By Don Okereke
At the risk of painting a gloomy picture, I dare submit that the tempo of social tension, political entropy, armed conflict, wanton bloodletting, ungoverned spaces, and the centrifugal forces at play in Nigeria is to say the least, ramping up every day and very disturbing. Not to be outdone, Nigeria is increasingly ticking all the right boxes of a fragile state and upping the misery index. To be sure, Nigeria increased from 94.4 index in 2006 to 97.27 index in 2020. Lest I forget, it’s not all gloomy, Nigeria constructed a $1.95 billion railway from Kano state into Maradi, Niger Republic. Nigeria’s Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi confirmed that he personally begged the Republic of Niger to allow Nigeria to link them with the railway. Moving on…Aforesaid upshots in Nigeria are fueled by widening gap in social cohesion, entrenched marginalization, patent nepotism, corruption, inequality, injustice, uncurbed proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) and attendant quest for the Balkanization of the country by sundry self-determination groups. In the southwest, the herdsmen-farmers miasma has been heightened by a blustering quest for Oduduwa Republic championed by Chief Sunday Adeyemo (aka Sunday Igboho), his enfant terrible spokesman, Mr. Olayomi Koiki et al. As part of efforts to actualize Oduduwa Republic, agitators recently launched a security outfit – Oduduwa Nation Security Force, code-named “Operation Paramole’’ in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. Some stakeholders and analysts say the ongoing violence in Nigeria is a preamble to the 2023 general election. Thrown into the mix is a disturbing trend in non-state actors brazenly attacking police officers, government security agents and carting away their weapons. No part of the country is off-limits to criminal activities. Abuja, the capital of Nigeria is been encircled by bandits, and tenably Boko Haram elements. Premium Times reports that Pegi community in Kuje area council of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is fast becoming a kidnapper’s den despite housing two government security facilities – the Navy and the police. Community leaders say at least 30 persons had been kidnapped in the area in the last two years and about N50 million paid as ransom. Writing in his column – Pendulum – on THISDAY Newspaper, Dele Momodu’s essay titled, ‘Who Shall Tell the President Nigeria is Dying?’ captures events playing out in Nigeria. In the words of Momodu, ‘’The symptoms of a failed nation are just too palpable to be missed or ignored by a reasonable people. If nobody has yet told the President, then he must hear this somehow. Our security situation is more than dire and grim. It is now catastrophic. Nigerians are now being killed, kidnapped and raped in places that used to know only peace’’. Ironically, while the United Kingdom expresses grave concern over what it described as the ‘deteriorating security situation in Nigeria’, President Buhari is vested, promises helping Niger Republic, and other neighbouring countries to rein in terrorism, insecurity.
Multiple Threats To National Security And Nigeria’s Economy
Nigeria is contending with hybrid, multiple threats to national security. Sometime in February 2021, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Rtd), reportedly warned that the country stood the risk of disintegration, if the violence currently spreading in the system was allowed to fester. Radical elements in southern Nigeria, hitherto the southeast and now, the southwest are simultaneously angling for secession. While the latter is so far a talkfest, the former seem to be upping the ante with a festering insurrection. It is not a coincidence that Major General Dagvin Anderson, the Commander of the US Special Operations Command warns the Nigerian government that terrorist groups, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, are planning to penetrate Southern Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.
Deplorable insecurity, instability in Nigeria is also taking a toll on the economy. According to a report by Guardian Newspaper, ‘’Nigerians are paying more for insecurity as economic impact hits N50 trillion’’. Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor (CBN), Godwin Emefiele corroborates the burden of insecurity on the economy. According to Emefiele, rising inflation in the country was caused by security crisis and devaluation of the naira. In a related development, leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters, ReliefWeb reckons that, ”as much as 5.1 million Nigerians are at high risk of being critically food insecure between June-August 2021”. Notwithstanding the fact that the country has spent at least ₦6 trillion on security in the last decade. Fitch Ratings also noted that investment inflow continues to be clouded by insecurity and governance challenges.
Having mentioned the omnipresent security challenges bedeviling Nigeria, let’s zero in, and attempt to interrogate the subject matter of this essay – probability of insurgency 2.0 fermenting in Nigeria, especially in the southeast and south-south.
The Eastern Security Network, A Child of Necessity?
