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Unacceptable killing by state actors in Imo

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The reported massacre of 14 persons in Otulu Awomama, in Oru West Local Council of Imo State by security personnel of the state is most unfortunate and leaves sour taste in the mouth. There are salient questions begging for answer; and the state government should not be seen to be anxious to sweep these posers under the carpet. For one, the explanation by Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma is largely unsatisfactory as it leaves gaping holes in the entire incident. That explanation needs urgent and thorough updating if government really cares about the feelings of people of the state, particularly relatives of the victims who are insisting that their slain people were not criminals.

Reports say gunmen suspected to be operatives of Ebubeagu security outfit killed 14 wedding guests in Awomama, Oru West Local Council of Imo State. The killing occurred on a Sunday as the victims were returning to their village, Otulu, in Oru East Local Council of the state after attending a traditional marriage ceremony.

The President General of the Otulu community, Nnamdi Agbor, told newsmen that seven persons died on the spot while some others were missing. He said, “As they were going home, Ebubeagu operatives saw them on motorcycles and opened fire on them. As I speak to you, we have recovered seven bodies who are our people.” He said the commissioner of police and the commander of 34 Artillery Brigade Command had visited the area, adding that the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, CSP Mike Abattam had confirmed the incident and the police had launched an investigation into the incident.

But Governor Uzodimma said from the briefing he received from the Department of State Service (DSS), they (DSS) took the action because they established that the deceased persons were allegedly bandits who were trailed to their camp, not at a traditional wedding ceremony.

One of the questions arising is: who actually killed the victims, Ebubeagu or DSS? Also, there has been no indication that the victims were armed or that they resisted arrest; and so what exactly prompted the killing? Could it have been out of panic or was it premeditated as the relatives are alleging? Already, it is being speculated in some quarters that the governor, in offering amnesty to “bandits” as he did recently, was embarking on a ploy to punish youths who are allegedly against his governorship, more so as there is no major pointer to the existence or rampaging of bandits in Imo State.

It is important that this killing is unraveled else it brings a stain to the integrity of Ebubeagu the idea of which was to have a local security outfit to deal with insecurity particularly herdsmen’s incursion into farmlands in the South-East. Unprovoked Killing of youths is certainly not what Ebubeagu was meant to do. And if indeed there are miscreants or criminals terrorising the state, security forces such as Ebubeagu should deal with them with smoother methodology than the controversial killings of the 14 youths. Notably, security agents engaged by the governor have in the past killed innocent youths branded IPOB/ESN. But the government has yet to find out the real identity of unknown gunmen that have caused much havoc in Imo State. Surely it is not good enough to brand every trouble maker IPOB without concrete proof. Incidentally, the Governor’s home in Orsu and Oru Local councils in Orlu zone have been the epicenter of the festering resistance of which the attackers are tagged differently by the governor.

It does also appear that the recent offer of amnesty by Uzodimma raised the specter of intense insecurity but it is doubtful that Imo State had descended to such high level of violence to warrant indiscriminate killings by state actors. The governor appears to escalate the situation to justify the use of force and extrajudicial killings that ought not to be. It is inconceivable, outrageous and unbecoming for a governor to appear to declare war on his subjects as Uzodimma appears to be doing. Moreover, brandishing a general ‘amnesty’ on unknown and unidentified criminals is not the best way to counter criminality. Or is the governor’s amnesty laced with ulterior motive?

If indeed, the killing of 14 youths was perpetrated by Ebubeagu, it is pertinent that the Imo House of Assembly interrogates the incident, and considers its legal implication. The Assembly should be concerned that wide uproar and widespread condemnation greeted the massacre in Imo State. The apex socio-political youth group in the South-East, under the aegis, the Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL), has given Uzodimma seven-day ultimatum to resign or be impeached or be prepared to face continuous mass protests from the youths until he quits office.

The coalition (COSEYL) insisted that Ebubeagu perpetrated the killings, describing it as “barbaric, villainous and senseless.” The group also regretted that five other persons attacked in the incident, were at critical conditions in a hospital. Even if the victims were bandits as claimed by the governor, why were they killed on the road and not in the forest where their so-called camp was located? Why were guns and other ammunitions not recovered from them? Does the law permit criminal suspects to be summarily executed instead of being arrested and prosecuted?

Uzodimma should be careful against drawing a public blacklist of Ebubeagu the need for which remains paramount, given the high insecurity in the land, and the fact that the police are overstretched. If properly trained and managed, Ebubeagu can very well transform into regional or state police, which is what Nigerians are envisioning under a restructured and truly federal Nigeria….The spate of unlawful killings by men of Ebubeagu security outfit or any other security agency is uncalled for and unacceptable. No one is permitted to play politics with people’s lives.

Until lately, Imo State was a very peaceful state, suggesting that the insecurity pervading the state now may be politically contrived. It seems there is breakdown of law and order in the state. Regrettably, the Federal Government has been unable to deal firmly with the situation. Uzodimma has a duty to work for peace in Imo State and not encourage actions that lead to bloodshed and unnecessary heightening of tension. The mystery behind the killing in Otulu Awomama should be publicly unraveled.

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