In this report, JOHNSON AYANTUNJI, STEVE UZOECHI, KENNETH OFOMA, IGBEAKU ORJI, OKEY MADUFORO, UCHENNA INYA and EMMANUEL IFEANYI argue that the tension in the South-East may have been heightened by presence of fifth columnists
Despite the Acting Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba’s launch of Operation Restore Peace (ORP) in the wake of the attacks on policemen and police formations in the South -East and South-South, there is heightened tension in the South-East states of Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo. While many had tried to indigenize or ethnicise the security challenges facing Imo State and indeed some other parts of the South-East, Governor Hope Uzodinma last Sunday stated that perpetrators of the attacks were not only locals but foreign mercenaries
The governor reiterated his stand that those perpetrating the violence and evil in the state “are mostly not Igbo people but hired mercenaries.”
And given the fact that he has a security intelligence report at his disposal on a daily or weekly basis, there is no denying the credibility of the information. Uzodinma stated that over 400 of those who carried out the threats on the state in the past have been arrested and undergoing trials in the court.
His words: “The good thing there is that over 70 per cent of them are not Igbo.” This, some have observed, attests to the possibility of a fifth columnist in the mix. It is still rather perplexing that over 40 strategic offices, including that of INEC and security agencies have come under attack, which has sent dozens of people to their graves.
Besides, tension now pervades the zone as residents, policemen, politicians and traditional rulers adopt personal safety measures to protect them from the bullets of unknown assailants.
Sunday Telegraph investigations in Aba, Abakaliki, Awka, Onitsha and Umuahia revealed that the residents as well as the police men are on tenterhooks. In Anambra State, those who want to succeed Governor Willie Obiano have resorted to acquiring bullet proof vehicles to protect themselves.
Similarly, the 39 gubernatorial aspirants now shun public functions and gatherings for fear of possible attacks on them; rather they prefer to hold meetings behind closed doors with few delegates and party stalwarts at secretly designated venues.
This followed the IGP’s withdrawal of security details from government functionaries, political appointees as well as aspiring elected officials.
The State Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, however said that the respective security formations have been beefed up, adding that the command has commenced routine operations at major flash points in the state.
Imo and ‘unknown gunmen‘
While it is apparent that attacks on Police formations and facilities of government institutions by persons widely referred to as ‘unknown gunmen’ has stopped in Imo, the tension in the state is still palpable. In the Owerri metropolis, businesses often begin to shut down as early as 5:30pm for fear of the unknown.
There is no curfew in Owerri but no fewer than three persons are alleged to have been shot dead by soldiers at night for doing absolutely nothing. Within a space of five days, soldiers allegedly shot two persons dead in front of the Imo Government House while one other was shot and killed by soldiers at the Amakohia flyover, in Owerri, the state capital.
A 24- year old undergraduate, Divine Nwaneri and 39-year old owner of a snacks bar and a pig farmer, Noel Chigbu, was transporting his pigs one early morning when he was shot to death in front of Government House, Owerri While the Imo State government has glossed over these killings, the excuse given for killing Chigbu was chilling.
The soldiers, who had dumped his body at the mortuary, wrote in their note to the Police that they shot Chigbu because he violated their checkpoint rule. Government in Imo seems to be on vacation as the governor operates partly in the state and partly from Abuja.
So due to these swirling uncertainties, people prefer to go home in daylight than to risk passing through any checkpoint at night since ‘might has become right’ as impunity festers. As a result, not a few persons believe that the tension and anxiety in the state is being fuelled by the activities of the security forces in the state.
Since last Monday for instance, every night, people are forced to endure endless staccato of automatic gunfire around major areas in the city of Owerri. The level of sporadic shooting that goes on every night by security forces does more in creating panic and a feeling of insecurity than assuaging the frayed nerves and anxieties of residents.
Consequently, the blames are laid at the doorposts of the government and the security forces whenever people wake up to see dead bodies along the road like in the cases of the IMSU undergraduate, the pig farmer, the snack bar owner and the most recent, a Police Sergeant, who was in mufti when he was shot and killed by yet-to-be identified assailants. Penultimate Wednesday was even more dramatic as security forces literally locked down the city of Owerri for reasons known to them alone.
A Sunday Telegraph Sales Representative for Imo State was arrested by the team in Orlu and it took six days to locate where he was held. No fewer than 160 persons are alleged to have been arrested in this manner. Some have been released while others are still being grilled.
The team believed to be leading these raids is the IGP’s Intelligence Response Team (IRT). Also, it is being muted in some quarters that while some persons landed in police net due to phone conversations with suspected IPOB elements as indicated by their tracked call records, others landed in Police cell just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tension in Police barracks in Abia
Due to the attacks on policemen and police formations, the tension is much on the law enforcement agents, who now go about in mufti for fear of being attacked.
The tension was brought home with the attack last penultimate Monday on the Apumiri Police Station, Umuahia South Local Government Area, and the latest in the series of coordinated attacks on police facilities and personnel in Abia State. This is in spite of the subsisting curfew
in Aba, Arochukwu, Bende, Umuahia and Umunneochi. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, last week summoned an executive round-table, composed of members of the executive council, security chiefs and ex – service security personnel from the state, to tinker out a lasting solution to the security breaches.
The attacks on policemen have expectedly driven them away from the roads. Those who are on routine duty do so in mufti and the common sight of gun wielding plain clothes law enforcement officers has equally vanished. The roadblocks and checkpoints are deserted. The fear now is among those who reside in police stations or barracks. Residents carry out their businesses and retire strictly within the time of the curfew.
