Daily Trust Editorial of July 29, 2022
Anger and tears still pervade the Otulu community, Awomama, Oru West LGA of Imo State over the extra-judicial killing of seven young men in the evening of Sunday July 17, 2022.
Th e victims had accompanied a newly married young man/chief celebrant, Chijioke Nnanna, from the community to his in-laws in Okwuoji Village, Awomama, where he held a post wedlock/wine-carrying reception.
They were on their journey back in a convoy of private vehicles and motorcycles when at Ishieke Junction in Awomama, they were shot at close range. Seven persons died on the spot while others ran into the nearby bush and managed to escape. Two persons were also seriously injured.
The Ebubeagu militia, which allegedly attacked them, arrested three of the youths and took them to their office at Omuma, which is also the headquarters of Oru West LGA.
The wedding celebrant claimed the Ebubeagu operatives also went to the venue of the event and destroyed everything used, including canopies and plastic chairs.
He added that the operatives also took away the car of his brother in-law, who came from Abuja for the wedding, as well as that of his friend who came to Imo State from Onitsha, in Anambra State.
The killing elicited protests as the community blamed operatives of the South East governors’ mandated security outfi t, Ebubeagu, for the incident. Th e protest spiraled onto the Onitsha-Owerri expressway as youths paraded the bodies of the victims in wheel barrows.
With the outcry over the killings, the Imo State Commissioner of Police and Commander of 34 Artillery Brigade, Obinze, visited the area to pacify the community.
Joining the outrage, 18 civil society organisations (CSOs), including the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Justice and Human Empowerment Center (JAHEC), Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD) Nigeria, issued a joint statement blaming Ebubeagu for the “extrajudicial-
style-execution of youths” and other “savagery attacks” against Imo people.
But while the CSOs, Otutu community, the wedding celebrant and other surviving guests blamed Ebubeagu, Governor Hope Uzodimma absolved the group of complicity, saying the Department of State Services (DSS) carried out the operation.
The governor accused the victims of being members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). In fact, the Imo State Command of the DSS corroborated the governor’s story, saying they died during a duel in a sting operation in one of the camps of the IPOB/ESN in Awomama, where
they were allegedly planning how to enforce a Monday sit-at-home in the area.
Amid these claims and counter-claims, we call for an independent commission of inquiry to be set up immediately to ascertain the true circumstances of the killings.
And with fingers pointing to Ebubeagu, as in some other killings in the South-East region, governors of the zone must meet to review the Standard Operational Procedure (SOP) of the group towards a harmonization of its operations.
If indeed operatives of the group were responsible for the killings, then they have failed in the purpose for which they were established, which was to counter and check the activities of the IPOB/ESN, which has for some time been fingered in the killings of civilians and security operatives in the state and region.
Also, the police and DSS should investigate, arrest and prosecute the killers of the youths. Th ere must be accountability.
Furthermore, there is need for a review of the recruitment process into Ebubeagu.
Such recruitment should be supervised by the nation’s defence and security forces to ensure that no blood-thirsty element is handed assault rifles without appropriate training. There is no basis for any security outfit to open fire on occupants of moving vehicles.
The operatives must also be made to work under the security forces, not left to any independent operations as they can easily turn into tools for political violence, especially with the 2023 elections just around the corner. This regional outfit must not become part of the problem of insecurity, especially with criminals masquerading as IPOB/ESN, sit-at-home enforcers and kidnapping syndicates. Their activities must be thoroughly reviewed, not only in Imo State, but all parts of the region to ensure that they do not become a menace to society.
Any group, regional or state militia which kills without restraint is not operating in the interest of public safety and security.
The defence and security agencies should also live up to expectations and take over the day-to-day provision of security so that the existence of these militias would soon become a thing of the past. It is the inability of established security forces to tackle crimes that brought such groups into existence.
The Nigerian constitution guarantees citizens’ freedom of movement, association and assembly as well as the right to life and human dignity. This should not be abridged under any circumstance.