By Steve Oko, Vincent Ujumadu, Chinonso Alozie, Peter Okutu & Kennedy Mbele
Since December 2020, no fewer than seven police stations have been set ablaze while 34 security personnel were killed by gunmen in the wave of attacks on security men in the South-East, an investigation by Sunday Vanguard revealed.
The trend which spreads across states in the zone including Cross River State in the South-South is gaining traction daily.
At the moment, security agents in the area are living in palpable fear, as they are prone to attack at police stations, checkpoints and other duty posts.
The attacks on police formations and the killing of security personnel were reminiscent of the #EndSARS crisis, which saw the burning of over 205 police stations and the killing of over 60 policemen in 2020.
The Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB, and hoodlums are suspected to be behind the attacks that have left police, navy and army personnel dead.
A clash between IPoB members and security agencies in Anambra State last year, which resulted in casualties on both sides, was gathered to be the remote cause of the latest killings.
According to a police source, the raiding of Eastern Nigeria Security Network, ESN, enclave in Orlu and a subsequent one in Ihiala this year, could be described as what may have aggravated the assaults on police formations in the region.
“Recall that there was a clash between IPoB members and the army last year, leading to casualties. That was followed by the raiding of their enclave in Orlu in 2021, which drove them out of the bush in Imo State. A police special team also went to Ihiala to take out some of their henchmen.
“This is why they are after security agents. They have resorted to the model Boko Haram used in its early days. Recall that Boko Haram started with the burning of police stations and the killing of security men. That is what we are beginning to see in the South-East.
“What they do is to kill policemen and other security agents and collect their weapons. Ever since we destroyed their camps in the bushes, they have started guerrilla warfare” the source said.
Of the five states in the South-East, Sunday Vanguard found Imo, Anambra and Abia as the flashpoints of what has become growing calculated attacks on security agents. Findings showed that none of such attacks has happened in Enugu within the time under review.
ABIA: 7 personnel, 2 stations, vehicles in 4 attacks
No fewer than seven policemen have been killed in Abia State since February 2021.
Besides personnel, two police stations have been razed in four separate attacks against police formations in the state.
Police Public Relations Officer PPRO in Abia, Mr. Geoffrey Ogbonna, in an interview with our Correspondent said one cop was killed when hoodlums attacked a police station at Omoba in Isialangwa South in February.
The station was also set on fire by the assailants.
Another attack on another police station at Abayi, Osisioma claimed two lives while the station and some cars at the premises were set ablaze.
According to the PPRO a police patrol team was attacked by unknown gunmen at Uratta junction Aba, resulting in the death of a cop while the patrol van was set on fire.
He further said that three policemen were attacked and killed at Abriba March 21 thus bringing the casualty figure to seven so far since this year.
On whether the police have affected any arrest in connection with the attacks, or are suspecting any group as perpetrators of attacks, the PPRO said investigations were still ongoing.
He described the situation as very bad and appealed to members of the public to volunteer any useful information that could help unmask the masterminds of the attacks.
On the impact of the attacks on their officers and men, the PPRO said despite the emotional effect on their personnel, the police would not abandon their duty post because of the incidents.
“ Police officers and men are human beings, they could be demoralised at the sight of their colleagues being killed but we can’t give up. It’ is not good to be hunted by the people you are being paid to protect.
“ But we keep encouraging our men not to lose morale,” he added.
Three policemen were killed on March 21, 2021, by suspected bandits in Abriba community, Ohafia LGA.
Two rifles were carted away. The officers who were identified as Inspector Austins Ugwu, Inspector Longinus Ugochukwu and Constable Ema Ifeanyi, were serving at Abriba Police Division. They were ambushed at Amaogudu Area, Abribe at 8.30am.
ANAMBRA: 10 security operatives dead, stations attacked
There is tension among security operatives in Anambra following the recent attacks, which left no fewer than 10 of them dead.
After the #EndSARS protests during which five police stations were burnt in parts of the state, normalcy returned and the security operatives resumed work at their duty posts.
But surprisingly, unknown gunmen attacked a checkpoint at Nkpologwu in Aguata Local Government Area,LGA, and Omogho in Orumba North LGA, killing four policemen. They took away their rifles and set their patrol van ablaze. The gunmen drove in a salon car and a black Mercedes Benz 4Matic SUV.
Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Monday Kuryas, ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
A senior police officer in the local government who confirmed the killing said: “Honestly, it was a black Wednesday in Anambra. I don’t know what those boys want to gain from this act
The next place the gunmen attacked was a police checkpoint at Neni in Anaocha local government area where they killed three policemen.
On the same day, they attacked a naval checkpoint at Awkuzu in Oyi LGA. Three naval ratings lost their lives.
Gunmen again attacked Ekwulobia Police Station in Aguata LGA and killed another policeman and two officials of Nigeria Correctional Service, NCS.
They also attempted to burn down the police but were stopped by policemen at the station.
