The political leadership should look at the issues that may be driving violence in the Southeast
More details about the losses to the persistent security crisis in the Southeast states in the last few months were laid bare Tuesday. The Commander of 34 Artillery Brigade, Obinze, Owerri, Imo State, Brigadier Gen Raymond Utsala said that the hoodlums masquerading as “unknown gunmen” have killed at least 174 security operatives and civilians. In specific details, the military and police lost 159 personnel, while the civil defence lost 15 officers. These are aside dozens of others that were summarily executed, including on the street. Overall, the security picture in the Southeast is messy, confused, and troubling.
The rising violence on persons, public and private facilities is raising tension with fears of reprisal killings in other parts of the country if the situation was not quickly brought under control. In the last few weeks, facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies, in addition to private property, have been attacked and destroyed by these “unknown gunmen.” No state in the zone is immune – from Abia to Anambra to Ebonyi, Enugu to Imo and sometimes extending to the neighbouring states of Rivers and Delta in the South-south.
Last week, the chief provost of Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Okiemute Mrere was killed on the Owerri- Port Harcourt highway. But perhaps no killing has heightened the sense of danger more than that of the late political adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak. He was waylaid, fished out of the vehicle he was riding in and brutally killed on his way to catch a flight in Owerri, Imo State. The gruesome murder of Gulak has raised many perplexing questions. Who did it, and why?
Sadly, the handling of the case by the police is even more baffling. Within hours of his murder, the police, typical of their lazy reports, came waving a flag that they had traced and “neutralised” all the culprits. How could the police treat this murder, which inflamed passions across the country in such a cavalier manner? How did they establish the motives of the people they summarily executed as the killers? And why the reference to ‘onions from northern Nigeria’ in their statement? It will pay the nation more if the police do not muddle up the case. The nation has lost count of many high-profile murder cases where the killers are never apprehended. The Gulak case has just increased the number.
However, all critical stakeholders in the Southeast must work together to contain the rising insecurity in the area. In the wake of the upsurge in crisis, the five governors hurriedly met and announced formation of ‘Ebube Agu’, a regional security outfit. But reports are indicative that the existing ones are not well provided for. The chairman of the Southeast Joint Security Committee, Brigadier General Obi Umahi (rtd) resigned few days ago reportedly for lack of attention to the organisation. The committee was not only starved of funds, it operated for two years without an office.
Beyond issuing threats that are in themselves becoming a problem as could be glimpsed from the current brouhaha with Twitter, President Muhammadu Buhari is yet to come out with any winning strategy to deal with the situation in the Southeast. While there is an immediate need to arrest the slide into anarchy in the region and other places, security agencies should not escalate tensions by indiscriminately arresting youths in the zone in the name of hunting down the “unknown gunmen.”
While a combined technique of intelligence, law enforcement and special operations may help in containing the resurgence of criminality in the country, the political leadership may also look at the issues that drive violence in the Southeast.