By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Samuel Oyadongha; Vincent Ujumadu; Peter Okutu; Ugochukwu Alaribe; Chioma Onuegbu; Chinonso Alozie; Ozioruva Aliu and Steve Oko
Residents of the South South and South East geopolitical zones of the country now live in fear. They are worried and very disturbed.
This followed the killing of law enforcement agents in their regions by gunmen. In the last three months, gun men have killed no fewer than 67 law enforcement agents and burnt down over 50 police formations in the South South and the South East.
Many of the residents have therefore expressed fear that this development may get out of hand if the government fails to urgently arrest the situation.
A cross section of residents of Imo, Abia states who spoke to Vanguard lamented that they were now living in fear because of the attacks on security agents and their formations. They urged the security agencies to focus more on intelligence gathering and unravel the perpetrators of the serial attacks in the South East and South south zones.
Emeka Diwe, President of the Southeast Towns Union raised questions for the police and Imo Government on the arson on the Police Headquarters and Correctional Centre in Owerri on Monday. Said he: The police are suspects in this matter, so is also the state government. How did the attack on police headquarters take place without any counter from the police? The hoodlums came and torched police headquarters and went away like that?
Something must be fishy. The government house is also very close to the prison and police headquarters. The gunshots lasted for long. How come nothing happened from government house? Something is fishy. It means nobody is safe anymore.” Gunmen attacked the two places close to government house on Monday, burning the correctional centre and setting inmates free and torching the police headquarters without any confrontation.
Chidi Osuagwu, former chairman of state chapter of Ohaneze said what happened in Owerri was strange ‘since it is not in our culture to attack security men. Something must be wrong somewhere and unfortunately the common man is affected. We now live in fear.”
A resident of Abakaliki in Ebonyi state, Mr Don Steve in his reaction yesterday stated that the people of the state were disturbed and worried about the unfortunate development. He said, “if security personnel who were trained to defend and protect the citizens of this country are killed at will, what then is the future of citizens. The development, has however revealed that there’s a challenge with the police in this country. It’s either they are not properly motivated or that their morale for the job has gone down drastically. They need to be motivated. Policemen in those days were different from the ones we are seeing today and this is quite unfortunate.
Gunmen building up for something bigger
Secretary General of the Chidi Ibeh faction of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, expressed fear that the killing of security agents in the South East and South South zones may lead to full scale banditry in the region if not tackled. Isiguzoro who spoke to Vanguard in Umuahia, stated that from the manner of the attacks, the gunmen may be building up for a full scale banditry in the two regions and urged the federal government to urgently take proactive steps to end banditry in the country. He attributed the attack on security men to the desire by the gunmen to instill fear in the government and people of Nigeria to achieve their aims.
According to him, “with the methodology and uniformity of the serial attacks on security agents and police stations across the South East and South South, the two zones might witness more violence. I pray that they don’t resort to attacking politicians and other eminent persons. I pray these gunmen don’t target convoys of politicians in the near future. Within three months, over 50 police formations have been burnt. There’s fear in the South East and South South zones over the number of ammunition in the hands of these gunmen. As at today, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks, nobody has made any demand. The security agencies are still pointing accusing fingers. For the first time in 51 years, many security agents have been killed; others are at risk and at the mercy of men of underworld, peace has eluded the old Eastern Region and leadership failures of government at all levels are responsible.” To discourage youths from banditry, the Ohanaeze chieftain tasked the federal and state governments to implement genuine youth empowerment programmes to make youths self dependent.
Another resident, Mrs Chinwe Peters who lamented the current situation being faced by the Police in the country, called on the Federal Government to train and retrain them for improved productivity. She said, “these policemen have become easy targets for criminals because they are not fully equipped and mobilized for the job. If they are properly equipped, gunmen will think twice before attacking them or any police station. The way police stations are fortified in other developed countries is different here in Nigeria. Government should spend money in fortifying the police, give them more sophisticated weapons, and gadgets. The operation of the police should be digital and computerised. It should be intelligence-based.”
