South-East Traders join protest over relocation of Boko Haram prisoners, as Soldiers take over Anambra prisons
Few days after Anambra-based traders under the auspices of Anambra State Amalgamated Traders Association (AMATAS) shut down all markets in the State to protest the widely-believed relocation of Boko Haram convicts to Ekwulobia Prison, traders from the entire South-East region today showed solidarity to the cause by staging a 7-hour protest in Ekwulobia, to demand that the prisoners be moved back to the North.
The South-East solidarity protest is coming on the heels of the information that 47 members of the dreaded Islamic sect were moved to Ekwulobia prison in Aguata Local Government Area few days ago, after some soldiers were deployed to the prisons premises, prompting governor Obiano to embark on an emergency visit to President Muhammadu Buhari over the issue.
The South-East traders comprising traders from Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra States during the solidarity protest marched around major roads in Ekwulobia urban, chanting anti-Boko Haram songs and calling on the Federal Government to withdraw the terrorists from the area and any other part of Igboland.
Some of the placards they carried read: “ No Place for Boko Haram in Igboland.’’ “ Buhari, return Boko Haram Prisoners to the North,” “ Boko Haram Prisoners are Not Our Share of Democracy Dividends”
Addressing the traders the Coordinator of South-East Traders Association, Chief Chigozie Akudolu stated that the protest was to show solidarity with the traders, residents and citizens of Anambra State over the reported relocation of suspected Boko Haram prisoners, saying it was ill-timed and laden with a hidden agenda.
Chief Akudolu disclosed that a number of traders of the South-East zone were displaced and some of them fell victims of Boko Haram insurgency in the North, stressing that the ordeal they are suffering is fresh in their mind and appealed to the Federal Government to return the prisoners back to the North where they committed the terror crimes.
Also speaking, the President of AMATAS, Aguata Zone, Chief Emmanuel Ozoemenam who doubles as the Vice President of the Anambra State Chapter described the solidarity visit and protest by the South-East Traders Association as timely, pointing out that the protest came against the backdrop that despite the protest by traders in Anambra State, the Federal Government reportedly went ahead to transfer the terrorists to Ekwulobia prisons.
Chief Ozoemanam appealed to the Federal Government to withdraw both the suspected Boko Haram prisoners and soldiers deployed to guard them, saying their presence had unleashed a climate of fear in Igboland.
He said traders in the State protested that the terrorists should not be transferred, adding that the solidarity rally by South-East traders was to protest the report that Boko Haram prisoners have indeed been moved to Ekwulobia few days ago.
According to him, “It is wrong to transfer Boko Haram Prisoners who committed heinous crimes in the North to Anambra State. Federal Government should try criminals in the place they commit crime. We don’t have insurgency in the East but in the North. Federal government should take them back, if it is true, they have already been transferred to Ekwulobia. ”
He said the withdrawal of the terrorists and soldiers from Anambra State prisons would help to disabuse the mind of the people who have quickly jumped to conclusion that “the move is part of the reported agenda to Islamize Nigeria under Buhari.”
Investigations by our correspondent, revealed that after the warder in charge of Ekwulobia prisons, in the presence of few armed warders, denied that suspected Boko Haram prisoners were transferred to Ekwulobia prisons at 5.30 pm, some newly-posted soldiers, carrying mattresses and mats, were seen about 6pm of last Saturday, some thirty minutes later, asking villagers the route to, and location of the Ekwulobia prisons.
The villagers became more apprehensive of the presence of the said Boko Haram terrorists following the unusual entry of many soldiers into the sleepy community, which lacks federal government presence, despite sharing a boundary with Igboukwu, a 9th Century community where archeological artifacts were discovered to prove the ancient origins of Igbo civilisation. Ekwulobia, though in Aguata LGA shares a common boundary with Oko, in Orumba North LGA, the country-home of the former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
The two routes leading to the Ekwulobia prisons have been cordoned off by stern-looking soldiers who have continued with their stop-and search operation on vehicles, and motorcyclists plying the now dreaded area since their arrival and the news about the terrorists went viral.
The presence of both the soldiers and terrorists is creating tension among the villagers and citizens of the State who now shun the two roads passing in front and besides the prisons yard. The result is that residents have to trek about an hour to cover about 3 kilometres before getting home which ordinarily would take them three minutes drive from the major road or market.
When our correspondent visited the Office of Aguata Local Government Council Chairman, Hon. Umeoji, he was not on seat, but the Secretary to the Council, Hon. Peter Ezenwankwo confirmed that there was demonstration at Ekwulobia round-about, leading to closure of shops.
Hon. Ezenwankwo said though the federal government has the right to move prisoners to any part of the country, he expressed worry that the Ekwulobia Prisons does not meet the standard of any of the Maximum Security Prisons where such terror convicts should be kept, adding that the premises had no security wall but wire gauze around the seeming unsecured premises.
An Aba-based trader who pleaded anonymity said he rushed home from his Aba base after the news broke that suspected Boko Haram prisoners were transferred to his Ezi-Agulu village in Ekwulobia, saying he had concluded arrangement to move his family and extended family members out of the village for fear of the presence of the terrorists and stern-looking non-Igbo speaking soldiers.
According to him, “the present action of the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government is a show of might to intimidate the people of the South-East who did not vote for him during the last Presidential election.
A motorcyclist who confided in our correspondent, disclosed that the soldier he dropped off was curiously asking him, if there was any plan by Movement for the Actualization of Republic of Biafra (MASSOB), to storm the Ekwulobia prisons.