Multiple Threats To National Security And Nigeria’s Economy
Nigeria is contending with hybrid, multiple threats to national security. Sometime in February 2021, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (Rtd), reportedly warned that the country stood the risk of disintegration, if the violence currently spreading in the system was allowed to fester. Radical elements in southern Nigeria, hitherto the southeast and now, the southwest are simultaneously angling for secession. While the latter is so far a talkfest, the former seem to be upping the ante with a festering insurrection. It is not a coincidence that Major General Dagvin Anderson, the Commander of the US Special Operations Command warns the Nigerian government that terrorist groups, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, are planning to penetrate Southern Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.
Deplorable insecurity, instability in Nigeria is also taking a toll on the economy. According to a report by Guardian Newspaper, ‘’Nigerians are paying more for insecurity as economic impact hits N50 trillion’’. Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor (CBN), Godwin Emefiele corroborates the burden of insecurity on the economy. According to Emefiele, rising inflation in the country was caused by security crisis and devaluation of the naira. In a related development, leading humanitarian information source on global crises and disasters, ReliefWeb reckons that, ''as much as 5.1 million Nigerians are at high risk of being critically food insecure between June-August 2021''. Notwithstanding the fact that the country has spent at least ₦6 trillion on security in the last decade. Fitch Ratings also noted that investment inflow continues to be clouded by insecurity and governance challenges.
Having mentioned the omnipresent security challenges bedeviling Nigeria, let’s zero in, and attempt to interrogate the subject matter of this essay – probability of insurgency 2.0 fermenting in Nigeria, especially in the southeast and south-south.
The Eastern Security Network, A Child of Necessity?
Hitherto regarded as one of the most peaceful and plausibly safest part of the country, southeast Nigeria seem to be witnessing a dangerous collapse of state machinery for protection of lives and property. Unarguably the most militarized part of Nigeria, the southeast is witnessing reinforcement of roadblocks, police deployment, and heavy military presence. John Campbell, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria argues in his blog post titled, ‘’Security Deteriorating in Nigeria’s Former “Biafra”, that, ‘’fighting between government forces and an Igbo separatist group risks adding yet another challenge for the Buhari administration’’. Continuing, Campbell submits that, ‘’The emergence of an Igbo paramilitary force highlights the growing breakdown of any federal government monopoly on the use of force in the face of multiple security challenges’’. Granted the geographics, remote and immediate causes may be different, but we can theorize that goings-on in southeast Nigeria bears the tell-tale signs of the nascent phase of Boko Haram uprising. The security dynamics in southeast Nigeria is morphing aftermath of the crises in Orlu in Imo state on January 22, 2021, when Nigerian soldiers reportedly invaded the town to flush out members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN). Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader apparently exploited the leadership vacuum provided by pliant, kowtowing southeast governors who capitulated in establishing a regional security outfit like Amotekun in the southwest, to establish the ESN. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) posits that the Eastern Security Network, a paramilitary force is a child of necessity established to protect the people of Southeast from attacks by AK47-bearing Fulani herdsmen. From all indications, the ESN is popular and enjoys extensive backing amongst the proletariat across the southeast as victims of herdsmen attacks consider the ESN to be defending them from a common enemy. An Igbo proverb suffices that you cannot beat a child and expect him not to cry. For instance, eight people were reportedly killed sequel to a recent clash between Fulani Herdsmen and ESN operatives in Igga community, Adani area, Uzo-Uwani LGA of Enugu State. The ESN operatives reportedly came to support Igga community who were allegedly attacked by rampaging Fulani herdsmen on their farms and in their houses. Similarly, bloodletting herdsmen reportedly attacked Egedegede, Obegu and Amuzu communities in Ishielu LGA of Ebonyi State. The death toll from that attack is said to have risen to 25. Do you expect those communities to fold their hands?
Statistics of policemen recently killed in southeast and south-south Nigeria
Quoting data obtained from the Nigeria Security Tracker, NST, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa programme, Vanguard Newspaper reports that, ''no fewer than 1,525 persons have died across Nigeria in the first six weeks of 2021''. The actual figure maybe higher given that security incidents in Nigeria are grossly under-reported.
