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South-East Nigeria pays heavy price – for rising spate of insecurity – (Part 2)

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THE insecurity in the South-East region has not spared government facilities. Billions of naira have gone up in flames amid intensifying attacks in a region which hosts one of the largest markets in West Africa –Onitsha Main Market.

READ the first part of this report HERE

Attacks on government structures

Several police stations have been razed by hoodlums who, like terrorists, kill officers and leave many maimed.

On October 9, 2022, six gunmen attacked a station at Inyi Police Division in Oji River Local Government Area of Enugu State, killing two  officers.

On October 21, 2020, a day after the #EndSARS protesters were shot and killed at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, hoodlums attacked Nwaorieubi Police Station at Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State.

The ICIR was told that more than 100 youths riding on motorbikes stormed the area and set the police station ablaze. On the same day, the Orji police Station in Owerri North was also set on fire by unknown thugs.

On October 28, 11 police stations and 20 vehicles were burnt in Anambra, according to the Commissioner of Police, John Abang.

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During the #EndSARS in 2020, several police stations, security vehicles and infrastructures were destroyed in the region, leaving it vulnerable to external attacks.

The Federal Government of Nigeria estimated that 164 police stations were attacked prior to October 2021.

Structural engineers and architects contacted by The ICIR estimated that it would take between N800 million and N2 billion to rehabilitate or rebuild those police stations destroyed by hoodlums in the region.

“Building a police station can cost up to N5 million to N10 million, or even more, depending on factors such as land size, location, nature of the site, cost of building materials,” said Everest Brown, an Imo State-born structural engineer, who now works in Lagos.

Several correctional centres, local government facilities, Independent National Electoral Commission offices, among others, have also been attacked and burnt, leaving little hope of renovating them any time soon.

One of the burnt police stations in Enugu, Source: PrNigeria
One of the burnt police stations in Enugu, Source: PrNigeria
One of IPOB demonstrations in South-East Source: Premium Times
One of IPOB demonstrations in South-East Source: Premium Times

 

 

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Sit-at-home day at GRA, Onitsha
Sit-at-home day at GRA, Onitsha

Night business disappearing

Late-night business is also disappearing in the South-East region. Once it is 7 pm in various parts of the region, traders pack their wares and hurry home.

Last year, at the Holy Ghost area in Enugu on August 25, traders and hawkers made efforts to scurry home as soon as it was 7 pm. Some of them abandoned potential buyers while hastening to their parking stores.  This was unusual as traders used to stay at that point till 9 pm. But that was before the insecurity crisis began.

When The ICIR met one of the traders to find out why she was parking her wares with much intensity at 7.22 pm, she replied, “Don’t you know what is happening these days in Enugu?” When probed further, Elizabeth, the trader, said someone was attacked while going home the previous week.

“They attacked him with bottles and knives, took his money and left him almost dead,” she said.

Elizabeth, who deals in women’s wear, said she used to make N3,000 to N5,000 every night, noting that the late-night boom had turned to bust.

Those who insisted on staying beyond 7 pm admitted that they were taking some risks.

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Adanna Ukatu, who hails from Imo State but is based in Enugu, said she would sometimes stay till 8.30 pm before going home.

“I know I am taking risks, but what do you want me to do? I am a widow and have four children to feed and pay their school fees. Is it not better I die while feeding my children than allow them to die of hunger?” she asked, rhetorically.

“I know I am taking risks, but what do you want me to do? I am a widow and have four children to feed and pay their school fees. Is it not better I die while feeding my children than allow them to die of hunger?”

The situation was not peculiar to Enugu. At Old Market Road/ Ose Market, residents used to buy whatever they needed before this time, even at 11 pm, a passer-by said. But once it was 9.30 pm on August 27, every trader began to park, readying to go home.

One trader, Amanze Ojukwu, said he was trying to avoid being attacked by marauding robbers and unknown gunmen.

“The problem is that all manner of criminals are having a field day now. Once they get you at a dark area, you are in trouble. So, the best bet is to leave early to avoid falling victim,” he said.

The situation was the same at Mbaise Road in Owerri, where no trader was seen in the streets around 9.50pm on August 30.

