By Ifeanyi Ottah
Indications have emerged that the controversy surrounding the secret transfer of 47 Boko Haram suspects to Ekwulobia prisons in Anambra State may soon give way following a meeting held by the State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano and a seven-man delegation from Abuja recently at his lodge in Awka.
The delegation came from the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in Abuja. The meeting which took place at the instance of the presidency AMEN Super News learnt was as a result of a passionate appeal by Obiano to the presidency, endless protests and wide agitations by traders, the south-east Governor’s forum, Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo, Aka Ikenga, members of Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) Anambra State Chapter, traditional rulers, Association of town unions, civil society groups and others across the south-east region against the transfer of the dreaded inmates from North to Ekwulobia.
The governor said after the meeting that the deliberation between his team and that from the presidency were successful even as he expressed optimism that the matter would be resolved soon.
Those in the governor’s team included the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Afred Nnaemeka Achebe, the Igwe of Umoji, Igwe Cyril Enweze, the Catholic Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, the Anglican Bishop of Awka, Rt. Rev. Dr. Alex Ibezim, the Anambra State Chairman of CAN, Theo Okpala, Coordinator, Southeast Traders’ Association, Okwudili Ezenwankwo, National President of Anambra Association of Town Union (ASATU), Dr. Jude Okolo among others.
The governor called on the Anambra people to maintain the peace and desist from acts that might lead to the disruption of the harmonious atmosphere that has enveloped the state in the past one year.
However, the controversy or rather massive protest that greeted the secret transfer of 47 Boko Haram Prisoners to a low security prison in Ekwulobia Anambra State barely one month the All Progressives Congress (APC) led Federal Government took office appears to have been done in error or could be seen as a huge mistake.
At first what started like a rumour later turned out to be real following the unusual presence of soldiers and the armoured tanks positioned in the Ekwulobia prison premises, a community that has never experienced any warfare or violence since after the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War.
The question in the minds of many was the message the Federal Government wants to convey by sending Boko Haram terrorists to the low security prison in Ekwulobia there are maximum security prison in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna etc that are more suitable to hold such hardened criminals.
Apparently there is no place in the world where hardened criminals such as Boko Haram terrorists are kept in a prison facility located in a rural community with a huge civilian population.
Guantanamo Bay is one of several prisons the united states of America, utilized to house and interrogate its terror suspects and is located far from the civilian population.
Transfering Boko Haram prisoners to Ekwulobia prison or anywhere in the southeast is not right.
The federal government must show it has no malicious intentions against the southeast by annulling the relocation of the prisoners.
Many have argued that the decision to transfer the violent prisoners to Ekwulobia must be driven by a hideous desire to spread Boko Haram terror to the southeast.
Observers also posited that the movement of these terror group to the zone is politically motivated and it is government’s deliberate plan to disturb the peace in the south east by making the region face the terrifying experience the people in the North have had with Boko Haram Violence. It is imprudent for any right thinking person to support government plan to keep Boko Haram Prisoners in a low security prison like the one in Ekwulobia.
Nigerian government should build a special prison for terror suspects like the Guantanamo Bay in US, and desist from keeping Boko Haram Prisoners in the same prison with ordinary prisoners.
Meanwhile, Governor Obiano said the transfer of Boko Haram prisoners to Ekwulobia prisons in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, was concluded in 2012 under former president Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The governor, who spoke through his senior special Adviser on Political matters, Mr. Chinedu Obidigwe, said the decision was taken during a seminar organized for officers and men of the Nigeria Prison service, NIP, in which Ekwulobia and Kuje prisons in Anambra and Abuja Capital territory respectively, were chosen as prisons for the Boko Haram inmates.
But former Governor Peter Obi, in a swift reaction, expressed shock about Governor Willie Obiano’s claims, describing it as a blatant lie.
However, Obidigwe said the transfer of Boko Haram suspects would have been effected immediately but for the 2015 general elections on ground that it would affect the second term ambition of Jonathan in the South East geo-political zone.
Obidigwe contended that a decision made under the nose of past administrations in the state and the country in general should not be blamed on the current regime in Anambra.
“In as much as the state government would not want to join issues with such section of the public, it is important to note that the policy of transferring Boko Haram inmates to Anambra States had been made since 2012 under the regimes of President Goodluck Jonathan and Mr. Peter Obi but for the 2015 general elections which the then President was contesting for a second term.
