•Security personnel accused of condoning atrocities of herdsmen
•Anger over police brutality, extortion, arbitrary detentions
•Attacks meant to deny S’East opportunity to produce president in 2023
•Hoodlums need weapons to prosecute their criminal activities
•Criminals want security personnel to abandon streets for them

By Vincent Ujumadu; Samuel Oyadongha;; Emma Una; Davies Iheamnachor, Chioma Onuegbu; Steve Oko & Ikechukwu Odu

Every part of the country is presently feeling unsecured. No day passes that there are no killings and kidnapping for ransom by terrorists and bandits. Secondary students and university undergraduates are abducted, communities are sacked by bandits rendering the residents homeless. Traveling on the highway has now become a risky venture.

But the situation in the South East and South South appears peculiar. The attacks and killings are targeted at security personnel and security formations. Scores of security operatives have been killed in the last couple of months and police stations set ablaze. Many policemen are now scared to walk along the streets in their uniform. But who are these gunmen who target security personnel and what is their motive? And why have they remained unknown?Leaders and residents in the region hold divergent views on what could be the motive for these attacks on security operatives

Police brutality, extortion

Respondents in the South East attributed the killing of policemen and burning of police stations in the region to accumulated anger by the people over police brutality in the region. Some of the reasons given by the people include alleged human rights abuses associated with police extortion and demand for gratification, humiliation of people at checkpoints, arbitrary arrests and detention of innocent citizens, raiding people’s homes for no justifiable reasons and forcing people to admit crimes not committed. There are also allegations of using cases before the police as revenue window, unduly picking up progressive Nigerian youths and dubbing them criminals out of jealousy, abandoning police official duties to serve politicians, often times turning cases against the complainants and protecting known criminals in the society. There also those who blame it on pure criminality of some people who are after the weapons of the officers.

A lecturer of sociology, Dr. Ikem Nwankwo observed that the people have been enduring these abuses for decades until it exploded during the #endsars protests. Nwankwo said: “The most common venues for extortion are the police roadblocks, which were put in place to combat crime. In practice, these checkpoints have become a lucrative criminal venture for the police who routinely demand bribes from drivers and passengers alike, in some places enforcing a standardized toll. Motorists are frequently detained, harassed and threatened and sometimes extended to their family members to negotiate payment for their release. Extortion-related confrontations between the police and motorists often escalate into more serious abuses. The police have on numerous occasions severely beaten, sexually assaulted, or shot to death ordinary citizens who failed to pay the bribes demanded. Sometimes they randomly round up citizens in public places, including restaurants, markets, and bus stops. Those who fail to pay are often threatened and unlawfully detained, and at times sexually assaulted, tortured, or even killed in police custody. Many of these abuses are perpetrated as a means to further extort money from ordinary citizens or from fearful family members trying to secure the freedom of those detained. Nigerians are also disturbed that over 100,000 police officers are hanging around politicians and rich men, while the country is grossly under policed. It was therefore not surprising that the #endsars provided an opportunity for Nigerians to vent their anger on the police.”

An Awka based businessman, Mr. Philip Okoroma said “although accusing fingers were pointed at members of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, which is an arm of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, for the attack on police formations and killing many of them, the truth of the matter is that the influx of criminal Fulani herdsmen in the South East infuriated pro Biafra groups. But it is still possible that it’s the same Fulani herdsmen who have virtually taken over many forests in Igbo land with their sophisticated arms, that are attacking and killing the security operatives to create the impression that the men of ESN are responsible for it.

Protest against discrimination, bias

The National Publicity Secretary of Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, Hon Ken Robinson, on his part believed that the gunmen must be targeting security personnel as a result of the selective approach of governance in the country. Robinson said: “The people behind it are ‘unknown gunmen’. And our position is that the attack is an expression of anger and some kind of hopelessness among citizens. The people doing this are not foreigners, they are Nigerians.

They come from communities. They feel the pain of the discrimination and bias against some parts of the country. We had condemned the selective approach in saying that South-South and South-East would have a security arrangement which is unnecessary. It is a protestation, people are angry and they are protesting. It is a demonstration of anger. This the only reason we can proffer on why the attack is on security. We think that it is a sign that certain persons are not happy with the way things are happening in the country and they think that is the only way they can show their anger. But, our message to those carrying out this act is that these actions are needless. That is not the way to go.

