When Gov Hope Uzodinma finally addressed Imo people Monday, he informed them that he got reports about the activities of militants in Orlu in the afternoon of that same day. In order to arrest the situation, according to him, a curfew became inevitable in the area. He therefore went ahead to impose a dusk to dawn curfew in ten out of the twelve local government areas that make up Orlu zone.
It is pressing to quickly point out two major shortcomings in the governor’s reaction, and indeed use them as a point of departure in understanding the Orlu situation. First, the governor said he heard about the conflagration on Monday. Meanwhile, for over two weeks, most members of some communities in Orlu, particularly Umutanze, have slept in the bushes during the nights, instead of their homes. Similarly, the overt escalation of hostilities, especially in Okporo community which the governor said he got to know on Monday, actually began in the early hours of Friday, the previous week.
Second, by describing the Orlu situation as militancy, the governor might have unknowingly created a new, wrong narrative that would culminate in the profiling of adult males in Orlu as simple militants. Terrorism, militancy, insurrection and freedom-fighting are all different concepts in political science, and one cannot be confused with the other. So, it is possible the governor does not get his daily security briefings or that he does not act on them.
What are the issues? For a long time, the Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu has consistently told his listeners that a provision for settlement has been made in Orlu forests for Fulani herdsmen. He has also continued to allege that just as Orji Uzor Kalu did at Lokpanta in Umunneochi area of Abia state, Uzodinma has toed a similar path by allegedly giving the herdsmen a settlement in Orlu. Even though this claim has every likelihood to be false, for credible sources from Orlu have been unable to corroborate it, the Government of Imo State has been rather complacent to challenge such ostensible misinformation.
With the belief, or impression, or even delusion that Orlu might serve as a hub of the controversial RUGA program, Nnamdi Kanu reportedly deployed his newly launched Eastern Security Network (ESN) to the bushes and forests around Orlu to dislodge the herdsmen. In one of his broadcasts, Kanu boasted that he was crushing the herdsmen, and said he would not reveal further details about the triumphs of his men in the forests. The stage was set for violence.
A few weeks ago, a police vehicle was attacked by men of the ESN in Orlu. The attackers did a video of the scene, showing the vehicle they had captured. First, they queried the rationale for police to move into the bush to disturb them, and wondered why the police, which they alleged have not confronted the killer herdsmen, would choose to go after them (the ESN) in the bush.
Days later, reports of further clashes between security agents and men of the ESN began to ooze out up until last Friday that soldiers were reported to be in Orlu in search of the corpse of one of their allegedly fallen colleagues. A Sabbath Church in Okporo-Orlu which is said to serve as sanctuary for members of the IPOB and ESN was invaded and some persons reportedly arrested. Also, some buildings belonging to MASSOB were also razed. There was pandemonium. Security agents were shooting everywhere. People scampered for safety.
On Monday, early though, the increasing presence of security agents in Orlu suggested both restoration of security and looming tension. The latter became the case in mid morning when a convoy of vehicles conveying members of the ESN arrived and engaged the security agents in a gun battle. Casualties were recorded. The security agents pulled back. But before then, a fire had razed the Hausa quarters behind the Stadium, with unidentified corpses seen in its wake. Heavy shootings continued afterwards. Stray bullets got innocents, and some dropped dead. Reinforcements continued on both sides until the governor slammed a dusk to dawn curfew.
So, it is important for the government to engage the Orlu situation in a sustainable manner. Curfew, as a temporary measure to defuse tension, may be effective. But it cannot be sustained. First, the situation was never spontaneous. It was never militancy. It built up over the months. There was never some threat analysis by the government in the aftermath of the launch of the ESN.Intelligence failure was glaring. And the misinformation about RUGA in Orlu was never tackled. Before engaging the ESN in a battle in the bush, our security agencies should have been more circumspect. Trained in conventional warfare, they should have known that guerilla warfare which the ESN has adopted is never easily won, and in the end unarmed civilians pay more with their lives.