“It was not like this before. We used to have them here before, but people are becoming more security-conscious due to what is going on in the South-East region,” a commercial bus driver, who simply gave his name as Nwabusomma, told the reporter.

He explained that traders used to stay around the city till 11 pm ready to be patronised by fun-seeking residents, noting, however, that the situation was changing.

Harassment of developers

While the late-night business is disappearing, one other ugly business is developing in the region. Once a developer starts a building project, a group of young men storms the area, demanding “settlement” levy. The invaders usually claim to collect the levy on IPOB’s behalf.

The IPOB leaders claim that those are not their members, but this has not put paid to the harassment. A developer at Naze in Owerri, Imo State, claimed he paid N450,000 to a similar group who claimed to be IPOB members in 2020.

He said they forced him to part with the money in cash, threatening to “finish him” if he refused to comply.

Another developer at 3-3 Onitsha, Anambra State, said he parted with N300,000 before embarking on his project.

“They threaten you and force you to pay. If you refuse to comply, you will be in trouble,” he said.

When asked if he contacted the police over the situation, he pouted and walked away – suggesting loss of confidence in the police.

Tens of police officers have lost their lives to criminals in the region who describe themselves as “unknown gunmen.”

In many cases they attack those stations with little resistance and superior weapons, according to findings.

“Who are the unknown gunmen in the region? They are just criminal groups. They range from bad elements in IPOB’s Eastern Security Network to armed robbers and kidnappers,” a senior police officer, who refused to be mentioned, told The ICIR.

The Federal Government said 175 security operatives had been killed before October 22, 2021. Several police officers have been killed since then, with many refusing to be posted to the region.

“Initially, South-East was a good place for police officers because it was easier for the corrupt in the system to collect bribes and perpetrate their crimes there. Things are no longer the same now as the region has become dangerous,” the senior police officer said.

“Initially, South-East was a good place for police officers because it was easier for the corrupt in the system to collect bribes and perpetrate their crimes there. Things are no longer the same now as the region has become dangerous,”

On why hoodlums would destroy police stations in the region, a retired police commissioner officer in the region, who did not want his name printed, said: “Once you succeed in destroying the only police station in a village, you have made residents of that village vulnerable to attacks.

“If you watch, the kidnap incidents and killings in the South-East region started after several police stations had been attacked and destroyed. Up till now, some of those police stations have not been re-built.  Those who were doing the attack were deliberate, intelligent and knew what they were doing,” the police officer said.

“The idea of attacking a police station is not a happenstance,” he added

Nnamdi Kanu
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu

The thriving Monday business

Besides the disruption of construction work in the region, some residents of the South-East have become millionaires for doing certain kinds of business on Mondays.

One such business is the sale of petrol. In any part of the South-East region that The ICIR monitored, a litre of petrol was sold at N500 on Mondays.

One roadside petrol seller at Awkuzu, Anambra State, told The ICIR that he sold at least 40 litres of petrol every Monday.

“I buy up to 250 litres of fuel from filling stations during ordinary days and store it for Monday business,” the petrol seller, who did not disclose his name, said.

Another group, which does brisk business every Monday, is transporters.

From Holy Trinity to Housing Gate at 3-3, both in Onitsha, the reporter paid N300 on a Monday (rather than N150 or N200 on ordinary days). Some tricycle drivers charge as high as N400, especially if there are no buses.

One tricycle driver, David, said he ran the axis every Monday and made double his usual income every Monday.

Another set of people that rake in a lot of money every Monday are those operating pubs, or what is generally known as “beer parlour.”

A proprietor of a popular pub at Brass area of Aba, Abia State, who preferred anonymity, said Mondays were usually his best days.

He said, “People relax with their friends on Mondays, and that is good business for us,” he said.

A motel operator at Fegge, Onitsha, who did not want to be named, echoed a similar sentiment, saying that he had more patronage on Sundays and Mondays than on other days.

He said he charged N5, 000 for a room, but it would be difficult for anyone to get a room at 3 pm on Mondays.

In spite of these, some residents are not happy with the development.

A school proprietor in Onitsha, who preferred anonymity, said the sit-at-home exercise had brought moral decadence and poor savings culture to the region.

