Pascal Oparada and Tony Iwuoma
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has declared war on the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma.
Late last month, gunmen invaded a correctional facility in Owerri, the Imo State capital and freed close to 2,000 inmates, and set the state’s police headquarters ablaze. The gunmen later danced in front of Douglas House, the state’s seat of power in an apparent show of force.
The governor said disgruntled politicians, and not IPOB and its militia arm, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), were to blame even when the erstwhile Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, said the separatist group was responsible for the mayhem unleashed on the state.
Although the attacks in the Southeast have increased recently, Imo State seems to be the hotbed of violence in the region.
Hitherto, Imo, and other states in the southeast have remained relatively peaceful even when Nigerian forces were going after members of IPOB. The state has erupted into violence since Uzodimma became governor after the Supreme Court declared him the winner of the 2019 governorship election, thereby ousting Emeka Ihedioha who the electoral commission, INEC, said had won the election. A view the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Publicity Secretary in Imo State, Ogu Bu Ndu Nwadike strongly holds.
The governor has since discarded that notion of legitimacy issue in his government.
“What is the legitimacy problem? The insecurity that is going on in Imo State now is it worse than what is going on in other parts of the country?” Media Adviser and Chief Press Secretary to the Imo State governor, Oguwike Nwachukwu told The Nigerian Xpress in a telephone interview.
In a television interview, Uzodimma had said politicians in the state were responsible for heightened insecurity in Imo.
“He (the governor) is diving in and out. Initially, it is IPOB then it was politicians. He’s just diving. It is for him to just tell us what is happening.
“Calling opposition is not enough. APC has more opposition in Imo State than other parties put together. There are six functional factions of APC in Imo State. He should come out openly and tell the world who is fighting him. Definitely not PDP,” Nwadike told this newspaper.
Nwachukwu said going by events in recent times, the opposition also may have hands in what is happening in the state.
“If you listened to the Commissioner for Information who commented on it two days ago, he talked about political opponents. I think we still have that view. Here in Imo State, most people have the view that political opponents are sponsoring such activities here and there. But we are confident that investigations will soon expose whoever is doing what,” he said.
But, as the governor seems to be making overtures towards IPOB by absolving it of most of the attacks taking place in Imo, the proscribed group is growing emboldened with brazen and dastardly attacks on state-owned facilities.
On Saturday, April 24, Uzodimma’s home in Omuma in Oru East was attacked with rockets, killing two security guards and setting his how ablaze, and properties worth millions were burnt in the attack.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the governor’s home but the finger is pointed at IPOB. Nwachuku said one of those killed at the governor’s house is suspected to be a member of IPOB, but assured that investigation would unravel who was responsible for the attacks.
The same day, IPOB’s militia commander, Ikonso, and other members of ESN were killed in Awomamma in Imo State.
IPOB has vowed to retaliate.
Analysts believe Uzodimma, being the only governor from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the region, before Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, joined the party, the attacks are a form of rebellion and rejection of the party and President Muhammadu Buhari in the state.
“Agreed, he has not been accepted, he has not landed. The legitimacy issue is still haunting him, but some issues are a bit complex, which has happened. For instance, you understand that in January, there is a problem in Orlu where he boasted that he went to the Presidency and got a detachment of military personnel to come and quell the problem. There were a lot of aerial and land shootings. Normally, it has a spiral effect. When you retaliate, when you do a thing and the person you did that to wants to retaliate, it keeps multiplying.
“It is a possibility that has been underscored. We see it as a retaliatory thing. Now you have identified yourself as an enemy of a particular camp and the camp is fighting back. You can hear sometimes the IPOB claims to do one thing, the next time they are denying they are responsible. So it is a complex thing now.
“Nobody knows if it’s the IPOB or militants but it doesn’t look like what the average Imo person can do. Imo people are not that violent. This is an importation. There are strong indications that the invitation of the military must have sustained this thing now,” Nwadike said.
Similarly, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo described the attacks as an abomination.
A statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alex Ogbonnia, said it was not in the nature of Ndigbo and hinted at the suspicion that the attacks were meant to achieve devious intents, especially to stop the region from producing a successor to President Buhari in 2023.
“We must as Igbo, no matter the cause, not attack our sanctuaries. This is an abomination and a new development that is totally out of character of the Igbo.”
Meanwhile, Nwachukwu, Governor Uzodimma’s media adviser rejected that the governor provoked the attacks. He said any governor who has sworn to an oath to protect the lives and property of his citizens will not go about courting trouble.
“That is a false and complete misconception. That’s not what happened. You don’t provoke attacks. How do you provoke an attack? Every governor, every president swears to an oath to protect the lives and property of the citizens and if you’re not doing that, you will be shirking your responsibilities. It is a constitutional responsibility. How do you explain that your people are being mauled down by those who pretend to be your brothers and sisters?
“All the things you need to ensure that the lives and property of your people are protected are available for you to use, whether it is the police or military, they are there. What is important is to what extent you put them to use. And it was reasonably used. I am not sure any soldier will go to anybody’s house and burn it down,” he said.
The attacks are not targeted at any individual or corporate organisations but on government installations and security personnel. This may be a signal that whoever is behind them has an ingrained grouse and aversion towards the government of the day.
Nwadike said the governor needs to go under and deploy intelligence rather than pointing the finger. The same thing the governor’s spokesperson agreed and said the government was doing.