• Obiano, Ohanaeze youths protest
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja, Charles Onyekamuo in Awka and Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia with agency report â€¨
There was uncertainty monday over the status of 47 Boko Haram suspects alleged to have been relocated from detention centres in the North-east to Ekwulobia Prisons in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State in the wee hours Sunday morning amid water tight security.
Whilst an official of the prison told THISDAY on the condition of anonymity yesterday that they arrived after midnight on Sunday, confirming THISDAY’s story yesterday that suspected Boko Haram prisoners of war (PoWs) had been moved to prisons nationwide, the headquarters of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) in Abuja denied their relocation.
The arrival of the prisoners, which was common knowledge among residents of the state who discussed the development in public places, created tension across Anambra.
The rumour of the planned relocation of the captured Boko Haram prisoners to the Ekwulobia Prisons had on Saturday sparked off protests in the state’s major cities of Onitsha, Awka, Nnewi and Ekwulobia crippling economic activities statewide with the attendant confusion everywhere.
Reacting to the development, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Mr. James Eze, had Sunday night issued a statement exonerating his boss, Chief Willie Obiano, of any complicity in the planned relocation of the Boko Haram prisoners to the state.
He frowned on what he called “mischievous speculation” in the social media that the planned relocation of the prisoners to Anambra prisons had the tacit approval and endorsement of his principal, saying it was to the contrary.
In a statement titled: “The Planned Relocation of Boko Haram Convicts to Anambra Prisons: Setting the Records Straight”, Eze said that on getting wind of the planned relocation of the high-risk prisoners to the state, Obiano quickly swung into action and contacted the relevant authorities to seek clarification on the matter, after which he raised several objections to the plan.
Among Obiano’s objections, he said, included the fact that Anambra had remained one of the most peaceful states in the country in the past one year under his watch and that the arrival of these radical elements in any part of the state could disrupt the peace and instill a regime of fear in the state.
He said Obiano informed the authorities that “Ekwulobia Prisons is not a maximum security prison. It is therefore not suitable as a holding place for convicted terrorists. Global experience shows that terrorists and terror suspects are kept in strongly fortified and isolated places.
“A good example is the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp where the US keeps high-risk terror suspects and convicts which is a military facility, located away from the people.
“Ekwulobia Prisons does not fit into this category of detention facilities. The prisons has a capacity to hold 85 inmates. At the moment, there are 135 inmates in the prison. Therefore, there is no space for new prisoners. The acute shortage of space presents a high possibility for the radicalisation of other inmates by the Boko Haram convicts.
“Unlike other locations where the terror-convicts are held in sparsely populated areas which makes their isolation from the people easy, Ekwulobia is a densely populated town. There is a very high risk of contact between these radical prisoners and the civilian population with avoidable danger.
“The relocation of these prisoners to Anambra may not have paid adequate attention to the sensibilities of the country, especially the fact that some ethnic populations have suffered the most from the activities of these convicts across the North”.
The media aide said Obiano’s efforts to establish an understanding and achieve a speedy and peaceful resolution of the matter went to the highest authorities, adding that he was assured that the matter would be looked into with a view to resolving it with dispatch.
Similarly, the relocation of the Boko Haram PoWs to Anambra elicited a reaction from the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC), which called on the federal government to reverse the decision.
In a statement issued yesterday in Umuahia by the National President of OYC, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, the body vehemently kicked against “exportation of terrorism to the peaceful South-east region”.
He wondered how “anybody would contemplate relocating terror suspects who had wreaked havoc in the North-east to the South-east which shares no geographical boundaries with the hotbed of Boko Haram”.
He said that relocating the terror suspects to any federal prison in the South-east would lead to exposing the region to terrorist attacks.
To buttress their fear, the Ohanaeze youths recalled that some prison facilities in the North including Abuja “with their sophistication” had severally come under attack by Boko Haram in their desperation to free their members detained in such facilities.
“Ohanaeze wants to warn the federal government to rescind the relocation of Boko Haram suspects to an Anambra prison,” the statement said.
The OYC national president further stated that the move to bring terror suspects to South-east was done in bad faith, “hence we view such move as a declaration of war on the peaceful and law abiding people of the South-east, and we will vigorously resist any step considered injurious to Ndigbo”.
“The federal government should not export terrorism to Igboland the way Patrick Sawyer exported Ebola to Nigeria because we don’t deserve such treatment,” the youths warned.
The group noted that there was a grand design by the powers that be to exploit the federal system of government to the detriment of the South-east but “we will not tolerate any move, policy or action that will make the South-east the target of Boko Haram terrorists who have ruined some Northern states”.
OYC advised President Muhammadu Buhari not to be deceived into taking any action that would portray him as tribalist, in view of the heterogeneous nature of Nigeria.
”That we voted massively for ex-President Goodluck Jonathan who lost election does not mean that we should be treated as prisoners of war.
“We are equal stakeholders in Nigeria and nobody should try to push us to the wall or take our patience and inestimable sacrifices for the unity of Nigeria as foolishness or sign of weakness.
“Igboland which enjoyed peace and stability under ex-President Jonathan should not be made porous or exposed to terror attacks under the current administration,” the statement said.
However, when contacted, the NPS in Abuja dismissed the claim that Boko Haram prisoners had been transferred to the Ekwulobia Prisons in Anambra State, stating that it was “logistically impracticable and legally challenging to transfer Boko Haram suspects to the South-east”.
Speaking to THISDAY, the Public Relations Officer of NPS, Francis Ebohon, said the Ekwulobia Prisons is purposely built for convicted criminals and not for suspects awaiting trial, “particularly Boko Haram suspects”.
“It is logistically impracticable and legally challenging to transfer Boko Haram suspects to the South-east since they can only be tried close to the place they committed the office, which is the North-east.
“The arrangement with NPS was that only terrorists who have been tried and convicted by a competent court of law can be transferred to our custody,” he said.
Despite the denial, another source in the NPS, disclosed that there was already an arrangement in place to transfer Boko Haram convicts and repentants to an undisclosed location in the South-east for proper rehabilitation.
He said the plan and choice of the South-east and other undisclosed locations far away from the epicentre of the insurgency in the North was meant to ensure that convicted and repentant sect members are prevented from accessing the environment where they might be re-indoctrinated or could regroup to escape.
He revealed that the special rehabilitation centre is located between Enugu and Anambra States, adding: “You know there is a rehabilitation programme for reprentant Boko Haram members and those who were indoctrinated, even the convicts.
“So the perfect plan is to ensure that they are not located in an environment close to where they can be re-indoctrinated or escape.”