A civil rights advocacy group, The Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre and various critical stakeholders have expressed fears that incessant killings, destructions of property and sacking of communities have caused devastating impact on socio-economic and political development, as well as livelihoods and civic freedoms in the South East.
Speaking in his opening remarks while addressing participants, victims and stakeholders during a two-day summit on ‘Peace and public hearing for victims of insecurity/crime and human rights violation in the South-East zone’ held in Awka on Saturday, the Executive Director, RULAAC, Okechukwu Nwanguma, said the dimensions and manifestations of insecurity in the South-East calls for serious concern, careful examination and urgent action.
Nwanguma also pointed out that the insecurity in the region has had deleterious and devastating impacts on socio-economic and political development, livelihoods, well-being and civic freedoms.
He also lamented that the weekly sit-at-home has ruined the economy of the South-East and worsened the plight of the toiling people most of whom depend on daily earnings, thereby increasing rural poverty and misery.
According to him, the summit, in partnership with Action Group on Free Civil Space, was convened for critical stakeholders to have some conversation about unabated insecurity in the South-East with a view to gain deeper insight into the root of insecurity and the risk factors for its persistence.
He added that the summit was aimed at jointly proposing workable recommendations for ending insecurity and addressing human rights violations and shrinking civic space in the region.
He blamed the Federal Government’s mismanagement of the Indigenous People of Biafra agitation as a major cause for escalation of violence in the region.
He said, “No doubt, insecurity has had deleterious and devastating impacts on socio-economic and political development, livelihoods, well-being and civic freedoms.
“We also intend to build evidence through the testimonies by victims and witnesses with which we can advocate and push for urgent action to pull the zone out of the quagmire.
“With the information and evidence from testimonies, we also intend to assist the most vulnerable and most affected victims to seek legal redress.
“Although insecurity assumed more serious dimensions and has remained a top national challenge throughout Nigeria, since 2009 with the emergence of Boko Haram and its mismanagement by the Federal Government, the dimensions and manifestations of insecurity in the South-East call for serious concern, careful examination and urgent action.
“Renewed separatist agitation which was reinvigorated and championed by IPOB since 2012 was soon to go awry, degenerating into outright criminality and has now turned the South-East – which the proponents had purported to liberate – into a bloodsoaked wasteland.”
He explained that the Federal Government reaction to IPOB with brute force as its sole response largely accounted for the transformation of the group and the escalation of violence and destruction of life and property.
He added that the action also watered the ground for splinter groups to emerge along with other opportunistic criminal gangs which seized and are now almost dominating the landscape with terror.
“The so-called unknown gunmen continue to attack security personnel and installations targeting mostly the police. This has often led to reprisals and killing of innocent persons.
“President Buhari’s shoot-at-sight order in 2021 and the former IGP Alkali Baba’s directive to police officers in the South-East to go after IPOB and kill them and not bother about complaints of human rights violations prompted a reckless security crackdown across the South-East states.
“In the pretext of going after IPOB, several innocent people particularly young and middle-aged men and women have been arbitrarily arrested, detained in inhumane conditions, tortured, killed and disappeared based, in many cases, on unsubstantiated allegations of being IPOB/ESN members.
“The now routine and senseless sit-at-home has almost ruined the economy of the South-East and worsened the plight of the toiling people most of whom depend on daily earnings. Rural poverty and misery have increased.
“The South-East residents have become wearied by the every Monday sit-at-home and occasional sit-at-home orders by the foreign-based Simon Ekpa. Residents appear helpless in the face of violent attacks by misguided miscreants forcefully and violently enforcing Ekpa’s senseless orders,” he added.
He commended the Anambra State governor for the establishment of a Bureau of Missing Persons, adding that it came about the same time that a whistleblower accused some senior police officers in the state of involvement in arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, extrajudicial killing, conversion of property of killed or disappeared persons and organ harvesting.
“This summit is therefore convened for us to critically examine the situation in the South-East and propose workable solutions. An eminent Professor of Human Rights Law, a patriotic son of the South-East, Prof Chidi Odinkalu will set the tone for the conversation with a Keynote Speech.
“The civil society remains eternally indebted to him for his support and inspiration and for his unrivalled and exemplary commitment and selfless contributions towards a better Nigeria.
“We also thank those who agreed to come forward to testify. We thank them for their courage and contributions to making sure that what has happened to them or their loved ones will never happens to anyone again.
“I thank my civil society colleagues who continue to remain in the frontline of human rights monitoring and advocacy. I thank the gentlemen of the media for continuing to project our voices and to hold government and its agencies accountable to the people.”