By Innocent DURU; Nwanosike ONU, Awka; Emma ELEKWA; Chris NJOKU, Owerri; Sunny NWANKWO, Umuahia and Ogochukwu ANIOKE, Abakaliki
THE relative peace enjoyed by the inhabitants of the Southeast region of the country is fast fizzling out as attacks on security agents and their stations have assumed a worrisome dimension in the last three months.
Many security agents, particularly policemen, have been brutally murdered in Abia, Imo, Anambra and Ebonyi states during attacks by gunmen who usually operate in large numbers.
The development has become a cause for concern among the people who are now worried that it could degenerate into the ugly situation in the Northeast where the pockets of attacks begun by the Boko Haram sect in 2009 has since degenerated into full scale war between the insurgents and federal troops.
Besides, there is also the fear that the challenge could cripple the economic and social activities in the region.
In Imo State, residents of Owerri, the state capital, woke up in the early hours of Monday to an atmosphere of war as dynamites were used to blow up the Police Command Headquarters and Owerri Correctional Centre. More than 600 detainees in police custody and more than 1,700 inmates of the correctional centre were released in the process.
Gunmen numbering more than 100 reportedly stormed the two government institutions, destroying properties and files containing details of the criminal records of the detainees in both the police custody and the correctional centre.
Two days later, two police stations at Ehime Mbano Local Government Area of the state were razed by the invaders, who also carted police ammunition away.
The situation has given rise to tension and apprehension in the state as residents now live in perpetual fear of what could happen next. Shops and business centres in the city now close early as the incident reverberates round the state.
Security experts have since been reacting to the incident with a view to proffering a solution to the problem. A former Commissioner of Police in the state, Taiwo Lakanu, told one of our correspondents that the government and other stakeholders need to sit down to seriously discuss the issue of security not only in Imo but in the entire country, adding that the incidents in the state called for a total overhaul of the nation’s security architecture.
Lakanu said: “The situation in Imo State is something that nobody had expected in terms of the humungous nature of the incident. Looking at it from that perspective, I think we need to overhaul our security system.
“What happened in the state, if there were security intelligence, they would have detected that it was going to happen.
“When I was in Imo, with due respect, I took the issue of community policing and the people very seriously. I had very serious relationship with them. They were always giving me information in advance in terms of crimes and criminal activities,” he said.
The current CP, Lakanu noted, is very experienced, but unfortunately, he was caught unawares.
“And I think the situation is becoming overwhelming not only to the police but to other security agencies. So, we need to sit down and have a deep talk on the issue.
“Secondly, security is not something that can be over looked. When you talk about security, you need to pump money into it. Do we have the equipment? The welfare of the men, are they being taken care of?
“Those are the major factors, because you do not expect a dog that has not eaten to protect you.”
He noted that the issue of technology and weapons play important role in crime fighting, wondering how many policemen and stations have tear gas, vehicles and logistics.
“Those are questions we need to ask ourselves and provide answers to, because if you think that without all these things you can succeed, we are deceiving ourselves. Let’s tell ourselves the home truth.”
According to him, “countries are using drones all over the world, but how many do we have?
“Even the military, in fighting Boko Haram, complain all the time about lack of ammunition and arms, and there is no gainsaying that Boko Haram has sophisticated weapons.”
He said there are missing gaps which, if not filled, the problem of banditry would continue.
He said: “It is a bad omen if brigands could come in like that and go scot-free because that will give them encouragement to move into other areas like the government house and perform.
“In my time, I had the cooperation of the people and we were assiduously working together. I was having regular meetings with traditional rulers.
“I had 12 vigilante groups with larger population than the police and I was making good use of them. They saw themselves as closer policemen. If anything was going to happen, they would quickly alert me. They helped to catch bandits.”
In his own reaction to the problem, elder statesman And Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, appealed to Nigerians to go to the table and discuss instead of going into the field to fight.
He said: “It is unfortunate that without a war, the nation is in a state of war. I am appealing to everybody in Nigeria, let’s go to the table and talk instead of allowing ourselves to go into the field and fight.
