Southeast Under Siege: Nigeria’s Security Lapses Takes A New Dimension

Southeast Under Siege: Nigeria’s Security Lapses Takes A New Dimension [MUST READ]

By Opinions | The Trent on April 8, 2021
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Police Abuja Kaduna private security POLICEMAN akwa ibom
File photo of Nigerian police officers

It is the Southeast that has everything to lose if they throw their homeland into wild chaos ―Ebuka Onyekwelu

As it stands, every part of Nigeria has now been engulfed in one life-threatening security challenge or another. Many states across the federation have well more than a handful share of this challenge. The Nigerian military inundated by the more traditional problem of lack of sufficient weapons to prosecute the ragging war against terrorism and banditry which threatens to overrun the north.

More so with the ongoing fracas between Fulani criminal elements and core Yoruba nationalists, evidently, Nigeria’s security operatives are already stretched to near breaking point. The ongoing gorilla-styled attacks by gunmen suspected to be members of the Eastern Security Network –ESN, of the Indigenous People of Biafra- IPOB, is now making the future look nothing short of horrifying. The once most peaceful region has joined the league of troubled zones in Nigeria.

In the northern parts of the country, no day passes without reports of people being killed. Much so that people generally now do not take notice of those reports, which is to say that killing by bandits and gunmen have become normalized. In the Southwest, the tribal tension has reached palpable and very disturbing heights. These developments are not without consequences. In fact, the more one thinks about them, the more conspicuous it appears that things can slip so fast and throw the whole country into wide chaos and violence. The imminent danger of Nigeria as a whole slipping into model anarchy comparable to the state of nature is no longer to be considered outrageous. The events in the Southeast gives credence that what is being witnessed may only be a prelude to widespread violence across all the regions of the country to the effect that Nigeria, as it is known, may effectively cease to be, as the government and its institutions will be overwhelmed by extreme violent groups. And with a population that is distraught and averse owing to the failures and incompetence of the government, the people themselves may become willing tools in ensuring the complete collapse of not just government but the state, irrespective of the dire consequences.

The same day, some Navy officers were killed at Awkuzu junction also in Anambra state, and again, their weapons were taken.

In the past one month or a little more, several security formations have been decimated by armed men throughout the Southeast. Security checkpoints have been attacked and several operatives killed. These attacks have been especially intense and mindboggling in Abia, Anambra, and Imo states. In less than two weeks, police officers were killed at Okacha junction in Anambra state with their weapons carted away by the gunmen. The same day, some Navy officers were killed at Awkuzu junction also in Anambra state, and again, their weapons were taken. Then, a few days after, prison warders were attacked, killed, and their weapons were taken. Only a few days ago, police operatives attached to Prof. Chukwuma Soludo were attacked and killed in Isuofia, Soludo’s village, and their arms were also taken. Many police stations have been attacked and set ablaze across the Southeast particularly in Abia and Imo state. As it stands, it is presumable that a considerable amount of weapons have been amassed by these gunmen in their covert and intent operations targeting security formations across the region, even as many of their victims remain Southeasterners.

The latest is the attack on Owerri Federal Prison at the heart of Owerri the capital of Imo state. Owerri Federal Prison located at the heart of Owerri with the state police headquarters and the Government House surrounding it was attacked in the early hours of Easter Monday and it is now reported that more than two thousand inmates of the prison were released and the facility was set ablaze. Military checkpoints along Onitsha-Owerri road were also set ablaze.  A video by Instagram user @bravest_energy which was captured in the early hours of the day just about the time of the prison break revealed that the attack was conducted by IPOB. “We have been liberated from Owerri Federal Prison…Biafra has come”, said one inmate who was asking to be given a lift or money so he can go to his village. When asked, “na IPOB release una?”, they chorused “YES”! This will not come as a surprise to many who have been following the recent developments.

Last week, no fewer than 20 people were killed in about three communities in Ebonyi by herdsmen.

The ESN which is a child of circumstance born out of the illegalities and monumental abuse by militant Fulani herdsmen across the Southeast may have assumed more power than their previous voiced intent of flushing herdsmen out of the Southeast. Last week, no fewer than 20 people were killed in about three communities in Ebonyi by herdsmen. Although the governor in an interview said the communities lost about 15 people, however, more reports suggest that no fewer than 20 people were killed by Fulani herdsmen during the attack. The point is that while ESN was apparently busy with other engagements, they have left their core mandate unattained. Just last week, more than two suya sellers were reported to have been killed in Owerri. This is telling, as much as it is revealing of the complexity of the crisis at hand.

In all, the most striking is the fact that not many people learned so much from the Bakassi boys operation despite being under the control of the state governments in Abia and Anambra states, some years ago. The general resentment against the government leaves the government with no place in the heart of the people. The lessons of yesteryear have also disappeared on account of this resentment. Holistic government failure at all levels and overbearing tribal profiling of Southeasterners that in the least has been condoned by the federal government has made even the worst of IPOB look better than what the government can offer. The only concern now is the fear that what is happening can easily metamorphose into weakening the state and rendering it impotent to the extent that pockets of armed rival groups will emerge and claim territories, just like in Somalia. This is already happening in parts of northern Nigeria where bandits and terrorists force villagers to pay tax to them and obtain clearance before going to their farms.

Katsina State, the President’s home state has gained a reputation as a heaven for bandits and armed men.

For the Southeast, the situation will be totally different for two reasons; the attacks are undertaken in cities and towns. This will quickly overrun the government and cause incredible panic among security operatives who also fear for their lives and have families waiting for them to return, just like everyone else. In the north where there is banditry and terrorism, much of the attack takes place in villages. They cease territories in villages. Militant Herdsmen camp in forests and often attack people in villages and then safely retreat to the forest. This is not the case here. Therefore what is ongoing in the Southeast is more imminently dangerous to the fabrics of modern society in the region. Secondly, in Southeast Nigeria it does not appear is a priority to the Federal Government. As a matter of fact, even if it is a priority to the present federal government, bandits still kidnapped school children in the President’s village, while he was visiting. Katsina State, the President’s home state has gained a reputation as a heaven for bandits and armed men in pursuit of diverse criminality. In other words, President Buhari, the Commander-in-Chief has not been able to rescue his home state from banditry. It is overly doubtful that the President will rescue the Southeast from the impending doom at the rate things are happening so fast.

Therefore, it is instructive to those fanning the embers of internal rupture within the Southeast, to pause and count, and then take caution. Nigeria has nothing to lose with the destruction of the Southeast by Southeasterners. It is the Southeast that has everything to lose if they throw their homeland into wild chaos. Southeast governments must reconstruct their approach to governance and the ambition of all must remain to make the Southeast an oasis of progress and development, and not a killing field.

Ebuka Onyekwelu, strategic governance exponent,  is a columnist with the WAP.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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