This may destroy the South East/South South regions

A minority rights activist and immediate past President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) worldwide, Mr. Eric Omare, said “honestly, I am at a loss as to the reasons for the attacks and those behind them. I do not know the point they are trying to prove with those attacks. As far as I am concerned, attacking security posts and killing innocent people is never a means to express one’s grievances.

Criminals want police off the streets

For Joseph Ambakederimo, Convener South South Reawakening Group, criminals are simply on the prowl and nothing more. He said: “The antic is trying to apply maximum pressure for the police to give in and abandon the streets for them (criminals) to have a field day. I can remember vividly the ‘Osunbo and Anini’ days in the old Bendel State where policemen had to wear mufti to be able to walk around town. This is a similar scenario playing out itself and it goes to confirm that the criminals are being caged and the only way to push back is to embark on such attacks. The police need to and must fight back with the support of all Nigerians.”

It’s preparation for war in Nigeria

Comrade Alagoa Morris, a renowned Niger Delta environmentalist, asserted: “Those saddled with the responsibility of securing lives and property and, indeed the well-being of the nation should know better as some have received related training and being paid by government for that service to the nation. That aside, I am of the view that the actions and body language of the Presidency as regards how security issues are handled have encouraged more Nigerians to take to self-defence, which is a natural law of survival.

Agreed that the nation has lost a great number of officers and men of the military fighting terrorists, kidnappers and bandits, most Nigerians are of the view that the efforts of the Federal Government in tackling threat posed by these criminals have not been good enough. It is even worse, what we hear daily about alleged actions of herdsmen and inflammatory statements by leaders of the herdsmen. In a situation whereby even governors are attacked shows how helpless the situation is. Nigerians, I believe are preparing for the worst in case of a full scale war. People are beginning to take steps, I guess, towards protecting their territories, while some may also be trying to take advantage of the almost uncontrollable security situation to actualise self determination through arms struggle. In my view, these groups are the ones going after the police and soldiers; killing and taking their rifles. It is getting out of hand.

While the 2023 elections may also be in the minds of some who may be sponsoring these violent crimes, Nigerians are also very much concerned about the alleged influx of foreigners, especially Fulani from other African countries and the rumoured plot to Islamise the country. As a direct result, the different ethnic groups in the country are also gearing up, for any eventuality. The situation is not only unfortunate and sad; it paints a gloomy prognosis. Some of us have been calling for a national conference on security so that Nigerians would jaw jaw and chart the way forward and allay the fears of the people. Besides that, a state of emergency should have been considered on security. If the nation was locked down in 2020 due to Covid-19; has the violence perpetrated by those terrorising Nigerians, kidnapping and killing daily not done more harm than Covid-19? The buck stops on the table of the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Chief Ogar Jones, a clan head in Cross River North, warned that war was looming in the country. According to him, “What we are experiencing is preparation for full blown war in Nigeria soon. Ethnic nationalities are gathering weapons to prosecute warfare in Nigeria. They are attacking policemen and military personnel to reduce the number of those to face in the full blown war which may break out before 2023.”

But Dr Ibiang Omini, a lecturer at the University of Calabar, differed saying, “It is apparent that hoodlums need weapons and the easiest way is to kill those who are in possession of such weapons to prosecute their nefarious activities.”

Security personnel accused of condoning herdsmen’s atrocities

In Akwa Ibom state, a total of twenty-two police personnel have been killed so far in the attacks cutting across Essien Udim, Ika, Ikono, Etim Ekpo, Ini and Abak local government areas, all in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial district. A public servant, simply identified as Mr. Akpan, said he believed the gunmen belonged to Akwa Ibom pressure group affiliated to Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) fighting the police and the military for always protecting herdsmen in the country while victimizing the South South people and the youths who were engaged in genuine struggle. His words: “Those boys cannot just begin to kill the police and military. They are not happy about what is happening in the country today where Fulani herdsmen kill, maim innocent people and farmers while the government of the day will look the other way. Instead of dealing with the terrorists, the government would order security men to kill and arrest militants, IPOB, ESN who don’t harm innocent citizens. If nothing is done by government to address this, I don’t know what this country and the state will become tomorrow.”

Some other citizens, however, were of the opinion that the attacks were targeted at government officials and not the police, stressing that those youths were trying to get the police out of the way to be able to penetrate government officials that use them as escorts.