She said, “The savings culture has disappeared among our young people, particularly men. They start drinking from Sunday up till Monday. The Igbo man was known for saving and investing, but what many of our youths know now is consumption. This is the culture the sit-at-home has brought.

“When you spend above your income, you will certainly look for somewhere to raise money one day, which accounts for the level of crime you see at times in the region,” the school proprietor, who once worked in one of the  Tier-2 banks, said.

Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

 Who is responsible for sit-at-home?

The ICIR interviewed over 20 residents of the regions to understand who they felt was responsible for the Monday sit-at-home order and insecurity in the South-East region.

While many placed the blame on the doorstep of President Muhammadu Buhari, others blamed IPOB and South-East governors. A few also pointed fingers at a Finland-based Simon Ekpa, a self-proclaimed Nnamdi Kanu’s disciple.

Some said President Buhari should be held responsible for the sit-at-home in the region for keeping IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, in prison even when competent courts of the land had ordered his release.

“Why are Buhari and the attorney-general Malami refusing to release Kanu if they truly want peace in the region?” a Uk-based sociologist, Nnadi Izuora, asked.

An appeal court had ordered Kanu’s release and declared his detention illegal, but the Buhari’s government has headed to court to quash the judgment.

A senior lecturer at one of the South-East universities, Osita Nnajiofor, said Buhari’s lopsided appointments, an unfair treatment of freedom fighters and the exclusion of the region from national politics were major contributory factors.

“Some of the appointments into security agencies and major government MDAs made the region feel they were not part of Nigeria,” he said.

“After the 2015 election in which the region’s candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, lost and Buhari won, the government did not make efforts to reconcile with the region,” he noted.

He said that exclusion from national politics angered the people of the region and made them seek ways to work against the government.

In 2015, the South-East region supported the then-incumbent, Jonathan, but he lost. However, based on interviews with several citizens of Igbo extraction, Muhammadu Buhari, the then new Sheriff in town, had some missteps.

In 2016, one year after he came to power, soldiers killed several IPOB members in Onitsha and Aba.

In June 2016, several IPOB members who were planning for pro-Biafran commemoration events in Onitsha, Anambra state, were killed by soldiers, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty International said it received reports from various sources on the ground alleging that at least 40 people were killed and more than 50 injured.

“Evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, morgues, and hospitals confirms that between 29-30 May 2016, the Nigerian military opened fire on members of the Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB), supporters and bystanders at three locations in the town.

“Opening fire on peaceful IPOB supporters and bystanders who clearly posed no threat to anyone is an outrageous use of unnecessary and excessive force and resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. In one incident, one person was shot dead after the authorities burst in on them while they slept,” said M.K. Ibrahim, Country Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

Amnesty further said 150 IPOB members were killed between August 2015 and August 2015.

“Analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and 146 eyewitness testimonies relating to demonstrations and other gatherings between August 2015 and August 2016 consistently shows that the military fired live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse crowds.

“It also finds evidence of mass extrajudicial executions by security forces, including at least 60 people shot dead in the space of two days in connection with events to mark Biafra Remembrance Day,” it noted.

Former Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai
Former Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai

Tukur Buratai was Nigeria’s chief of army staff during this period, and many people in the region told The ICIR that he would face international war crimes someday.

A lawyer and founder of Ambassadors and Advocates Assembly, Samuel Oyigbo, said these killings must have led to an equal and opposite reaction.

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This was a peaceful group, which was not causing trouble in the region before 2015 when Buhari came on. And then, suddenly, soldiers started killing them.

“We have deadlier groups such as Boko Haram and (militants) herdsmen in various parts of the country where the President comes from. Why not concentrate on those sects which were deadly. Why did the President concentrate so much energy on an unarmed group?

“IPOB and secessionist groups protested peacefully but were killed. When they noticed that their open protests often led to killings, they resorted to a sit-at-home protest, which is a different form of protest.

“Their leader, Kanu, had to set up radio to let the world know what was going on,” he said.

He chided the President for excluding the region from major security appointments.

