BY: Celestine Mel (April 3, 2021)

Between 1999 and 2015, notable politicians in the major political parties established all sorts of ragtag armies, to assist them win power by all means. In Akwa Ibom in particular, young persons got sucked in by many a politician who recruited, trained, armed and harvested their beastly skills, to commit havoc against opponents. There is a long list of unresolved victims of these shenanigans floating around the internet, well known to the security agencies and law enforcement. Still, no consequences.

The culture of using verbal violence to incite people against one another – tribe against tribe, region against region, religion against religion, etc., by despicable xenophobes like the randy Nnamdi Kanu and other godless politicians, who profiteer maximally from the collective instability and dysfunctional state of our country, is the surest road to Kigali. So many have died needlessly, by following these heinous outbursts.

The level of poverty and youth unemployment, especially in Akwa Ibom State, which the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts at a frightening 45.2% in the last employment report of March 2021, is enough reason for instability and violence.

Nnandi Kanu’s incendiary propaganda and his corrosive rhetoric add extra gunpowder to an already burning conflagration. I recall that when he started his stupid agitation, he was treated with kid gloves. He was hero of the southeast. Politicians courted him for photo opportunities. Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe stood surety for him in the courts when he was finally entangled. He obviously ran away, assisted and goaded on by a pliant and complacent irrational and emotional public. Neither Senator Abaribe, nor all those who ensured his escape have been made to pay for his sins. Now, the harvest has come.

The lack of consequences for bad behavior bolsters major actors to continue in perfidy. Between 2007 and 2015 alone, persons who held the reigns of power in Akwa Ibom, recruited and used armed youth militias to kill opponents and steal elections. Young exuberant minds were polluted by these actions, which are sadly becoming normalized in our country. Some of the beneficiaries of these activities are still making waves and sitting at policy decision tables at the highest level of governance in Nigeria, their fingers dripping with blood. No gainsaying that violence pays and is like an anointed policy of statecraft. In Borno. Yobe. Zamfara. Kaduna. Etc.

I would never stop to preach about the need for governments at all levels to take charge and take control. There is no space in Nigeria that is not governed. From the family unit to village, clan, community, ward, local government, state and the federal government. Any incident like this points to failure of governance, failure of parenting and failure of religion. How come that a group would operate in a community so close to home yet, no one raised alarm? Where was the Village Head, Clan Head and the Paramount Ruler when these monsters setup camp in Essien Udim? Where were the pastors and traditional rulers? Where were the organized youth? Where was the DSS and the Police? What manner of society would continue to fight against insurgency from all corners when these sorts of situations could be nipped in the bud at the onset? Where are the churches?

This reminds me of a similar situation in my own village in 2015. An exact replica of this scenario. Politicians recruited an alumnus of the Bakassi Boys for electoral use. After elections, he setup a cell called Akwa Marine in my community and terrorized everyone. They killed and maimed. They roasted victims alive. We rallied round at a very huge cost to uproot them, even with stiff opposition from major politicians and key state officials. They are undergoing trial till this day, six years after.

Tackling insecurity in Nigeria requires multi-pronged effort by all. There is urgent need for government at all levels to take back control and monopoly of violence. Crime must attract dire consequences. Criminals must pay for their work in 1000 folds. That is the only way the attraction for levying war against the state would cease. Also, the people of Essien Udim aught to rise up in unison to reject this alien undertaking. The right to self-determination is recognized by the UN charter on human and people’s rights. But that does not include the right to determine the fate of others as well. If some people of Igbo ethnic extraction want to have a country called Biafra, we in Annang nation consider the idea an aberration. Nigeria with all the imperfections, is still a better deal than the scam utopia of Nnamdi Kanu’s fraudulent Biafra. Annang people, including my grandmother paid the supreme price for the indiscretion of Ojukwu the last time. Not anymore. We must rise to clearly take a stand against this alien invading force.

The problem of youth unemployment needs to be seen as an existential threat. An idle mind they say, is the devil’s workshop. I have recommended several ways to get our people back to work. Rather than continue the nonsensical approach of handing our cash and motorbikes to young energetic people as empowerment, government, including the ill-fated NDDC must rise to create strategic initiatives to curb the menace – skills acquisition, vocational and technical training are ways to go. Similarly, the dearth of public infrastructure contributes to the crises. Essien Udim is a highly rural area. The particular axis of this imbroglio is the Aba-Ikot Ekpene highway which has been abandoned to decay by successive administrations in the States and the country in the past 30 years. That road, which served as a major trading and business link between Akwa Ibom and Aba in Abia State, is now a den for all sorts of criminals. It is sad that the present Buhari regime does not consider that road as critical national infrastructure as it has the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Power supply to Essien Udim is pathetic. Outages last for months. Whenever it flickers, it may stay for a few minutes, only to return after prolonged period again. The criminals know this hence, their incessant operations under the cover of darkness. Something needs to be done urgently in this direction.

There are outlandish stories that the ESN boys are fortified with anti-bullet charms and amulets which give them invincibility powers, and turn military bullets into ordinary water. We are told, they wear pythons and snakes during engagements with the army /police. Who are their spiritual advisers? Certainly, if they exist, they don’t reside in the sky. These are the first people that should be neutralized. Traditional rulers in Essien Udim can help unravel this very quickly. After all, no power has ever been potent enough on earth, to stand the steel determination of the great warriors of Annangland time and again.. We have fought wars and defeated enemies severally. This one cannot be an exception.

The Local Government Chairman – Mr Anthony Luke, himself a veteran of many battles, needs to galvanize the people together, irrespective of political affiliations to route out this dangerous threat. In doing this, the State government must never stand aloof until more people are killed like it did in Ukanafun, Oruk Anam, etc. The messaging must be right. Information management and engagement is key. Every channel of communication, including social media must be activated. Displaced persons need to be taken care of. In my private engagements with the Chairman, he has promised to do all he can to lighten the burden on all IDPs. Assistance from the State and Federal emergency management agencies is necessary at this time.

Politicians who sponsor crime, need to be identified, exorcized and punished, irrespective of political party affiliation. That is the only way to take back control. It is not right that those who deny citizens sleep using criminal gangs, are allowed by the system to remain to enjoy and perpetrate their ignominious acts. Essien Udim is well known as a hotbed of politically motivated violence and crime since 2007. The security agencies know all those who entrenched the culture. How many more would have to die??

Finally, we must deradicalize this country and cleanse it of the evil of violence, while exploring ways to engage our youth in meaningful ventures. The government should never, ever again, negotiate with terrorists and bandits. Never!

* Celestine Mel – BSc (Hons) Calabar, MBA (Scotland), ACIS, ACIBN, MCP is an indigene of Essien Udim. He writes from the FCT-Abuja.

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