According to data from SBM Intelligence on reported police killings from 2015 to Q12021, ‘’no fewer than 497 police officers were killed in 554 incidents across Nigeria in the last six years’’. Out of the six geopolitical zones in the country, the South-south region tops the chart with 163 incidents that sent 174 policemen to their early graves during the years under review. 51 policemen were killed in Delta State alone within the period, making the state the highest among the six states in the region. The South-eastern part of Nigeria accounted for 16 of those deaths while the South-south accounted for 20. They both accounted for more than 60 per cent of the total figure.
While the southeast does not have the highest number of policemen killed (the South-south leads with 20 in the 1st quarter of 2021), the nature of attacks in the southeast is upping, systematic, and more often than not, weapons of the slain security operatives were acquired. Inter-alia, the inference portends an attempt to amass sophisticated weapons. The multiplier effect and dangerous implication is that these weapons carted away will be used for future criminal activities. Who knows who will be next? If armed government security agents are not safe and randomly gunned down, then no one is safe.
Timeline of Attacks on Security Agents And Facilities of Government Security Forces in Nigeria (Southeast And SouthSouth)
Gunmen have continued to attack police formations in the southeastern Nigeria. As a result of the ongoing attacks, Policemen in parts of the southeast now reportedly wear mufti except when they are in the stations.
May 12, 2021: Hoodlums at about 15H00 on Tuesday, launched an attack on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) office at Amaekpu in Ohafia LGA, Abia State. A section of the office complex was set ablaze.
May 9, 2021: There were separate attacks on two police facilities in Akwa Ibom state on Sunday leading to the death of a police officer identified as Obadia Eli, who was attached to MOPOL 57 Ukana, in Essien Udim. While one of the attacks occurred at a police outpost in Ikot Odon, Abak, the second attack happened at Mkpanak in Essien Udim LGA. Recall that Essien Udim, which shares a boundary with the neighbouring Abia State, is notorious for cult-related violence and killings in the past.
May 9, 2021: One police personnel was reportedly wounded in the leg on Sunday when unknown gunmen attacked Mike Okiro police station near Ubani Ibeku Main Market Umuahia at about 09H45.
May 8, 2021: Gunmen on Saturday morning reportedly attacked Odoro Ikpe Police Station in the Ini LGA of Akwa Ibom State, killing the six officers on duty. Apart from the six killed during the encounter, other police officers were injured and were rushed to a hospital. Only last week, two police officers were killed when gunmen attacked the Divisional Police Headquarters of Ibiaku Ntok Opo in the Ikono LGA of Akwa-Ibom State.
May 7, 2021: The Rivers State Police Command confirmed the death of seven police officers during attacks by gunmen in Rivers state on Friday night. The gunmen reportedly attacked the special checkpoint at Choba bridge, in Ikwere LGA where two Policemen on duty were killed. A similar attack was launched at Rumuji Police Station in Emuohua LGA and the third attack at Elimgbu Police Station in Obio/Akpor Council.
May 6, 2021: At least eight gunmen were reportedly killed on Thursday evening during an attempted attack on a police station in Orlu area of Imo. The gunmen were said to be on their way to attack the police station when they were ambushed in a joint counter-attack by the military and police operatives.
May 5, 2021: Gunmen on Wednesday night attacked Obosi police station in Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, killings two police Inspectors and freeing all detainees in the cell.
May 5, 2021: Gunmen launched a fresh attack on a police formation in Ebonyi State, leaving a police officer dead. The attack happened at the Obiozara Police Station in Ohaozara LGA. The gunmen invaded the station in their numbers at about 03H00 and started shooting sporadically.
May 2, 2021: Miscreants invaded and set ablaze the Area Office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and facilities of the DSS office located close to the INEC office was destroyed in Essien Udim LGA of Akwa Ibom state.
Saturday, May 1st, 2021: Gunmen killed two police officers in fresh attack in Ikono LGA of Akwa Ibom. A female police officer was also injured, while five vehicles parked at the station’s premises were set ablaze.