“We need to sit down and discuss the problems of Nigeria, find out everybody’s anger, look at the constitution and decide whether to put it aside.
“America had a confederal constitution before. They put it aside and adopted a federal constitution. We have a purported federal constitution. We can put it aside and put up a confederal constitution.
“Let’s adjust this country in a manner that makes the states more responsible to themselves.
“We need to reduce the concentration of power at the centre and diffuse power to the states, so that the way you develop will depend on your own people.
“What has happened shows the state of insecurity in the country. If those in charge of police stations and prisons are no longer capable of holding their grounds against bandits, then we have a serious situation in our hands, and whatever is causing this needs to be discussed.”
He however does not believe that the solution lies in state police, noting that the present constitution would not allow that to be.
“We need a complete review of the constitution. It is not a matter of amendment. Let the National Assembly organise a constitutional conference to review our constitution, otherwise innocent people will be dying and criminals will be taking advantage of it.”
Reacting to the Owerri incident, the National President of Ohanaeze Youth Council, Comrade Igboayaka O Igboayaka described it as unfortunate and a failure of leadership
He said: “There is no effective government in Nigeria anymore. The Owerri and Benin jailbreaks are evidence of colossal leadership failure from the political actors in Nigeria, the neglect of Nigeria youths on job creation which is speedily leading to youth restiveness and crisis.
“Owerri, Benin jail break, burning of police stations all over Nigeria, banditry, gunmen are all signs that the Nigerian government has failed the youth and must quickly negotiate with them or wait for the worst day of Nigeria.
“To attack the Imo State Police Command, which is less than 20 minutes drive to the location of the 34 artillery brigade in Obinze, is an indication that the former IGP has questions to answer as regards the operation.”
He said the immediate past IGP should bury his head in shame rather than quickly come out to blame IPOB and messing up the security intelligence of Nigeria before the international community.
He said: “It is quite unfortunate that FUNAM claimed responsibility for the attack on Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, yet the IGP and the Nigerian government did nothing about it.
“From all indications, the Nigerian government and the security chiefs are part of the conspiracy in the recent insecurity in Nigeria, which includes banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram terrorism, killing by herdsmen and the activities of unknown gunmen.
“I therefore call on the National Assembly to summon former IGP Adamu for questioning and order his immediate arrest for jeopardising the security of Nigeria with high recklessness.
“This government is joking with the lives and properties of Nigerians. When Boko Haram terrorists said they shot down the Air Force jet, the NAF said they lied. FUNAM claimed responsibility of the attempted assassination of Governor Samuel Ortom, the IGP kept quiet.
“Through its actions, the present government is dividing the country more and more. Nigeria is now like a ship hit by a tornado.”
Prior to the attacks that took place during the week, two police officers had lost their lives when hoodlums on February 5 attacked Umulowo Police Division in Obowo Local Government Area of the state. Three others sustained various degrees of injuries.
Less than three weeks after the incident, another attack was recorded when gunmen, driving in four vehicles, attacked Aboh Mbaise Divisional Police Headquarters. A police woman was shot during the gun duel with the hoodlums.
Abia State has had an unpalatable share of the incessant attacks on police stations and police officers by gunmen.
A total of six policemen have been killed in various attacks on uniformed men in the state while the armoury was blindly looted.
Apart from the killing of 11 members of a group of gunmen who unsuccessfully attacked the Ariaria Junction military post on the Enugu-Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway, other operations carried out on various police stations across the three senatorial zones of the state were successful.
Some of the police stations successfully attacked in Abia include Uratta Police Station, Isiala Ngwa Police Division; World Bank (popularly known as Abayi Police Station) and Ohafia Police Station, as well as the killing of police officers for the second time in Ohafia LGA recently, where their weapons were also carted away.
During one of the attacks on the Omoba Police Station in Isiala Ngwa South council area, Abia State on February 1, the gunmen killed a policeman.