One of them said, “Those boys are not strangers, they are locals. They are indigenes of Akwa Ibom State. They interact with our people in our own language. They come to town to buy things, food to eat. When they came out to buy things in town and people were running away, they would say, ‘don’t run, sell for us’. Today, you cannot find a politician with police escort in this whole area because those boys will go after them.ISWAP

But honestly I can’t say why they are targeting police, I think they may actually be targeting government. Their body language shows they are angry with government because of the way things are going on. For instance, sometimes they would come to town just to stop people selling ticket to commercial motorcylists and Keke Napep saying it is wrong at this time when people are suffering so much.”

Attacks meant to deny S’East opportunity to produce president in 2023

Coalition of South East Youth Leaders COSEYL, blamed the escalating attacks on security formations in the zone on anti-democratic elements bent on making South East ungovernable. COSEYL National President, Goodluck Ibem said the masterminds target police and the military to pave the way for a swift military invasion and destruction of Igbo land.

His words:”From all indications, the perpetrators of the dastardly acts are anti-democratic forces who are hell-bent on truncating our democracy. These are external forces who want to make the South East ungovernable but their aim is dead on arrival. The perpetrators of these attacks understand that the only way to make the military, police and other security agencies to come hard on any area or people is to launch attack against security formations.” The COSEYL President further linked the attacks to forces opposed to South East producing the Nigeria President come 2023. According to him, the aim of the attackers is to demarket the zone and rob it of the opportunity to produce the country’s next President.

“These forces believe that the easiest way to deny Ndigbo presidency in 2023 is by causing mayhem in the South East and the inability of the forces to unmask the perpetrators till now raises suspicion.

“In Owerri attack that led to the destruction of Police Headquarters, correctional facility and other governments facility, the place is close to the military barracks in Obinze. The attackers conducted the attack for two and a half hours and there was no single response from the military or any other security agencies. This is exactly what happens anytime Fulani herdsmen want to launch an attack. The attackers of the Correctional facility in Owerri were shouting up IPOB. Which criminal will come to steal and he will be announcing his or her name for all to know that he is the one committing the crime. It is only someone who wants to frame-up another person that will do that.

“Anytime Fulani herdsmen want to attack, all the security formations will be inactive. In the attack at Uzo-Uwani in Enugu state that led to the death of scores of people, the governor of the state got the information and called the 82 division Headquarters in Enugu. They were dilly-dallying until the Fulani herdsmen finished killing and left before the military appeared to stop the villagers from reprisal attack.

“It is unfortunate that our political leaders do not understand what is really happening. This whole confusion is just to keep Ndigbo busy on how to resolve their security challenges while the North will be busy working on how to retain power in 2023. Mr Noel Chigbu was killed in Owerri just for not observing the checkpoint rule according to the soldiers that killed the young man. What a shame! There is no where in the world where a soldier will kill a harmless civilian for not obeying a checkpoint rule .

“The military have never arrested those murderous Fulani herdsmen killing people in South East, South South and Benue state. We challenge the military, if they are working for the peace of this country, let them arrest just one herdsman that is involved in the killing of Benue indigenes as well as killings in Ebonyi, Enugu, Anambra and Imo states.”

The paramount traditional ruler of Isuochi ancient kingdom HRM Eze Godson Ezekwesiri (Ochi 1 of Isuochi), said the sad development had remained a puzzle to him. The monarch said thorough investigation was needed to establish the source of the attacks, adding that he could not point accusing fingers at anybody without evidence.

Asked if agitators of self determination could be responsible, he said it was unlikely, arguing that it makes no economic sense to destroy infrastructure and facilities that would serve as a take-off assuming they succeed in getting the new country. The monarch called on Igbo leaders to look beyond the surface and get to the root of the challenge to save the race from doom.

In his own submission, the traditional ruler of Obimo Autonomous Community in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, HRH, Igwe Spencer Ugwuoke said, “anybody going to attack police personnel and their facilities has grievances. The police should not detain suspects beyond 24 hours. However, if you go to police stations, you will see someone who has been there for months, if not years without being charged to court. Some people locked up in police cells could have invited hoodlums to police facilities”.

Also, most members of these agitating groups are looking for a way to earn their livelihood. That’s why I attribute insecurity and uprising in South East to unemployment. Everyone should be given a sense of belonging and not treated as a second class citizen in his own country. Let South East governors co-opt Eastern Security Network, and Ebubeagu for proper security of the region. Let the Federal Government also remove the outlaw tag on IPoB and seek a way of working in harmony with them.

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