Imo State has been under severe attacks by gunmen in recent times. On Monday, April 5, the gunmen attacked the police headquarters and the Custodial Centre in Owerri, the state capital. They reportedly set them ablaze, including over 50 vehicles. They also set 1, 844 inmates free. A day after this incident, hoodlums attacked the Area Divisional Police Headquarters at Ehime Mbano in Imo State. No police officer died, but three vehicles were reportedly burnt and suspects freed.
These incidents were akin to the recent similar attacks on security personnel in different parts of the South East and South South. In Ebonyi, Anambra, Abia, Imo and Cross River States, gunmen have killed a number of policemen and set police stations ablaze. For instance, they had struck at police formations at such places as Aboh Mbaise, Obowo, Ihitte Uboma, and Isiala Mbano all in Imo State. In Abia, the gunmen had attacked and killed policemen at places like Abiriba, Omoba, and some areas of Aba. In Anambra State, security operatives were attacked and killed in places like Nkpologwu, Omogho, Neni, Awkuzu, Ekwulobia and Isuofia.
The motive behind the attacks and the identity of the attackers are still hazy. Thus, we think it was premature for the immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to have blamed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for the attacks without any detailed, concrete investigation. He had ordered police officers to use maximum force against IPOB before he was suddenly removed from office.
Ironically, Imo State governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, exonerated IPOB saying well known aggrieved politicians sponsored the Imo attacks. According to him, the objective of the politicians is to destabilise the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration in Imo. “I have done some thorough investigation and I have a credible lead as to those who are sponsoring the activities of these hoodlums,” Uzodimma said. IPOB has also denied responsibility for the attacks.
Part of what fuels this spate of attacks could be the feeling of marginalisation and alienation in the scheme of things in the South East. This is particularly noticeable in security and political appointments in the country.
Not only has this created enormous challenge for political and opinion leaders in the region, it has also generated tension among security agencies operating in the area. In Anambra State, for instance, police checkpoints have disappeared from the roads. Most policemen now wear mufti to work and only put on their uniform when they are in the office.
This is a sign of serious danger ahead. Security men are there to protect life and property and maintain law and order. If, for any reason, they are incapacitated, what the society reaps is anarchy.
With this upsurge in crime, Nigeria is sending negative signals to investors, both local and foreign. Obviously, no investor will want to invest in an economy where there is no guarantee of the security of his investments. The situation has dragged the image of the country through the mud.
While we condemn these attacks and urge restraint on the part of those perpetrating them, we feel there is every need to carry out discreet and detailed investigations. This will unravel the mystery behind the attacks. This is a task before the new Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba. The new police boss should do everything possible to tackle the problem headlong.
We reiterate that efforts should be made to mop up illegal arms in the country. Just the other day, former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, said over six million illegal arms were in the hands of unauthorised persons in Nigeria. This is not only dangerous, but also means that the end to the security crisis in the country is not near.
There is need to beef up the intelligence network of our security agencies. This is one major way to combat the guerrilla tactics the attackers have adopted. The soldiers in Ariaria Junction on Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway in Aba were able to subdue these gunmen last month because they had prior information about their pending attacks. They prepared and waited for them and were able to kill about 11 of them when they finally came.
As we had stated in several editorials, the present administration should consider restructuring of the country. A restructured Nigeria will ensure that the centre will no longer be so attractive that the constituent states or regions will be fighting to corner the greater part of the commonwealth. Restructuring will also ensure the decentralisation of the police force such that there will be community and state police as against the central police we have now.
It is better we have a united Nigeria where fairness and equity reign than a fragmented nation tilting towards anarchy. The earlier we initiate this dialogue on restructuring, the better.