September 26, 2022

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The Awo Omamma incident: Between facts and fiction

By Declan Emelumba

We all know that security agents do not just descend on innocent people and murder them in cold blood. Being mindful of the fact that their primary responsibility is to protect the citizens, they only use force or deploy their weapons in extreme cases, especially when they are threatened or their lives are in danger. Exceptions can be made for isolated incidents of accidental discharge, or when a drunk officer or one with mental health problems goes beserk. Even in these circumstances, “14 innocent people” cannot just be slaughtered as if they were goats. It would even take a certain degree of callousness to shoot and kill 14 goats. Yet, that is the narrative that detractors and political opponents of the government of Imo state have been feeding the public since the unfortunate events of Sunday, July 17th, 2022 when the Department of State Services (DSS) stormed the camp of members of Eastern Security Network (ESN) in Awo Omama resulting in the exchange of gunfire and the killing and arrest of some people. The Igbo adage that the river cannot drown someone whose legs it has not seen has suddenly been lost on otherwise reasonable people who ought to ask the right questions to elicit the expected answers. Even before these questions came, those who want to crucify Governor Hope Uzodimma went ahead and hung the killing of the victims on the State’s Security Network, Ebubeagu. This is sheer fiction.

But, what happened? The highly respected Department of State Services has explained that it acted in response to an intelligence report. According to the intelligence report, members of the outlawed and dreaded ESN were meeting at a certain camp in Awo Omama to strategize on how to enforce the “sit–at–home” order planned for the next day being Monday, July 18th, 2022. The ruthless enforcement of the “sit–at–home” order in this area had been responsible for several deaths in the past. A member of the ESN, Chinonso Mmerem, who had been in the custody of the DSS, led the secret police to the camp in a covert operation. According to Mmerem, who was later interviewed by journalists, when the ESN sighted the security agents, they opened fire on them, resulting in the exchange of fire between the two groups. At the end of it all, there were casualties and arrests. That is the fact.

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But, typically the propagandists and enemies of government went ahead and weaved a tale that the youth were returning from a wedding party and officers of Ebubeagu security outfit intercepted and murdered them in cold blood. How convenient does this sound? Adequately manipulated, and powered by the opposition, this story went viral, first in the social media, and then in some conventional media. It was this false and provocative account in the media that precipitated the violent protests of Monday, July 18 – the day after the incident. To the surprise of all objective followers of events in the state, those who had never condemned criminality in the state, including the spates of killings, arson and cannibalism, suddenly found their voices and promptly rose to accuse Ebubeagu and the Government of killing the so-called innocent victims. The frenzy with which opponents of the administration, including members of the opposition party, PDP, her agents and detractors jumped on the wagon of agitation suggested that they are not happy with the improvement in the security situation in Imo state. Their eagerness to reject the fact that it was a DSS operation and their determination to go ahead to demand the disbandment of Ebubeagu suggests that they would rather allow the hoodlums to continue to terrorize the citizens of the state. And this is truly worrisome. It is remarkable that when similar encounters between the DSS and bandits are reported in neighbouring Anambra state, it provokes a totally different reaction. The people have learned to support their governor as he battles to check the excesses of these violent gangs masquerading as liberators.

It is curious that when tens of people were being murdered daily in Imo state at the height of the insecurity that pervaded in the state there was no whimper from any of these latter day human rights activists. The fact that these killings coincided with an open threat by some people who vowed to make the state ungovernable did not worry them. Are they saying that all those killed then do not deserve justice? Or, are they suggesting that the blood of those killed then was the blood of fowls?In fact, how does a group of people decide to suffer selective amnesia in one instance and remain lucid in another?.

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Where were these crusaders when the country home of the governor was set ablaze? Were they asleep when hoodlums routinely burnt the houses of high-profile citizens of Imo state? What was their reaction to the incessant kidnapping and killing of innocent men as they went about their business? How did they react to the killing of staff of INEC who were on official duties? Could it be that the crimes of the hoodlums were permissible because Uzodimma and his government were the victims? These posers and the hypocritical and reprehensible conduct of PDP and other opponents of the government actually rankles. If their baseless accusations had an iota of substance, it would have been tolerable. But here we are being told the truth, and but they prefer to celebrate the lies.

Indeed, their refusal to even accept the claim of the DSS that they carried out the operation let alone interrogate the fact has given them away as accomplices, actually, accessories after the fact of the contrived insecurity in the state. Otherwise, why would they elect to celebrate this falsehood which claims that those killed or arrested were wedding guests? The informant earlier referred to insisted that the operation took place at an ESN camp, and not at any wedding venue. Don’t they wonder what manner of wedding could have held without women, children and the elderly in attendance? What manner of wedding could have held without the typical tell-tale signs of canopies, chairs and cooking pots and plates? Up to now, no one has shown videos of the wedding event. There is none to show because the battleground was at the ESN camp, Period!

Even at that, has it bothered anyone to find out why there is a preponderance of violence in the Orlu axis of the state? Governor Hope Uzodimma is from Orlu zone. The theatre of insurgency has been in his immediate environment of Oru East, Oru West, Orlu and Orsu Local Government Areas. The dungeon where cannibals set up shop was in Orsu. Majority of government appointees whose houses were burnt are from the same areas. Why target the areas? Simple, they want to create the erroneous impression that the governor is not popular even among his own people. It is clearly the orchestrated evil machinations by the opposition to force the hands of Government.

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This explains why they refused to accept the explanation of the DSS that those killed were not wedding guests, but bandits who attended a meeting to plan on how to violently enforce the Monday “sit–at–home” order. What they wanted the world to hear was that Uzodimma ordered the killing of innocent wedding guests at Awo Omama. No other information, no matter how authentic, mattered to them. They are celebrating the lies and the attendant backlash on government by uninformed people, including some journalists, who have been rather too lazy to investigate the matter further. In the days of Ray Ekpu and Late Dele Giwa, they would have conducted their own investigation and filled the gaps in this narrative.

Fortunately, no matter how long the truth is covered, it would still emerge triumphant. In this season of anomie, nobody has bothered to ask the question of what Uzodimma stands to gain from the killing of the youth. Do they constitute any existential threat to his Government that he will order their killing? Why will anyone believe such atrocious blackmail, if not an enemy?. This is the question that all well-meaning Nigerians should be asking.

But what is obvious from the cacophony of voices of condemnation is that a few people, mostly opposition politicians are not happy that relative peace has been restored in Imo state. They prefer to have a state of anarchy so they would have achieved their threat of making the state ungovernable for Uzodimma.
Since that dream of theirs has been shattered even before dawn, they are looking for scapegoats. They are not happy that the security agencies are now on top of the situation. And who else should be crucified if not the man who has become their nemesis? So, when next you hear them howling, just know that they are mourning what should have been. And perhaps you should also pity them as sore losers.

Emelumba is the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Imo State