Nigeria: Addressing Security Crisis in the South-East

24 June 2021

The recent Multi-stakeholders Consultative Forum on Peace and Security Challenges in Nigeria, which was organised by Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre in collaboration with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and support from European Union, was targeted at addressing the security crisis that has riddled the South-east region, particularly the attacks on security institutions.

Undoubtedly, the growing security threats from Nigeria's South-east region gives cause for concern. But it was not always so. Until recently, the South-east region was arguably the most peaceful part of the country, but now, it has evolved into a hotbed of violence targeting state security institutions by armed men popularly referred to as unknown gunmen.

In fact, between January and April 19, 2021, over 17 police stations, in addition to a correctional facility, have been targeted by the gunmen, leaving in their trail dead officers, charred police stations, freed prison inmates, and empty armoury.

Alarming Figures

Before 2021, the South-east region was mainly known for the hustle and bustle associated with markets. Although just like other regions, there also were cases of criminal violence manifesting as cult wars, ransom kidnaps and armed robbery. Added to these are sustained episodes of pro-Biafra secessionist agitations that turned fatal in some instances. Five months into 2021, 149 people have been killed in 36 attacks in south-east Nigeria according to Nextier Security, Peace and Development (SPD) violent conflict database.

Nextier SPD, an international development consulting firm based in Nigeria which utilises evidence-based research and policy in developing knowledge and skills for governing the society, also disclosed that multiple attacks, especially at police stations, courts, and other state infrastructure, have been recorded. " The now-unstable region is increasingly witnessing gruesome murders and incessant attacks by violent actors widely regarded as "unknown gunmen", they added.

They further posited that "while Nigeria's security operatives have fingered the indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its offshoot, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the pro-Biafra group, have continually denied responsibility for the ongoing carnage in the South-east. The situation leaves many conflict experts perplexed towards a comprehensive understanding of the triggers and consequences of insecurity in South-east Nigeria.

"Also, if the violence persists, it spells doom for the region and the country in general. For instance, terrorism in the Lake Chad basin may be more demanding with the death of the resilient Chadian's president, Idriss Deby and the new power ascendancy of Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP). Recently, ISWAP was reported to have killed Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram. The volatile South-east, and by extension, the South-south zone, adds to a long list of security challenges the Nigerian government has to manage".

In its analysis of insecurity in the region, they disclosed that from its violent conflict database, about 724 people were killed and 802 kidnapped in 336 incidents in the first quarter of 2021, while in the last quarter of 2020, 384 people were killed, 510 persons kidnapped in 256 incidents. "The statistics portray an increasing wave of violence despite the Nigerian government's efforts to contain these issues. The result is the emergence of non-state actors in some instances complement efforts the state security -Amotekun, Vigilantes- and some cases challenge- IPOB, ESN- the state.

"In the last five months, 55 attacks were recorded in the South-east, ranging from communal clashes to farmer herders. The attacks have led to the death of over 155 persons. The new wave of insecurity indicates that the Nigeria Police Force expected to maintain law and order during the polls are as vulnerable as citizens... The increased deployment of soldiers to the region rather than quell violence has led to human rights violations and growing violence," they added.

For the attacks on police formations, they have continued unabated in the South-east since January.

Consultative Forum

It was to address these concerns that the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) with support from European Union sought to convene a team of experts and stakeholders to review the growing violence.

The Multi-Stakeholders' Consultative Forum on Peace and Security in Nigeria was themed "Examining the Current Security Crisis: Attacks on State Security Institutions in the Southeast Region".

According to the trio, the reason for the consultative forum was not far-fetched. Positing that there has been an exacerbation of the security crises across the country, they noted that non-state armed groups' menace has worsened in the face of overwhelmed security operatives' inability to manage the issue.

They added that faced with ineffective and inefficient security provisions, criminals arm themselves and rule ungoverned spaces. Nonetheless, they further pointed out that there is also marginalisation and an economic dimension to the challenge, clarifying that Nigeria's poor economic situation, worsened by high unemployment rates, swells the ranks of potential recruits for the various non-formal security organisations.

