Spectre of insecurity in South East
The confusion that is fast enveloping the South East over insecurity and violent breaches of peace has long been coming.
That it is unleashing seamlessly to the consternation of government is easily the result of official negligence; and often, political grandstanding in the face of real threat to lives and property. Both the federal and the state governments are culprits in this regard.
The Federal Government has failed because it controls the apparatus of state security such as the police and the military, both of which have been unable to contain the onslaught from criminals generally referred to as unknown gunmen, notwithstanding the fact that these have been operating for at least, two years.
Usually, law enforcement operatives arrive at the scene of attack long afterwards. Where they arrest anybody at all, it is the wrong person, thus giving the real perpetrators another opportunity to mobilise and launch another attack. Very sadly, the police themselves have become the major targets of such attacks that have left hundreds of them dead.
Political leaders, especially governors in the region are equally guilty of negligence and lack of political will to do the needful. They talk glibly with false assurance of security while in actual fact, doing very little. For instance, governors, knowing full well that security in that region is too important to be left alone with the police that have shown signs of distress ages ago, set up a regional security outfit called Ebube Agu which, unfortunately, was left to wither, soon after its establishment.
Some governors had urged, even threatened workers to disobey the weekly sit-at-home order by men believed to be members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). But that order has been fruitless in the face of the inability of the government to protect those who venture out on the days concerned, given that many are regularly attacked and killed, with vehicles and buildings set on fire.
Not too long ago, Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo state promised to name and shame those behind attacks and killings in the state. But surprisingly, at the 2022 Imo stakeholders meeting luncheon, the governor made a drastic detour and said he would no longer reveal the names but would leave security agencies to do their job and prosecute those found culpable.
It is hardly surprising therefore that Governor Chukwuma Soludo shut down the 21 local councils in the state over insecurity. Workers in the 21 local councils of the state are to stay home shortly after the state government, South East traditional and religious rulers held a day of prayer in all churches to mark the end of Monday sit-at-home with effect from April.
The shutdown of the local council system was due to a purported letter by a faceless group warning workers to stay off work or be ready to face the music. The killing of a security guard and the burning of two buildings in Nnewi South, followed by the burning of three buildings at Aguata Local Council a few days after, is an indication that the local council system had become the target of the gunmen. Among stations recently attacked were the Divisional Police Station, Ukpor in Nnewi South Local Council area; the Amichi Police Station also in Nnewi South; as well as the burning of the Aguata Local Council headquarters at Ekwulobia.
The lingering insecurity in the South East has not spared Imo and Ebonyi states as most residents have been sent into a state of perpetual fear; 31 people were reportedly killed in South-East in 72 hours about a week ago when gunmen, described as “Effium warlords” invaded Effium/Ezza-Effium in Ohaukwu and part of Ebonyi Local Council Areas. Residents were thrown into mourning and confusion as a middle-aged man was killed a week before his wedding in the state. Also in Anambra, gunmen attacked the police station in Atani, the headquarters of Ogbaru Local Council area of Anambra State, killing four policemen, including a female cop on duty.
It remains worrisome that state security agencies, including the police, have been unable to unravel the mystery of “gunmen”, whether known or unknown. Clearly, the security apparatuses are overwhelmed and require urgent redirection. The present police force is highly endangered, and it is only a matter of time before it is completely over-run. Signs of weakened and subdued police are already palpable all over the country. The earlier the authorities at both state and federal levels start exploring state police options, the better for Nigerians. This would help to decentralise the system and entrust the regions and states with funding and control of the police. Under such arrangement, policemen recruited from the localities can identify and fish out any strange and suspicious face in the state or region.
Policing in Nigeria has been appalling for decades, with few policemen chasing too many criminals, thus encouraging the escalation of crime and criminality in the land. The state of insecurity across the country has brought with it, untoward consequences on the citizenry as kidnapping, banditry and killings have become the order of the day.
Besides reforming and decentralising the police, governors in the South East need to pay more than lip service to security. Threatening workers to compulsorily go to work, against sit-at-home orders by unknown killers, is mere grandstanding, akin to putting the cart before the horse. It has not worked in both Imo and Anambra states and will not work in other states until the government gets to grip with the cause of insecurity. Ironically, Governor Uzodimma the other day asked Abuja for an increase in manpower of security agencies, and logistics support for arms and ammunition, which points to a worsening state of insecurity in the state.
Similarly, Governor Soludo’s offer of amnesty to militants in the state does not promise peace, unless the militants are part of the agreement. So far, there is no such indication; and the questions remain: who are these unknown gunmen in the east and how will Governor Soludo identify and trust them? Again, the issue of amnesty needs careful handling; else it becomes an avenue to use insecurity as a cash cow to benefit some people.
While governors in the South East are concerned that killers in their midst may be coming from outside the region, they should put in place measures to meaningfully engage their youths, many of whom are culprits in the pervading violence. More importantly, they should be at the forefront of canvassing for restructuring of the country as a permanent solution to the unfolding anarchy.