29.04.2021 Feature Article

Would crises in Nigeria blow over or snowball? (Part 1)

Governor Hope Uzodinma
LISTEN APR 29, 2021
Governor Hope Uzodinma

While some Igbo leaders like Professor George Obiozor are hobnobbing with politicians and dreaming of an Igbo Presidency come 2023, they seem to forget that most people in Nigeria today are very unhappy that despite the enormous manpower and mineral resources nature endowed the country with, the Nigerian government has gradually but steadily turned the country into a paradox.

Nigerian leaders have continued to operate a policy of official corruption that lends its weight to the rich families becoming richer by any means and the poor families becoming poorer by all means. Yet, while their country is literarily on fire, these politicians and their sympathizers are still dreaming of 2023 elections and an Igbo President. They still dream of the Igbo speaking with several voices, not with one voice, the voice of the President-General of Ohaneze.

But a rather scary video clip of armed militants possibly from the Niger Delta region making the rounds currently could well be a signature tune and an indication of the precarious condition Nigeria could soon find itself in. In the clip, militant agitators in camouflage military uniforms and total face-covering masks are seen wielding and brandishing sophisticated weapons. Their spokesman reads from a white rough sheet of paper. His words: “The same military that (failed) to provide and protect properties have turned themselves into a military of killing, raping and maiming innocent individuals and rendering our area and our youths jobless. So many others have decided to treat us in the same manner.

Don’t worry, because we are coming to destroy all your infrastructures in Abuja and Lagos. Even though the oil companies operating in our region that have decided to undermine our people, be rest assured that your days will soon catch up with you. Due to the insensitivity of the Nigerian government on issues that are bothering its citizens, today the country is in turmoil. (There are) protests everywhere and strikes in several sectors. The #Endsars protest that took place almost crippled the nation’s economy. It is among such ill treatment that gave birth to these unprecedented protests. Nigerian government ought to give Nigerians good governance. Today the various zones in the country are calling for the division of the country called Nigeria. So, as a group determined to give total liberation of our people, we will destroy all the oil facilities both on-shore and off-shore. In no distant time, we will be seen to be crippling the Nigerian economy”.

With the hard look on the faces of this militant group, no sane person would think they are joking. Recent happenings in the country give credence to the possibility that they could match their threat with action.

In the South-East, in broad daylight, at about 9 am on Saturday, 24 April 2021, a group of hoodlums numbering about 15, driving in a motorcade of three vehicles accompanied by a tipper loaded with used tyres, stormed the country home of Imo state governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma and attempted to burn down the house. The state’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Declan Emelumba, confirmed the incident to newsmen the same Saturday and said that in the cross fire that ensued, few casualties were recorded after security men on guard repelled the attack.

Imo state government also officially confirmed the attack on Governor Hope Uzodinma’s country home in Omuma, Oru East local government council area. A press release from the government said gallant security operatives successfully repelled an attack on the Omuma country home of Imo state governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma. In repelling the attack, the vigilant security operatives attached to the governor’s house were able to minimize damage. The government said preliminary investigation suggested that the foiled attack could have been politically sponsored. The governor directed the relevant security agencies to expedite action on investigation of the incident, promptly apprehend the sponsors and their agents, and bring them to justice.

Commissioner Emelumba said: “I can confirm the story. The hoodlums attacked the governor’s house by throwing in petrol bombs as a result of which two cars were burnt, but the attackers were successfully repelled. None of the buildings was set ablaze, but one unarmed personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) was killed in the process. While escaping, the hoodlums also killed a police sergeant and one other NSCDC personnel at Mgbidi junction, both in their private vehicles.

This was coming in the wake of the 5 April rocket-propelled grenade invasion of the Owerri police headquarters and the near-by Correctional Centre by unknown gunmen in which 1,844 prisoners were let loose. Currently, most of those inmates are on the run and the chances of taking them back to custody are very slim, especially as government is being challenged at every point by criminals the Nigerian system bred as a result of injustices in the land.

Police said it believed that the Nigeria-banned separatist group, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), was behind the attack in Owerri metropolis, but a spokesman for the group denied involvement. The secessionist movement in the southeast is one of several serious security challenges facing President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in addition to the decade-long Islamist insurgency in the north, series of school kidnappings in the north and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Buhari said the attack in a city near the oil-rich Niger Delta region that is the mainstay of Africa’s top crude oil exporter and most robust economy was an “act of terrorism”. He ordered security forces to apprehend the fleeing prisoners.

The attackers stormed the facility at around 2:15 am on Monday, 5 April according to the Nigerian Correctional Service. The police said attackers used explosives to blast the administrative block of the prison and then entered the prison yard.

Frank Mba, a spokesman for the Nigeria Police Force said preliminary investigations revealed that the attackers were members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) which wanted independence for the region in South-East Nigeria called Biafra. But an IPOB spokesman told journalists the group did not carry out the prison raid. “IPOB and ESN were not involved in the attack in Owerri, Imo state. It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities,” the IPOB spokesman said in a phone call.

