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Chairman of the forum and Governor of Ebonyi State David Umahi disclosed this in an interview on Channels Television on Wednesday.
The governor, however, said pro-Biafra group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), had positioned itself as the perpetrator of the killings due to its pronouncement that the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State must not hold.
In the build-up to the gubernatorial election scheduled for November 6, gunmen, believed to be members of the IPOB who are agitating for a Biafra nation, have embarked on a killing spree.
On September 28, Chike Akunyili, husband of the late Dora Akunyili, a former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and later Minister of Information, was killed alongside eight other persons at Nkpor, a suburb of the commercial city of Onitsha in Anambra State.
On October 3, yet-to-be identified gunmen launched another attack in the industrial city of Nnewi, also in Anambra State. Two people were killed.
The killings in Anambra and other parts of the South-East prompted the emergency security meeting convened by governors of states in the geo-political zone at the Enugu State government house on October 5.
In a communique released after the meeting, the governors declared that there would be no more sit-at-home exercises in the zone.
Shedding further light on what transpired at the meeting in an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on October 6, Umahi said the governors were informed that the killings going on in Anambra were politically motivated.
But he observed that the reports had not been confirmed, and expressed regrets that Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano was not at the meeting to provide more details on the situation in the state.
He said, “We (South-East governors) spoke about the election in Anambra State yesterday but, unfortunately, our brother, the governor of Anambra State, was not able to attend. We would have been able to evaluate the stories we are hearing that the killings in Anambra State are politically motivated.
“But on the other hand, you look at what IPOB is saying that there should not be election in Anambra State. If we don’t have elections and there is constitutional crisis, the National Assembly and Mr. President are going to sort out that one.
“There are unconfirmed reports that some political parties that have seen they are not going to win are importing people to do the killings. These were some of the reports we got yesterday (October 5). Unconfirmed reports.”
“But IPOB is positioning themselves as the killing agents because they are the ones saying there will be no elections; they are the ones saying if you come out we kill you. So even if they are not the ones killing, they have taken responsibility for the killings,” the governor added.
He urged the Nigerian government to ensure that the election held “even if it was shifted” in order to show that the Federal Government was indeed in charge of the country.
* IPOB has lost control, agitation has been hijacked by criminals
Umahi, in the same vein, observed that the leadership of IPOB had lost control of the agitation for Biafra, which he said had been hijacked by criminal elements.
“I tell IPOB the matter has gone beyond you. Your matter has been hijacked, but you paved the way for it to be hijacked. Every criminal is now claiming to be IPOB and doing the killings. Even when IPOB said the sit-at-home is suspended, has it been suspended? And if you say people are not complying because of fear, are there no killings on the day of sit-at-home? There are killings and burning of vehicles which show that IPOB is not in charge, is not in command anymore. It is pure criminality which we are going to deal with.
“Initially, it was about marginalisation and a lot of people keyed into that, but along the line, it developed into violence. It has been hijacked by criminals, bandits and kidnappers.”
Offering an insight on the rise of the IPOB and how the group became influential among the people of the South-East, Umahi noted that individuals who nursed grievances against the government were easily drawn to the secessionist agenda.
“A lot of people keyed in (to IPOB’s agitation). If anybody has differences with the centre, that person becomes a supporter of IPOB. If you seek anything at the federal level and you fail to get it, you become a supporter of IPOB. Those in the Diaspora that went for greener pastures and fail, become very bitter with Nigeria.
“So all these people keyed in and then the issue of herdsmen came up. A couple of killings took place in the South-East and the people felt the governors were not protecting them.
“We (governors) did quite a lot to ensure there is peace between the herdsmen and our farmers, but that is not the way some people that were aggrieved wanted us to go but that’s the way that we should go.
“Then IPOB came up with the Eastern Security Network (ESN), which is the militant aspect and they began to issue orders and threats of attacks and so on.
“But now, it has been hijacked. Kidnappers, cultists, everyone that is involved in one criminality or the other claims to be IPOB.
“Also, some politicians, from what we heard, capitalised on the situation and began to import killers from outside the South-East to advance their political interests, like what we are seeing in Anambra State, from the accounts of yesterday (October 5 meeting).”
Noting that several Igbos had lost their lives as a result of the pro-Biafra agitation championed by IPOB, Umahi said the development was compounded by the fact that IPOB’s leaders were not resident in the country and were not feeling the pains felt by the people.
He warned that if IPOB did not stop its excesses, counter revolutionary groups would rise up to stop them.
* How we will stop sit-at-home orders
Umahi, who chairs the South-East Governors Forum, explained how the governors intended to actualise their declaration that there would not be further sit-at-home exercises in the zone.
He suggested that residents of the South-East would not comply with sit-at-home orders if their security was guaranteed.
“People are not sitting at home out of compliance; people are sitting at home because they are afraid for their lives. We are going to safeguard the lives of our people because we have gotten the confidence of our people that these people (pro-Biafra agitators) do not mean well for us and that we cannot have Biafra by the way they are going about it,” he said.
* South-East elite don’t want Biafra
“Every elite in the South-East is not desirous of Biafra. We don’t want Biafra. We want to be treated equally like other regions in Nigeria. So this idea of Biafra is madness – we have said we don’t want Biafra,” the Ebonyi State governor declared.
Reacting to agitations for self-determination in different parts of the country, particularly the Yoruba Nation struggle championed by Sunday Igboho, Umahi noted that the South-East stood to lose more if Nigeria broke up.
“We have invested a lot and we can’t leave our investments and walk away. Those people (agitating in other regions) are at an advantage because we have invested heavily in their areas and the tendency is that if this happens, we are going to leave our investments and walk away. We did that during the civil war and we do not intend to do that again,” he observed.
Umahi stressed that the people of the South-East would fight to be treated as equals with other Nigerians.
But he added that the quest for equality could be actualised without violence and hate speech.