Security operatives lack capacity in intelligence gathering
The Igbo National Council, INC on its part,said that the police officers and other security operatives lacked capacity in intelligence gathering and that was why they were being killed so easily.
Reacting to the report of the killing of 67 security agents in the South East and South South in the last three months, INC spokesman, Mr Godsent claimed that the officers were more interested in security checkpoints to collect money from motorists.
According to INC, “In the context of the issue of recruitment of security agencies, there has been this issue of ‘man know man’ (nepotism). We have people in the security organizations who are just there to earn salary and not to do the work. In that context, these ones go there, put up a toll gate and begin to collect money. They lack intelligence, they lack capacity. We need a system where majority of the security agents must be willing to work as security personnel. In that context, it will be very difficult for bandits to kill them if they stop going to security checkpoints to collect money while abandoning the task of intelligence gathering and tactical training”.
Residents of the commercial city of Aba however attributed the disturbing situation to frustration, accumulated anger, disenchantment with the government in power, leadership failure and joblessness among other factors.
Accumulated grievances against erring officers
An Aba resident, Comrade Goodluck Egwu Ibe, argued that the attacks might not be unconnected with accumulated grievances against some bad eggs among security agents who had rather become a thorn in the flesh of the citizens. He regretted that some unscrupulous elements among security personnel had inflicted pains on innocent citizens who they were being paid to protect.
The President, South East Youth Leaders COSEYL, Ibem, identified frustration and disenchantment with the government of the day as possible cause of the attacks. He said that people who were already frustrated by government ineptitude, unfriendly policies and lack of empathy for the suffering masses might have resolved to unleash their anger on security agents. According to him, unemployment could also be one of the causes of the attacks as a great number of youths are jobless and could easily be recruited for violent activities. He also blamed the ugly development on leadership failure, saying that government was too disconnected from the masses who find it increasingly difficult to cope with hardship in the country.
On the identify of the perpetrators, Ibem challenged the security agents to unmask those behind the spate of attacks, contending that it was their responsibility to do so and should not based on sentiments.
“The job of security agencies is to find out who the attackers were through intelligence gathering. If they can’t unravel the perpetrators, it means that the money being spent on them is a total waste”.
Similarly, another Aba resident, Mr. Nnanna Nwafor, attributed the likely cause of the attacks on security agents to government’s failure to properly address the demands of the #EndSARS protesters.
He said that there were still bottled up anger against government and security agents for using force against the protesters instead of listening to their demands and finding solution to them.
Nwafor regretted that “up till now, government hasn’t implemented the recommendations made at the peak of the protests”, adding that police brutality against citizens have not abated.
Disenchantment against government
According to him, government’s refusal to dialogue with various groups making various agitations including self determination and restructuring could also be responsible for the attacks as a way of expressing people’s disenchantment.
He regretted that while government was busy negotiating with bandits and setting the terrorists who have unleashed mayhem on the country free, peaceful agitators were being brutalised by the same government using the security agents. Nwafor said that those behind the attacks might be protesting government’s apparent leniency to the terrorists and high-handedness towards genuine and peaceful agitators. He however, condemned the attacks and tasked the relevant security agencies to fish out the attackers.
There’s no longer security in the country
Adding his voice, a renowned cleric, Rev. P. K Emeaba, said the attacks were a sign that “there is no longer security in the country”. According to him, those behind the attacks might want to prove a point that the security of the country was now very porous. He also said the attacks could be sponsored by those least suspected of masterminding such mayhem. The cleric who strongly condemned the attacks, however, advised the authorities to sincerely listen to the growing clamour for the peaceful separation of the country to avoid further carnage. He argued that if Nigeria was peacefully divided into manageable nations, the problem of insecurity would be drastically reduced.
Rev. Emeaba argued that Nigeria was already divided even though living as one entity and wondered why government preferred to live in pretence and self denial over obvious realities. “You will observe that many tricyclists and even motorists put flags on their vehicles. But how many of those flags are Nigeria flag? What does that show you? So, I suggest they peacefully divide the country into manageable nations. It’s better done now than late. Nothing is as dangerous as internal war. It consumes even those who think it will not affect them”.
