Nigerian soldiers guard Boko Haram Convicts who were relocated to Ekwulobia Prisons in Anambra State as traders in Igboland protest, accusing the federal government led by President Muhammadu Buhari of insensitivity, intimidation and plotting to Islamise the South East
| By Ejimonu Udenka |
EVER since the Boko Haram insurgency started in Nigeria in 2011, it has been perceived as part of a larger plot to Islamise the whole country. This rumour gained momentum with the vicious attack of the dreaded sect on churches and Christian establishment across in the North Eastern states. There was the massacre of about eight Igbos from one town in Agulu area of Anambra State while they were having a meeting to decide how to take home a deceased relative who was killed in a previous Boko Haram attack in Mubi, a few years ago. The whole village was thrown into morning as corpses of the victims arrived different homes in the town which is close to the Ekwuluobia Prisons where the convicts are now kept.
Suffice it to state that the relocation of the terrorists is a sad reminder of what the community had suffered previously. it is also awakening to the fact that over the years many people from the South East, who are mainly Christians have had to fled the North due to incessant killings by the Boko Haram terrorists. These have reinforced the fear of many people in South East that Boko Haram mission is targeted against the Christians many of whom are Igbos. This must be the reason traders from the five South Eastern States of Nigeria are still protesting the relocation of convicted Boko Haram terrorists to Ekwulobia Prisons in Anambra State.
The traders also see the action of the federal government not only as insensitive, an attempt to intimidate and punish the Igbos for not voting for the President Muhammadu Buhari during the march 28, election but also as the beginning of a larger plot to destabilize and Islamise Igboland. They allege that the federal government plans to surreptitiously infiltrate already converted hardened criminals into the society to destablise their society.
The protest of the traders from the five eastern states of Imo, Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi, is coming few days after their counterparts in Onitsha, Anambra State, under the auspices of Anambra State Amalgamated Traders Association, AMATAS, shut down all markets in the State to protest the plan to relocate Boko Haram convicts to Ekwulobia Prison. The seven-hour solidarity protest in Ekwulobia on June 30, held to reinforce the demand that 47 members of the dreaded Islamic sect, who were moved to Ekwulobia prisons in Aguata Local Government Area a few days ago, be reversed. They are urging the federal government not to be insensitive to the feelings of the people who have lost much to Boko Haram and to return the convicts back to the North.
The protest took place after some soldiers were deployed to the prisons premises, an action that prompted Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra to embark on an emergency visit to President Muhammadu Buhari over the issue.
During the protest, the South-East traders from Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra States marched around major roads in Ekwulobia urban, chanting anti-Boko Haram songs and calling on the federal government to withdraw the terrorists from the area and any other part of Igboland. Some of the placards they carried read: “No Place for Boko Haram in Igboland”, “Buhari, return Boko Haram Prisoners to the North,” “ Boko Haram Prisoners are Not Our Share of Democracy Dividends”
Addressing the traders, Chigozie Akudolu, coordinator of South-East Traders Association, stated that the protest was to show solidarity with the traders, residents and citizens of Anambra State over the reported relocation of suspected Boko Haram prisoners, saying it was ill-timed and laden with a hidden agenda.
Akudolu disclosed that a number of traders of the South-East zone were displaced and some of them fell victims of Boko Haram insurgency in the North, stressing that the ordeal they are suffering is fresh in their mind and appealed to the federal government to return the prisoners back to the North where they committed the terror crimes.
Also Emmanuel Ozoemenam, president of AMATAS, Aguata Zone, who doubles as the Vice President of the Anambra State Chapter, described the protest by the South-East Traders Association as timely, pointing out that the protest came against the backdrop that despite the protest by traders in Anambra State, the federal government reportedly went ahead to transfer the terrorists to Ekwulobia prisons.
Ozoemanam appealed to the federal government to withdraw both the suspected Boko Haram prisoners and soldiers deployed to guard them, saying their presence had unleashed a climate of fear in Igboland. He said traders in the state protested that the terrorists should not be transferred, adding that the solidarity rally by South-East traders was to protest the report that Boko Haram prisoners have indeed been moved to Ekwulobia few days ago.
According to him, “It is wrong to transfer Boko Haram Prisoners who committed heinous crimes in the North to Anambra State. The federal government should try criminals in the place they committed the crime. We don’t have insurgency in the East but in the North. The federal government should take them back, if it is true, they have already been transferred to Ekwulobia.”
He said the withdrawal of the terrorists and soldiers from Anambra State prisons would help to disabuse the mind of the people who have quickly jumped to conclusion that “the move is part of the reported agenda to Islamise Nigeria under Buhari.”
Investigations revealed that after the warder in charge of Ekwulobia prisons, in the presence of few armed warders, denied that suspected Boko Haram prisoners were transferred to Ekwulobia prisons at 5.30 pm, some newly-posted soldiers, carrying mattresses and mats, were seen about 6pm of last Saturday, some thirty minutes later, asking villagers the route to, and location of the Ekwulobia prisons.
The villagers became more apprehensive of the presence of the said Boko Haram terrorists following the unusual entry of many soldiers into the sleepy community, which lacks federal government presence, despite sharing a boundary with Igboukwu, a 9th Century community where archeological artifacts were discovered to prove the ancient origins of Igbo civilisation. Ekwulobia, though in Aguata LGA shares a common boundary with Oko, in Orumba North LGA, the country-home of Alex Ekwueme, former vice president.
The two routes leading to the Ekwulobia prisons have been cordoned off by stern-looking soldiers who have continued with their stop-and search operation on vehicles, and motorcyclists plying the now dreaded area since their arrival and the news about the terrorists went viral.
The presence of both the soldiers and terrorists is creating tension among the villagers and citizens of the State who now shun the two roads passing in front and besides the prisons yard. The result is that residents have to trek about an hour to cover about 3 kilometres before getting home which ordinarily would take them three minutes’ drive from the major road or market.
When our correspondent visited the Office of Umeoji, chairman of the Aguata Local Government Council, he was not in, but Peter Ezenwankwo, secretary to the Council, confirmed that there was demonstration at Ekwulobia round-about, leading to closure of shops.
Ezenwankwo said though the federal government has the right to move prisoners to any part of the country, he expressed worry that the Ekwulobia Prisons did not meet the standard of any of the Maximum Security Prisons where such terror convicts should be kept, adding that the premises had no security wall but wire gauze around the seeming unsecured premises.
Some indigenes of Ekwukuobia are against the transfer of the terrorists. An Aba-based trader, who pleaded anonymity, said he rushed home from his Aba base after the news broke that suspected Boko Haram prisoners were transferred to his Ezi-Agulu village in Ekwulobia, saying he had concluded arrangement to move his family and extended family members out of the village for fear of the presence of the terrorists and stern-looking non-Igbo speaking soldiers.
According to him, “the present action of the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government is a show of might to intimidate the people of the South-East who did not vote for him during the last presidential election.
There is also fear that activist groups in Anambra state will invade the prison. A motorcyclist, who wishes anonymity, confided in our correspondent, that the soldier he dropped off was curiously asking him, if there was any plan by Movement for the Actualisation of Republic of Biafra, MASSOB, to storm the Ekwulobia prisons.
Contacted, to react to the traders’ allegations and the relocation of the prisoners, the presidency referred Realnews to the comptroller of prisons who scheduled a press conference on Monday which did not hold.
Ejimonu Udeka sent in this report from Anambra State
— Jul 1, 2015 @ 15:00 GMT