In 2009, following the extrajudicial killing, in police custody, of Mohammed Yusuf, the then leader of the Boko Haram group, what followed were incessant attacks on policemen and other security personnel, and the burning down of police stations in some parts of the North East, particularly in Borno and Yobe states.
At that time, not many people were worried so far it was only the police and the security agencies that were being attacked. The belief then was that those attackers were expressing genuine grievances because of the extrajudicial killing of their leader. Nobody knew that a monster was being created, or was in the making.
But as time went by, the attacks began to escalate, to assume higher dimension and spreading to many other places. In the process, many people were gunned down or kidnapped, as the entire North East zone was engulfed with the insurgency. Soon, the whole country was caught up with Boko Haram, which resulted to several killings, kidnappings, and burning down of both private and public properties.
Eleven years down the line, Nigeria, even with assistance from the international community, is still battling hard to contain the Boko Haram insurgency, to no avail.
In the past few months, we are beginning to witness similar things that happened in the North East, rearing their ugly heads in the South East geopolitical zone, such as frequent attacks on police stations and killing of policemen. Every day, we hear stories that one police station or the other has been attacked. And that some policemen have been killed. From our reckoning, there were no less than thirty police stations that have so far been burnt or destroyed in the South East, these few months, while over three dozens policemen were killed. We were disheartened.
Instead of abating, the attacks are continuing in intensity. For instance, just as we were recovering from the news of recent attacks on the police headquarters in Owerri, Imo State, and the Owerri Correctional Prison, where over 1,800 inmates were freed, we got another disturbing news that the Zone 13 Police Headquarters in Ukpo, Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State, had been attacked. We were dismayed.
Reported attacks by some “unknown gunmen,” on police formations in the South East, and the killing of policemen on duty, have become a pastime, and assuming alarming and dangerous dimensions these days. No day passes without report of any such ugly incident. This is worrisome.
Perhaps, not many people would appreciate the possible consequences of this new development. Presently, we observe that most roads in the South East have been deserted by policemen, and that police checkpoints have also suddenly disappeared from roads in the area.
While many people may be rejoicing about this development, because they no longer have to “roger” any policeman on the road, our fear, however, is that very soon, the South East may likely be at the mercy of criminal elements, any time they want to strike. Even if in the past, we feel that the police were not doing as much as we expected, or that they were not performing to our satisfaction, their presence on the roads, at least, were enough to scare away some bad boys.
Now, with their complete desertion from the roads, there surely would be no restraint for whoever would want to do some dirty job in the South East. It would certainly be a walkover.
You can imagine what happens if there is no Police Station in the entire South East. How will the people be dealing with some criminal elements like armed robbers, kidnappers, rapists, cultists, burglars, pick-pockets, arsonists, etc? It will certainly be a field day for them.
Nobody knows who is behind these incessant burning down of police stations in the South East, and the killing of policemen. Some people would easily point their finger towards the direction of IPOB/ESN.
But supposing it is the handiwork of ordinary criminals and bandits, masquerading as freedom fighters? Some other people would suggest that the attackers might have come from outside Igbo land, and sponsored to cause trouble in the South East, so as to find reason to invade and attack the area. We do not know who actually is responsible, but it calls for urgent investigation.
When all the police stations in the South East might have been completely burnt down or destroyed, and policemen in the area scared off our roads, the criminals or enemies of the South East would have the liberty to begin to pounce on the people anyhow they wish, and there would be no one to protect or defend them.
No matter how bad any government might be, the citizens can never be assured of their safety without law enforcement agencies to regulate the activities of various elements in society, otherwise, it would be a descent into anarchy, chaos, and lawlessness, as in the Hobessian state of nature, where life was short, nasty and brutish.
In other words, the people of the South East cannot do without the existence of the police and other security agencies, whether they are performing to our satisfaction or not, because to do otherwise, would be self-destruct. No society ever depends on non-state actors for its security and defence, because without a government regulatory instrument, everything will be turned upside down.
All the same, we are not impressed with the way our security operatives in the South East, cheaply and cowardly abscond, or run away from their duty posts, each time they were attacked.
They knew that they were not going on a dinner party when they applied and got enlisted into the force. Therefore, they should not easily give in, but return fire for fire, each time they are attacked, to stoutly defend themselves and protect their formations.
In standard international practice, the security operatives are statutorily obligated to defend their formations, even if they were to pay the supreme sacrifice. As a better trained and better equipped group, the security operatives in the South East should hold their ground, and not succumb or chicken out each time they were attacked. They should rise to the challenge of defending themselves and the law-abiding citizens in the South East.
Dr. Eze writes from Enugu