“Since the transfer of the 47 inmates, panic had gripped the people of Ekwulobia as residents in the area were apprehensive of an imminent attack by members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect,” he said.
Reacting to the claim that former President Goodluck Jonathan and former Governor Peter Obi were behind the relocation of Boko Haram terrorists to Anambra State, the media aide to Obi, Mr. Valentine Obienyem, said he was shocked that Governor Willie Obiano would personally sign such a release laying claims to what appeared nauseating and childish.
Obienyem said that such a claim would only end up proving to the people that there were more to the relocation than they already knew.
Describing the claim as a blatant lie, Obienyem wondered how an action or a plan concluded by a man who left office almost 16 month ago was being implemented now. He said: “The governor is clearly looking for an alibi for an action that was against the people. He should look elsewhere and not in the direction of Mr. Peter Obi, who, since he left office, and opted to stay away from Awka and not to distract the present government in any way.”
Obienyem said Anambra people expected commendation from Obiano for Obi for the N75 billion in cash and investment he left for him and for restoring the pride of the state when other governors were bequeathing debts to their successor, rather than trying vainly to drag his name to the mud through statements such as this present one linking him to the Boko Haram issue.
He said the present campaign was not the first, recalling that the same people mass produced documentaries against Obi and shared theme free to people.
Meanwhile, angry youths last week brought commercial activities in markets in Anambra State to standstill following the transfer of Boko Haram Prisoners to Ekwulobia Prison.
Thousands of the youths, blocked major roads in the state, including the Bridge Head and the Enugu-Onitsha expressway in Awka, causing traffic gridlock for several hours.
Though the protest was peaceful, policemen in Onitsha were later seen firing tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters.
The Security Operatives, later joined by soldiers stationed at the Uga junction on Atani Road, were also seen removing the barricades used by the youths to block roads.
In all the cities in the state, the youths waved placards with inscriptions that read, “We don’t want Boko Haram prisoners in Anambra.”
“Buhari, Igbos will not accept your prisoners,” “Anambra is special and secured,” “Anambra is not a party to terrorists and should not be involve in it.” “We say no to Boko Haram people in Anambra” and “Buhari, why Anambra.”
President General of Anambra Markets Amagamated Traders Association, AMATAS, Dr. Okwudili Ezenwankwo, who addressed reporters in Onitsha said they had from a very reliable source that plans had been concluded to bring suspected Boko Haram prisoners to the state, adding that they would do everything within their power to resist it.
Pressed to say how they got information that such prisoners were to be brought to the state Ezenwankwo said: “We have our ears on Ground and that is the much we can say for now. We were informed that federal government wants to transfer the Boko Haram to Anambra State and this is unacceptable to us.
“If you visit the Ekwulobia prison, you will discover that something is going on there. We are not against President Muhammadu Buhari, but we want him to keep these special prisoners where they belong.
“We know our President is a good man and he will not do anything that will cause insecurity in this part of the country to add to the existing one caused by Boko Haram insurgents. Anambra is peaceful and we don’t want Boko Haram to come and cause confusion.”
According to Ezenwankwo, Anambra traders have already brought the matter to the attention of Governor Willie Obiano, adding that the governor was mandated by the traders to take their protest over the matter to president Buhari.
Moreover, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Anambra State Chapter also asked the federal government to urgently relocate the Boko Haram suspects in Ekwulobia prison in the state to other places outside the south east.
The call which was contained in a communiqué issued by the body after a marathon meeting on Monday in Awka came on the heels of protests by the body’s women and youth wings as well as clerics under the aegis of (WOWICAN) at the Emmaus House in the city against the camping of the Boko Haram suspects at the Ekwulobia prison facility.
The protesters, who indicted the Archbishop of the Diocese on the Nigeria and Dean, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Christian Efobi, Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese Most Rev. Paulinus Ezekafor, Anglican Bishop of Awka, Most Rev. Alex Ibezim, Bishop of the Niger West, Most Rev. Johnson Ekwe and Bishop Samuel Ezeofor among others denounced the relocation of Boko Haram inmates to Anambra State.
“We have not slept since the ugly situation in Ekwulobia,” “Anambra CAN says no to Boko Haram,” WOWICAN rejects Boko Haram,” some of the placards they wielded read.
The situation they insisted had created undue fear and panic among Ekwulobia people, while the residents in the area are relocating to other communities for safety.
