WHEN at first I heard that traders all over Anambra State had shut down the markets and were protesting over alleged plans by the Federal Government to send Boko Haram convicts to jails in the state, I did not take it serious. There are things you hear and you simply dismiss them instinctively. But bearing in mind that Igbos only shut down markets to express deep feelings over unfolding issues, I kept an eye on the matter.
I was a little reassured when the All Progressives Congress (APC) spokesman in the South East, Osita Okechukwu, issued a statement debunking the “rumour”. As it stands, it seems the APC spokesman was either ignorant of what the government led by his party was doing or he was only trying to shield it from responsibility for presenting such an explosive Greek gift to the South East within one month of assuming power at the centre. Okechukwu was not the only one playing cover-up. A spokesman of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) said on Radio Nigeria network news on Monday that there was no such thing.
The source said it was not possible to transport Boko Haram terrorists from the far North to Anambra. According to him, it was standard practice to keep awaiting trial detainees closer to the courts where they are being tried, for convenience. He, however, added that the NPS has the right by law to send convicted criminals to any prison in the country.
It turned out that 47 convicted Boko Haram terrorists and prisoners of war (POWs) were actually brought to the Ekwulobia Prisons in Aguata Local Government Area as reported by THISDAY Newspaper. There is also incontrovertible evidence that the Governor of Anambra State and its Chief Security Officer, Chief Willie Obiano, had reached out to the authorities, imploring them to desist from taking measures that could unsettle the atmosphere of peace and security which his administration has fostered in its one year in office to the satisfaction of the people of the state both home and abroad.
The motive behind sending these violent Jihadists to Igboland stinks to high heavens. For avoidance of doubt, nobody is arguing against the Federal Government’s right to send its prisoners to any part of the country. There is nothing ethnic, religious or sectional about crime and correction. But Boko Haram Jihadists are no ordinary criminals. These are people who have condemned their lives to ensure the destruction of Christians, Jews, the West and those who do not believe in their Islamic faith. How would such individuals feel when transferred to a place inhabited by Christians and “unbelievers”? Won’t they feel they’ve been sent to an area of “juicy targets”? More importantly, how do you expect their unwilling “hosts’ to feel?
There must also be a sinister motive in the NPS spokesman denying the posting. Why were they covering it up? Why were they lying?
Again, granting that the NPS has the right to send prisoners to any of its facilities in any part of Nigeria, why send 47 suicide bombers to an already overcrowded Ekwulobia prison? The jailhouse, which has the capacity for 85 prisoners already had 135 inmates before the newcomers arrived. Standard, best practice in parts of the world where terrorists have established footholds demands that such violent criminals are kept in maximum prisons and specialised institutions where they can be effectively caged. They are never kept in the company of other, less devilish convicts for fear of spreading the virus of their warped vision of Islam to others. That was the argument behind quarantining Al Qaeda convicts captured by America and her allies in Guantanamo Bay in remote Caribbean Cuba. You don’t keep such people in high-density towns and force innocent citizens to live in fear.
The Ekwulobia Prisons is a very vulnerable place to keep terrorists. Bearing in mind that Boko Haram has repeatedly carried out bombings of prisons (such as Koton Karfe in Kogi State) to release their incarcerated members, there is nothing to stop them from targeting Ekwulobia, the fourth largest city in Anambra State. If this happens, whoever planned this transfer would have succeeded in exporting Boko Haram terror to the South East. If the worst fears of the locals come to pass, it is capable of breeding dangerous consequences for the peace, stability and unity of our country.
It is important for President Muhammadu Buhari to step into this matter and resolve it. He cannot pretend not to have heard about it. The posting of Boko Haram terror convicts is a very emotive issue for many, especially people who had to flee from the North because of them. Many families have lost loved ones. To have such people brought to their doorsteps amounts to pushing people too far as if to dare them to do their worst.
Those who blamed the people of South East and South for refusing to vote for Buhari can see for themselves why they did what they did. Igbos felt safer under Jonathan because they were led to believe that Buhari who fought the civil war, might, like Olusegun Obasanjo, be hostile to the interests of the Igbo people. Moreover, Buhari’s several pro-Sharia declarations were widely re-published during the campaigns.
Irrespective of who voted for Buhari, he has an obligation as the president of the country to protect the interests of every Nigerian and keep them safe from our common enemies. It will not be wise to play into the hands of these sabre-rattling, so-called “Biafra” activists ranting daily on their pirate radio and seeking to pitch the Igbos against fellow Nigerians. It is such clearly hostile government policy measures that drive the youth to the warm embrace of extremists who do not wish to continue in a union that treats their people with contempt.
We must avoid opening up another front of ferment while trying to tackle the Boko Haram challenge. Buhari should quietly direct the prison authorities to relocate the terrorists to correctional facilities meant for their sort.