“In all the security appointments from police to the interior ministry, down to army and navy, nobody from the South-East region, which is one of the three major ethnic groups in Nigeria. Is that justice or fairness?” he asked.

He concluded that the region’s marginalisation by the current administration had pushed so many young people of the region into the waiting hands of dangerous groups.

In 2017, the Federal Government declared IPOB a terrorist group.

This was the climax, according to Roy Nkwocha, a celebrated children’s books author who is based in the region.

Nkwocha wondered why militant Fulani herdsmen who killed and maimed hundreds of Nigerians were not declared terrorist groups.

Buhari is a Fulani man from Kastina state, North-West Nigeria.

More than 2,539 Nigerians, especially farmers, were killed by militant Fulani herdsmen in 654 attacks in Nigeria, according to a report.

Boko Haram has killed 35,646 in Borno State; 5,747 in Zamfara ; 5,462 in Kaduna; 4,097 in Adamawa; 3,774 in Benue, and 3,359 in Plateau, according to Statista. The group has not been officially declared as a terror group, based on findings.

Some analysts also blame the region’s governors, who they said had not played their role as the chief executive officers of the region. The South-East zone has five governors, but they lack harmony, said security analysts.

The region’s governors formed a security outfit known as “Ebube Agu” in 2021, but the group is often criticised for being used against political opponents.

The Association of Ebonyi Indigenes Socio-Cultural In the Diaspora recently said that “Ebubeagu has no place in Nigeria’s law and democracy, going by extant provisions of sections 4 and 214 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” accusing the security outfit of being used by the Ebonyi State government’s perceived enemies.

Some residents of the South-East region said they preferred the Eastern Security Network (ESN) formed by IPOB to Ebubeagu formed by governors.

An IPOB member in Onitsha told The ICIR that the group could form another security outfit “as soon as possible.”

“ESN is meant to counter terrorists who live in the bush. We will form another one that will take care of our streets,” he said.

However, a lead coordinator of the Advocates for Youth and Health Development, Patrick Enwerem, who hails from Imo state, said the governors must share in the blame.

“There is no synergy, no networking, no strategy. Everybody wants to do things within their state. So, if there is a limited security hitch in a governor’s state, he takes the praise.  The violent elements understand these gaps,” he said.

Oyigbo, on his part, said even though the governors were not in control of security agencies due to constitutional gaps, they were still chief security officers of the state, who should not have allowed the crime to fester.

The IPOB is also chiefly blamed for not only the continuing Monday sit-at-home exercise in the region but also for insecurity in the region.

Enwerem said IPOB might have been infiltrated by some elements who deviated from the visions of its founding fathers.

“IPOB did not do enough. Apart from being responsible for starting the sit-at-home, it did not do enough to stop the bad eggs within its fold,” he noted.

“IPOB did not do enough. Apart from being responsible for starting the sit-at-home, it did not do enough to stop the bad eggs within its fold.”

A human rights activist in Aba, Abia State, Jane Ukatu, said security agencies were also partly to blame.

“Between 2015 and 2018, I counted more than 147 cases of human rights violations in South-East region.

“When EndSARS came in 2020, some who had one form of grudge or the other against the police had to join in unleashing their anger on security locations and personnel. Part of what you see today in the region is related to unaddressed injustices,” she said.

On the Finland-based Ekpa, many residents of the region who spoke with The ICIR said he was interfering in the affairs of the region negatively.

Simon Ekpa
Simon Ekpa

Based on his Twitter posts, Ekpa has not hidden that he started the sit-at-home exercise and often berates those not supporting the cause.

One Oliver Hilary tagged Ekpa’s Twitter handle, informing him that Owerri was not complying with the sit-at-home order, asking that something be done about it before “they succeed in stopping it fully.”

Ekpa has also made a post, saying that “Biafrans” (representing South-East people) would disrupt the 2023 general elections in the region.

 

 

Police react

The general feeling is that the police and other security agencies are overwhelmed by the sit-at-home order. However, the police dismissed that, saying they were on top of the situation.

Speaking with The ICIR, Anambra State police spokesman, a DSP,  Tochukwu Ikenga, said he did not have information that there were sit-at-home exercises on Mondays in the state.