Since 2021, security in the entire country has continued to systematically deteriorate by the day. Several police stations have been attacked since January, with large quantities of ammunition stolen. There are also reports of IPOB’s paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), clashing with the military.

Another police station was set ablaze in Imo State barely 24 hours after gunmen launched the daring attack on the police headquarters in the state. The unknown gunmen on Tuesday 6 April attacked the police division in Ehime/Mbano in the state and burnt down some vehicles. The police spokesperson in Imo State, Orlando Ikeokwu, confirmed the attack on the police facility.

This particular attack occurred few hours after the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, the former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu and other government functionaries visited the state to inspect the attacked facilities. The police spokesperson, Mr. Ikeokwu, a superintendent of police, said no life was lost in the latest attack. The attack brought the number of police facilities destroyed in the state between February and April to five. They were Obowo, Aboh-Mbaise, Ihitte Uboma, Isiala Mbano and Ehime Mbano as well as the police headquarters in the state.

Inspector-General of Police Usman Alkali Baba

So far, there has been a spate of attacks on police officers and police facilities lately around the country’s south-east and south-south regions. In the neighbouring Abia State, the state government imposed dusk to dawn curfew in some of the cities as a preventive measure against any such attack. In the equally neighbouring Rivers state, an attack which occurred in Omagwa in Ikwerre local government area, reportedly led to the death of some security operatives.

A source that pleaded anonymity said that several patrol vehicles belonging to the security operatives were set ablaze by the gunmen. The spokesman of the command, SP Nnamdi Omoni, who confirmed the attack in a statement in Port Harcourt on Sunday 25 April, said details of the attacks were still sketchy. The Commissioner of Police, CP Eboka Friday, launched a full scale investigation into the dastardly attack with a view to arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.

The checkpoints attacked by gunmen included checkpoints manned by the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) located between Elele, Isiokpo and Omagwa communities in Rivers state. The attack on the police headquarters was carried out by the same armed group who also attacked a correctional facility in Owerri and freed over 1,800 inmates.

Meanwhile, the Area One Command of the Nigerian Customs Service in Port Harcourt, Rivers state says it cannot confirm if there was an attack on its personnel. The spokesperson of the command, Oscar Ivara told journalists that the Omagwa-Isiokpo-Elele area of Rivers state was under the Federal Operations Unit which is headquartered in Owerri, Imo State, implying that the unit would be in the best position to state the fact.

That night’s attack on the police and customs officers in Rivers state happened barely two days after three persons were shot dead in the Diobu area of Port Harcourt. According to a statement by the Rivers State Police Command on Thursday, the killings were a result of a clash between two rival cult groups.

The Police spokesman in Rivers State, Nnamdi Omoni said in the statement that, on the receipt of a distress call, Operatives of the Diobu Division mobilized massively to the scene but unfortunately on arrival, the cultists had taken to flight. They however were able to arrest one of them alive, while three lifeless bodies were at the scene with multiple gunshot wounds on their bodies. He said the arrested suspect was one Ejike Paul, a 36 year old male who was cooling his heels and helping in the investigation.

Police spokesman Mr. Mba said the police had recovered one of the operational vehicles used by the attackers and is currently being subjected to forensic scrutiny and investigation. He said the Inspector General of Police had also ordered the Imo State Commissioner of Police to fish out members of IPOB and ESN. The IGP ordered the immediate deployment of additional units of Police Mobile Force (PMF) and other Police Tactical Squads to Imo State to strengthen security in the state and prevent further attacks on security formations or any other critical national infrastructure in the state.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the attackers, who came in their numbers with such sophisticated weapons as General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs), Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs), AK49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), were members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN). The attempt by the attackers to gain access to the police armory at the headquarters was totally and appropriately resisted by police operatives on duty who repelled the attackers and prevented them from breaking in and looting the armory. The police suffered no human casualty, apart from a police constable who sustained a minor bullet wound on his shoulder.

The IGP condemned the attack on security outfits and further directed the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command and a new Special Investigation Team specifically set up to deal with cases of incessant attacks on security formation/operatives in the region, to carry out holistic investigations into the incident with a view to fishing-out the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. The CP was to harness the security reinforcement squads and other operational assets at his disposal to take the battle to the door-steps of the attackers and prevent any further attack anywhere within the state and its environs.

The IGP, who described the deliberate and criminal attack on security operatives as an attack on the soul of our nation, enjoined leaders in Imo state, the south-east and other parts of the country to speak out against unfolding violence and criminality. The IGP called on citizens to avail the police and other security agencies with useful information that could assist in identifying and arresting criminals.

He vowed that perpetrators would be brought to book and that the Force was doing all within its power to curb the activities of unscrupulous elements hell-bent on threatening the unity, safety, security and socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians. Meanwhile, all the areas are now calm with reinforced and increased joint patrols on the roads and other areas in the state by security agencies, and there should be no more cause for alarm. The question: for how long will this seeming uneasy peace last, given these threats from whoever they are in the South East and Deep South?

By Chief Sir Emeka Asinugo, KSC

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