South East

THERE is a growing atmosphere of terrorism in Imo State, with Orlu, Orsu, Njaba and Oru local government areas as the main flashpoints.

Imo and Anambra states are the core theatres of violence in the South-East. Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi are relatively safe and stable except for the sporadic terrorist activities of armed herdsmen which the police, military and security agencies seem unwilling to tackle.

Since October 2020, groups of “unknown” gunmen have been targeting and killing people, especially military and security personnel and other federal agents, including burning down police stations, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, facilities, local government secretariats and murdering prominent citizens such as the late Dr. Chike Akunyili.

Last week, the culprits went beyond just killing. A military couple, Sergeant AM Linus and his wife (a Lance Corporal) were gunned down along with five others. The agents of terror beheaded the corpses of the soldiers, called their friends, and posted the conversation and a video of the severed heads on the social media.

The dialogue pointed to the possibility that the killing of the soldiers was a sort of revenge for the alleged killing of civilians by the military sent to the South-East to restore normalcy.

It can no longer be denied that what is happening, especially in Imo State, is terrorism. This was how Boko Haram started in Maiduguri before escalating to suicide bombings and full-scale insurgency. Only seven years ago, the South-East was one of the most peaceful areas in the country. The belief that the Muhammadu Buhari regime has not given the region enough sense of belonging appears to have strengthened Biafra separatist movements, particularly the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.

The brutal military responses to peaceful protests by IPOB, its hasty designation as a terrorist group and the unchecked activities of armed herdsmen led to the emergence of the murderous gangs of terror, the so-called “Unknown gunmen”.

The military must refine its rules of engagement. The attack on whole communities in search of gunmen and criminals must stop. It widens the feeling of enmity. Rather, culprits should be identified and dealt with according to the law. The military must gain the people’s confidence and enlist their support to restore order.

Violence by the two sides has not solved anything. Rather, it has worsened the situation because no one is safe now. Perhaps it is time to consider some sort of political settlement. The “stick and carrot” approach rarely fails to douse internal discontent as the Niger Delta militancy experience has shown.

The Federal Government should initiate dialogue with relevant stakeholders in the South-East and take measures to restore the alienated people’s faith and sense of belonging to Nigeria.

These senseless killings must be halted.

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