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Anambra and the politics of Boko Haram prisoners’ relocation

In this piece, DAVID-CHYDDY ELEKE takes a look at the politics and outdry that has trailed the relocation of some Boko Haram prisoners to Aguata prison in Ekwulobia, Anambra State.

It started like a rumourlast two weeks Saturday, with traders rallying themselves in the major cities of Anambra to protest the planned relocation of some Boko Haram prisoners to the state. The protest which was led by market leaders in Onitsha, Nnewi, Awka and Ekwulobia was first dismissed as a needless exercise fueled by a baseless rumour. Even the traders were not sure if the rumour was authentic, but because of the fear of the book haram sect and the havoc they are capable of causing, the traders were compelled to join in the protest, in which they warned the President Muhammadu Buhari led government not to contemplate moving the terror suspects to any prison in the south east, let alone the state.
The news of the planned relocation was first shot down as baseless rumour by the presidency, which denied any plan to carry out the action, their denial was followed by that of the All Progressives Congress(APC) and latter the prisons authority stated same. Following all these denials, most people were of the view that the populace may have been sold a dummy, but this did not last as on Monday morning, reality dawned on all as the dreaded members of the sect 47 in number were said to have been moved into Aguata prison in Ekwulobia in the middle of the night.
This was in defiance to a press release made by the Anambra State government in which it had chronicled reasons why Aguata prison was not a suitable place for people like the Boko Haram suspects to be kept. Some of the reason include that the Ekwulobia prison was a small prison, and was also not built as a maximum prison. The release stated that the prison is built to hold a total number of 85 inmates, but was currently playing host to 125 people, and that this was a pertinent reason why the relocation should not be done. Beyond all, terror suspects are meant to be kept in far away places and not prisons located in the heart if town like Aguata prisons. It cited the Guantanamo bay built strictly to habour serious terror suspects and keep them away from others.
The defiance of the federal government sparked off another round of protests from the people of Ekwulobia and environs, who believe that their community was not the best place to dump deadly criminals like the Boko Haram terror suspects. The protesters comprised of traditional rulers, clergy, traders, young men and women as well as the aged. Business activities were paralyzed as traders locked their shops to protest of the development. Speaking during the protest, the chairman of Aguata Local government arae, Mr. Tony Umeoji said the transfer of the Boko Haram prisoners to  the place was politically motivated and an attempt to interrupt the development and peace being witnessed in Anambra State.

“I must tell you that this development will chase away intending investors to Anambra State thereby setting back the wheel of progress of the state. It is a situation that calls for concern because of the apprehension and restiveness among the people of Ekwulobia. The people are scared and there is a general sense of insecurity in the place. The Ekwulobia prison has a minimum capacity and facility for such high profile  in mates. The prison is 80 bedded and there are already 133 inmates and you are adding another 43 inmates of the Boko Haram
prisoners. That is too much and not healthy for human being”, he said.

A lawmaker representing Aguata II Constituency, Mr. Ikem Uzezie appealed to the authorities concerned and President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency relocate the Boko Haram inmates to a prison with maximum capacity and facility. “The development calls for concern because the relative peace we have been enjoying has been interrupted” he said. He added that the state House of Assembly when it reconvenes would deliberate on the matter with a view to prevailing on the presidency to redress the issue.

A new twist to the matter however emerged last weekend, with the Anambra State government absolving the President Buhari government of complicity in the relocation. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra Stated said former President, Goodluck Jonathan and his predecessor, Peter Obi responsible afor the transfer of Boko Haram detainees to Ekwulobia prisons in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. Speaking through his Senior Special Adviser on political matters, Mr. Chinedu Obidigwe, Obiano said the decision to transfer the prisoners was taken during a seminar organized for officers and men of the Nigeria Prison Service, NPS, in 2012.
According to him, “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 State had been made since 2012 under the regimes of President Goodluck Jonathan and Mr. Peter Obi. Since the transfer of the 47 inmates, panic has gripped the people of Ekwulobia as residents in the area are apprehensive of an imminent attack by members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect”, he said
Meanwhile, well meaning people from Anambra State have condemned the relocation of the prisoners to Anambra State.  Some prominent citizens of the Anambra State who spoke to our correspondent said if the rumour was true, then the move was condemnable as every society has its own ills and as such alien problems should not be imposed on them.
The immediate past national chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Umeh told reporters that the move was ill thought out. He said what Anambra and Nigerians are asking for is positive change and not what could be seen as exportation of Boko Haram to other regions where they never existed. Umeh said the government of Chief Willie Obiano has invested a lot to achieve a secured and safe state, and any attempt to bring Boko Haram prisoners to Anambra was a breach of peace.
He said, “These people are criminals who already know how to find their way, they can cause a jail break, and once this happens, you and I are no longer safe. I think they should keep their prisoners in the north east.” Umeh commended the traders who quickly mobilized and protested the order, saying that the order was capable of polluting the peace that has been worked for in Anambra and the south east.
Also speaking, Chief Godwin Ezeemo, a businessman and leader of Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA in Anambra frowned at the president’s directives  and said that such action was capable of causing  chaos . Ezeemo said that such directives was not in tandem with social reformation and co peaceful existence as such mix up would pollute their mind set of those in prison who have committee  civil offence and are awaiting trial either for sentences or release.
He said that the government should have made improvised prison where only people with such  minds would be kept and placed under reformation to get them back to normal living. According to him, mixing the extremists with the ordinary prisoners portends more danger than they were trying to prevent, in American such case was handled by placing the identified terrorist in a special cell and decision was taken on them. Ezeemo called on the Federal government to have a rethink on the decision and see that such decision would breed bad blood in the minds of the Igbo’s and should avoid such actions that could lead to unrest in the country.
AS it stands, Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano has called for calm from the people of the state, asking them to go about their normal duty and be rest assured that his government will continue to explore the right channels for the relocation of the deadly Boko Haram suspects back to the north.

Ifeizu

Ifeizu is a seasoned journalist and Managing Editor of TheRazor. He has wide knowledge of Anambra State and has reported the state objectively for over a decade.

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