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Southeast: A region under siege

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Rising Attacks On Security Personnel, Infrastructure Put Zone On Edge

With heavy shootings in the early hours of last Monday, unknown gunmen who chanted what looked like war songs almost reduced to rubble the Imo State Police Command headquarters and the Nigeria Correctional Service facility, both located in Owerri, the state capital. Shielded by thick darkness and armed with sophisticated weapons and 10 Toyota Hilux vans that aided their movement, they succeeded in perpetrating what stands today as the highest onslaught against security facilities in the Southeast zone in the last couple of months. They reportedly operated for over one hour, setting ablaze about 50 operational vehicles parked at the premises of the Police Command headquarters. At the Nigeria Correctional Service facility, they freed about 1,884 inmates.

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The attackers seemingly had a field day, as they could not be repelled even though the facilities were located close to the headquarters of the state MOPOL and the Military Cantonment in Obinze. No enforcement came from these outfits and so far, no arrest has been made in connection with the incident to the chagrin of many Nigerians.

But the greater worry is that while the federal and state governments were still counting their losses and trying to unravel the attackers and their mission the day after, unknown gunmen burned a police station in Ehime Mbano local council of the state. The incident occurred less than one hour after Vice President Yemi Osinbajo left Owerri after inspecting the level of damage on the Police Command headquarters and Correctional Centre in Owerri.

As of the time of filing this report, no group had claimed responsibility for the attack. In fact, an attempt by the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to hang the attack on the neck of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had since been rebuffed. IPOB did not only deny responsibility for the attack, but they also accused the Federal Government of sponsoring attacks on security personnel and infrastructure in the Southeast in order to “militarise the zone”, intimidate its people and frustrate their clamour for the Presidency in 2023.

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As the government and IPOB were still tradings blames, last Thursday morning, unknown gunmen again attacked the Mbieri Divisional Police Headquarters situated in the Mbaitoli local council of Imo State. The gunmen were said to have struck around 1.00 am and immediately released all suspects in custody at the police facility. The hoodlums also took away the phones belonging to suspects and the police operatives at the police station. The attack was the sixth Divisional Police Headquarters to be attacked between February and April in the state.

Nevertheless, the latest attacks on security personnel and facilities in Owerri have brought to the fore the level of insecurity in the Southeast as none of the five states is entirely at peace currently. While Abia, Imo, and Anambra states are confronted by attacks on security officials and infrastructure, Enugu and Ebonyi states are dealing with attacks on innocent farmers by suspected herdsmen.

For example, on March 28, 2021, gun-wielding herdsmen killed over 20 persons and destroyed property worth millions of naira in Egedegede, Obeagu, and Amuzu communities in Ishielu local council of Ebonyi State. The invaders pursued the natives into their farmlands, homes and anywhere their legs could carry them before snuffing lives out of them.

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A day after the Ebonyi incident, farmers who went to their farmlands in Igga community, Uzo-Uwani local council of Enugu State, were attacked by suspected herdsmen. In the fight that ensued, no fewer than six persons were killed while several others sustained injuries. Tension has continued to build in the area since that incident.

On March 31, gunmen invaded the venue of a political meeting between former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Charles Soludo, and youths of Isuofia community, in Aguata local council of Anambra State.

The gunmen were said to have stormed the venue in a Toyota Corona car and started shooting. They killed three policemen attached to the governorship aspirant and made away with their service rifles. They also abducted the state Commissioner for Public Utilities, Mr. Emeka Ezenwanne. Meanwhile, there had been series of attacks in the state before this particular incident.

These include the attack on a police station in Mgbakwu in Awka North local council Sunday, on March 21, this year. Some arms and ammunition were reportedly carted away from the station during the attack. The attack was the fourth police station torched in similar circumstances within a week in the state. No fewer than 10 police officers, four naval officers, and two officials of the Correctional Service were killed in the incidents.

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The gunmen, who willingly engaged security officials, disappeared after overpowering them. In Awkuzu, Ekwulobia, Omogho, and Mkpologwu, residents experienced the decimation of police facilities and the officials. Last month, unknown gunmen, who drove in both a salon car and a black Mercedes Benz 4Matic SUV, attacked different police patrol teams and killed four officials. The Police later confirmed in a statement that the gunmen opened fire on policemen deployed to patrol the two locations but did not confirm casualty figures.