Hitherto regarded as one of the most peaceful and plausibly safest part of the country, southeast Nigeria seem to be witnessing a dangerous collapse of state machinery for protection of lives and property. Unarguably the most militarized part of Nigeria, the southeast is witnessing reinforcement of roadblocks, police deployment, and heavy military presence. John Campbell, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria argues in his blog post titled, ‘’Security Deteriorating in Nigeria’s Former “Biafra”, that, ‘’fighting between government forces and an Igbo separatist group risks adding yet another challenge for the Buhari administration’’. Continuing, Campbell submits that, ‘’The emergence of an Igbo paramilitary force highlights the growing breakdown of any federal government monopoly on the use of force in the face of multiple security challenges’’. Granted the geographics, remote and immediate causes may be different, but we can theorize that goings-on in southeast Nigeria bears the tell-tale signs of the nascent phase of Boko Haram uprising. The security dynamics in southeast Nigeria is morphing aftermath of the crises in Orlu in Imo state on January 22, 2021, when Nigerian soldiers reportedly invaded the town to flush out members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN). Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader apparently exploited the leadership vacuum provided by pliant, kowtowing southeast governors who capitulated in establishing a regional security outfit like Amotekun in the southwest, to establish the ESN. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) posits that the Eastern Security Network, a paramilitary force is a child of necessity established to protect the people of Southeast from attacks by AK47-bearing Fulani herdsmen. From all indications, the ESN is popular and enjoys extensive backing amongst the proletariat across the southeast as victims of herdsmen attacks consider the ESN to be defending them from a common enemy. An Igbo proverb suffices that you cannot beat a child and expect him not to cry. For instance, eight people were reportedly killed sequel to a recent clash between Fulani Herdsmen and ESN operatives in Igga community, Adani area, Uzo-Uwani LGA of Enugu State. The ESN operatives reportedly came to support Igga community who were allegedly attacked by rampaging Fulani herdsmen on their farms and in their houses. Similarly, bloodletting herdsmen reportedly attacked Egedegede, Obegu and Amuzu communities in Ishielu LGA of Ebonyi State. The death toll from that attack is said to have risen to 25. Do you expect those communities to fold their hands?
Statistics of policemen recently killed in southeast and south-south Nigeria
Quoting data obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker, NST, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa programme, Vanguard Newspaper reports that, ”no fewer than 1,525 persons have died across Nigeria in the first six weeks of 2021”. The actual figure maybe higher given that security incidents in Nigeria are grossly under-reported.
According to data from SBM Intelligence on reported police killings from 2015 to Q12021, ‘’no fewer than 497 police officers were killed in 554 incidents across Nigeria in the last six years’’. Out of the six geopolitical zones in the country, the South-south region tops the chart with 163 incidents that sent 174 policemen to their early graves during the years under review. 51 policemen were killed in Delta State alone within the period, making the state the highest among the six states in the region. The South-eastern part of Nigeria accounted for 16 of those deaths while the South-south accounted for 20. They both accounted for more than 60 per cent of the total figure.
While the southeast does not have the highest number of policemen killed (the South-south leads with 20 in the 1st quarter of 2021), the nature of attacks in the southeast is upping, systematic, and more often than not, weapons of the slain security operatives were acquired. Inter-alia, the inference portends an attempt to amass sophisticated weapons. The multiplier effect and dangerous implication is that these weapons carted away will be used for future criminal activities. Who knows who will be next? If armed government security agents are not safe and randomly gunned down, then no one is safe.
Timeline of recent attacks on government security agents, facilities in southeast Nigeria
April 05, 2021, gunmen in the early hours of Monday, April 5, reportedly attacked the correctional facility in Owerri, the Imo State capital, and freed over 1500 inmates. The attackers also reportedly razed the Imo State Police Command headquarters situated in Owerri and burnt vehicles parked at the command headquarters. Both the correctional facility and the police headquarters are located in the same vicinity, only a few blocks away from the Imo State Government House. That the gunmen operated unhindered near the Imo state Government House tells how security has degenerated in that clime.
In a related development, gunmen dressed in military uniform reportedly killed seven northern traders in separate shooting incidents in Orlu town and Umuaka in Njaba LGA between Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd April, 2021.
March 31, 2021, gunmen on Wednesday, reportedly killed three policemen attached to protect the former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, at his village, Isuofia in Aguata LGA, Anambra state. Soludo escaped unhurt. While not ruling out political rivalry, it is interesting that rifles of the slain policemen were reportedly carted away. This bears the signature of other recent attacks on security agents.
March 24, 2021, a fierce gun battle broke out when armed men reportedly attacked soldiers of 144 Battalion stationed at Ariaria Junction, along Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway in Aba, Abia State. The incident left about 10 persons dead.
On March 22, 2021, gunmen reportedly attacked a Police checkpoint in Agu Eze Amaogudu, Abiriba, Ohafia LGA of Abia State, killing three policemen.
On Saturday, March 20, 2021, gunmen reportedly attacked a Divisional Police station in Umuelemai in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo state. An eyewitness reportedly said, “The boys [attackers] were shouting we owe the land. This is our land they must leave, and we will rule our land by ourselves.” The police officers ran for their lives and hide somewhere until the boys finished operation.