Hoodlums, bandits have taken over
Also, reacting, human rights activist, Kola Edokpayi, told Saturday Vanguard in Benin City, Edo state that: “for the past three months in Nigeria, mostly in the South East and South -South, the calculated attacks on police is now a serious problem in Nigeria as cases of police killings continue to increase in a geometric progression. The policemen are now their targets simply because the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Governors of the respective states are using the police to arrest and kill agitators indiscriminately. You are fully aware of how the security operatives are presently clamping down on Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) and Eastern Security Network (ESN) members on the orders of the president and governors and some of them have been killed in the process, which later provoked some elements to pick up sophisticated weapons against the police and other security agents. Government should endeavor to respect the fundamental rights of Nigerians and embark upon disarmament and arms control while the police should be armed with sophisticated weapons to counter insurgent activities,” he said.
Leader and founder of One Love Foundation, Patrick Eholor, who also spoke in Benin City, said government at federal, state and local levels have failed the people, so “we are in a state of anarchy.”
His words: “This is what we have been praying should not happen but it is here with us. These things are happening because we are in a state of anarchy as Nigeria is gradually becoming a failed state where hoodlums, bandits and other criminals now dictate what happen in our society. It is unfortunate that a federal agency like the police will now be subjected to this, the security agents who are to protect us so that we can have peace are now the targets of criminal elements for killings.
This is happening because the presence of government and governance is not felt by the people whether at the local government, state and even federal levels, that is why we are in this situation. As we speak now, the president is out of the country, eastern Nigeria is burning, Boko Haram is still killing people in the north, kidnappers and armed robbers are everywhere. So, I ask if we are not already in a failed state; Nigeria is now like Mogadishu in Somalia where warlords are in control. The police have been undermined by the system for a long time so they have been consumed by corruption and negative tendencies around us,” Eholor added.
Corruption killing the police
An official of Benin Solidarity Movement, BSM, Curtis Ugbo, was emphatic that corruption was the blight. He asserted: “The Nigerian police, most of them have not been exhibiting themselves professionally, they have been involved in corruption and they lack professional conduct. You see a lot of policemen have been involved in criminal atrocities and these criminals know the police. Imagine a situation whereby a kidnapper is caught in the act with evidence and a policeman will collect money and release them and not charge them to court.
In some other cases, you have a situation where the police will collect money from these suspected criminals and promise to set them free and then still charge them to court. Once these criminals are free, they go back to hunt the policemen, they now see the police as their enemies because of the money they collected and still sent them to courts and sometimes, they are jailed.”
Gunmen attack security agents to acquire weapons
A retired security operative and resident of Asaba, Delta state, Mr. John Okonkwo, who spoke at Asaba, stated: “From my findings, some of the criminals who target policemen in Asaba, Sapele, Warri and other parts of the state want to collect their AK-47 rifles to use in their own operations, except they have scores to settle with a particular policeman. In that case, they try to isolate him and kill him.
“But in the South-East, it is obvious that it is a revenge attack on police officers. But the truth is that security has broken down in the country. Government has to wake up, it is not providing security for the people, there is insecurity everywhere and under such situation, anything can happen to anybody.
“You can also see that in the South-East, the people want regional security which some groups are providing against herdsmen that have invaded their communities, but the federal and state governments are against the agitators. And who are they using to attack them – police and army, but policemen are easier for them to take out. So they are dealing with the ones they can get to without too much difficulty and when they are privileged to entrap soldiers, they will take their pound of flesh,” he stated.
Speaking in a similar vein, Mr. Amaebi Clarkson, a legal practitioner and former Spokesman of the Movement for Survival of Izon Ethnic Nationality in the Niger Delta (MOSIEND) said: “The incessant attacks on security facilities and personnel particularly in the South East is to acquire arms and ammunition possibly for a bigger intention. We saw this at the beginning of the Egbesu crisis and the Boko Haram insurgency where security, mostly police stations were ransacked for arms. The police and the military are a symbol of the sovereignty of the Nigerian state. So the attacks on these symbols are a clear expression of the dissatisfaction of some parts of the country with the configuration of this country.”