“I don’t have such information.  I go to work every day,” he replied, when asked why the police had failed to quash the sit-at-home order.

When The ICIR reminded Ikenga that all Anambra traders were not police officers like him and his colleagues who could easily protect themselves, he said, “I go around with public vehicles. I don’t have such report. Anybody that has an engagement should go out. Being a security man is a secondary factor. Is it not people I am going to see?” he asked

The ICIR also reminded him that Main Market Onitsha, touted as one of the largest markets in west and central Africa, was always shut down every Monday, but he denied knowledge of that, saying that Eke Awka and other markets in the state were always open.

However, several markets in the state, including Ochanja, Ose, Iweka, are not open. Banks and parks in Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi are also not in operation every Monday, according to findings.

The ICIR has pictures showing that Main Market was shut on December 12, 2022.

Williams Street, Main Market, Onitsha shut down on sit-at-home day on December 12, 2022
Williams Street, Main Market, Onitsha shut down on sit-at-home day on December 12, 2022

Similarly, at Ebonyi state police spokesperson, a SP, Chris Anyanwu,  said there was no sit-at-home exercise in the state.

“There has never been any sit-at-home observed here. There is no sit-at-home now, except at the earlier period. We have been maintaining it. We do our routine show of force to make the assurance double sure in case there is any attack.”

Anyanwu said this was being enforced in all area commands in the state, noting there was a joint arrangement in that regard.

When The ICIR contacted Police spokesman in Enugu State, DSP Daniel Ndukwu, he asked that a WhatsApp message be sent him.

However, he did not respond to the messages bordering on killings during the sit-at-home exercises in Enugu State.

Also, Imo State police spokesman, Michael Abattam, did not pick up his calls, nor did he respond to WhatsApp messages sent to him regarding efforts made by officers to quell the crisis.

Imo state, particularly, has been the hotbed of killings resulting from agitations and sit-at-home order in recent times.

Abia State police spokesperson, SP Godfrey Ogbonna, also did not pick up repeated calls by The ICIR.

Similarly, the spokesman for the Nigerian Army, Brig-General Onyema Nwachukwu, was called several times to respond to reasons why the exercise had continued in the South-East zone despite several military operations, but he did not pick up calls. Text and WhatsApp messages sent to him to respond to whether there were efforts to ensure those implementing it did not thwart February 2023 elections were not replied.

Soludo reacts

However, the Anambra state governor, a professor,  Chukwuma Soludo, told The ICIR that nobody had any reason to stay at home every Monday.

Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, Christian Aburime, Soludo said the Anambra State government would not play to the antics of non-state actors.

“Those who are declaring sit-at-home do not have the powers to do so. It is the government that is constitutionally recognised to do that. Moreover, IPOB, who started this whole thing, has distanced itself from it.  The people have come out publicly to declare that they are not the ones ordering sit-at-home anymore. And what that means is that those who are declaring sit-at-home now are mere criminals who are looking for ways to cause chaos and disharmony,” Soludo stated.

He said everybody should come out and do their business, assuring that the state government would provide adequate security for them.

“As we speak, there is security architecture in virtually in all over the state, and they work together.  We have set up a rejuvenated Anambra Vigilate Service. You find them in every nook and cranny in the state. It is now left for the people to come out and do what they are supposed to do. They should go about their normal business,” he added.

Similarly, Abia and Ebonyi governments have also urged residents of the states to defy sit-at-home orders by the enforcers.

What is the way out?

Several Nigerians of South-East extraction have proffered solutions to the Monday sit-at-home exercise and the general insecurity in the region.

According to market leaders who spoke with The ICIR, the Federal Government need to dialogue with the agitators.

The President, Leather Product Manufacturers Association (LEPMAS) covering Ariaria and shoemakers in Aba, Mazi Okechukwu Williams, said dialogue to pacify the agitators was better than aggression.

“The situation is affecting us in terms of revenue and productivity. The solution is for the Federal Government to dialogue with agitators. Also, there is a need to release Nnamdi Kanu,” he suggested.

Secretary of the Association of Leather and Allied Industrialists of Nigeria, Ken Anyanwu said, “The IPOB has relaxed its sit-at home. Simon Ekpa is engineering his own followers, but who is suffering from all these? It is the businessmen and women.”