Operating on motorcycles, they were said to have opened fire on approaching the station while the policemen on guard repelled the attack. It was alleged that the gunmen overpowered the police, gained access to the station and looted the arms and ammunition stored in the armoury.
On February 23, two officers were killed while some rifles were stolen as gunmen attacked another police station in Aba.
Last month, another three police officers were reportedly killed, bringing the number of murdered officers to six within a space of one month.
The officers were reportedly ambushed and their patrol vehicle set ablaze by the gunmen who fled with the rifles belonging to the slain officers.
Though business and economic activities have been going on in Aba, Umuahia, Isuikwuato, Ohaia and Arochukwu regardless of the security challenges in the state, Abians have expressed worries over the threats to lives and property in the state, especially with the recent attacks in Imo State and Wednesday’s report of heavy military presence in communities that share borders with the Abia end of Obingwa and Ukwa areas.
Security experts and members of the civil society fear that the inability of the security agencies to come together to curb the growing security challenges in the zone from any group will impart negatively on the lives of the people of the zone who are predominantly traders.
A security expert, Mr. Victor Chibueze, said: “What we are witnessing today in the Southeast resulted from negligence on the parts of state governors and the federal government. We (security experts) had long warned against whatever is happening today, but the government gave deaf ears to it.
“What are the governors doing with the security votes that they get every month? They are meant to prepare their states against situations like this. How far have the governors of the southeast and the federal government gone to support security agencies in their states?
“If the funds were released by the federal government, who among the security heads is with the money?
“From what we have read and watched, it seems like the people perpetrating this act know more than the security agents do?
“The successful invasion of the police stations and looting of their armouries have made us to begin to question the intelligence of our security agencies and raised the question of internal collaboration.
“Of course, we all heard about the stealing of guns from the armoury of Mopol 28 located inside the Umuahia Police Command Headquarters.
“It is a task that the IGP who has a lot already at hand should deal with. Nigerians are losing trust in our security agencies and they must act fast to regain the peoples’ trust.
“We recently read about how the police refused to come to a crime scene at Obohia Road in Aba. They may not be entirely blamed, because what happened in Imo State on Monday morning and Tuesday called for caution, but then, the result is that two suspects that would have been saved were left at the mercy of an angry mob.”
A police personnel, who spoke anonymously when asked how they are dealing with the insecurity in the state, said: “Is it not someone with a good gun that would pursue armed robber? Is it not one who is sure that government will take care of his family if he dies doing police work will die for the job?
“You need to see what where we work and live looks like. If the people in power do what they are supposed to do, you will know that the police can even work better than Nigerians expect from them.”
The Commissioner for Information in the state, John Okiyi Kalu, after one of the attacks, said the state government was offering N1 million reward to anyone with useful information that could lead to the arrest of the gunmen.
The government announced an immediate ban on the use of tricycles and motorcycles from 7 pm to 7 am in “all major cities” in the state.
“We wish to assure members of the public that the government is working with security agencies in the state to fish out the perpetrators of this dastardly crime and bring them to justice as quickly as possible,” Mr Kalu said in a statement.
“No part of Abia land will be ceded to criminals operating under any guise and we will not spare any resource in ensuring that the perpetrators of this dastardly act are brought to book in no distant time and the stolen arms and ammunition recovered completely.
“Sadly, the arms these hoodlums have carted away from law enforcement agents will most likely be used against innocent citizens.
“Government, therefore, calls on citizens to avail law enforcement agencies with vital information that will lead to the arrest of the criminals and recovery of these arms.”
The state government on Monday imposed a curfew in the state capital, Umuahia, and the state’s commercial city of Aba, hours after hoodlums launched daring attacks on police and correctional service headquarters in the neighbouring Imo State.
The security situation in Anambra State is said to have become a source of worry to every resident in the state, including the Governor Willie Obiano administration.
In recent times, no fewer than 15 security personnel have been killed by yet to be identified gunmen in the state, who also confiscated their weapons. The gunmen invade communities to either kidnap or kill their targets.
