On February 24, 2021, ‘hoodlums’ attacked a patrol team of the Nigeria Police in Ekwulobia, Anambra State. In the process, a police officer was killed and their patrol vehicle burnt.
Since the February incidence, what has become a trend continued almost unabated, with several police officers killed and police stations attacked, with some burnt and armed carted away.
In what appears like calculated and deliberate attacks, not only the police has come under attack by the yet to be identified ‘hoodlums’, the Nigerian Navy and the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) have also tasted the fury of this new trend.
Three Naval ratings and two NCS officers have been killed in Anambra while six police officers were also killed. Similarly, four police stations have been attacked in what has been termed unprovoked attacks, with arms carted away.
The attackers were said to be well armed with guns and other dangerous weapons, with the attacks coming at a time of heightened insecurity in the country, with virtually every part of the country reeling under one form of insecurity or the other.
The development has also raised fresh concerns, as the attacks, which appear coordinated and focus mainly on security agencies bear the footprints and resemblance of an emerging terror group in the South-East geopolitical zone. It should be noted that the attacks, though more frequent in Anambra, has also been experienced in Imo and Abia states too.
Experts and analysts are worried that the new attacks have the semblance of the early days of the Boko Haram insurgency, when security agencies and formations came under attack in parts of Borno State.
According to experts and analysts, the South-East may be witnessing the early stages of a home-grown terror group, which promises to be deadly and unwavering. Though this may for now be in the realm of conjectures, the signs are ominous that a group is behind the recent attacks. What their motives are is, however, yet to be known.
A security expert, Chigozie Madu believes the signs are not good at all and if things are not nipped in the bud fast, Nigeria may have another terror group to contend with in the immediate future.
According to him, there is so much anger in the land, so much that some people are ready to carry guns at every little provocation.
“What is happening at the moment are initial signs of a budding armed group, a terror group testing the waters and sending out warning signals. And of course, depending on the focus of the attackers, security agents naturally becomes their first targets. Remember that security agents were initially the target of the Boko Haram terrorists in their early days, especially in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital before they were forced out of the city after the killing of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf.
“For me, a new terror group maybe emerging in the South-East, with Anambra as the base and if care is not taken to tackle it while still in infancy, this attackers may be in a position to wreak even greater havoc in the country, especially on the economic front. Government security and intelligence services must do all they can to identify those behind these attacks, single them out and neutralise them before they start recruiting followers and the entire thing take a life of its own,” Madu Said.
Olawale Daud, a security consultant, believes that the current spate of attacks on security agents in Anambra is a fallout of the face-off between the Eastern Security Network (ESN) established by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Nigerian military.
According to him, since the ESN operatives were smoked out of the Orlu area of Imo State, there had been attacks in Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross River states amongst others. He also insisted that the attacks are not by accident but coordinated and orchestrated by the ESN as their own answer to military aerial and ground assault on their locations.
“I am tempted to conclude that IPOB’s ESN is behind the latest attacks in Anambra State. ESN is bitter with the way they were attacked by the military despite their initial aim of securing the South-East geopolitical zone and defending the region from attacks by herdsmen and other criminals.
“The fear, however, is that if ESN truly becomes the armed branch of IPOB, then we may be in for another prolonged insurgency that promises to be brutal, as its members will be willing to fight on until their objectives are realised. And of course, they are just merely showing signs of what they are capable of doing and what we should expect as a nation.
“As an urgent way forward, government has the option of fully unleashing its full might on these people, degrade their ability to carry out attacks and arrest them or find a way to pacify their grievances, which in its own is dangerous and encouraging for others that want to take up arms against the country. However, everything that can be done to stop the ESN from resorting to full arms struggle must be done as Nigeria cannot afford another terror group springing up again,” Daud said.
A political commentator, who, because of the sensitivity of the issues on ground, chose not to have his name revealed, is of the opinion that the Nigerian government pushed the ESN or any other persons behind the current attacks. According to him, the Nigerian government, through the military has always descended heavily on unarmed peaceful protesters and agitators in the South-East while at the same time treating insurgents and bandits with ‘kid gloves.’
“The government went after a local security initiative aims at securing the South-East from the murderous incursions of herdsmen, bombing ESN members and turning the Orlu area into a war zone while those that have been killing, kidnapping and destroying communities in the North-West and North-Central are left roaming about in the forest to continue their criminal enterprise. And you expect these guys that have always been at the receiving end not to react?
“There is so much injustice in the land and if you do not have anyone to fight for you, you have no option than to fight for yourself. IPOB, ESN and by extension, easterners have endured so much injustice in the country, and they may have decided to say enough is enough!
“My only prayer is that these attacks do not snowball into a full-blown arms struggle in the zone, as it will be dangerous to handle. Insurgency anywhere in the South is nothing but the beginning of the final disintegration of Nigeria,” he submitted.
For Chukwueze Obi, the most important thing at the moment is how to end these attacks so that it does not take a life of its own. According to him, the Federal Government must engage critical stakeholders in the South-East, including state governors, traditional rulers, community leaders and associations to end this dangerous trend.
“There is no doubt that there are feelings of injustice but then, attacking security agents is not the way out of it. And the earlier the government understand that there are potential dangers ahead and move to stop it, the better. The way to go is not by committing further injustices by carrying out arbitrary arrests and clampdowns, as this will worsen the situation, but by reaching out critical stakeholders in communities in the South-East who can broker peace and rein in these aggrieved individuals.
“For me, a show of force will only lead to more anger and attacks as the Orlu military action have shown. Let government approach leaders in the zone for the sake of peace and stability of the country. Also, the many injustices that have been committed against the zone must be addressed to find a lasting peace”, he said.