The Killings in the South-east
BY NDUBUISI FRANCIS
I am a fervent admirer of Abhijit Naskar, one of the world’s famous neuroscientists and an untiring advocate of global harmony and peace. Of particular appeal in this analysis to x-ray the security situation in the South-East is his treatise: “We have arrived at a point of time in history, where there is no place for exclusive national or cultural identity upon the fabric of society. With one hand foster your cultural identity, with another assimilate others – this is the golden principle of progress, both national and global.”
Naskar’s words speak particularly to the Southeast governors. They seem to have relegated their cultural identity while assimilating that of others. It rankles that the once bubbling Southeast, the centre of enterprise and commerce appears to be a shadow of itself, sliding precipitously into the Hobbesian state of nature where life is gradually becoming brutish, nasty and short.
Prior to the current heart-wrenching, bloody activities of criminal gangs, this same region was one of the most peaceful in the country. While no alibi justifies the current carnage, Southeast governors and the federal government provided a fertile ground for the wanton destruction of precious lives and property. For the governors, their failure to make the environment enabling for the teeming population of youths to be gainfully engaged, their laissez-faire disposition to burning issues, and failure to provide responsive and responsible leadership partly account for the troubling state of affairs in that part of the country. On the other hand, the high-handedness of the government at the centre on issues concerning the region triggered more problems than solutions.
A research report published years ago by the International Society for Civil Society and Rule of Law, following an extensive interrogation of the issues bordering on police extortion in the Southeast region, came out with disturbing revelations. According to the report, as at April 2010, there were 1,350 roadblocks in the Southeast. Between 2009 and 2011, personnel of the Nigeria Police Force realised a whopping sum of N32.26 billion from roadblock extortions in the South-east out of the pool of N53.48 billion across the six geopolitical zones. Stories abound of uniformed officers paying huge sums of money, and lobbying to be posted to the South-east. This is not out of love for the region. These are things that fuel resentment by the people and throw up agitations against marginalisation and injustice.
While the Buhari administration’s policy of exclusion of the Southeast and the brute force of the security agencies against the youths at the slightest opportunity have radicalised them, truth must be told that majority of the present crop of Igbo leaders, especially governors (who emerged in 2015) are self-serving, cowardly and insensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of their people. The current security quagmire in the zone is because the governors lack the courage to speak up in the face of glaring injustice against their people. Part of what has come to haunt the region now has its roots in 2016, in what is now described as the ‘Nimbo Massacre.’ Over 40 inhabitants of that community were reportedly slaughtered in cold blood, with many others maimed, while a Catholic church and dozens of houses were razed down by the rampaging attackers.
In the weeks, months and years following the Nimbo invasion, such attacks almost became routine in several communities across the Southeast with daily clashes over farmlands that were turned into grazing areas by pastoralists. Although those clashes were not exclusive to the Southeast, the difference is that governors in some parts of the country, including the Southwest and Northcentral, particularly Ekiti and Benue states, did something to curtail the activities of herders in order to save lives and property.
Meanwhile, governors from the Southeast were pussyfooting, either because they were bereft of the courage and the political will or they did not have the interest of their people at heart. When the Southwest governors showed the way with a regional security arrangement codenamed ‘Amotekun’ to checkmate the excesses of criminal herders in their domain, there was a deafening clamour for their counterparts in the Southeast to ape that arrangement.
However, when they finally decided to act, the then Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar who had earlier met and agreed with the governors and leaders of the region on the structure of the security arrangement returned to Abuja and unilaterally changed the template. From the Amotekun-styled structure earlier agreed, the former police chief altered the configuration, and opted for a community policing arrangement. This was rejected by the Southeast leaders, who considered Abubakar’s offer as a Greek gift incapable of addressing their security challenges.
While the ensuing deadlock endured, the orgy of killings, kidnappings, rape and destruction of farmlands did not abate in the region. By failing to act, the governors created the void which Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) filled with his Eastern Security Network (ESN) militia. It was after the creation of the ESN that the governors made a feeble attempt to birth Ebubeagu, which is practically impotent.
Under the guise of trying to rein in members of ESN/IPOB, hundreds of innocent youths have been either killed or clamped into different detention camps across the country. But what changed the narrative radically and sent clear signals on the worsening security situation in the region was the brazen 5th April 2021 attack on the Imo State Police Command and the Correctional Centre located in a presumably fortified part of the state capital. The federal government and the police authorities were quick to point fingers at IPOB/ESN as the masterminds. But the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, a pro-establishment apologist was to disclose that 70 per cent of the over 400 masterminds who were arrested in the aftermath of attack were not of Igbo extraction.
It was that singular attack that marked the arrival of ‘unknown gunmen’ (UGM) into the national lexicon, and opened the floodgate of attacks on police formations and critical national institutions, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) across the South-East and some parts of the South-south.
The perennial sit-at-home orders have already taken a heavy toll on the economic and social life of the Southeast, with IPOB saying it is no longer the one giving the directive. With the current scenario, it seems that IPOB’s self-determination clamour is turning into a Frankenstein monster, or may have been hijacked by malevolent forces. Whoever may therefore be behind the insecurity and whatever may be the motive, it is time for the governors and other leaders of the Southeast to collaborate with the federal government to unravel the perpetrators and end the current devastation. It is also time to end injustice and other causes of youth restiveness in the Southeast.
NDUBUISI FRANCIS From 1992 when he started his journalism career, Francis has covered health, labour, capital market, energy, and aviation correspondent before becoming Deputy Group Business Editor, Group News Editor and currently, Associate Editor (Business) in the Nation’s Capital. Winner of several awards in journalism, Ndubuisi holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Lagos, a Diploma in Journalism from the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Abuja.