On March 18, some gunmen reportedly killed two policemen and three soldiers at different locations in Anambra State. While the policemen were said to have been killed at a checkpoint in Neni, Anaocha Local Government Area, the soldiers were killed at an outpost in Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government Area, both in Anambra State.
The gunmen also set a police van ablaze in Neni and carted away arms belonging to the deceased policemen, while in Awkuzu, the slain soldiers also lost their weapons to the attackers.
Two days after the attack, hoodlums again attacked the rebuilt Ekwolobia Police Station after injuring some policemen. Another attack was launched on a prison vehicle conveying some suspects to court in the same area.
Witnesses said two members of the staff of the Nigeria Correctional Services (NCS), Awka, escorting inmates to court in Ekwulobia were gunned down by the gunmen.
The latest prove of insecurity in Anambra State was the attack on the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof Chukwuma Soludo, in Isuofia, Aguata Local Government Area . The State’s Commissioner for Public Utilities, Emeka Ezenwanne, was also kidnapped while three of his security details were killed in the process.
Residents of the state have not been sleeping with both eyes closed as the state has moved from one security challenge to another on a daily basis.
Before the attack on Soludo, gunmen had killed three military men in Awkuzu, Oyi Local Government Area and three policemen at Neni, Anaocha Local Government Area. They had also attacked and killed two members of the staff of Awka correctional service, who took the inmates to a court in Ekwulobia
Speaking with our correspondent in Awka, the State capital, the Police Public Relations Officer, Ikenga Tochukwu, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), said the command was not leaving anything to chance in the effort to nip the situation in the bud.
Tochukwu said there was no cause for alarm, adding that finding a solution to the constant gridlock in parts of the state was part of the measures being taken to tackle the problem.
The PPRO said the attacks by gunmen was a call for more work and surveillance, adding that some actions were being taken to checkmate the situation
Tochukwu said: “We have increased the tactical commands. There is 24-hour surveillance and you can see more visibility on the part of our men now.
“We have equally created what we call Police Campaign Against Cultism and other Vices (POCOCOV), a platform to engage the youth (awareness platform).”
He said the command would not fold its hands and allow hoodlums to take over Anambra State.
In his reaction, a community leader in the state, Chief Modestus Umenzekwe, told The Nation that the major cause of all the problems is unemployment
He said the government at all levels should talk to political gladiators, adding that politics is not a do or die affair
Umenzekwe , who described the situation as terrible, advocated that government should go into dialogue with the communities, adding that community policing is also key.
“This is the only way to get it right and reduce tension in the state and Nigeria,” he said.
For rights activist and Governor Obiano’s Special Assistant on Community Matters, Comrade Obi Ochije, the tension caused by miscreants in the state will never rubbish what governor Obiano has done in the state in terms of security.
Besides, he said, Obiano had held a meeting with traditional rulers, Presidents-general of all the communities and the vigilance groups on the worsening security challenge in the state
The meeting, according to him, also featured all the heads of security outfits, the military, the police and the Civil Defence Corps, among others.
A security expert in Anambra State, Dr Jeff Okeke, described the security situation in Anambra State as more of politics. He said the ugly development left many questions to be answered, including how the miscreants found their ways to the state.
The American-trained computer scientist regretted that necessary surveillance technology procured by the government were yet to be properly deployed, just as he canvassed the engagement of more experts to address the menace.
According to him, “this could not be far from politics. Questions left unanswered are: where were the hoodlums coming from? How did these unknown gunmen enter the state? Government should find out how they entered the state.
“I think the Anambra State Government acquired the necessary surveillance technology but they are not putting it into good use. The kind of equipment the governor rolled out the day he launched the digital security was supposed to cover the entire Anambra.
“The movement and activities of people should be dictated and perpetrators of such crimes as happened recently can be arrested under 12 hours, not even 24. Government should have mounted the equipment to cover the entire state.
“This is a security matter and more experts should be involved to get it right.”
Residents of Ebonyi State are expressing worries about the recent attacks on security agencies and installations in the Southeast.
Gunmen on January 8, 2021, attacked Onueke Police Station in Ezza South Local Government Area of the state, killing three police officers and leaving two others with bullet wounds.