It’s very said, not justifiable
Chief Executive Officer, Arise and Shine publishers, Dr Anny Asikpo, said unless the gunmen were arrested and they revealed why they targeted security men, it would be speculative to conclude that the miscreants were aggrieved thugs who used and dumped by some politicians from the area after 2019 elections or that they were members of IpoB. He said, “if it is actually because some big politicians used and dumped them after the elections, why do they not go after those politicians instead of going after policemen and soldiers? So I do not believe all those assumptions.
It is only when the security operatives must have been able to arrest them that is when the truth will be known, because if one or two of them are arrested, they will tell us why they target security men and who they are. But for now, nobody can say they are members of IPoB, or cultists or whatever. And no matter how you want to look at the development, it is morally wrong. It is very sad. Any reasonable person should be worried about it. Whatever reason they may have, it is not justifiable,” Asikpo said.
The killing is a bad omen
Eric Omare, Minority rights crusader said: “it is a bad omen and adds to the degenerating security situation all over the country. The situation in the South East is more worrisome. To add nationwide insecurity to the already collapsed economy is the worse that can happen to Nigeria in the circumstances. As I have always said, the situation calls for serious minded national dialogue which the Federal Government needs to initiate. To issue half-hearted presidential statements anytime there is an unfortunate occurrence is not the solution. The ‘siddon look’ presidency too cannot solve the problem. We have a very serious situation at hand and it calls for serious national dialogue and drastic steps to address the situation. But I don’t believe that the Buhari presidency would be able to do that because obviously from what we have seen so far the presidency care less about what happens in the country which is most unfortunate.”
Joseph Ambakederimo, Convener, South South Reawakening Group, said: “It is criminality and nothing more to describe what is happening. We have passed this road before and we are back here again on this same road. It becomes curious that every time a major election year draws near we find this kind of rampage of gunmen wrecking havoc on society with no clear cut explanation or reason for this kind of mayhem to be unleashed on innocent citizens and security agencies. It is unfortunate that we have turned Nigeria into a killing field. We have to remind these people and their sponsors that democracy and elections are a game of numbers and there is no short cut to winning an election. If your candidate is popular than mine then let them face the people who have the mandate to choose from amongst the contestants. We must drive this non-negotiable fact into the head of our people.”
Everything not about law and order but justice, equal rights
Alagoa Morris, renowned environmentalist, said: “Nigerians have been calling for a stakeholders meeting on the challenging security situation in the country and the Federal Government is yet to consider it necessary to have a collective and holistic approach. It is not a mark of weakness to heed to such calls. As sad, unfortunate and condemnable the act of killing security operatives is; we should not pretend that all is well. There are aggrieved persons, groups and sections of the country. And, we need to talk to ourselves as Nigerians. Everything is not about law and order; the issues of equal rights and justice should be taken seriously too. While the military and other security agencies have their constitutional roles to play; there is need for dealing with whatever pending issues that have to do with the different sections of the country and ensure the nation enjoy the much needed unity, peace and positive development.”
Killings traced to hardship
The recent killings of security operatives in the South East and South -South which, at the last count, had reached 67, have been traced to hardship occasioned by bad governance in the country.
Respondents who spoke to Vanguard believed that the killings would end once the situation of things improve in Nigeria.
Mr. Chijioke Nwadiogbu said in Awka that the killings had rubbished whatever achievements recorded by the APC controlled federal government.
Nwadiogbu said: What is happening in Nigeria is frightening. Imagine a situation where people performing their official duties are gunned down, thereby leaving their families in agony.
“Everywhere you go, there is no police on site. Even those working in government offices have tactically withdrawn from their duty posts, leaving only the men of Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, at the gates.
” What surprises Nigerians is that government appears not to have a solution to this problem.
“My opinion is that hardship is responsible for the way people behave and they see the policemen on the road as the nearest government they can vent their anger on.
” And unless things improve by way of the living standard of the people, there will be no end in sight to the killings.”