By Wilfred Eya
What is happening in the South East geo-political zone? That is one question agitating the minds of critical observers today in Nigeria. Yes, because the zone which hitherto, had enjoyed relative peace is gradually descending into a pit of crises of insecurity.
It is not contestable that Nigeria had been facing multiple security challenges in the major regions of the country but until now, the South East was the most peaceful, hence, many are shocked over the increasing whirlwind of insecurity and violence moving round the zone. From Anambra through Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia to Imo, the emerging narrative is not palatable. It appears the Igbo-speaking South East is Nigeria’s new theatre of instability and adds to a long list of other security challenges facing her. The Jihadist violence in the North East has left an estimated 11 million people in need of aids while in the North West, there is escalating issue of banditry. Also, piracy and organised crime bedevill the Niger Delta, and the pastoralist-farmer clashes in much of the rest of the country have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. As a result, though the military is now deployed in 35 out of Nigeria’s 36 states, the nation’s security situation is still in a terrible state.
For the South East, what appear to be the danger signals are the recent incidents in Ebonyi and Imo states.
In Ebonyi, suspected Fulani herdsmen invaded Obeagu community in the Ishielu Local Government Area and killed 23 persons who were between the ages of 18 and 56. Daily Sun which visited the scene of the incident, observed that about 10 motorcycles and a vehicle, whose owners were killed, were also set ablaze. People of Ebonyi are still mourning their dead even as the state government and the security agencies continue to blow hot air amid threats to get to the ‘roots of the matter’.
But as if the Ebonyi incident was not enough, on Monday, April 5, the Imo Police Command headquarters and the Correctional Centre in Owerri, the state capital, came under heavy attacks by gunmen.
They looted the armoury and burnt vehicles after freeing no fewer than 600 detainees at the police headquarters.
A police source said the hoodlums took away sophisticated arms and set the rest ablaze.
The Nigerian Correctional Service said the hoodlums freed at least 1,844 inmates.
Daily Sun learnt it was like an action movie as the hoodlums, armed with dynamites, launched the attack on the correctional facility near the Government House along Okigwe Road.
Eyewitnesses said the attacks started around 1.30 am and ended two hours later. They were said to have circled the roundabout, making various incantations for about 30 minutes before setting out to attack the police headquarters.
Heavy gunshots rang out as the assailants approached the command headquarters and launched the dynamites on the administrative building housing the state Criminal Investigative Department (CID).
Sources also said the hoodlums were heard telling the detainees and prisoners: “You have been released because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead today.”
But that was not all. Barely 48 hours after the invasion of the headquarters, gunmen again attacked the police division in Ehime/Mbano in the state and burnt some vehicles.
The police spokesperson in Imo State, Orlando Ikeokwu, confirmed the attack on the police facility.
So far, the nearest explanation to what happened came from the embattled immediate past Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Adamu who readily fingered the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra(IPOB) as the masterminds of the invasion of the Imo police headquarters.
The Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma initially toed the same path and pointed fingers at the proscribed group. Following the activities of IPOB and its security arm, the Eastern Security Network(ESN) in the South East, it was easy for the former police IG and the Imo State government to jump to the hasty conclusion that the self-determination group was responsible for the mayhem in Imo. But to critical observers, there was more to the ugly development in the South East.
The Imo incident, for instance raised a lot of questions. Some of them include: were the police so incapacitated that they could not offer any resistance to the arsonists who allegedly spent close to three hours in executing their evil plan? Why didn’t the Army and other security agencies intervene since most of them are not far from the Police headquarters and the Imo Correctional Centre? What efforts did the security aides attached to the Government House make to stop the hoodlums who initially converged very close to them? How is it possible that in the melee, not one person was injured either among the hoodlums or police personnel? The questions are endless.
But more than the questions are a lot of other conspiracy theories trailing what is currently happening in the geo-political zone. For some people, the development is not unconnected with the battle for the 2023 presidential election. The argument by people in this group is that the Igbo stand a good chance of producing the president of Nigeria considering that the odds of justice, fairness and equity favour the zone which has not occupied the seat since 1999. So, the conspiracy theory is that some powerful forces in and outside the corridors of power want to destabilize the East so as not to have the sympathy of those supporting a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
There is also the second leg of the theory that the deteriorating security situation is the handiwork of IPOB. The calculation is that the proscribed group is completely disenchanted with the seeming endemic marginalization of the Igbo by successive governments in Nigeria. In the estimation of those who hold this view, the apparent oppression of the Igbo peaked under President Buhari’s administration which is believed to have literally ignored the South East in appointments and infrastructural development.
Those in this school of thought insist that even the resurgence of the idea of self-determination by IPOB stems from a perception of the region’s deliberate marginalisation by the government of President Buhari, and the heavy-handed policing of the South East by security forces since he was elected in 2015.
There is also the theory about disgruntled politicians trying to create crises to get at their opponents ahead of the next general elections.
For instance, in Imo, the state governor, Hope Uzodimma said some aggrieved politicians were behind the recent attacks on police stations and a correctional facility in the state. He said the objective was to destablise the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration.
Featuring on Politics Today, a Channels Television programme, Uzodimma said: “What happened in Imo State last Monday is unbelievable. A group of hoodlums, of course sponsored by some known politicians in Imo State, decided to destroy public infrastructure and government facilities — and attacked a correctional centre facility and also attacked a police state headquarters.
“But what is important to take home is for Nigerians to know of the plot by a group of aggrieved politicians to destablise the government of APC. I have done some thorough investigation and I have a credible lead as to those who are sponsoring the activities of these hoodlums.”
The governor who initially said IPOB members were behind the attack later recanted and blamed it on politicians. Daily Sun learnt that he absolved the proscribed group after watching a CCTV footage which captured the violence at the police headquarters and the prisons.
But reacting to the development, former governor of Imo State, Chief Achike Udenwa condemned the development in the South East, saying it showed the porous nature of the nation’s security architecture.
He said however that in the case of Imo, it is difficult to conclude on those responsible but regretted that security of lives and property has collapsed in the state hitherto known for its serenity and peaceful coexistence of the people.
He wondered why the authorities appeared incapacitated even when there was a security report that such an incident was being hatched to play out in the state.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Ahamba said nobody was sure of what happened in Imo because of the many versions of the incident from the relevant authorities that should know better.
He expressed concern that despite an earlier warning by the DSS of a possible breakdown of law and order in the state, the authorities could not do anything to stop it.
Member of the National Executive of Ohanaeze, the apex socio-cultural organization of Ndigbo, Dr Ezechi Chukwu, said the whole drama is disheartening considering that the South East, hitherto, was the most peaceful zone in the country.
He described the current insecurity narrative from the zone as appalling, saying it had shown the porous nature of the nation’s security apparatus.
Dr Ezechi said the development has further underlined the compelling need to restructure the country.
He Said: “The governors are demobilized and incapacitated. They are only Chief Executives of their states in theory.”
He enjoined politicians of the South East extraction to desist from politics of desperation and play by the rules.
Ezechi also urged politicians from Imo State to shun vindictive politics and allow Governor Hope Uzodimma to continue the good work he is doing.
Former member of the House of Representatives, USA Igwesi described the security situation in the South East as alarming and charged all stakeholders to ensure that it does not degenerate to anarchy. He called on governors of the zone to synergise in the efforts to halt the ugly development in the zone and charged the security agencies to live up to their billing.
“The relevant security agencies must, therefore, continue to seek new ways and means to consistently mitigate the new challenges and provide an effective deterrence”, he said.