By Ikeugonna Eleke
There are indications that separatist leader, and Finland based factional leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr Simon Ekpa, uses propaganda and scare mongering to achieve the many sit at home directives he orders from his base in Finland.
Ekpa had only recently ordered a week-long sit at home directive, threatening in a video to deal with anyone who dared to come out in all the states of the South East.
He stated that the directive was necessary in order to pressure the Federal Government to release the leader of IPOB, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, who has been in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS), for two years now. Ekpa has often been dismissed by the IPOB as an impostor said to be rather working against Kanu’s release and has long been expelled from the group.
In Anambra State, the week-long sit at home ordered by Ekpa revealed how he uses falsehood to scare South Easterners into obeying his orders.
Ekpa had first circulated rumours of his plan to attack Anambra State on Friday. Previously, gunmen suspected to be loyal to him had on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday attacked Ebonyi and Enugu States.
In Ebonyi, the gunmen who were said to have already been arrested, destroyed wares at Isieke Market, while also terrorising Enugu residents, including innocent schoolchildren who were made to lie down and beg for their lives.
The rumour of a planned attack in Anambra was however ignored on Friday, July 6, as most markets, motor parks and schools opened for business.
Fides experienced first-hand as propaganda was deployed to destabilize the state. The state had remained calm, with businesses going on well, until about 10:30am when rumours of attacks in various parts of the state broke.
This reporter was arriving Aguluzoigbo in Anaocha Local Government Area, alongside other journalists, to keep an appointment, when the first sign of trouble was experienced. St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Aguluzoigbo, was holding a burial Mass of a deceased member when journalists arrived to witness a large consignment of security men, comprising the police, vigilante operatives and soldiers, all at red alert.
A woman, Mrs Jane, who operates a kiosk was frantically trying to close her shop but was urged by security operatives not to. She said: ‘We have just been alerted that gunmen are operating at Afor Agulu, now.’
Surprisingly, this reporter had just driven past the same Afor Agulu to arrive in Aguluzoigbo and noticed no scare at all, or any incident. Further probing however showed that no one could identify anyone who actually experienced the said attack or agreed to knowing anyone attacked at AforAgulu.
The rumour went round the community, causing businesses to hurriedly shut down.
Meanwhile in Awka, Fides gathered that parents were already withdrawing their children from school over rumours that gunmen were operating in other parts of the state.
A parent, Mrs Nwakaego Eleke, who hurriedly withdrew her children from school, said there were rumours that gunmen were operating at Eke Awka Market and would be headed to Aroma afterwards.
But a trader in the market told journalists on the phone that there was no attack in the market but that there was news that Aroma Junction was under siege and that the gunmen would move to Eke Awka Market afterwards.
In Onitsha, a resident,Mr Felix Eze, said: ‘I heard that six people have so far been killed around Upper Iweka. I’m not in Onitsha now, but I have friends who are giving me updates about the happenings in the town.’
When Fides asked Eze to ask any of his contacts if they witnessed any attack personally, he called back to say that all the stories about the attacks were all third party narration as no one actually witnessed any.
Reacting to the rumours, the Anambra State Government and police authorities described it as being orchestrated to destabilize the state.
Press Secretary to the Anambra State Governor, Mr Christian Aburime, attributed the scare to misrepresentation in Onitsha where the Anambra Vigilante Group (AVG) operatives who were on patrol were mistaken for illegal gunmen, causing the scare in the state.
Aburime decried the sustained falsehood on social media by people he described as enemies of Anambra State, who, he said, had been trying to de-market the state.
In his own reaction, the spokesperson of the Anambra State Police Command, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, said: ‘We have observed with great dismay, the mischievous act of persons sharing false security alerts/messages, and doctoring old videos of security incidents to cause tension/panic in the state. Given the above, the Command shall invoke relevant cyber laws on persons found wanting in this regard.’
He dismissed allegations of attacks anywhere in the state, saying that the police had adequately mobilized to counter any attack in the state.
Fides however visited many parts of the state on the same day that people were hurriedly shutting businesses.
This reporter who was in the convoy of the senator representing Anambra Central, Senator Victor Umeh, to visit some erosion sites in the state, drove through several local government areas, including: Nnewi, Anaocha, Idemili North, Idemili South, and Ekwusigo.
Owing to the news of attack advertised by the separatists in some communities, many locals fled on sighting the convoy of the senator.
A public affairs commentator, Barr Julius Ekemezie, said, ‘When people were running up and down, withdrawing their children from school, I knew it was propaganda. Apart from Simon Ekpa, IPOB as a group has mastered the use of propaganda and scaremongering. The only question I asked everyone who spoke about an attack that day was, ‘did you witness it?’, and truth is no one witnessed any attack, they were just sharing false information.’
It can be thus seen that scaremongering, and nothing else, often is the reason why people panic. The hoodlums behind this also often post old videos of their gory activities to the social media which are invariably further circulated by the populace until they get to almost every family or office.
Once this is done, panic sets in everywhere. It can be said to be a situation where the people help the hoodlums to spread their message of terror unwittingly. But it is believed that with more awareness by the authorities and members of the public themselves, this can be mitigated.
Additional reports from Jude Atupulazi