The deterioration of security in the South-East geopolitical zone, which comprises Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states, is frightening, so much that the urgent intervention of the security forces and the Federal Government is required to restore sanity to the region.
A recent report by an international human rights organisation, under the aegis of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), revealed that not less than 1,863 people were killed in the South-East in 10 years. According to the report, 50 persons were killed in 2011; 92 in 2012; 68 in 2013 and 22 in 2014. In 2015, 50 people were killed while 225 suffered the same fate in 2016.
About three hundred and twenty-five (325) people were killed in 2017, while 160 people were killed in 2018. “In 2019 the figure stood at 114; 110 in 2020 and settled at 647 in 2021, which is 1,863,” the report stated.
From a spate of attacks launched by suspected herdsmen against some communities in Enugu State in 2016, insecurity has worsened in the South-East. At first, accusing fingers were pointed at the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and their foot soldiers, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), who claimed to be retaliating the killings by the herdsmen. But insecurity in the region has assumed an extreme dimension – growing in scale, spread and sophistication.
Aside from unprovoked attacks by the ubiquitous ‘unknown gunmen’, there are cases attributed to ritual killing, political thuggery, kidnapping, cultism and other nefarious activities of hoodlums.
While no part of Nigeria is immune from violence, the deterioration of security in the South-East is particularly worrying. In recent times, Anambra and Imo States, in particular, have witnessed a series of attacks from unknown gunmen, to the extent that some parts of the states have been described as no-go-areas because of the prevalence of attacks there.
The significance of the South-East to national development cannot be overemphasized or ignored. Cities such as Onitsha, Aba and Nnewi have emerged as manufacturing and commercial hubs, with export links to other Central and West African countries. Manufacturing makes up 31 percent and 30 percent of businesses in Onitsha and Aba. The unfolding violence in the region, therefore, poses a serious threat to economic development and social stability.
The dramatic surge in the activities of criminals, described as ‘unknown gunmen,’ has not occurred in a vacuum. There are reports that governors have not shown the level of commitment to deal with the situation, as their counterparts in the South-West have done.
Good enough, the region has no big forests with difficult terrain that could frustrate such frontal operations against the criminals. Why the governors are reluctant to take joint action to tackle this menace destroying the region is a matter for concern.
Many prominent leaders have been lamenting the worsening insecurity in the South-East and they have been calling on state governors in the zone to work as a team to tackle it, but this does not seem to have happened. Clearly, the South-East governors, who belong to three different political parties, are not working toward a common goal. Acting under the umbrella of the South-East Governors’ Forum has not yielded any tangible result.
The issue of setting up a regional security outfit, Ebubeagu, in April 2021, is a clear case in point. Till date, all the five states have not set up the outfit; rather, each has its own local security outfit, unlike the South-West where Amotekun was set up across the states, which helps them to synergise and tackle insecurity in the area.
There are worries that the inability of the state governors to unite in the area of security in the region shows the extent to which certain forces outside the zone were influencing the affairs of the region. Politicians from the zone are also alleged to be hiding under the cloak of a security situation in the region to attack political enemies using thugs and morally debased youths.
The governors, as chief security officers of their respective states, must eschew distrust and lack of cohesion to achieve collective security arrangements that would nip insecurity in the bud in the region. They should work with the traditional rulers, community heads, youth leaders and local vigilante groups to identify permanent solutions to insecurity in the region.
Most of the governors are providing security vehicles to the operatives, but that is not enough. They must combine efforts by setting up a central security outfit with well outlined funding and staffing modalities.
We identify with the views of a prominent South-East leader, Valentine Ozigbo, that violence in the South-East demands a holistic response. We also agree with him that tackling unemployment and creating a conducive environment for business will help to eliminate the involvement of the youth in crime. The South-East has witnessed tragic waves of violence, which have claimed the lives of hundreds of people, both young and old. This new wave of insecurity marks a turning point in the decline of the people’s values and should be unacceptable to all, the leaders must take steps to intervene. This is not an issue to be treated with kid’s gloves or swept under the carpet.
As Ozigbo said, “We must address the root cause of this anomaly and not just the symptoms. We must go back to the drawing board, re-assess our value system, emphasise moral values and uphold the sanctity of human life. Importantly, we must assemble as soon as possible. Leaders of thought, political leaders, traditional rulers, women and youth leaders need to come together and re-evaluate our moral code. We must take steps to arrest this development before it consumes us all.”
We agree with this view.