Orlu carnage
Vehicles on fair following the ESN, Army clash in Orlu

President Buhari’s now infamous statement on the rising violence in the South east and his determination to respond to it appropriately, sparking outcry from Nigerians and international community, reflects the escalation of the situation. His outburst came in the wake of the recent assassination of Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, a former presidential aide, in Imo state, which marked new height in the orgy of violence since the attack on the Police command and Nigeria Correctional centre in Owerri by unknown gunmen.

Although, the region was not completely insulated from the spectre of insecurity pervading the country, the present situation seems out of place and leaves many questions unanswered. So when suddenly the police command and the Correctional centre were attacked, followed by frequent killings of policemen and other security agents, there was immediate cause for concern. The perplexing questions are: Who are these unknown gunmen; and what is their objective or purpose?

We are troubled by the conflicting and apparently orchestrated reactions from both the federal government and some northern groups. Although government had been quick to point accusing fingers at IPOB and its affiliate, the Eastern Security Network, it was an allegation without proof, which, those involved, have also denied.

Though the threat by the president to deal with the perpetrators of these dastardly acts is welcomed, there is growing anxiety that we may be working toward a predetermined script, which could lead to further escalation. It is not enough for government to promise to deal with the situation without unraveling those behind it.

In fact the travel advisory to northerners by the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, is also worrisome and perhaps an indication of a mindset that the situation may further degenerate. It seems there is a deliberate and premeditated plan to clamp down and castrate the region on the pretext of curbing agitations for Biafra. The fact is that such agitations have never been violent.

All these issues have created a puzzling uncertainty. The climax of this came in the wake of the Gulak’s murder. While the federal and Imo state governments were still asking for investigations, the police came out with a strange announcement that the assailants of Gulak had been accosted and gunned down – all of them, 10 in number. The question is how did the police quickly encounter these people and instead of arresting them decided to eliminate them, which appeared like a cover up.

This, in our opinion, is inexplicable, because without the testimony of the alleged murderers of Gulak, the reason for the killing and the masterminds will never be known. Why was Gulak killed? Who are those killing security agents? Nigerians need to have a logical and conclusive answer to douse its ethnic undertones and save the country from any unintended consequences.

Again both the federal and state governments claimed that the killing was the result of a political fight between some politicians; this is also strange. If the governments already knew the source of the killing, why have they not invited the suspected politicians for questioning? Is it because, they are powerful and likely to be APC members? Is there a nexus between his killing and the violence in the region?

Meanwhile, the region has been on lockdown as attacks on security agents spiraled. Many innocent people have been killed and about 3,000 detained in apparent police and military reprisals, leaving an atmosphere of fear and insecurity across the entire space, as nobody knows where next the attack would occur and the likely reactions from security agents.

The deployment of troops and a special police squad to the region with an ostensible order to shoot at sight the perpetrators of attacks on security agents cannot be the solution to this spate of violence. Why is the same order not applied in other areas of the country, such as Kaduna, Niger, Benue etc where violence has been on the upsurge? How can we hope to resolve the cause of the violence without knowing those responsible for it?

In our considered view, the South east situation is becoming a security conundrum that is spinning out of hand, which may consume the nation; and the time is apposite to take stock. We are not unmindful of the conspiracy theories trailing this development. Yet there is palpable impression that the violence is external to the region because it does not make sense that its people would be attacking policemen who in turn kill innocent people.

The federal government cannot absolve itself the responsibility of what is going on the South east. It has been long in coming but the government pretended indifference and aloofness to the simmering fire until it snowballed into an inferno. Local authorities had warned of the influx of strange people in lorry loads being transported to the region for undeclared reasons even when the nation was on lockdown.

The region has consistently and bitterly complained of marginalization since the return of democracy in 1999, which has progressively worsened with the passage of time, and particularly under this government. Such a situation is creating increasing resentment and anger among the youths, who have found themselves in utter abandonment by the government. Although no situation could justify violence, yet it makes secessionist agitations attractive, which is the excuse being used by government to militarize the region.

We believe that the spiraling security issue in the region clearly raises the stake for the demand to restructure the country so that people can effectively be in charge of their security, especially at the local levels. Although many people have expressed reservations over the current constitution amendment, we believe it is the most viable step to address urgently the security situation confronting the country through the introduction of state police.

It will be a sad development and lost opportunity if we failed to utilize the present exercise to enable this country overcome the present challenge, and to retrace its steps from the precipice that potentially awaits it. Nigeria cannot survive as a united and peaceful country on terms pre-determined and imposed by one part or group. It will only sow the seed of crisis which end cannot be easily predicted given emerging trends in communication and military technology.

The current insurgency ravaging the country is sufficient evidence that the rules of war have drastically changed and nobody has the monopoly of violence any more as non state actors have generally stalemated the largest army in Africa. We share Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe’s sentiment that were Biafra civil war to take place today, there would have been no Nigeria.