In another attack, two members of staff of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS), Awka, were escorting inmates to the court in Ekwulobia before unknown assailants gunned them down and released the inmates.

This was shortly followed by the attack at Mgbakwu Police Station in Awka North. Two naval officials on duty at a checkpoint were also killed and their rifles were taken away.

In Abia State, there are also records of policemen being killed at checkpoints. The latest occurred last month at a police checkpoint in Agueze Amaogudu Abiriba, Ohafia local council where three policemen were killed. The officers whose names were given as Inspector Austin Ugwu, Inspector Longinus Ugochukwu, and Constable Ama Ifeanyi were on duty at the checkpoint when the gunmen arrived and pumped bullets into them. They made away with their service rifles after certifying that they were dead.

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Indeed, another worrisome dimension was added to that of Abia State last Thursday when pupils of Union Primary School, Afaraukwu in Umuahia North local council saw an object that was later confirmed to be a bomb in their classroom and alerted their teacher.

Following the incident, the state government shut down the school. The development has sent shivers down the spines of not only the state government but also residents. Meanwhile, the authorities are still investigating how the object got into the classroom.

No doubt, the spate of insecurity in the zone has put fears in the minds of the residents. And this is further being fuelled by the fact that the motives of the attackers are not known yet. Some residents insist that it is part of the several ploys to unleash mayhem on the zone after demobilising the security architecture but others simply don’t have a clue.

Observations showed that as a result of the incidents, police checkpoints, which used to be rampant on the roads, have disappeared. The operatives appear to have been called back to man their stations. Hardly can policemen be found in their uniforms on the streets except those on special assignments or accompanying a high-profile person.

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In Anambra State, the situation has been taking its toll on businesses and other activities, as residents now struggle to get to their homes before 7.00 pm for fear of becoming victims of attacks by hoodlums.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Others React
In its reaction to the development, pan Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, has insisted that until the leadership of the country embraced justice, fairness, and truth in dealing with its people, agitations would continue in several ways as people seek to vent their anger.

National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, stated that decisions like the recent appointment of the Inspector General of Police, which dashed the aspiration of an Igbo man occupying a top position in the security architecture of the country under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, fuel crisis.

He said: “You cannot continue to trample on the people at will and anyhow you feel and not expect them to react. Some persons are on the streets attacking security facilities and killing policemen. No one can tell exactly who they are. But one thing is sure – they may not be happy about the goings-on. We feel that peace can naturally take place when there are equity and justice, not when one segment of the country is being oppressed to the point of asking them their identity. That is the problem.”

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He stated that Ohanaeze Ndigbo would continue to work for the interest of the generality of the country and appealed to those behind the attacks to sheathe the sword and embrace peace in the interest of the overall development of the nation.

A university lecturer, Dr. Okezue Amah, stated that the deteriorating security situation in the Southeast calls for serious concerns. Speaking with The Guardian on the development, he stated that the issue of security of the zone has been on the front burner since the conclusion of the 2019 general election, lamenting however that the leadership of the zone had played politics with it.

“For instance, we were here when we started hearing about killings and kidnappings here and there. We felt that the various governments in the zone were serious about tackling the issue. Unfortunately, after several meetings and promises, nothing came out of it till now. Before their very eyes, their people were being killed and they did nothing. Today, it has graduated from killing ordinary persons to snatching guns from security personnel. By the time the entire guns in the southeast are snatched, I do not know what will become of the people. It is an unfortunate situation,” he stated.

Stressing that the governors did nothing when reports went viral about the invasion of the zone by persons whose motives were questionable during the COVID-19 lockdown, he added: “Whatever security breach we are having in this zone should be linked to those people who were brought in by the cover of the night in various trucks. They have settled with us and are now being supplied weapons by those who ensured that they were moved into the zone even when there were restrictions on interstate movements. We will have to live with it until a day God says it is over.”

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Governors’ Intervention
Despite the rash of condemnations and reactions that have trailed the recent disturbances, the governors of the southeast zone seem to have become handicapped to address the problem. They had unanimously shot down the call by the people for a regional security outfit in the zone preferring rather embrace the Federal Government’s community policing model. But they appear to have nothing to offer in the face of the ravaging insecurity.