Saturday, May 1st, 2021: Gunmen at about 20H00, attacked Abaomege police station in Onicha LGA of Ebonyi state. The police officer on duty was reportedly injured and another officer declared missing.
April 27, 2021: Gunmen in the early hours of Tuesday, attacked the Federal High Court, Abakaliki, burning some sections of the building, including the library and security post.
April 26, 2021: Gunmen on Monday evening, attacked the Oriagu police in Ehime Mbano LGA of Imo state.
April 21: Gunmen in the early hours of Wednesday, reportedly attacked the Divisional Police Headquarters, Adani in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. Two police officers on duty were reportedly killed and several others injured, while the police station was burnt.
April 19: Gunmen killed two policemen in Anambra State and set a station ablaze in Abia State as the wave of attacks on police formations worsened. The gunmen attacked the Zone 13 Police Headquarters in Ukpo, Dunukfia Local Government Area in Anambra and a police station in Uzoakoli, Bende Local Government in Abia State. The police said the attack on Abia Uzoakoli Police station was carried out with dynamites, rocket launchers.
April 14: Three policemen attached to the Safer Highway Patrol team in Ebonyi were killed in an attack at Ogoja/ Abakaliki Express road by Nwaezenyi junction. The attackers, who disguised as a burial party, opened fire when stopped for a check.
April 8: Gunmen attacked the Mbieri Divisional Police Headquarters in Mbaitoli LGA in Imo, freeing suspects.
April 6: Gunmen razed the Divisional Police Headquarters in Ehime Mbano LGA in Imo; at least four vehicles were burnt.
April 05, 2021, gunmen in the early hours of Monday, April 5, reportedly attacked the correctional facility in Owerri, the Imo State capital, and freed over 1500 inmates. The attackers also reportedly razed the Imo State Police Command headquarters situated in Owerri and burnt vehicles parked at the command headquarters. Both the correctional facility and the police headquarters are located in the same vicinity, only a few blocks away from the Imo State Government House. That the gunmen operated unhindered near the Imo state Government House tells how security has degenerated in that clime.
In a related development, gunmen dressed in military uniform reportedly killed seven northern traders in separate shooting incidents in Orlu town and Umuaka in Njaba LGA between Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd April, 2021.
March 31, 2021, gunmen on Wednesday, reportedly killed three policemen attached to protect the former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, at his village, Isuofia in Aguata LGA, Anambra state. Soludo escaped unhurt. While not ruling out political rivalry, it is interesting that rifles of the slain policemen were reportedly carted away. This bears the signature of other recent attacks on security agents.
March 24, 2021, a fierce gun battle broke out when armed men reportedly attacked soldiers of 144 Battalion stationed at Ariaria Junction, along Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway in Aba, Abia State. The incident left about 10 persons dead.
On March 22, 2021, gunmen reportedly attacked a Police checkpoint in Agu Eze Amaogudu, Abiriba, Ohafia LGA of Abia State, killing three policemen.
On Saturday, March 20, 2021, gunmen reportedly attacked a Divisional Police station in Umuelemai in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo state. An eyewitness reportedly said, “The boys [attackers] were shouting we owe the land. This is our land they must leave, and we will rule our land by ourselves.” The police officers ran for their lives and hide somewhere until the boys finished operation.
Though the Anambra state police command owned up that it lost only one cop, Punch Newspaper reports indicate that gunmen on Thursday, March 18, 2021, killed four naval personnel and three policemen in different locations in Anambra State. The three policemen were reportedly ambushed and murdered at Ukacha Junction, Neni, in the Anaocha LGA of Anambra state, while their patrol vehicle was burnt. Similarly, four naval men were reportedly killed at Awkuzu, in the Oyi LGA, also in Anambra state. The Navy is mute on the purported killing of its personnel.
February 25 – Four police officers were killed at MCC in Calabar, Cross River state by gunmen. Same day, February 25, 2021, unidentified hoodlums in four vehicles, attacked the Divisional Police HQTRS, Aboh Mbaise, shooting sporadically and injuring a policewoman. The affected police station was said to have been renovated after it was burnt during the #ENDSARS protests across the country.
