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Opinions of Saturday, 17 April 2021

Columnist: Joel Nwokeoma

Ebube Agu: A fearsome leopard or a frightened cat?

The other day, after what seemed like an endless filibustering and pussyfooting, the five hapless South-East state governors made a dramatic U-turn and agreed to form a regional security network, codenamed, Ebube Agu, to enhance the security of their region. The name is a derivative of the Igbo proverb, Ebube agu na-eche agu, which literally means, “a leopard is guarded by its fearsome aura.” The Igbo totem is leopard, and not lion as erroneously held in many quarters.

Instructively, for months on end, the governors and their legislative counterparts turned deaf ears to the strident clamour by Ndigbo for a regional security network patterned after Amotekun, the South-West regional outfit and enact laws banning open grazing, the greatest enabler of herdsmen killing and kidnapping across Nigeria. But rising from a hurriedly convened South-East Security Summit in Owerri, the Imo State capital, last week, the governors announced the formation of Ebube Agu.

Strangely, on March 11, 2021, barely a month before the gathering in Owerri, the Governor of Ebonyi State and the Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, Dave Umahi, purporting to speak for his colleagues, emphatically told a TV station that the South-East did not need any regional security outfit in the form of Amotekun to fight insecurity. Instead, he gleefully said, “Every state is peculiar and so are their security challenges. The problem is that those complaining about lack of joint security for the South-East are not living in the region. They don’t have the knowledge of how security works in the region.”

That gaffe can be likened to that of the Deputy Speaker of the House of the Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase, who caused a national outrage recently when he said Nigerians in the Diaspora have no right to submit a motion expressing their concerns about happenings at home because they don’t reside in the country.

But as events speedily turned out, it is Umahi, like his colleague governors, unfortunately and tragically, who seemed to have lacked an understanding of the times, unlike the Biblical Sons of Issachar. To show how much detached he was from the realities on the ground, Umahi went on to declare magisterially, apparently without seeking the opinion of his colleagues, that, “The governors of the South-East states are comfortable with the different security architectures at (the) various states because the personnel are working very well. There is problem of insecurity in the region, but the issue is not peculiar to the region alone, it is a national problem.” This explains why he was inconsolable and felt personally betrayed when Fulani herdsmen invaded three villages in his state days ago, killing at least 20 people.

It is an irony that the self-same Umahi was to announce the formation of the South-East regional security outfit less than 30 days later. What was his Road to Damascus experience? Of course, the result is the scorn that greeted the unveiling of the outfit by the people it was meant to serve. This is because the governors had long lost the plot and ground in their unhelpful dithering thereby reinforcing their disconnection from the people. Indeed, there was no attempt to get the buy-in of the people they govern before announcing their outfit, other than the assurance of help from a helpless Abuja, neither was there anything to show the outfit was well-thought-out before its announcement.

It must be stressed that, it is either Umahi, like most Igbo political leaders, was not sincere or he was under a spell that made him to see no evil when it had yet to unfold, a critical leadership quality at that. The arrogance of power did not allow him know that he was still dancing when the drummers had left.

The five South-East states of Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo, like other parts of the country, have been buffeted by a wave of insecurity in recent time. The governors are now looking for any available straw in sight to survive the tempestuous storm. That is why an idea clamoured for by the people they purport to govern, as an existential imperative, was earlier rejected by them only to be embraced wholeheartedly(?) days later. As someone enthused, the governors only came to close the stable after the horse had long escaped. Because nature abhors vacuum, while they dithered, the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra, led by Nnamdi Kanu, which enjoys more street credibility in the region, rose to the occasion and set up the Eastern Security Network, with the mandate to “flush out every Fulani herdsman seen in the forests and farmlands in Igboland.”

In recent months, the South-East has been on edge. According to some media accounts, at least, no fewer than 67 security agents have been killed by gunmen in the South-East and South-South since December. As if that was not scary enough, it is claimed about 25 police stations were also burnt in the post-#EndSARS protests across the nation last year. The Guardian claims that of this figure, 62 were policemen, four naval personnel, while the other person was a prison warden killed while taking some suspects to court in Awka, Anambra, last month. But by far the most prominent of such incidents were the audacious attacks by unknown gunmen on the Imo State Police Command and the Federal Correctional Service Centre in Owerri, recently, in a manner that pooh-poohed the security architecture in the state and sent shivers down the spines of the state governor, Hope Uzodimma. A jailbreak resulting in the escape of over 1,800 inmates occurred. The governors were therefore in a dilemma. They have no answer to the security challenges in the region and would not want to be seen to be borrowing the boat of IPOB to navigate the furious insecurity storm. This was the context under which Ebube Agu was unveiled.

Speaking in a live TV interview on Tuesday, Abia State Governor Okezie Ikpeazu said, “The formation of Ebube Agu is a direct consequence of the security challenges facing the South-East. These challenges are existential and as leaders, we cannot just allow ourselves and our people to become punching bags for criminal elements. We cannot fold our arms and allow non-state actors to determine the direction and philosophy of our security architecture. Ebube Agu will have the requisite legislative framework backing it up in each of our five states”. A little too late, you will say.

What Ikpeazu failed to admit was that, as leaders, the governors failed a simple leadership test: Anticipating a problem and planning ahead for it. Also, they failed to read the mood of the moment well and strategically act in accordance thereto. Sadly, the South-East governors spectacularly failed on these fronts.

They behave more as colonial overlords and less as elected representatives of the people thereby losing the trust of the people.

Curiously, the governors still agreed on a ban on open grazing, with no state yet having any legislation backing such, but left the implementation “to be carried out by security agencies.” How it never crossed their mind that were the security agencies effective in performing their statutory duties, the enticing idea of a regional security outfit across the country would not have been mooted, ab initio, beggars belief. It is ludicrous that it is the same distrusted ineffectual central policing structure that could not stem the spate of insecurity in the region, that went missing as gunmen raided and razed the Imo State Police Command, and were just a stone’s throw from the Imo Government House without any pushback of any kind that the governors expect to implement its proposed ban on open grazing. Who does that? Which state in Nigeria have the police been so effective in enforcing such a verbal ban?

It is doubtful the South-East governors thought through their plan, as critics allege they were pushed by external influences into that belated posturing to save face. Always wanting to be on the good book of the Federal Government, the governors are perceived as weak and lacking the courage to stand up for their people. How then can they expect the same people to embrace the Ebube Agu initiative, however good-intentioned? Without the people as a guard, the leopard will be hunted and defanged or it may be tamed as a pussycat. Obviously, this is not the best of times to be a governor in Igboland.

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