Though the Anambra state police command owned up that it lost only one cop, Punch Newspaper reports indicate that gunmen on Thursday, March 18, 2021, killed four naval personnel and three policemen in different locations in Anambra State. The three policemen were reportedly ambushed and murdered at Ukacha Junction, Neni, in the Anaocha LGA of Anambra state, while their patrol vehicle was burnt. Similarly, four naval men were reportedly killed at Awkuzu, in the Oyi LGA, also in Anambra state. The Navy is mute on the purported killing of its personnel.
February 25 – Four police officers were killed at MCC in Calabar, Cross River state by gunmen. Same day, February 25, 2021, unidentified hoodlums in four vehicles, attacked the Divisional Police HQTRS, Aboh Mbaise, shooting sporadically and injuring a policewoman. The affected police station was said to have been renovated after it was burnt during the #ENDSARS protests across the country.
February 24 – hoodlums killed a police officer and razed down a patrol vehicle in Ekwulobia in Anambra State. Two police officers reportedly lost their lives when gunmen in the early hours of Tuesday, February 23, attacked a police station in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria’s South-east. This is the second attack against police stations in Abia State, in less than a month. The police tagged the perpetrators of one of the “unprovoked” attacks as “hoodlums,” saying they were about 200 people armed with AK47 rifles and machetes.
On February 5, 2021, two police officers were reportedly shot dead while three others sustained injuries during an attack by gunmen on Obowo divisional police headquarters in Umulowe autonomous community, Imo state. Also, in September, 2020, gunmen attacked policemen at Egbu in Owerri and Owerre Nkworji in the Nkwerre LGA of Imo state respectively.
Mutual Distrust, Extrajudicial Killings Breeding Insecurity, Reprisals
There is no gainsaying the fact that there is mutual distrust and no love lost between government security forces (GSF) and the civilian populace in Nigeria. At the root of this, is the penchant for extrajudicial killings attributed to overzealous government security agents who strut with impunity. For instance, a report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says, ‘’Security forces enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown in parts of Nigeria killed more people than coronavirus itself”. Civil unrest ensued after a policeman reportedly killed a young man named Chinanu Okonkwo and his sister Chinyere Okonkwo at Umuderim Community, Ihitte Uboma, Imo State on March 9. An angry mob set the police station in the community ablaze afterwards. I think civilians became even more emboldened aftermath of the #ENDSARS protests during which police personnel lost monopoly on violence, were demystified and disappeared from their beats, stations. Many of policemen refused donning their uniforms subsequently and it took threats, coercion from the police hierarchy before they returned to their beats. According to the Inspector General of Police, ”22 policemen were killed, while 205 police stations were burnt during the #ENDSARS crisis”.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that ongoing attacks on Government Security Forces (GSF), facilities and on individuals in parts of Nigeria, is systematic. Attacking a prison facility and freeing convicted criminals cannot be justified under whatever guise. A rocket scientist is not needed to connect the dots, unravel what is playing out. If this trend is not reined in, events can snowball into full-blown anarchy, insurrection. The police recently opined that it arrested sixteen suspected protagonists of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Eastern Security Network (ESN) for alleged complicity in the series of violent attacks on security operatives in Southeast Nigeria. If those arrested are indeed complicit, they should be ‘singing’ by now. Unlike northeast Nigeria where Boko Haram exploits the rugged, porous, transnational swathes of ungoverned spaces such as the Sambisa forest which we understand is twice the size of Belgium, the topography of southeast Nigeria does not confer invincibility and is not fertile for prolonged guerilla warfare. While the resilient Boko Haram insurgency is driven by radical religious beliefs, proponents of armed insurgency in the southeast may not possess such conviction, staying power. It will entail enormous collateral damage and unintended consequences. While proponents argue that the ESN is a child of necessity, we can discern that it could end up like the once dreaded Bakassi boys which started well but morphed into a monster. Lacking no command and control structure, sparsely trained, undisciplined and unprofessional, we can prognosticate that the ESN may get involved in petty criminality, assassinations and get involved in settling personal scores. It behooves on good spirited Nigerians, governors, Igbo leaders, intelligentsia and other stakeholders to join forces and nip the festering carnage, insurrection in the bud. It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. I don’t see the trend abating anytime soon. On the other hand, the prevailing miasma playing out in Nigeria will ebb if the Buhari Administration genuinely tackles political alienation, marginalization, brazen nepotism, extreme poverty, unprecedented youth unemployment and impunity. As they say, what is good for the geese is good for the gander. The current Administration in Nigeria will do well to also rein in the menace of the globally ill-famed fourth deadliest terror group in the world.
©Okereke, security analyst/consultant, thinker, researcher, writer, military veteran.