The slain officers, according to reports, included two male inspectors and a policewoman. The attackers reportedly carted away two AK 47 rifles from the police station.
On February 4, the Police Divisional Headquarters in Isu, Onicha Local Government Area was also burnt by hoodlums who also torched four patrol vans.
The gunmen also carted away some arms and ammunition at the station.
Another attack was recorded on March 1, 2021 when gunmen attacked Iboko Divisional Police Station in Izzi Local Government Area with fire bombs.
Residents of the state who spoke with The Nation feared that the attacks, if not checked, could lead to total breakdown of law and order in the region.
A lawyer and Chairman of Afikpo South Local Government Area, Eni Uduma Chima, said the attacks could lead to the disintegration of the country.
“What it portends for the region is that the ember of discord and disunity will be fanned and if it is not arrested, it will lead to the disintegration of the country,” he said.
Eni said the issue is a serious threat which is not being given the full treatment and attention it deserves.
“A situation where security formations are attacked and they keep quiet and where they manage to fend off the attack they consider it as an achievement is not acceptable.
“They should be proactive. Fight against crime and criminality should be preventive not defensive. What is the point in waiting at the police station for people to be attacked, only hoping that you will conquer them?
“And when you stop them from burning down the police station or prison facility, you think you have recorded achievement.
“What of going after them even before the formation of the group? Gathering intelligence about the group, their location and what they intend to do, especially against the backdrop of IPOB saying they are not responsible, because if they were responsible then there is no basis for arguing that they are not a terrorist organization.”
“When you burn down prison and free the inmates, you are not fighting the government, you are fighting against the families that have legitimate grievances and sought redress in court and got the people imprisoned.
“So what you are telling them is that they can seek those people and then do jungle justice to them. It is not even in the interest of the inmates.
“The institutions of the state—police, army and, in fact, all the armed forces—should be the bastion of our existence as a country. Sovereignty is the ultimate power of a state to make laws and enforce them within a definite territory. And when we cannot enforce laws, we cannot say that we are governing that territory or that it is part of the state. That is part of the indices of a failed state.
“We are in a war situation, and unless we realise it, we may have ourselves to blame.”
A businessman, Mr Obiora Chibueze, said the situation portends a bleak future for the region.
He said: “The situation portends a future that is no longer certain about our socio-economic development as a people. It portends threat to our survival as a people. It again indicates increasing race towards anarchy, civil strife or war. It looks as if certain persons or groups are preparing for something.
“However, there have been diverse views from some groups who are accusing the state of sponsoring terrorism to incriminate and destablise the region so as to send forces to the region.
“There are groups saying that some non-state actors are just taking these steps to show their grievances at the way the region is being marginalised in the governance of this country.
“Personally, I don’t think the step being taken against the institutions of the state is necessary because whatever reason for the attacks there must be these institutions.
“If it is to actualise self-determination, there must be institutions. If it has nothing to do with self-determination and maybe somebody is trying to show disaffection at the way the country is being run, it has nothing to do with these institutions being attacked.
“There are other peaceful ways of engaging the government. This is not in the interest of the region. This is going to retard our development. It is going to bring about anarchy, it is going to endanger our people so that government forces will begin to profile and punish our people. So it portends a bleak future for our people.”
Spokesperson of Alaigbo Development Foundation, Abia Onyike, believes the attacks were intended to create an excuse for invasion of the Southeast.
“I don’t believe that those are coming from our people. They are the handiwork of agent provocateurs and other enemies who want to create an enabling environment for the invasion of the Southeast by the military operators because the zone has been relatively more peaceful than other zones in the country,” he said
He charged governors of the region and the Federal government to rise up to their duties of protecting the people of the zone
Some Police officers who spoke on condition of anonymity said they and their colleagues in the state now live in fear at all times.
“We don’t leave our stations wearing our uniforms these days for fear of being attacked. Even when we are in the station we are always at alert as these people can strike at any time. Morale is very low among us right now.”
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