A mass exodus of residents has hit Anambra State following the increasing level of violence ahead of the governorship election coming up in the state on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the popular Eke-Awka market in Awka, the state capital, was thrown into serious pandemonium yesterday following a clash between rival cult groups during which two of their members were killed and many others sustained bullet wounds and machete cuts.
LEADERSHIP gathered that traders and their customers fled as gunfire rented the air in the market. Two youths were shot dead at the Gbalingba area of the market, with some of the cult members pursuing one another with guns, axes and machetes.
LEADERSHIP gathered that parts of the state mostly hit by the mass exit of people are the major town, including Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, Ekwulobia and Ihiala.
It was learnt that most of the hotels in parts of Enugu State, especially, Enugu, the state capital, and Nsukka, the university town, are fully taken up by people running away from Anambra State ahead of the governorship election.
Some people are also relocating to nearby Asaba in Delta State to take up temporary refuge.
LEADERSHIP learnt that many non-natives of Anambra are relocating to their village to return after the election.
“Many people leaving with us here in Awada, they have travelled. Since yesterday (Saturday) people have been travelling because many people have been killed. On Friday they killed P and T; he is the owner of P and T Block Industry. We are also planning to travel to the village, to stay there until after the election”, a resident of Awada, an Onitsha suburb town of Obosi, Idemili South local government told LEADERSHIP.
As a result of insecurity, between 7:30pm and 8pm most of the streets in major cities, especially in Awka, would be empty of activities as most residents retire to their homes to stay out of harm’s way.
Gates have been mounted on entry and exit points of virtually all the streets in Awka, and they are usually locked from 10pm.
When contacted, spokesman of the Anambra State Police Command, DSP Ikenga Toochukwu, urged those leaving the state out of fear to come back as he assured them that the command was prepared to provide adequate security before, during, and after the governorship election.
“Those who are leaving the state are actually acting based on speculation. I can assure you that we are on top of the situation. People should stop panicking; they should rather give information to the police concerning criminal elements, and acts of criminality.
“As for the killings you said that happened at Eke Awka market, I am yet to get the details”, the state police imagemaker told LEADERSHIP on phone.
From Abuja, Nigeria Police Force assured the people of Anambra State that the police were prepared to safeguard the citizens of the state before, during and after the elections.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP on phone last night, Force spokesman, CP Frank Mba, told Anambra people to be assured that the police will protect them as they had done.
He also said the police had foiled several attacks by unknown gunmen and there was no need for the voters to fear.
And worried by the escalating security crisis in the South East, traditional and religious leaders from the zone have urged the federal government and other stakeholders to explore dialogue and negotiation to speed up de-escalation of insecurity and dislocation of the region.
The leaders also urged government to take immediate steps to de-proscribe the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and release its leader, Nnamdi Kanu and all IPOB members being held in various detention facilities in Nigeria.
In a joint statement by the leaders in the region, they assured Igbo youths that they are concerned about their cries of marginalisation, injustice and longsuffering, just as they urged them to de-escalate the tension and remain law-abiding to enable them engage the federal government in finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
They further urged IPOB not to do anything that would hinder the smooth conduct of the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State just as they asked them to cancel all scheduled sit-at-home orders, saying they had caused untold hardship to the people.
The statement was jointly signed by chairman, South East Council of Traditional Rulers, H.M. Igwe Charles Mkpuma who also doubles as chairman, Ebonyi State Traditional Rulers Council; and his counterparts in Abia, H.M. Eze Joseph N. Nwabeke; Anambra, H.M. Obi Nnaemeka Achebe; Enugu, H.M. Igwe L.O.C. Agubuzu; and Imo, H.M. Eze Dr E.C. Okeke;
Others are Most Rev. Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, Catholic Archbishop of Owerri; Most Rev. Dr Emmanuel O. Chukwuma, Anglican Archbishop of Enugu; Most Rev. Dr. Chibuzo R. Opoko, Methodist Archbishop of Umuahia; Most Rev. Dr. Valerian M. Okeke, Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha.
Others are Most Rev. Dr Uma A. Onwunta, Past Principal Clerk, Presbyterian Church Nigeria; Bishop Obi Onubogu, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; and Rev. Dr. Abraham Nwali, chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), South East Zone.
The leaders, who noted that the security crisis has deepened the hardships being faced by the citizens and rendered prostrate the socio-political and economic lives of the people, requested audience with President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss possible political solutions to secure the release of IPOB leader Kanu and other security issues in the region.
The statement reads in part: “We, the South East Council of Traditional Rulers and the Representatives of Igbo Archbishops and Bishops, note with deep concern the high level of insecurity and socio-economic disruption in the South East Zone of Nigeria. This has deepened the hardships being faced by the citizens and rendered prostrate the socio-political and economic lives of our people.
“Flowing from similar initiatives taken to bring peace to other troubled parts of the country, we urge the federal government and other stakeholders to explore dialogue and negotiation in resolving critical issues that threaten national unity, cohesion and development.
“Accordingly, we refer to our earlier request for the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu to the South East Council of Traditional Rulers and the Representatives of Igbo Archbishops and Bishops, and restate this call even more strongly.
“We are of the firm belief that this act of courage and statesmanship is not only imperative but will speedily de-escalate the heightened state of insecurity and dislocation in the South East Zone.
“We also urge President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government to take immediate steps to de-proscribe the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and release all IPOB members being held in various detention facilities in Nigeria.
“We call on the federal government to take urgent steps to demilitarize the South East Zone, more so as it has become apparent that a continued military siege on the region can only lead to heightened tension, skirmishes and endless bloodletting between the security agencies and our youths. It has become urgent, imperative and compelling to de-emphasize the military option and move towards finding a political solution that will lead to sustainable peace.”
The South East traditional and religious leaders noted that heightened inequality and marginalization remain at the core of youth restiveness in the region.
They went on: “We urge our apex national leadership to note that until it takes deliberate steps to run government on the basis of fairness, equity, justice and non-discrimination, this restiveness is likely to continue.”
They assured the region’s youths that their cries of marginalization, injustice and longsuffering had been heard, but that they should de-escalate the tension and remain law-abiding to enable the leaders engage especially the federal government towards finding a lasting solution to the crisis.
This is just as they called on the candidates in the forthcoming Anambra State governorship election to eschew violence and commit to free, fair and credible election.
Yiaga Africa Urges INEC To Distribute PVCs To New Voters
Meanwhile, an independent election observer group, Yiaga Africa, has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to commence the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to new registrants ahead of the governorship election in Anambra.
Director of programmes, Yiaga Africa, Cynthia Mbamalu, made the call in the fourth Watching the Vote (WTV) pre-election report in Awka yesterday.
Mbamalu said: “Yiaga commends INEC for its efforts to distribute the PVCs from previous registrations.
“However, we are worried that, with less than few days to the election, the commission has yet to commence distribution of the PVCs to the 76,104 newly eligible voters.
“These are voters who recently got registered during the Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) in the state. This, if not addressed, could potentially disenfranchise eligible voters.”
Mbamalu noted that insecurity had continued to remain a major threat to the election.
According to her, the current situation of insecurity in the state had hindered political party campaigns, voter education and mobilisation as stakeholders continue to deploy more caution.
She urged election stakeholders to continue to show determination to ensure credible and peaceful conduct of the election.
“Security agencies should partner civil society organisations to promote activities and initiatives that would increase citizens’ confidence and encourage participation in the election.
“Political party candidates and supporters should ensure they promote a peaceful election and encourage citizens to collect their PVCs to vote.
“And the citizens should understand that voting in elections is the legitimate means of making citizens’ voices heard as well as voting in desirable leaders,” she said.