Barristers & Solicitors
Judiciary hammer falls on Ebonyi Ebubeagu as residents lament rights abuses
Ebonyi ebubeagu

The Ebonyi State security network, ‘Ebubeagu,’ was disbanded by a Federal High Court on February 14 for human rights abuses. Three days later, the state government hinted that the state’s House of Assembly had signed into law another two sets of vigilante outfits. This statement has elicited a range of reactions. EDWARD NNACHI writes

The South-East security apparatus, code-named Ebubeagu Security Outfit, was established in Ebonyi State on December 23, 2021, by Governor David Umahi, who doubles as Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum.

While formally inaugurating the local security machinery at a colourful ceremony at the Pa Ngele Oruta Township Stadium, Abakaliki, the state capital, the governor noted the security outfit was coming on the heels of calls by people in the zone for a security network that will assist the police and other security agencies in fighting crime across the region.

He also hinted that the organisation would aid in mitigating the rising tides of insecurity and other threats orchestrated by Fulani herdsmen in the geopolitical zone.

Umahi  allayed the fears that the outfit was launched for the purposes of attacking and intimidating members of the opposition ahead of the 2023 general elections in the state.

Amid the charge, the Ebubeagu network, like its counterpart in the South-West, the Amotekun, took off in the state against the outcry of many who had hitherto called for its disbandment.

Ebubeagu started well and began to earn the commendation and admiration of some residents of the state, until, as Umahi assuaged, news of its alleged victimisation, intimidation, dehumanisation, and oppression of opposition elements and other innocent citizens began to rend the air.

As the election approached, members of the Ebubeagu Security Outfit were accused of attacking, dehumanising, and maiming opposition members in the state, allegedly at the request of the Ebonyi State Government and overseen by the governor.

Opposition elements have repeatedly accused the ruling APC of gagging them in a bid to have a smooth ride to victory come 2023. This became antithetical to what Umahi assuaged while inaugurating them in 2021.

These alleged acts of oppression, harassment, and brutality, even killings, continued until, on November 9, 2022, it was accused of abducting a former information commissioner in the state and  Peoples Democratic Party chieftain, Chief Abia Onyike.

The PDP stalwart was abducted at a pharmaceutical store while buying drugs by the operatives of Ebebuagu and whisked to its ‘torture’ chamber, stripped naked, and brutalised for over two hours.

The outfit officially admitted he was abducted based on a mistaken identity. This became its albatross.

Undaunted by the seeming ineptitude of the government to call its operatives to order amid condemnation and outcry from innocent citizens, the Ebubeagu network allegedly continued its spree of victimisation and attacks on the masses and opposition politicians in the state.

A convoy of the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance in Ebonyi, Prof. Benard Odoh, was attacked on October 20, 2022, at Iboko in the Izzi Local Government Area of the state on his way to a meeting with party faithful.

A two-term member of the House of Representatives,  Linus Okorie, who arrived in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, from Abuja on Saturday morning (October 16, 2022), was to meet with his supporters on Sunday (October 17) in the Onicha Local Government Area of the state, when the Ebubeagu team whisked him away.

Two opposition youth leaders were abducted, stripped naked, and severely beaten in Okporojo village, the Idima community in the Afikpo South LGA in the state, and were later whisked to Abakaliki on grounds of various unfounded allegations.

On November 12, 2022, the security outfit reportedly attacked youths in the Ohaozara LGA of the state who were attending an Obidient meeting. That incident led to the death of an old woman and left scores of people with varying degrees of injuries.

Within the same period, another PDP chieftain and Lagos-based businessman, Chief Julius Orji (aka Ochiri Edda), was allegedly attacked and missed death by whiskers. The Ebubeagu men were allegedly said to have opened fire on his convoy at Ekoli community in the Afikpo South LGA of the state. This was in addition to the complaints about Ebubeagu operatives destroying opposition campaign billboards and materials at will.

Also, on Thursday night, February 2, 2023, another deadly attack was reportedly unleashed on Prof. Odoh. He was said to have escaped death when his convoy was attacked by gunmen suspected of being assassins in the Ishielu Local Government Area of the state.

A reliable source, who pleaded anonymity, said Odoh was returning from the Agba community in the Ishielu Council, where he had gone for a consultation, when his convoy was ambushed at the Rest House area along the Abakaliki/Enugu Expressway.

It was said that the assailants, who parked an unmarked Sienna bus along the road, opened fire on the convoy of the governorship candidate and riddled his Toyota SUV with bullets.

His driver was reportedly killed during the attack, while his police orderly and three others sustained varying degrees of bullet wounds. And five days later, the police orderly, Inspector Kudu, who was receiving treatment at the Alex Ekwueme Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, died of bullet wounds.

The Ebubeagu outfit was fingered in the attack, but the Ebonyi State Government, a day later, denied the involvement of the local security network in the attack and described it as “green-washing” by APGA.

Three days later, the operatives of the outfit were reportedly said to have attacked the convoy of the PDP senatorial candidate for Ebonyi South Zone, Senator Michael Ama-Nnachi, in the Ohaozara LGA, where he had gone for a meeting with party faithful.

Aside from these attacks, there have been several cases of untoward treatment meted out to residents of the state by the Ebubeagu.

This inadvertently brought the outfit on a collision course, with the masses, who yearned for a drastic change in the status quo.

After he was abducted, tortured, and brutalised based on a ‘mistaken identity,’ the former commissioner, Onyike approached a Federal Court in Abakaliki in 2022 and filed a suit seeking the determination of the legality and constitutionality of the establishment and or operations of Ebubeagu, even to the point of carrying fire arms.

The court disbanded Ebubeagu in the state on Tuesday last week and ordered the defendants to cease from recognising and parading any person or group of persons as the Ebonyi State Ebubeagu Security Agency or otherwise.

According to the court, the disbandment was a consequence of several alleged human rights abuses, extortion, illegal arrests, and illegal use of firearms by the security outfit.

Since last week, the judgment has been met with mixed reactions, with the state government, through the Commissioner for Information, Uchenna Orji, claiming that it was contrary to court processes.

A human rights lawyer in the state, Steve Ugama, described the disbandment as a positive development, especially as the country approaches general elections.

Another Ebonyian, Samsom Nweke, expressed displeasure over the activities of the disbanded Ebubeagu in the state.

A human rights activist, Nweke, who is the Chairman of Human Rights Access and Liberty, Ebonyi State, observed that the objective earlier canvassed for the security outfit by its handler, which later saw to its establishment, had been defeated.

A social media enthusiast and Publicity Secretary of the PDP in Ebonyi State, Comrade Chika Nwoba, hailed Ebubeagu’s disbandment, saying it was in the best interest of the state.

On his part, the Special Security Consultant to the State Government and the All Progressives Congress Chairman, Chief Stanley Okoro-Emegha, noted at a press conference earlier that the state government had begun moves to appeal the judgement.

He expressed optimism that the appellate court would reverse the verdict in due course because, according to him, the outfit had a firm legal backing for its existence.

Corroborating this, the Commissioner for Information, Barr Orji, said the judgement was a miscarriage of justice, an abuse of court processes, and a misapplication of the law.

On Friday, Governor Umahi, in what seemed like succumbing to pressure, agreed that Ebubeagu would no longer function in the state.

During an enlarged security meeting and live broadcast in Abakaliki, however, Umahi disclosed that a legal framework, already before the Ebonyi House of Assembly, for the establishment of two local security outfits has been passed into law to replace the disbanded Ebubeagu in the state.