Southeast Terror Attacks: Why the Frontiers of Insurgency Must Not Expand

Unruly criminals and terrorists seem poised to expand Nigeria’s theatre of war beyond the Northeast. Their goal is to make a caricature of Nigeria’s security apparatus. The series of attacks in the Southeast region in recent times is a scary reality the nation is compelled to confront, as the pristine tranquility the southeast has enjoyed in recent years is being truncated by hardened militants in Imo state.

The president as a matter of fact has described as an act of terrorism, the brazen attack on Imo State Police Headquarters and a Correctional Facility in Owerri. Unknown gunmen in the early hours of 5 April 2021 attacked the Nigerian Correctional Services and the police headquarters in Imo State, freeing over 1,800 inmates, after which the hoodlums set the facilities ablaze. Public Relations Officer of the Correctional Facility, Francis Enobore, in a statement in Abuja, averred that the attackers came around 2:15 a.m. “gained entrance into the yard by using explosives to blast the administrative block and forcefully released a total of 1,844 inmates in custody.”

Enobore explained that six inmates voluntarily returned to the facility, while 35 inmates refused to escape. In his words, “They were said to have arrived the centre in their large number in several Hilux pick-up vans and Sienna buses armed with sophisticated weapons and immediately engaged the security personnel on duty in a fierce gun battle. They eventually detonated the explosive to gain entrance.”

During the attack, one person suspected to be a fleeing inmate was hit by a bullet. His lifeless body was seen on the ground in front of the correctional centre located near the Government House, along Okigwe Road.

The gunmen also razed the Imo State Police Command headquarters and burnt almost all the vehicles parked at the command’s headquarters. No fewer than 50 cars were set ablaze in the process. Sources disclosed that after the bandits invaded the command, they also freed scores of detainees.

Analysts opine that the incident in Imo State follows a spate of coordinated attacks by suspected separatist fighters against security forces in the South-east as the gunmen were said to have operated from 1:00 a.m. till 3:00 a.m. wherein they sang solidarity songs at the Government House roundabout before attacking the facilities.

Few hours after the attack on the correctional facility, a military checkpoint, located at Ukworji village, along the Owerri-Onitsha highway came under attack. It is noteworthy that this is a third of its kind in less than a month as security personnel and facilities have become targets for these unruly miscreants. Several police officers have been killed and facilities destroyed by gunmen who make away with rifles in these recent attacks in the South-east.

In Akwa Ibom State, in the South-south geo-political zone, a combined force of the police and the armed forces battled for hours before aerial bombardment could be used to over-power hundreds of heavily-armed terrorists hiding in a forest near Essien-Udim local government. Before the encounter, ten policemen and soldiers were ambushed and killed when they came to investigate cases of robbery and kidnapping in the area.

Furthermore, the attack on the frontline candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, Chukwuma Soludo, saw the death of about three police officers who were the only casualties from the invasion at the former central bank governor’s hometown, Isuofia.

The Abia State Government was equally forced to impose a curfew on Aba and Umuahia communities “till further notice”. This is in view of the fact that the state is bordered by Imo to the west. According to the state commissioner for information, John Kalu, the curfew “is sequel to security reports received from multiple sources, and informed by the need to continue to protect innocent citizens and residents of the state”.

There are strong convictions that the spate of attacks on security facilities, especially, has been aided by saboteurs and fifth columnists. This is why such groups as Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) canvassed the setting up of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate the attack on the Imo correctional facility and the state police headquarters, while insisting that, “There is more to it than meets the eyes.”

The Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in the Diaspora (AESID) in the same vein demanded a thorough investigation and prosecution of the Commissioner of Police in Ebonyi State, and other security personnel following their claim that 55 suspects arrested in connection with the killings in Effium communities escaped.

Describing the development as “a soap opera”, AESID said it was peeved by reports that 55 out of 66 hired militias, who were successfully arrested on 4 March 2021 at Okpoduma village in Effium by the Nigerian military led by the GOC, Commanding 82 Division, Maj. Gen. Taoreen Lagbaja, escaped from the custody of the Nigeria Force.

According to the association, “It is our firm discovery that the freeing of 55 out of the 66 hired militia is undoubtedly in furtherance of the hidden agenda of the Command whose officers and men have been sternly accused by this platform and many others of undue compromise and other discriminatory cum unprofessional conducts since the violent killings broke out in Effium on January 22nd this year.

“As a matter of fact, we are most disturbed, like other sane minds eager to see the end of the carnage and wanton destruction of lives and property particularly of Ezza descents in Effium that the said arrest of the mercenaries could only happen when the GOC led his team in a very professionally coordinated operation.”

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It is a matter of urgency that this spate of attacks on security facilities and personnel are given due attention by government and concerned authorities because of the diverse and serious dangers associated with it.

Security is a vital aspect of a country’s life. It is the lifeblood of any nation. Asides the fact that the security personnel exists to maintain law and order, they serve as the ultimate resort for safety. The same applies to correctional facilities put in place to serve as barricades, keeping off good citizens from unruly ones as murderers, armed robbers, terrorists, arsonists, rapists, fraudsters, all of whom pose a threat to society. Once they become the centre of successful attacks by bandits, kidnappers, hooligans, and miscreants, then the security of a nation is heavily compromised.

The coordinated attacks on strategic national security assets and the killing of security agents in the zone must never be allowed to blossom and take root in the Southeast or South-south or anywhere in the South, as this would compound Nigeria’s security crisis and economic challenges. Insurgency and armed banditry in different parts of Northern Nigeria is already a huge burden. Allowing the frontiers of insurgency to expand might lead to very deadly and undesirable consequences.

Peters Abodunrin