By Ogbonna O. Onovo
The number of illegal arms in the South-East remains unknown. Their ready availability contributed significantly to the outburst of violence. The weapon of popular choice is the AK 47, numerous other types of small arms including the Berretta 0.9 mm, light machine guns, pump action shot guns, etc. Some of these could be purchased for as little as N50.000 while ammunitions go for 500 naira each depending on the make.
Federal Government established a committee in 2004 to sieze and destroy illegal arms. It carried out various destructions of weapons in Plateau, Rivers and Bayelsa States where insurgency and ethnic conflagration were prevalent. Some of these arms found their way to the South-East. None was carried out in the South-East. Also another committee established by Igbo businessmen, headed by former Presidential Aspirant, Osita Okereke, attempted to mop up illegal arms in the South-East but was largely ineffectual.
The Federal and State governments ought to put in more efforts in the venture. Very stiff penal sanctions are required to curb the menace.One may not be able to trace the very day that kidnapping started in Nigeria, but the crime of kidnapping gained prominence in the sociology of crime in our country when the Niger Delta region ‘militants’ adopted the criminal strategy of kidnapping expatriate oil workers in furtherance of their campaign for the emancipation of their region. Speedily, the act of kidnapping was embraced by other criminal elements in the South- East, who criminalized and escalated the strategy to the extent that toddlers and even corpses were kidnapped for ransom.
Of course, the criminal elements in the Southeast, who had embraced armed robbery as the quickest way of making big money as their nefarious attacks were mostly on banks and bullion vans, keyed into kidnapping. The crime ,over time, escalated in all the states of the Southeast, with Anambra and Imo states topping the chart. Though kidnapping as at today has been reduced through the joint and conscious efforts of state government and security agencies, but till date, there are still pockets of kidnapping being recorded in the region.
Cult memberships, their methods of operation and initiation rites, which involve oaths of allegiance, remain secret. Government. should revisit the secret cult law and improve on it. A committee should be inaugurated to ensure elimination of cultism in the South- East. Cultism has led to the emergence of a group of assassins referred to as “unknown gunmen” who routinely assassinate their victims or settle other scores in the same manner. Recently, beheading of their target has become the norm.
Armed robbery could be said to have gained prominence in Nigeria after the civil war, when it was discovered that many arms deployed in waging the war were not returned after cessation of hostilities. It was believed that these arms were employed by undesirable elements in the society to commit armed robbery and other violent crimes.
Though armed robbery in the 60s and 70s was crude and loosely oraganised, but today it has become more organized and deadlier, unleashed mostly on banks and cash-in-transit vehicles. There is no doubt that kidnapping has overtaken this act of criminality in the southeast, but armed robbery is still a menace and a major challenge to security management and economic development in the region. The same applies to stealing and car snatching ceases. Through the commendable efforts of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), this menace has declined to appreciable levels, yet it scare away foreign investors.
The South-East can do well economically without fraudsters on the prowl. This phenomenon has given the South-Easterners a bad image locally and internationally.
The Police and other security agencies and all patriotic citizens should tackle the menace by identifying such fraudsters, seizing their illicit gains/properties and prosecuting them.
One would want to exhort our politicians that while seeking political power or office, they should endeavour to play the game of politics by the rules, demonstrate spirit of sportsmanship, elevate politics beyond ethnicity and self aggrandizement, and ensure fulfillment of promises made during electioneering campaigns. This will reduce acrimonies and violence associated with politics which often create tensions and insecurity in the society.
The non-implementation of the agreed three Rs (Reconciliation. Reconstruction and Rehabilitation) after the civil war, worsened the plight of the citizens of the South-East. It retarded the economic growth of the region, exacerbated the poverty situation, created unemployment and lack of window of opportunity and completely dislocated social and political consciousness of the people. The aftermath was the emergence of non state actors like MASSOB, IPOB, Bakassi and constant cries of marginalization.
The people of the South-East should build trust between themselves and other Nigerians, including foreign investors. The present belief that South-East businessmen are not to be trusted, that they engage in underhand deals and can do anything for money, does not augur well with us as a people.
Other tribes in Nigeria hardly trust us and rarely come to the South-East to establish business. Efforts should be made to erase this negative image. For example, the adulteration of consumable and non-consumable products remain persistent in the South-East region. Substandard building material products like iron rod, electrical cables and other wares often cause building collapse and fire. Fake pharmaceutical products have killed many citizens over the years. Any action inimical to the safety and well being of our citizenry should be avoided.
Herdsmen/farmers clashes are very recent criminal phenomena in the South-East. Time was when herdsmen and farmers co-habited cordially, and their misunderstandings were well managed and settled at community levels. That time is now history.
Today, there is growing and sustained animosity between the two groups, and seeds of discord and circle of violence have become a defining characterization of conflict resolution between farmers and herdsmen in the region. The incident of Nimbo community in Enugu State readily comes to mind as an example of how dastardly and gruesome an unresolved conflict between farmers and herdsmen could be. This indeed is an emerging security challenge in the South East.
The cases of chieftaincy disputes, boundary disputes, communal conflicts and non-indigene versus indigene squabbles have long been established in the South East region. Examples are in Ebonyi State, Ezza versus Ezillo that took so many lives and almost crippled the State and rendered Enugu-Abakaliki Highway impassable to commuters.
Another example is Aguleri and Umuleri, Awka and Amawbia in Anambra State. The same applies to Enugu, Abia and Imo States. The chieftaincy tussles in most autonomous communities have turned violent leading to loss of lives and property. It is a shame that today in some communities in the South East, some citizens are regarded as non-indigenes or settlers and the consequences often become security issues.
Excerpts of a paper delivered at the South-East Economic and Security Summit on December 22, 2016
Onovo is a retired Inpector-General of Police