Later, they attacked a bus conveying prison inmates to the court and killed two officials of NCS.
Recall that Ekwulobia Police station was among those that were completely razed during the #EndSARS protest and was only rebuilt recently.
After the Ekwulobia attack, gunmen again attempted to burn down a police station in Awka North LGA but were repelled by policemen.
The identity of the attackers is yet to be known, but one noticeable thing since the resurgence of the assaults in the state is the disappearance of policemen on the roads, apparently out of fear of further attacks.
These developments forced Governor Willie Obiano to make a statewide broadcast, warning that enough was enough.
The governor said: “Since these attacks commenced, I have personally coordinated security commanders in the state with a joint effort to halt this mayhem and by God’s, we will surely succeed. The State Security Council has met twice and I have summoned another emergency meeting.
“ I have therefore directed all security agencies in the state, the vigilante services, all task forces and every structure in the state security infrastructure to rise in defense of our dear state.”
However, since the governor’s broadcast, vehicles have been plying the roads in the state with tinted glasses without molestation.
IMO: More stations attacked
Since the #EndSaRs protests that saw the destruction of many police stations in Imo State, more police stations have been burnt.
Some of the police stations that have been attacked in the state include Aboh Mbaise Divisional Police Station, Umuelemai Divisional Police Station in Isiala LGA as well as Divisional Police station in Ishinweke, Ihitte-Uboma LGA.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that a female police officer sustained gunshot injuries at Aboh Mbaise. A policeman died in the Isiala Mbano attack while scores of police officers were said to have been injured at the Ihitte/Uboma burnt police station.
Multiple sources had linked the attacks to hoodlums and suspected members of ESN members.
On the Aboh Mbaise attack, the Police said, “some yet to be identified hoodlums in four vehicles, attacked the Divisional Police headquarters, Aboh Mbaise, shooting sporadically . The officers on duty engaged them in a gun duel, at the end of the melee, one Policewoman sustained gunshot injury and was taken to the hospital for treatment.”
Also, on the Isiala Mbano incident, the police said: “On the 20/03/21, at about18:30 pm hoodlums, whose number could not be ascertained, attacked the Divisional Police Hqrs, Isiala Mbano, shooting sporadically. Operatives of the Division successfully repelled them. After the encounter, it was discovered that the hoodlums destroyed some doors and windows.
“No arm (s) was taken away. Regrettably, one Inspector, who was on duty at the time of the attack, gave up the ghost while receiving treatment as a result of injuries sustained during the melee.”
However, the Ihitte Uboma police station was set ablaze as a result of a clash between a suspect from the community and police officers.
There was tension in Umulowo, Imo State, on February 6 after gunmen attacked a police station in the area, killing some police officers and carting away their arms. No fewer than two police officers were said to have lost their lives in the attack which happened very early in the morning, causing villagers to scamper for safety.
Two policemen were reportedly killed while three others sustained varying degrees of injury as bandits attacked the Divisional Police Headquarters in Oromo Obowu LGA of Imo State. It was gathered that the invading bandits lost one of their members in the attack but they ran away with the corpse of the deceased before retreating.
EBONYI: 10 police stations
During the #EndSARS crisis, no fewer than 10 police stations were burnt. However, the state has witnessed attacks on police stations afterward.
On February 5, hoodlums attacked the Police Divisional Headquarters in Isu, Onicha LGA of Ebonyi State. Apart from the station that was razed, four patrol vehicles were set ablaze. Ine policeman sustained a machete cut injury.
Similarly, gunmen in military uniform on March 1, 2021, attacked the Iboko Police Station in Izzi LGA. The attackers were said to have set the station ablaze using bombs and grenades.
On February 26, in Calabar, hoodlums killed four police officers and carted away their rifles. The incident happened along Akai Effa-Idundu Road. The incident was followed by a similar one on March 4 as gunmen killed six police officers and a soldier at a checkpoint in Obubura on the Calabar-Ikom-Highway.
Speaking on the development, a security expert and Founder of Lions Protection and Signals, Mr. Callistus Emenike, told Sunday Vanguard that government must be cautious in handling the situation to prevent it from spiraling out of control.
He accused government of what he called nurturing insurgency in the South-East.
“Borno will be a child’s play if government pushes IPoB into resorting to guerilla warfare. The Igbo man is peaceful but the policy of exclusion of this government is what brought this manner of insecurity. I condemn the killings in their entirety and call on those responsible to desist forthwith, but government must function for all Nigerians. A government that labels IPoB as a terrorist group, but dines with killer herdsmen and bandits, isn’t being sincere.”
On why security agents are the targets, he said: “We have a police force that hasn’t reclaimed the space it lost to #EndSARS. The same applies to other security agencies. That is in addition to the animosity between them and IPoB. When you combine both, the reason isn’t difficult to know. Government must know that it’s easier and better to nip what is happening in the bud.”