But the communiqué after the emergency meeting of the State Executive and Leaders of CAN forum in the State and signed by the State Chairman of the association, Tim Okpala, said that though the Ekwulobia prison is a federal facility and that the federal government has the power to use it for inmates from any part of the country, bringing Boko Haram insurgents to the prison in the State poses a security threat to the lives and properly in the State.
Meanwhile, irked by the recent relocation of the 47 unconvicted Boko Haram members to the Ekwulobia prisons, a civil rights group identified as Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network Yesterday dragged the federal government to court, seeking a reversal of the action.
The organization demanded the immediate relocation of the 47 unconvicted Boko Haram members from Anambra to the northern part of the country where the offence was committed.
The group is asking the court in the suit (FHC/AWK/CS/296/15), which was filed yesterday at the Federal High Court, Awka, for a declaration “that the continued detention of the unconvinced 47 Boko Haram members at the Ezinifite/Ekwulobia prisons, Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State and subsequent commencement of their trial at the expiration of the 90 days maximum days of detention stipulated by the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013, posses a grave threat to the right to life of the applicants and the entire people of Ezinifite/Ekwulobia, in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, which is guaranteed by sections 33 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. (As amended and article 4, of the African charter on Human and Peoples Rights, (Ratification and Enforcement Act) Cap A9 Laws of the Federal of Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.”
The applicant is also seeking for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, whether by themselves, their agents proves or otherwise howsoever from further transferring other Boko Haram members to the Ezinifite/Ekwulobia, Aguata Local Government Area, Anambra State. Basil Chukwu the programme officer of the organization deposed to the affidavit in support of the suit.
The applicant further insisted that the respondents with their actions are likely to infringe on the fundamental right to life of the applicants and the people of Ezinifite/Ekwulobia, Anambra State, adding that it was unconstitutional for the respondents to take an action that would affect the constitutional right to life of the applicants and the people of Ezinifite/Ekwulobia, Anambra State.
However, the All Progressives Congress, APC, South East geopolotical zone, has described as blatant falsehood alleged plan by the Federal Government to transfer suspected Boko Haram detainees to Ekwulobia prison in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State.
The spokes person of the party in the South East, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said in a statement, “we wish to categorically state that the rumour making the rounds that Boko Haram detainees will be transferred to Anambra State or any other state for that matter is blatant falsehood.
“We have made contacts with the presidency, Nigeria prison service, Ministry of Internal Affairs and they have assured us that there is no iota of truth in the mischievous rumour.
“In the clarification, Nigeria prison service stated unequivocally that most of the terror – suspects are awaiting trial and so there is no way they can be moved to another state because they must be tried in the state where they committed the crime. “They went further to state that their primary and traditional duty is to move detainees from prison to trial courts and that moving high profile suspects from a distance more than 1000 kilometers from Maiduguri to Onitsha will be near to very difficult.”
Okechukwu appealed to compatriots to disregard the blackmail and sinister rumour describing it as the antics of rear-guard elements yet to recover from their failure in the March 28 presidential election.
“We assure our people that the change President Muhammadu Buhari promised is real. The 2nd Niger Bridge, Federal Roads, Enugu coal and other physical and social infrastructure in the South East will be revamped,” he said.
Also reacting to the development, the All Progressives Congress APC, in Anambra State, in a statement signed by Publicity Secretary, Okelo Madukaife, said: “We have gathered that the traders and other unsuspecting citizens were used to obstruct free flow of traffic points into Anambra State.”
“The deployment of inmates to prisons around the country is a federal government affair guided by prime paramilitary considerations, and managed by the Nigeria Prisons Service to which all lawful authorities in Anambra state have access.
“There is no clear directive from the Nigeria prisons service or any other arm of the federal government of Nigeria under our knowledge that has been communicated or known to the Anambra public and as such, it is like moving in a whirlwind with the risk of endangering the lives of unsuspecting critizens to respond to any such whirlwind tales.”
“The decision to close markets and rob businessmen in those markets of the day’s earnings is a political whiff guided by a self serving and self-preserving desire to incite the good people of Anambra State against the federal government and by extension the APC particularly in Anambra State.
“We urge the good people of Anambra State to avoid building their lives around rumours, knowing that during the SAP Riots of 1989, many lives were lost before the nation understood that they were reacting to false rumours. Rather, we urge fellow citizens to strengthen access to official information and go about their normal and lawful business. We urge that all orders to close markets in Anambra State must be properly declared in order to avoid shift in responsibility.”