, raping and making life unbearable for your own people whom you claimed you are fighting for.”

Following fresh attacks coupled with the fears and concerns over the security situation in the region, ahead of this year’s Yuletide, the South East Governors’ Forum, last Sunday, met in Enugu.

Rising from their emergency meeting at the Government House Enugu, the governors announced their resolve to set up a 24-hour joint security patrol of the highways in the zone to tackle the incessant kidnapping and killings in the region.

The communique of the meeting, which was attended by Governor’s Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, David Umahi of Ebonyi, Okezie Ikpeazụ of Abia; Deputy Governor of Imo, Prof Placid Njoku and Deputy Governor of Anambra, Dr Onyekachukwu Ibezim, was read to the newsmen by its chairman, Umahi.

“One of the issues of our discussion today and the major reason for our meeting is the issue of security within the region. And so, South East Governors decried the state of insecurity in the region. You are all aware that our economic activities have come to a halt while kidnapping and wanton killing have become the order of the day.

“South East Governors, therefore, call on the Federal Government to come to the aid of people of Southeast in beefing up security in the zone bearing in mind that elections are around the corner and there are heightened activities within this period.

“Meanwhile, we deliberated on the best way to help our people and also restore their confidence to go about their businesses and we all agreed definitely and totally to start a joint patrol in all our major highways in Southeast and this will commence before December 1.

“We are going to put funds together to purchase vehicles to ensure that we have 24-hour joint patrol of security people in most of our highways in the Southeast,” Umahi stated.

Prior to this period, the individual states had made various interventions. In Abia, the state government set up a committee to address the persistent insecurity in the Umunneochi axis of the state.

Despite the setting up of the committee, pockets of kidnappings had been recorded there, although the effort seemed to have paid off.

The Abia State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Eze Chikamnanyo, who is also a member of the committee said they combed the forest and discovered the flashpoints.

“We have banned anything that has to do with Okada at the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway Junction. That is where they use to have their informants. We have equally banned the operation of Keke beyond a certain time. We have done the massive clearing of the bushes along the major highways where the criminals used to hide and target their victims. To ensure better visibility, we have engaged in aggressive cutting down of those trees that obstruct visibility,” the Commissioner said.

Chikamnanyo said that with these measures, the committee had put the criminals on their toes.

It is important to mention that the abduction the Prelate of Methodist Church Nigeria, Dr Kanu Uche and two other clerics, who were released after N100 million ransom was paid, exposed so many things about the criminal enterprise at the Umunneochi area.

Their abduction had elicited protests by youths of the area who among other things demanded that the cattle market should be relocated as it allegedly served as haven for all forms of criminal elements.

In fact, the Prelate had in a press briefing in Lagos narrated how people he described as Fulani herders abducted them at Isuochi. He equally accused soldiers at a checkpoint not far from where they were kidnapped, of complicity.

Following the youths’ protest, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had directed that “all settlers, herders and individuals residing inside the forests around Umunneochi LGA to vacate such locations with immediate effect,” adding that, “government can no longer guarantee the safety of any person or group found to be residing in the forests around Umunneochi LGA.

“All cows and herders around Umunneochi LGA are hereby restricted strictly to the Cattle Market located at Umuchieze until a final decision is reached concerning the menace in the Cattle Market.”

The governor further directed the leadership of the youths of Umunneochi LGA Vigilante Groups, hunters and the Hausa Community, to continue to meet with him until an amicable solution was found to the incessant cases of insecurity in the area.

Meanwhile, victims of the latest kidnapping incidents at the Enugu-Ugwuogo Nike-Opi-Nsukka Road, alleged that some of the perpetrators were military personnel working hand in gloves with herdsmen. They further alleged the use of sophisticated weapons including AK49, by the kidnappers.

And, the army authorities in the 82 Division are yet to react to the allegations.

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