Honesty demands that I put all the cards face up on the table. And upfront. I am from the same Orlu senatorial zone as the governor of Imo State, Distinguished Senator Hope Odidika Uzodinma (Onwa). Onwa in Igbo language means moon. But in the context of a title, it actually means light. In the Holy Bible, Light is also a symbol for Jesus Christ. The Scriptures also tell us that whenever light appears, darkness gives way. It further says that darkness does not comprehend light. In 1937, long before he became father of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe founded a very vibrant newspaper, the West African Pilot. The motto of the newspaper was “Show the light and the people will find the way.” So, in both the divine and physical or secular realms, light is symbolic, significant and substantial.

I started out by saying that I have the privilege of belonging to the same senatorial district as Uzodinma. It is more than that. We were of the same council area, Oru West Local Government, until not too long ago when Oru East Local Government Area was carved out of Oru West. The governor attended Mgbidi Boys Secondary School, which happens to be in my community. Our governor is from Omuma, the headquarters of Oru East, while I am from Mgbidi, the headquarters of Oru West. For many years, Mgbidi has been home to Uzodinma. I cannot state this as a matter of fact, but there is a possibility that before he became a senator and now a governor Uzodinma had more friends and associates in Mgbidi than Omuma.

Given the foregoing, I should be a stakeholder in the government led by Uzodinma. And I am by association in light of appointments given to capable and qualified Mgbidi sons and daughters. They are in the cabinet, boards of parastatals and local government administration. I should be in the forefront in promoting and defending the policies and programmes and actions of Governor Uzodinma in spite of the not too salutary process of his emergence. I believe that God gives power and if He elected to make Uzodinma the governor of Imo State at the time He did using Mohammed Tanko’s Supreme Court, we are obligated to help him to succeed. His success will be for the good of Imo indigenes and residents. I may be wrong but that is my belief and in my circle of influence that’s the position I have advanced.

This position of mine informed my advocacy against the deterioration in the security situation in Imo in the wake of the Supreme Court awarding the governorship trophy to Uzodinma on January 14, 2020. Many Nigerians were shocked at the judgment and some Imo indigenes were infuriated, especially given that the votes tallied by the Justices appeared not to add up. For Governor Uzodinma, it has been about 32 months of contending with the legitimacy of his administration. The shadow cast on the regime’s legitimacy may not go away until the end of his first term in Douglas House. In our clime, governing can be quite demanding and that could only be made more daunting by the perception, rightly or wrongly, of a regime as illegitimate.

It is for this reason that every action taken by the governor or his agents or even agents of the Federal Government in his state is closely, and sometimes unfairly, scrutinised. On July 17, a Sunday, one of such issues cropped up. Seven or 14 or even 24 youngsters were killed in cold blood in Awomama, in Oru East council area. In Imo, one death now is one too many. The state governor branded them bandits. Nigeria’s secret police, formally called the Department of State Services (DSS), who Uzodinma said carried out the bloody operation, said those killed were members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), which is the militia of the proscribed self-determination Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The families of the victims and a significant section of the public said the dead were guests from Otulu who attended a marriage ceremony in Awomama. For a start, there appears to be a problem with the official narrative. The governor said the victims were bandits while the DSS said they were ESN operatives. I do not know bandits and ESN are used interchangeably.

Since the DSS carried out the operation, we will rely on their account of what happened and then proceed to interrogate it and follow up by analysing other developments. A DSS statement on the killing read in part: ‘’Following the arrest of Chinonso Mmerem (aka Network), a member of IPOB militant wing, ESN, a sting operation was conducted by a joint security team on July 17, to arrest members of the criminal gang terrorising Awo-Omama and other parts of the state. In course of the operation, the elements opened fire on the security forces, which was consequently repelled with superior firepower leading to the neutralisation of about seven members of the criminal group in the hideout used as their camp. At this juncture, it is pertinent to inform that the elements gathered to plan their nefarious operation and not attend a traditional marriage…’’

The DSS description of the killing of citizens as a ‘sting operation’ is laughable. In October 2016 when the secret police conducted another ‘sting operation’ and arrested judges in the dead of the night, the cases they brought against the judges fell flat. The cases were thrown out when defence counsel made no-case submissions. The DSS claimed that the victims opened fire on security agents. But no evidence was provided, not even one rifle recovered from the ‘criminals’. Our security agents who delight in the public display of ‘bandits’ killed in such encounters could not do so in this instant. When security agents raid bandits’ camps, you would expect that they would own it. In Awomama, there was no pictorial or video evidence of the so-called ESN camp. There is no evidence yet that the DSS has occupied the ‘camp’. Or could it be that the security forces left the ‘camp’ for the ESN to regroup and reoccupy? When Ikonso, an alleged ESN commander, was killed in the same Awomama in April last year, his remains draped in charms and his rifle were put on display. His remains were taken away by security forces.

In like manner, when the alleged killers in Imo State of Ahmed Gulak, a former presidential adviser, were gunned down by security agents in the state, their bodies and rifles and vans and charms were displayed. How come the DSS killed bandits or ESN operatives in Awomama and allowed the families of their victims to recover the remains for public parade and burial? Survivors of the cold-blooded murders have told their stories of who they are and what they were doing on that fateful day. They have been consistent and credible. As much as we want to, we cannot, sadly, say the same for the stories of Governor Uzodinma, Imo State Information Commissioner, Chief Mbadiwe Emelumba, and the DSS. They have come short. The use of the DSS to take the fall for what appears to be a tragic and costly error in terms of human lives has failed to gain traction. The DSS is clearly not suited for such operations. If it had been, it would have taken steps to stop the recent brazen attack by the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, on Kuje Prison in Abuja, instead, of issuing all of 44 intelligence reports prior to the attack where almost 1,000 detainees and convicts were freed, most of them terrorists.

When bandits are killed, even family members avoid the limelight and any association with the incident. Not in Awomama and Otulu. Family members were eager to tell the world the tragedy that had been inflicted on them by the government that ordinarily should protect them. Christian clerics have publicly visited the families of the victims in solidarity and to pray for the survivors. Is that not concerning to the government? Or are the clerics in cahoots with the political opposition to undermine the Uzodinma adminidtration? In a climate of insecurity, collateral damage could happen. And when it does, as it appears to be the case in Awomama, the government should be sincere enough to accept that there was intelligence failure, apologise and make restitution. Even the United States of America, with its power and reach in terms of intelligence gathering, had to admit last year that its intelligence that led to a deadly missile strike on a building in Afghanistan was wrong. It apologised and offered restitution. That’s strength, not weakness. The government of Imo state can say the families of the victims are poor and helpless and so cannot do anything. But there is Karma.

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