Efforts to speak with the Director-General of the Southeast Governors’ Forum, Uchenna Otuanya, on how the state chief executives plan to protect their people and forestall further attacks on security facilities in the zone did not yield fruits. Otuanya neither answered his call nor responded to text messages sent to his mobile number on the issue.

But the Forum’s Communications Director, Mr. Mike Uda, stated that the governors were yet to meet or speak on the matter.

“We shall surely communicate their position as soon as it is taken. I know they will soon take a position after studying the entire situation,” he stated.

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Findings, however, showed that the governors have taken some measures to beef up security in their various states. For instance, in Enugu State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has banned the operation of tricycles from 9.00 pm daily until further notice.

Announcing the order, the governor said it was part of the efforts to check crimes allegedly being committed by some individuals using the tricycle.

In the same vein, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State has imposed an indefinite curfew on Umuahia, Aba, Arochukwu, and Ohafia local councils of the state. The curfew, which is effective from 10.00 pm to 6.00 am daily, was announced immediately after the attacks on the Correctional Service facility and Police headquarters in Owerri.  Abia is bordered by Imo State to the West.

In Anambra State, Governor Willie Obiano, who addressed the state, had after condemning the spate of attacks on security agencies in the state, given the assurance that his government was doing all it could to apprehend those responsibly. He banned vehicles with tinted glasses from plying any road in the state as well as vehicles with covered number plates.

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In Ebonyi State, Governor Dave Umahi, who could not come to terms with the killing of over 20 persons during an attack in broad daylight, had asked the vigilante group in the state to do all within their power to protect the people. He had also given the assurance that his government would not rest until those who caused the killings were arrested and prosecuted.

In Imo State, Governor Hope Uzodinma appears overwhelmed by the development and has continued to speak from both sides of his mouth with regard to the cause of the attacks and whom to blame for it.

The governor had accused the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) of perpetrating the attacks and asked the security agencies to defend themselves with their rifles against members of the group. But he later blamed aggrieved politicians for the attacks.

His words: “Their (attackers) tactics is that they try to identify grievances of people in a particular area. If it is in Imo State and probably there are some IPOB people who are not happy, they hire hoodlums from outside Imo State. They bring them in pretending to be IPOB and they commit these crimes and they go away.

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“So, it is not about IPOB. Yes, we agree, we have aggrieved IPOB members but I can tell you those who are doing this destruction, most of them were brought in from outside Imo State.”

Some Nigerians have, however, asked the governor to blame himself and the Commissioner of Police in the state for allegedly failing to adhere to instructions and intelligence reports.

A rights group, the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), accused the duo of neglecting an intelligence report from the Department of State Services (DSS), which warned of a looming attack.

CRRAN in a statement by its President, Olu Omotayo, quoted a former Deputy Director of the DSS, Dennis Amachree, as saying that the “same intelligence report was repeatedly sent 72 hours and 24 hours before the attack but both the state governor and the police commissioner failed to act on this report until the mayhem which led to the loss of lives and properties.”

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Omotayo added: “In normal clime, the Commissioner of Police will by now be facing disciplinary action to exit him from the force while the Imo State governor should by now tender a public apology to the citizens of the state and tender resignation but the other way round is the situation as the governor is busy running his mouth that the attack is the handwork of aggrieved politicians.

“The question is what the governor did with the intelligence report placed before him by the Depart of State Services a week, 72 hours, and 24 hours before the attack? The Imo State governor, as the Chief Security Officer of Imo State, failed to take necessary steps to forestall loss of lives and property and this is, to say the least, reckless and shameful. It shows a man who is unprepared to govern. 

“What happened in Imo is the humiliation of the country’s security apparatus. It should never repeat itself again. Those responsible for this public humiliation should bury their heads in shame.”

National President of the International Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights Initiative (IS4-PAHRI), Comrade Osmond Ugwu, however, blamed lack of courage and political will on the part of the governors for the rising insecurity in the zone.

