Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State who is being linked with a 2023 presidential ambition on the the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) says there is a plot by some persons to incite war in Eastern Nigeria.
He said during an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily that bandits were committing crimes in the predominantly Igbo region under the guise of the Eastern Security Network (ESN).
However, while the brewing insurgency in the region is being blamed on the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its quest for an independent Biafran state, a political risk consultancy, Menas Associates, says there is more to it.
Although Governor Umahi didn’t reveal names or identities of the individuals involved, he warned that governors of the region will not allow what he termed illegality to reign in the area.
“The problem of this country is that people will leave their problems and make your problem their problem. But what some of these people are doing is to incite the South-East into war and step aside, and we are not going to buy into that, we are not going to be deceived again”, he said.
Continuing, he said “Whether it inspires confidence or not, it does not matter to me. What matters to me is that our people will be satisfied with our efforts in protecting their lives and property.
People must be very careful, and know that there are grand plans by people who have no interest in the south-east, to incite them into war and we are wiser than that.”
Governor Umahi said the regional security outfit, Ebube Agu, recently launched by the governors was not formed in a hurry, adding that the only recognised security outfit in the region is Ebube Agu.
He explained that he and his other colleagues from Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Imo will fight insecurity within the ambit of the law.
While blaming some politicians for the insecurity in the region, he said: “Ebube Agu is to protect the lives of everyone in the South-East.”
The region has been under intense attacks as gunmen assail residents, police formations and prisons, freeing thousands of inmates.
This forced the governors to launch a security outfit to complement the efforts of the security agencies in the fight against crimes.
As the race for 2023 Presidency hots up, questions are being asked whether the growing violence is a bargaining tool to put pressure on political power brokers to choose someone from the region as a presidential candidate.
Though there is no obvious evidence to suggest that there is a link between the campaign and the escalating violence but many believe that it could be more than a coincidence.
Since the beginning of the year, frequent attacks on security agencies in the East have resulted in the death of at least 34 law enforcement officers.
In a statement on April 7, President Muhammadu Buhari described the latest attack as an act of terrorism and ordered the police to act to ensure that the attackers are arrested.
Immediate past Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, was thrown out of the office while he was in Imo State with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo inspecting the damage blamed on the IPOB’s ESN.
The same day IPOB issued a counter-statement denying responsibility for the attack.
IPOB’s denial received surprising support from Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State. On April 8 he exonerated IPOB and blamed it on ‘some aggrieved and known politicians’ determined to destabilise the ruling APC administration.
Uzodinma claimed to have carried out investigations and uncovered credible evidence to back up his allegations but the police disagree with him.
Uzodinma is locally referred to as the ‘Supreme Court governor’ because he was installed — despite coming a distant fourth in the state’s 2019 gubernatorial election — following a highly controversial Supreme Court ruling.
The people view him as illegitimate which explains his nickname which he obviously dislikes.
Since he came to office, the security situation has rapidly deteriorated and Imo State has become a hotbed of secessionist activities but it has also escalated in the region’s other states.
Menas Associates in its weekly intelligence report on Nigeria, Nigeria Politics & Security, says there are alternative theories on the rising violence in the East.
According to the report, ‘’it is happening just when the South-East is demanding that 2023 Presidency should be zoned to it. Some believe that it has been orchestrated to undermine the South-East’s bid and that the violence, sponsored by unknown external agents are designed to show that, if given the Presidency, the South-East will use the situation to secede from Nigeria.
‘’Those supporting this view argue that a candidate from the region cannot be trusted to become Nigeria’s president in 2023.
‘’Some, however, believe that the violence is a bargaining card used by South-East politicians to gain an edge in the 2023 race.
‘’On March 28, President of the youth wing of the Igbo-based Ohanaeze Ndigbo socio-cultural the organisation, Igboayaka O. Igboayaka, said that there will be no Nigeria if APC or the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) fails to field an Igbo candidate in 2023.
‘’Some security sources believe that this is linked to the ongoing attacks which are designed to pressure the two parties to pick a candidate from the region.
‘’Using the threat of violence to gain political power is not unusual. It started when Olusegun Obasanjo became president in 1999 after the military decided to hand over power to civilians after years of protests and violence, mainly in the South-West, over the army’s annulment of the 1993 national elections. ‘’The military regime chose and supported Obasanjo to be president in order to assuage the anger that had boiled over into violence in the South-West.
‘’When Obasanjo handed over power in 2007, he was instrumental in selecting Bayelsa State’s Governor Goodluck Jonathan to be the vice-presidential running mate of his preferred presidential candidate, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. ‘’Jonathan’s selection was also mainly to assuage militants in the South-South where most of the country’s crude oil is produced.’’
Continuing, the report says Ndigbo are likely to try and play a similar card that brought the Presidency first to the South-West and then the South-South.
While its politicians may not be directly involved in the increasing violence, they are aware that they could benefit from it politically.
‘’Despite the violence, it is still very unlikely that there will be a president from South-East in Aso Rock in 2023.
‘’The region has left it a bit too late because — despite it being only two years until the election and less than a year before serious campaigning begins — there is still no frontrunner in the area. ‘’By contrast, the South-West has at least two prominent nationally recognised candidates seeking the job, while the South-South could still persuade Jonathan to agree to run again.
‘’Perhaps because of a hangover from the 1967-1970 civil war — when Igbos tried to secede from Nigeria and establish Biafra as an independent state — no South-East politician has been able to establish a strong national political network.
‘’Most South-East governors that could have done so have largely restricted their influence to their home states. Perhaps, the most prominent politician from the region remains Anambra State’s 2007-2014 PDP governor, Peter Obi, who was Atiku Abubakar’s running mate in the 2019 elections.
‘’Even though Obi has national name recognition, his political acceptability is low because he is not the stereotypical Nigerian politician that throws money around, which is a key requirement for anyone seeking national office.
‘’The other major challenge for the South-East is that it brings little in terms of political power to the table. It has the lowest number of registered voters and usually has the lowest turnout in elections.
‘’This is an obvious disadvantage and means that any South-East candidate must work hard to be accepted by the North-West and the South-West which have the largest number of voters.
‘’Unless both regions support a candidate, it becomes even more challenging for them to win a national election and, so far, no-one from the South-East has been acceptable in the two other regions’’, the intelligence report says.
Since 2015, the South-East political bloc has pitched its camp in PDP and has ignored APC. But, the former is in a bind. For Menas Associates, ‘’it is desperate to regain power but fielding a South-East candidate will be a huge risk which would dim its chances.
‘’Presidential candidates have to count on regional support and then hope that other regions will come on board. A PDP candidate could bank on the South-East’s votes but wILL have to win a disproportionate number of votes from the North-West and North-East to stand any chance.
‘’This becomes even more difficult if APC fields a South-West candidate, which it is likely to do. The truth is that no one from the South-East will be a candidate for either major party in 2023 because neither is prepared to take the risk.
‘’This does not bode well for the region’s future security which is likely to continue to deteriorate. IPOB will take advantage of this to advance its claims that the South-East is not wanted in the larger Nigerian state. This will help it win more recruits for its guerrilla campaign in the region.
‘’South-East politicians are losing credibility amongst ordinary people which will benefit IPOB. The likelihood of a third insurgency — besides the North-East and the North-West — would carry a significant risk that it could spread to the main oil-producing South-South.
‘’It is almost inevitable that this will happen, and escalate both in the run-up to and following the 2023 elections until a South-East candidate is on the ballot for one of the major parties in 2027 at the earliest.’’