 “The IPOB has relaxed its sit-at home. Simon Ekpa is engineering his own followers, but who is suffering from all these? It is the businessmen and women.”

Anyanwu urged the government to address the issue squarely through dialogue.

“The Nigerian government should be able to know there is an agitation. Nobody should shy away from it. It is the responsibility of the government to address agitations. Let’s have a serene environment to do our business. Dialogue with them,” he suggested.

On his part, the Chairman of Johnson Street, Main Market, Onitsha, suggested that the release of Kanu would stop the sit-at-home order.

“Once you release Kanu, the exercise will disappear,” he said, with some hint of assurance.

Also, the President of Amalgamated Markets and Traders Association, Imo State, Chief Ezeanoche Emmanuel, said the solution was simply to plead with the perpetrators to call off the sit–at -home order.

“This is because the order has brought economic activities in the entire South-East to their knees. So we can only plead with them to end it,” he said.

A market leader of foods section in Nsukka area of Enugu State, Jerome Obieze, said apart from releasing Kanu, the Federal Govrnment must be sincere when dealing with the region.

“Treat the region as you do others. Let’s end the Civil War sincerely by giving the people of the region equal opportunities as others,” he said.

On his part, Izuora, earlier cited, called for the immediate release of IPOB leader, Kanu, to end the sit-at-home exercise and restore the confidence of the people in the Federal Government.

He further suggested the creation of a panel to investigate injustices in the region and punish those who had violated people’s fundamental rights.

“A sort of a truth and reconciliation panel where wounds can be healed should be set up,” he said.

“Those who have contributed to the region’s woes should be made to pay for their crimes. Also, Simon Ekpa should be reported to the government of Finland. I live in the UK. I am from the South-East and I believe in Biafra, but I do not go on making posts that can endanger my region. He needs to be checked and arrested immediately,” he said.

A prominent leader in the region and former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, releasing Kanu would solve most of the security challenges in the region.

He said, “The insecurity bedevilling Anambra State today has its root on Kanu’s detention which was why I, together with other concerned Igbo elders, have taken it upon ourselves to consult with the Federal Government and demand his unconditional release,” he said in an interview with a newspaper.

For a Professor of Economics at Covenant University, Jonathan Aremu, the Federal Government must initiate peace moves in the region.

He said due to the region’s economic importance, the government should dialogue with its South-East leaders, douse the tension while resolving development and other social issues there.

Oyigbo, the lawyer earlier quoted, said the Federal Government needed to be fair and should give the region some sense of belonging, especially in terms of appointments.

“Don’t use guns to suppress agitations, use dialogue. If you have groups that kill up north, treat them as criminals. Don’t use force on unarmed IPOB and less force on dangerous terrorist groups up north. We are human and read between the lines,” he further said.

For the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, the government should dialogue with the region and make it investment-friendly again.

“It is an internal issue that can be resolved through dialogue by the leaders of the region,” he added.

Enwerem, earlier cited, said the people of the region should start electing public officers based on character and integrity.

“The region should jettison political parties and begin to elect people with character and evidence of performance. Things are not working in the region. If things are working, a lot of issues would be resolved.

“Also, IPOB should do some self-introspection. Has IPOB derailed? Are they sticking to the objectives of early Biafran agitators? I have studied conflicts and wars in several continents. Wars can’t give you anything. But we shouldn’t talk about conflict resolution without self-introspection. We should not harbour criminals and must call out those perpetrating crimes.

“Because we have developed the culture of silence, people have continued to do this and go scot-free. It is high time we went back to those things that enabled us to secure our communities. ”

The 2023 general election is three months away. One of the region’s former Governor, Peter Obi, is a frontrunner in the Labour Party. Some residents said the region was watching to see if the election would be free and fair.

“Peter Obi’s emergence is already changing the narrative in the region. The tension is subsiding. But to sustain it, the electoral body, INEC, must ensure free and fair election. If you rig him out, it may be déjà vu,” Dr Osita Mbamalu, a Lagos-based political scientist, said.

*This report is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, The ICIR.

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