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“Until such disposition is adopted and proactive measures adopted, the situation will continue to escalate. The insecurity we have today is not that of burglary, not even armed robbery so to say. It is more of attacks on communities, rapes, willful killings, kidnapping, and attacks on public institutions. When we migrate from mere robbery to attacking public institutions, then the government is in trouble. We all have to find out why it is so and put up measures to contain it. The government seems to have compromised on security, apparently for fear of what Abuja will say. Now it is here with us.  I have this fear that the way they are going, it might be difficult to find police protecting the people in the near future,” he stated.
 
IPOB and MASSOB Come Into The Fray
The pro-Biafra groups have continued to deny any involvement in the attacks. IPOB, which recently unveiled the Eastern Security Network (ESN) following the inability of the governors of the Southeast to float a regional security outfit, has insisted that its members operate only in the bush to flush out gun-wielding herdsmen who have continued to make life unbearable for farmers and community members.

They stated that attributing the attacks to them was a subtle way to find reasons to militarise the zone and in the process kill its members and other innocent people, stressing they would resist the attempt.

The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), on its part, accused the Federal Government of, “sponsoring attacks on Igbo land to intimidate the people and frustrate their clamour for the presidency.”

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The Federal Government has not responded to any of these allegations. Rather, it has continued to make promises of getting to the root cause of the entire development, which assumes fresh dimensions by the day.
 
Police Withdraw From Checkpoint, Solicits Public Support
It would appear that what is happening has restricted the police officers to their various stations. They no longer mount security checkpoints as they used to neither are they commonly seen in their uniforms on the streets. Patrols seem to have been suspended temporarily. At the various formations, the entry gates are no longer left open, while movements in and around the stations are seriously monitored and regulated. Unlike before when residents freely drove into the police stations, they are now required to park metres away from the stations.
 
An operative of the force told The Guardian: “We have been asked to operate from the station for now because of these attacks. We are studying the developments and we will do our best to live up to our constitutional responsibility.

“We now stay in the offices; we are there with our two eyes open. You never can tell what might happen. These people come under the cover of the dark to do whatever they want to do and because of that, more personnel are now drafted on night shift daily and several communication gadgets are being activated in case of an uprising.”

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Beyond the attempt to protect their various stations, the police chiefs in the zone have asked their men to do all they could to protect the people and their facilities. They also solicited the support of the public by way of information to check the rising insecurity.

Abia Residents Express Concerns
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia.

IN Abia State, residents have been aghast over the recent happenings in the state. Meanwhile, security operatives did not respond to inquiries on the cause, saying that security issues are not discussed publicly.

A private Security Consultant, who pleaded anonymity, however, recalled that a foreign embassy in Nigeria had recently issued a statement wherein it warned its nationals that such attacks were imminent.

He queried the Federal Government and its various security agencies for not acting proactively to nip the attacks in the bud.

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Chairman of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Apostle Emmanuel Agomuo hinged the attacks on youths who after their education could not get employment.

To him, the attacks were a natural human reaction to the hardship in the country. He stated that unemployment and non-payment of workers’ salaries and pension makes it difficult for families to cope with their responsibilities especially in the face of unbridled inflation.

He urged governments at all levels to create employment opportunities for the teeming educated but idle youths who could be easily engaged to perpetrate crimes.

Chairman of the state traditional rulers Council, Eze Joseph Nwabeke, also tasked the governments to formulate policies and programmes that could put food on the table of Nigerians.

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He, however, noted that inasmuch as the prevailing circumstances were not palatable, they didn’t warrant killings and destruction of public infrastructures.

Meanwhile, Chief Aloy Ejimakor, Special Counsel to IPOB and its Leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has insisted that the organisation remains a civil group and not a militia.

Ejimakor told The Guardian: “IPOB remains a civil group, not a militia. IPOB should be seen and treated as self-determination or freedom fighting movement, peacefully asking for referendum on whether former Biafra or Eastern Nigeria still wishes to remain in Nigeria.

“IPOB is a non-violent organisation registered in the United Kingdom. It has a certificate of registration with more than 30 branches worldwide. Its mission is to restore Biafra, not to levy prison breaks.”

According to the lawyer, “the haste to blame IPOB evidences the rising institutional prejudices that have made the Biafran agitation more popular than ever. That the witch cried at night and the baby died in the morning does not mean that it was the witch that killed the baby.”

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