By S. Ezeora
Imo State was in the news for the wrong reasons on two occasions in the last few weeks. Both times, bloody attacks were launched on the country home of the spokesperson of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), Barrister Ikenga Ugochinyere, Akokwa, in Ideato North Local Government Area of Imo State, killing four persons.
Ugochinyere is also a House of Representatives candidate of the opposition People’s Democractic Party (PDP) for Ideato North and South Federal Constituency, Imo State, in this year’s general election. The state is controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) with Senator Hope Uzodinma as governor.
In the first attack which occurred on Saturday, January 14, 2023, a convoy of three cars carrying the criminals attacked Mr Ugochinyere’s family home, killing four persons, including his uncle.
The assailants reportedly used explosices to bring down buildings and set ablaze over 32 campaign vehicles and other property in the compound.
During the attack, Mr Ugochinyere was able to alert the public through the social media platform, Twitter, about the ongoing attack: “We need help in Akokwa, Ideato North Local Government Area, Imo State. My uncle has been killed now. They are setting everything on fire. Please help,” he tweeted.
Before this attack, Mr Ugochinyere had categorically named an aide of the Imo State governor of having threatened his life, saying he had recorded conversation of the threat. He called on the security agencies in the state to interrogate the man.
The second attack happened three weeks later. Just like when the first attack occured, Mr Ugochinyere sent out a Save-Our-Souls’ message via social media platform WhatsApp: “We are under attack again. My house is under attack again by armed men with explosives and heavy gunfire.”
Subsequently, it was not disclosed the extent of damage; but the authorities did not deny that such an attack took place.
Following these incidents, the state chapter of the PDP had accused the state government of sponsoring the attack on Mr Ugochinyere. It recalled that earlier on December 23, 2022, there was an attack on his convoy by agents of the Imo State Government, and expressed misgivings that despite its demand for the arrest and prosecution of those involved in that incident, nothing has been done by the security agenciies till this moment.
It also asked the state government to explain its role in the subsequent attacks, noting that the reaction of the state government showed its involvement in the crime.
The opposition party, in a statement signed by its state publicity secretary, Collins Opurozor, argued that the governor’s comment on the attack on Ugochinyere’s country home not only betrayed his sympathy for the attackers but also exposed the depth of his knowledge of the attack prior to its execution.
Following the attack on Mr Ugochinyere’s house, Governor Hope Uzodinma had, in a televised interview, claimed that he had security reports which indicted that the Mr Ugochinyere had breached an agreement he had with criminal elements not to allow elections to hold in the South East – by contesting for a seat in the National Assembly – and that the attack was a way by the criminals to exact revenge.
In the interview, Uzodinma also claimed to have reports of some meetings between Mr Ugochinyere and the unknown gunmen.
The impressions Uzodinma’s statements send out to the public are worrisome: first, that he had prior knowledge that Mr Ugochinyere was allegedly involved with criminals who were going to attack him for violating an agreement and that he neither tried to arrest Ugochinyere for sponsoring the criminals nor the gunmen for trying to kill him. Is he telling us that Ugochinyere got what he deserved and that, that is the position of the law?
Assuming, without conceding, that Mr Ugochinyere is guilty, is jungle justice now a state policy in Imo State? How come that in a state where unknown gunmen have be killing, and kidnapping many people, and destroying INEC facilities, that the governor was privy to their activities and he failed to act?
From all intents and purposes, the rationalisation of the raid gives credence to the accusation by Mr Ugochinyere and PDP that the Imo State government has a case to answer as regards the repeated attacks on him.
We wish to remind the governor that as the chief security officer in Imo State, his first duty is to prevent harm to his subjects and their property, whether they are his allies or not, and that an accused is innocent until proved otherwise in a court of law.
Mr Ugochinyere’s travails seem to have begun when late year he publicly exposed a compromise of the INEC register and accused politicians of trying to manipulate and undermine the efforts of the electoral umpire, INEC, to hold credible elections in the country, especially in his constituency.
A political activist, Mr Ugochinyere, also alleged plans to remove the INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, for insisting on conducting free and fair elections with the aid of technology in accreditation and transmission of election results – which later played out in the political space, with shadowy groups going to court to call for his removal over unfounded claims of assets declaration breaches.
The failure of police and other security agencies to get to the bottom of this incident is a concern. The commissioner of police in the state, Mohammed Barde, merely said the attack could have been carried out by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra without any concrete proofs. That’s lazy policing, if anything. Clearly, that is not enough.
Ugochinyere has alleged growing intimidation of the politician since his exposure of the compromise of the voter register, with direct threats to his life, with his campaign billboards destroyed and his campaign trains attacked. This points to the fact that whatever is happening with insecurity around Mr Ugochinyere and, most likely, the wider Imo State is political.
The Inspector-general of police and the director-general of the Department of State Services (DSS) should send federal forces to investigate the security breaches in Imo State, especial the activities of Ebubeagu and some agents of the state government who have been fingered in the whole saga. To refuse to act is to embolden those intent on using state power to wreak election violence on those they are paid to protect.
Ezeora wrote from Owerri