The attack on Apumiri Police station is the seventh in the series. It is not surprising that the station was razed without resistance. Until recently, when part of the station was fenced, it laid porous between two roads behind the Apumiri Post Office where the roads meet.
The two colonial buildings that serve as the DPO’s office and the station and charge office are separated by a fence. The DPO’s office stands across the road outside the fence while the station and a new building, uncompleted for close to two decades, are on the other road inside the fence.
The fence has a gate which is a thoroughfare for residents, who live on the other side of the street. In Aba, the commercial hub of the state, the situation is not different. All the roads leading to the Aba Area Command Headquarters, Aba CPS and the popular Ndiegoro Police Station have all been blocked with drums and sand bags. Other police stations in Aba such as Abayi, Osisioma, Azuka, Ohuru Isi-Mmiri, Eastern Ngwa and Uratta-Eziukwu Police Stations were not left out on the new police security strategy.
This has taken its toll on businesses close to the stations, especially patent medicine stores. “Our businesses are suffering as no vehicles are allowed to come around our shops in the last one month,” said Wilson Okonji, a shop owner. He said: “The year is fast running out and soon, we’ll be required to renew rents for our shops without doing any business. We deal on medical drugs and you know how such business goes; drugs are perishable because they have expiry dates.
“We’re forced to close our shops by 5-5:30pm everyday which used to be our own rush hour prior to this problem. To be frank with you, the situation is making life unbearable for us.” A resident of the area, Mrs. Nneka Enyidiogwu said not only businesses are suffering; the Aba Area Command Headquarters and its environs such as Jubilee Road, Hospital Road, St. Michael’s Road and St. Joseph/ General Hospital Street that were once Aba’s most secured areas are now replica of a war zone.
Police desert Ebonyi checkpoints
For about two weeks now, policemen have deserted checkpoints and highways in Ebonyi State. Sunday Telegraph’s assessments trip from Abakaliki to Afikpo revealed that policemen, who normally conducted stop and search operations on motorists and other road users on eight check points on the highway, were absent. The checkpoints at Nkwegwu, Onueke, Abaomege, Akpoha and Timber shade were all deserted.
A traveler, Eze Ikechukwu, who spoke with Sunday Telegraph, expressed fear that armed robbers may capitalize on the absence of security agents on highways to rob travelers. He said: “As you can see, this Afikpo/ Abakaliki highway is no longer busy the way it used to be. People no longer travel because of what is happening in our state and the country. I boarded a commercial bus from Abakaliki to the Afikpo timber shade junction. I did not see any policeman on the road the way they used to stay till I got to this junction where I alighted.
“The implication is that there may be high robbery on the highway because security agents have deserted the roads.” The State Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Loveth Odah, while speaking to our correspondent, said the command has been arresting some of the criminals that have been attacking policemen and robbing people in the state. She said: “Yes, we have been making some arrests and the criminals have been having casualties. They have never come and gone unchallenged. They have always been challenged. There have always been gun duel and when they say unknown gunmen, we have always been seeing faces. “It is no longer a faceless group; there are now faces behind the attacks. The ones that came to Ebonyi police division have faces and one of them was gunned down. The ones at Abaomege, one was also gunned down.
The ones that went to Ohaukwu, a few days ago to attack patrol vehicles, two of them were gunned down. “The ones that attempted to rob a bank at Onueke, three of them including a woman were gunned down. Many types of ammunition were recovered from them and the Commissioner of Police earned IGP’s commendation as a result of that case. We actually burst their hideouts and recovered a lot of arms and ammunition and also discovered three shallow graves in which they buried their members that were also victims.
This means six of them were gunned down.” Meanwhile, many government functionaries in the state have changed their vehicle plate numbers bearing government numbers for fear of being attacked or killed by hoodlums.
In the last one week, from 7:00 pm every day, all the roads connecting the state police headquarters, Nigeria Correctional Service, Old Government House and the state high court are usually blocked by the police. Many policemen in the state while moving around public places have resorted to going in mufti for fear of being attacked.
Enugu, an oasis in desert
However, it is not killings and tensions all through. Enugu State is like an oasis in the desert. Enugu State has been relatively peaceful, except for the burning of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office, which was touched recently.
Also this week, a Police station in Iwollo part of the state was razed. The state witnessed one incident of attack on a police station, which occurred on April 21 at Divisional Police Headquarters, Adani, in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area with two personnel killed.
The unidentified gunmen allegedly opened fire at the building releasing a volley of bullets. Two of the police officers on duty were reportedly killed and several others injured while the police station was burnt. Suspected arsonists also invaded the Independence Layout state head office of the electoral body and reportedly set more than six Hilux vans and other vehicles on fire.
Meanwhile, no arrest has been made by the police with specific reference to any of the cases above. However this is besides other crimes like car-jacking, house break-ins, armed robbery among others often reported by the police and arrested suspects paraded.
Generally, however, the atmosphere in the state has remained peaceful as people go about their normal businesses. It is nonetheless observed that police checkpoints have disappeared in the state.
But inter-state military checkpoints are still in place. Although security agents claim to be alert to forestalling further attacks, observers believe that the agents should examine the possibility of the presence of fifth columnists in the cases of arson and murder instead of their fixation on IPOB and ESN.