Who is killing police in the South East region? This is a trillion-naira question. Who is behind the spate of dastardly attacks and why?
As at this moment, no one really knows who. Except for the garrulous Governor of Imo State whose hatred of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) prompts him to accuse the proscribed organisation each time there is trouble in his state, no one can tell who is responsible for what is happening. The security agencies that are supposed to investigate and provide answers are showing tight lips. This leaves us with no option than to try out a few conclusions, hoping that this could point to where the attacks are coming from, who could be behind them, their likely motivation, and possible consequences of the raids. Most importantly, this could, hopefully, prompt leaders and governments of the South East to recognize that what is happening is an existential threat to every Igbo person living in the homeland.
To begin, there are two issues that play up prominently in the attacks – their scale and a familiar modus operandi.
The scale of the serial police assaults is huge. According to the BBC, there are over a dozen reported raids on police stations since January. Other reports suggest that more than 15 police officers, naval officers, and correctional service (former Prisons) officers lost their lives in those raids. Since January, the attackers have deployed to four of the five states in the region, Enugu being the sole exception. This is not to suggest that Enugu is spared, or that it will continue to be spared, as we shall demonstrate shortly. The scale and frequency of these attacks indicate quite strongly that this could be a planned and coordinated effort to achieve certain ends.
For now, the attacks have instilled fear in police officers and ordinary citizens of the region. It is fair to conclude that there is now a hoard of firearms, stockpiled and ready to be deployed when the raiders are ready to launch their sinister operations. Finally, if the Federal Government were to listen to frequent, offhand and careless rants of the Imo State governor, the military and police will sooner launch a killing spree in Igboland, ostensibly against IPOBians but as usual with significant collateral citizen casualties as well. All of this will happen before the real thing – the reason for the weapons stockpile – becomes manifest.
What accounts for the weapons stockpile? Again, no one knows, and the security agencies continue to keep mum. However, there is something we can learn from the modus operandi of gunmen attacking police stations in the North East. It is very similar and very, very familiar. For each lightning raid, the focus is on two key crime-fighting tools – arms and vehicles. The gunmen cart away the arms while burning all operational vehicles in sight. They garnish the operations by selling decoys such as releasing detainees and killing officers who happen to be in the right place at the wrong time.
What can we make of all of this? First, the assault squads show clearly that they do not need getaway vehicles. They obviously want to disable the police from giving immediate chase when they recover from the shock of the attack, increase the hurdle for proper investigations, and reduce the advantage the police will have to respond to emergency situations that they could be planning for the region. Secondly, it is quite obvious, therefore, that their primary target are the weapons of destruction, which makes it a familiar pattern of operations as refined by Boko Haram in the North East. The ease with which these operations are accomplished indicates a level of “professionalism” that comes from months, if not years, of practice. The security agencies should, therefore, not only thoroughly examine the role of IPOBians in the raids but also look beyond them to see if this is not the work of outside agents looking for weapons to unleash a reign of terror in the South East and surrounding regions.
What should the people expect as an outcome of these raids? It is to be expected that a heightened federal security presence will sadly become a permanent feature of life in the South East. Secondly, the ability and willingness of the military and police to respond to citizen emergencies – in homes and farmlands – would be severely constrained by fear and poor equipment, as is the situation in the North East today. Thirdly, and I quake at the thought, are we now about to see our young boys and girls ferried from their boarding schools in the middle of the night, leading the state governments to shell out millions of naira as ransom for their release? Or will it be a ferocious return of highway banditry and kidnapping to which the police and the army will have little or no effective response? The grim possibilities are endless.
What should be the response of responsible state authorities to whatever may be coming next? To underscore the suggestions that follow, it is important to point out that what is happening in the South East today was first tested in my home state of Enugu in August 2020, about eight months ago. In other words, the current wave of citizen-security agency clashes and raids on police formations was first tested in the Coal City State. On August 28, 2020, the Railway Police Station, Ogui, was attacked by unknown criminals who overpowered the personnel, stormed their armory and carted away weapons. A similar attack was launched two days later (August 30) through another lightning strike at Unity Police Station, Abakpa. Both stations are in the heart of the City of Enugu. Recall that, five days before this first police raid, there was also the first-ever reported physical clash between IPOB elements and two federal security agencies in Enugu. When the dust cleared, DSS claimed that two of its agents were killed during the clash while IPOB cried that police wasted 20 of its members.
The pioneer Enugu conflicts have somehow faded from public consciousness, and this is partly because of the proactive tactics employed by the state government to deal with it. As I recall, the governor summoned a meeting of top security officials in the state, got a briefing on what was going on and agreed with them on what to do to stem further attacks on police stations and clashes with IPOBians. Then he invited local community leaders to sensitize them on what was happening and to speak to the need for every community to be vigilant. Prior to this time, Enugu State had in place two effective internal security bodies whose operatives were licensed to bear arms for the sole purpose of defending rural and urban communities from outside attacks. The first, Neighborhood Watch, is a community defense force that operates with the approval and oversight of the Nigeria Police. The second, Forest Guards, was an initiative of the South East Governors’ Forum, which Enugu State immediately implemented. Agents of Enugu Forest Guards defend forests, farmlands and highways from the excesses of bandits and cattle herders. The guards were recruited by the DSS, which has the profile of every operative. Enugu has not been spared from the recent attacks. The fact is that the Enugu situation today is the outcome of a proactive response and the ability to maneuver successfully in order to get into a working relationship with federal security officials.
Now that the attacks have encircled all states of the south east, the Enugu response should become a basic starting point for all states. Beyond this, it calls for leaders of the Region to urgently convene a meeting to discuss a common response to the coming security threat and take immediate and urgent preemptive actions. The first order of business for such a meeting would be to do whatever is possible to dissuade the police and the military from launching reprisals which will further decimate innocent civilian population. A second is to install a mechanism that makes it impossible to kidnap our children from their school hostela. A third is, as funny as it sounds, to remonstrate with the governor of Imo State to be more circumspect in making pronouncements that lead to loss of innocent lives. In recent times, we are witnesses to how careless talks from state governors have caused innocent lives to be lost in Orlu (Imo State), and Oyigbo (Rivers State). Finally, I also think the time has come to launch a concentrated Igbo response to the poison that Mr. Nnamdi Kano spews out on a daily basis from his hideout abroad. On the strength of what is happening in our homeland today, the less we hear from him, the better for the safety and security of our people.
The Nnamdi Kanu factor bears repeating. Those sponsoring this misguided son of Igboland should please take a dispassionate look at what will be the likely consequences of a federal response to the dastardly murders of security officials in the region. Is Kanu instigating, or worse, sponsoring these raids and killings? If he is, how will this strategy lead to his desired state of Biafra? If he is not, does he not know the implications of continuing to gleefully support dastardly murders of federal officials in his home, thereby making it look as if IPOB is complicit in the police raids? Is he going to force us into another war that we will once again largely fight with bluffing and bravado, in place of strategic planning, commonsense, and respect for the people who want to be left alone to continue to strive and thrive in their national and international spaces?