From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
Imo State which prides itself as the Eastern heartland has become a clear case of one week, one trouble. In fact, there had been occasions where the state recorded a deluge of troubles in a week.
The current security crisis faced by the state started last December following the formation of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) to flush out marauding herdsmen from Igboland.o
Governmen then unleashed security agents on suspected members of the IPOB / ESN in Umutanze, Orlu, where some persons lost their lives while many were arrested. The situation triggered skirmishes between the security agents and suspected members of the ESN/IPOB in the Orlu/Orsu axis.
As the crisis festered, scores of people including police and army operatives were killed and property destroyed. Governor Hope Uzodimma in a bid to arrest the situation imposed a dusk to dawn curfew and subsequently brought in the military to “flush” out the suspected members of the IPOB/ESN in Orlu and the state in general.
The operations started in February with the deployment of helicopter gunships and other military gadgets in collaboration with the Inspector General of Police Intelligence Response Team. The security operatives had stormed the Orlu /Orsu axis raiding private houses and even churches in search of suspected IPOB /ESN members. The joint security team also arrested the presiding priest of Our Lord’s Sabbath in Umunam Atta Community, Njaba LGA, Rev. Chigozie Nwaka, as well as a number of other clerics and church elders in Ubokoro Atta, Okporo, Okwudor all in Orlu council.
The soldiers also invaded House of Prayer International Covenant Church Okporo Orlu, and arrested over 20 members of the church as suspected members of IPOB/ESN. Rather than the situation abating, it deteriorated as gunmen continued their onslaught against police formations in the state.
In the last three months, no fewer than 12 police formations were attacked and razed down by gunmen. They included those at Obowo, Aboh Mbaise, Isiala Mbano, Etiti, Ehime Mbano, Orlu, Orsu, Nwaorieubi, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ezinihitte Mbaise, Mbieri and Nwaorieubi. The hoodlums also did not spare the judiciary as the magistrate’s courts in Ngor Okpala and Ihitte Uboma councils were attacked.
The attacks reached a crescendo on Easter Monday when gunmen simultaneously attacked the Imo Correctional Services facility and the Police headquarters close to the Douglas House, the seat of Imo State Government. The latest onslaught heightened fears and caused panic among residents.
During the attacks, the gunmen said to have arrived in a convoy of over 12 vehicles that early hour of April 5, 2021, operated unchallenged between 1 and 3am during which time they bombed the Owerri Correctional Centre to gain access to the custodial facilities and set free about 1,884 inmates from the facility. They also burnt all official files and documents.
The same scenario played out at the state police headquarters as the hoodlums burnt down the entire offices of the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), catered away their ammunition and set free 68 suspects from the various cells of SCID. Not done, they burnt 36 operational vehicles and 16 private vehicles which were parked within the premises of the police headquarters as the officers had already fled leaving the command headquarters undefended.
It was also learnt that the security officers who included the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and the Department of State Services at the main entrance of the Government House fled into the inner recesses of the building on sighting the gunmen who were on their way to the police headquarters.
Although police authorities blamed the attacks on on the IPOB/ESN, the pro-Biafra group denied its complicity in the attacks.
Regardless, took a new dimension following Uzodimma’s allegation that «desperate» politicians were responsible for the dastardly attacks on police and the Nigerian Correctional Centre. He also alluded that an ex-governor of the state who he alleged had failed to stop the implementation of the government white paper on the recovery of looted public property was the mastermind and sponsor of the hoodlums that wreaked havoc on security facilities in the state: «Criminal elements claiming to be members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) had attacked the Imo State police headquarters and Owerri Correctional Services centre with dynamite destroying buildings, vehicles and other sensitive official materials and unlawfully setting free inmates which the authorities said were more than 1800.
“The attacks were both cowardly and politically motivated. The plan of the perpetrators of the despicable atrocity which was to cause panic and fear in the state had already collapsed.»
A retired military intelligence officer, David Mbamara, said the governor should be given the benefits of doubt because as the governor he should have a detailed intelligence about the sponsors of the attackers. He also condemned the hasty statement of the immediate past Inspector General of police, Adamu Mohammed, who ascribed the coordinated attacks to members of the IPOB/ESN.
He described the Easter Monday attacks as a sign of failed intelligence and security on the part of the police, especially as it was said that they had prior knowledge of the incident: “The question is; why didn’t they take a proactive security measure? This is the same attitude that has resulted in festering insecurity in the country. And, it is infantile for the ex-IGP Mohammed Adamu to have concluded that the attackers were members of the IPOB without any investigation”.
But the main opposition party in the state, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) upbraided Uzodimma for blaming “desperate” politicians for the attacks.
It accused the governor of trying to shift attention of the people of the state from the ineptitude and the incompetence of his administration as well as its inability to secure the lives and property of the people.
State chairman of the PDP, Charles Ugwuh, said: “The attack goesto show that safety and security of lives and property in the state are not guaranteed if such places could be so brazenly attacked, causing colossal damage by arson to property, culminating in jailbreak and unlawful release of entire inmates. What has happened is a catastrophic failure of governance. We have therefore, concluded that lives and property are not safe and secure in the state under the watch of this current regime.”
The party urged Uzodimma to tackle the embarrassing spate of unemployment in the state which according to recent report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has the highest number of unemployed people in Nigeria.