February 24 – hoodlums killed a police officer and razed down a patrol vehicle in Ekwulobia in Anambra State. Two police officers reportedly lost their lives when gunmen in the early hours of Tuesday, February 23, attacked a police station in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria’s South-east. This is the second attack against police stations in Abia State, in less than a month. The police tagged the perpetrators of one of the “unprovoked” attacks as “hoodlums,” saying they were about 200 people armed with AK47 rifles and machetes.
On February 5, 2021, two police officers were reportedly shot dead while three others sustained injuries during an attack by gunmen on Obowo divisional police headquarters in Umulowe autonomous community, Imo state. Also, in September, 2020, gunmen attacked policemen at Egbu in Owerri and Owerre Nkworji in the Nkwerre LGA of Imo state respectively.
Mutual Distrust, Extrajudicial Killings Breeding Insecurity, Reprisals
There is no gainsaying the fact that there is mutual distrust and no love lost between government security forces (GSF) and the civilian populace in Nigeria. At the root of this, is the penchant for extrajudicial killings attributed to overzealous government security agents who strut with impunity. For instance, a report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) says, ‘’Security forces enforcing the COVID-19 lockdown in parts of Nigeria killed more people than coronavirus itself''. Civil unrest ensued after a policeman reportedly killed a young man named Chinanu Okonkwo and his sister Chinyere Okonkwo at Umuderim Community, Ihitte Uboma, Imo State on March 9. An angry mob set the police station in the community ablaze afterwards. I think civilians became even more emboldened aftermath of the #ENDSARS protests during which police personnel lost monopoly on violence, were demystified and disappeared from their beats, stations. Many of policemen refused donning their uniforms subsequently and it took threats, coercion from the police hierarchy before they returned to their beats. According to the Inspector General of Police, ''22 policemen were killed, while 205 police stations were burnt during the #ENDSARS crisis''.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that ongoing attacks on Government Security Forces (GSF), facilities and on individuals in parts of Nigeria, is systematic. Attacking a prison facility and freeing convicted criminals cannot be justified under whatever guise. A rocket scientist is not needed to connect the dots, unravel what is playing out. If this trend is not reined in, events can snowball into full-blown anarchy, insurrection. The police recently opined that it arrested sixteen suspected protagonists of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Eastern Security Network (ESN) for alleged complicity in the series of violent attacks on security operatives in Southeast Nigeria. If those arrested are indeed complicit, they should be ‘singing’ by now. Unlike northeast Nigeria where Boko Haram exploits the rugged, porous, transnational swathes of ungoverned spaces such as the Sambisa forest which we understand is twice the size of Belgium, the topography of southeast Nigeria does not confer invincibility and is not fertile for prolonged guerilla warfare. While the resilient Boko Haram insurgency is driven by radical religious beliefs, proponents of armed insurgency in the southeast may not possess such conviction, staying power. It will entail enormous collateral damage and unintended consequences. While proponents argue that the ESN is a child of necessity, we can discern that it could end up like the once dreaded Bakassi boys which started well but morphed into a monster. Lacking no command and control structure, sparsely trained, undisciplined and unprofessional, we can prognosticate that the ESN may get involved in petty criminality, assassinations and get involved in settling personal scores. It behooves on good spirited Nigerians, governors, Igbo leaders, intelligentsia and other stakeholders to join forces and nip the festering carnage, insurrection in the bud. It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. I don’t see the trend abating anytime soon. On the other hand, the prevailing miasma playing out in Nigeria will ebb if the Buhari Administration genuinely tackles political alienation, marginalization, brazen nepotism, extreme poverty, unprecedented youth unemployment and impunity. As they say, what is good for the geese is good for the gander. The current Administration in Nigeria will do well to also rein in the menace of the globally ill-famed fourth deadliest terror group in the world.
©Don Okereke, security analyst/consultant, thinker, researcher, writer, military veteran.
Published April 05, 2021.
Updated April 22, 2021
Updated May 12, 2021