The report by global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), that Nigerian security forces extra-judicially killed at least 115 civilians and others in the South East region between March and June this year is not totally surprising. According to AI, “Nigerian security forces have committed a catalogue of human rights violations and crimes under international law in their response to spiralling violence in South East Nigeria, carrying out a repressive campaign since January which has included sweeping mass arrests, excessive and unlawful force, and torture and other ill-treatment.”
For instance, on May 25, 2021, soldiers reportedly shot dead a 45-year-old businessman, Matthew Opara, in Orji, near Owerri while he was returning from work. On May 31, 2021, soldiers at a checkpoint in Owerri also shot and killed a German-based businessman, Oguchi Unachukwu. Mr. Unachukwu was on his way to the airport to catch a flight to Lagos, en route Germany.
Over the years, thousands of other unarmed civilians had fallen victims to extra-judicial killings in the South East. In December 2015, soldiers at the Head Bridge, Onitsha, Anambra State, opened fire on a crowd of people jubilating over an order of a court that the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, be released. About 12 people were killed and many others wounded in that incident. In February 2016, soldiers and policemen reportedly stormed a prayer session of IPOB members in a school compound in Aba, Abia State and killed 22 members of the group. Over 30 others were seriously wounded. At various times in the recent past, operatives of the defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) tortured and killed many civilians in different parts of the South East, especially in Awkuzu, Anambra State.
Ironically, security operatives became victims of attack by some unknown gunmen earlier in the year. Dozens of them lost their lives as a result. Government attributed the killings and attacks on at least 10 public buildings, including police stations, to an armed wing of IPOB called the Eastern Security Network (ESN), without much prove.
In Anambra State, for instance, security operatives were killed in such places as Awkuzu in Oyi Local Government Area (LGA), Neni in Anaocha LGA, Omogho in Orumba North LGA, Isuofia and Nkpologwu in Aguata LGA. In Imo, similar killings occurred in Isiala Mbano, Obowu, and Ihite Uboma. In Abia State, some policemen lost their lives in Abiriba, Ohafia LGA, Omoba in Isialangwa South, Abayi in Osisioma and Uratta junction in Aba. At least, 21 police personnel were reportedly killed in Imo State alone. This was what apparently precipitated the current action of security operatives in the region.
It is imperative to note that IPOB has not been violent. The group only engaged in waving of Biafran flags and rallies to press home their demand for self-determination. Rather than engage them in a dialogue, the Nigerian government decided to send security men after them. This further created tension in the area. Gradually, government started losing control as the youths began to have more confidence. Things got worse when the Fulani herdsmen started a campaign of kidnappings and killings in the region. Some vulnerable communities and travellers became their unfortunate victims.
Owing ostensibly to the inability of security agents to arrest the ugly situation, IPOB announced formation of the ESN. This did not go down well with the government as skirmishes between security operatives and the perceived members of ESN heightened. Some government functionaries worsened the situation by their utterances and actions. President Muhammadu Buhari, for instance, said recently that the Igbo were a dot in a circle that had no access to anywhere and that the elders and youths of the South South had distanced themselves from alignment with them.
We hope the situation in the South East is not allowed to degenerate to a state of anarchy, or get to the point where people rise against those in authority. It is high time government put measures in place to check the disturbing security situation in the region. We advise that it reviews its hard stance on South East and go for dialogue. It was dialogue that calmed frayed nerves in the restive Niger Delta region during the time of for the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua. Let the government investigate the reported extra-judicial killings and deal with those found culpable according to the laws of the land.
As the father of the nation, we call on President Buhari to listen to the cry of marginalisation of the South East people. They feel alienated from the corridors of power and cheated over major appointments and infrastructure development in the country. He should reassure them that he is really for everybody and for nobody. The South East leaders must also wake up and create more jobs for the army of unemployed youths in the region. Above all, they should do everything possible not to allow the zone to become another theatre of war.