Lamentably, they noted that no region of the country has consistently attacked state security institutions as being witnessed in the South-east zone. "Sadly, security operatives are yet to authoritatively identify these police- assailants and the motives behind the attacks. If security providers have become terror victims, the tendency towards self-defense, reprisal attacks, and state violence is high".

This they said was why CISLAC and FES sought to hold a forum and use the meeting as an opportunity for key stakeholders to critically interrogate rising insecurity, attacks on security institutions, and government responses to the agitations.

Consequence of Systemic Injustice

Noting that the situation currently faced across the country is dire, CISLAC Executive Director, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), in his remarks lamented that between February 23 and June 1, a space of just three months, at least 65 police officers have been killed and various police stations razed in a wave of attacks targeting security forces in the South-east and South-south regions of Nigeria.

"If the deadly attacks on the Nigerian security agencies continue, it could potentially complicate an already deteriorating security situation in the region. Potentially? Well, I hate to break it down for the gurus in the room, but the bad days are here, alive and thriving. Years of repression and systemic injustice against the people in that region have left them permanently bruised and forever scarred. The ubiquitous unknown gunmen offensive of today is targeting mostly police formations, with just a few military officers killed thus far. I believe police casualties are more, simply because these are tactically easier to accomplish and not that the soldiers are hated any less.

"The people can hardly forget the likes of Operation Python Dance and the extra-judicial killings targeting young Igbo men in one guise or the other. I am pretty convinced that the honeymoon that the Khaki boys enjoy today will not last long. Unless something is done urgently, the gunmen will likely acquire the level of sophistication needed to take on the Nigerian military, sooner than later. The evolution of Boko Haram attacks in the North-east is a good historic lesson to draw from.

"In truth, the attacks are as repugnant and condemnable as they are counter-productive, but it would be a barefaced lie to feign ignorance of how we got here. The role of the Nigeria security agencies, whether police or army, in the South-east seems more like a force of occupation. Of course, one has no doubt that there are still good men and women in uniform doing their best but such individuals now exist only on the fringes.

" Their good efforts have been submerged in a sea of criminal activities of the mainstream, which thrive in the business of operating an elaborate extortion scheme in most parts of the country, but more so in the South-east region. In some cases, they have also been accused of aiding and abetting crime.

"A research report published years ago following an extensive interrogation of the issues bothering on police extortion in the south east region outlined a number of revelations, some very worrisome. As at the month of April 2010, there were 1,350 roadblocks in the South-East. It reported that between the year 2009 and 2011, the Nigerian Police Force realised a total of N32.26 billion in the South-east out of the N53.48 billion made at police roadblocks across the six geopolitical zones (I'm quoting from a data supplied by the international society for civil society and rule of law). I'm not sure of the reliability of this data but we usually hear stories of officers paying huge sums of money, and lobbying to be posted to the South-east. We know this is not out of love for the Igbo people.

"A big part of the problem could be gleaned from the constitution of police leadership dating all the way back to the time of independence. From Nigeria's first Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Louis Edet (1964-1966) to the present IGP, Usman Alkali Baba, including the other 21 officers that have served in that capacity, IGP Ogbonaya Okechukwu Onovo (2009-2010) was the only one from South-east Nigeria. Of the five commissioners of Police in the South-east zone, none is Igbo. This is a clear case of saying one thing and doing a different thing entirely.

"The horrifying reality of today is that there are not many options available to salvage the situation. The only way out is for the region's political leaders to wake up from deep slumber. They should worry less about their political future and take firm and decisive actions. Anything short of that, we would be attempting to escape mythical monsters, and even the mere thought of that gives me goosebumps and leaves one perpetually in a funk."

Revisiting the Past

In his keynote, Chairman, House Committee on Army, Hon. Abdulrazak Sa'ad Namdas, was of the opinion that "we must revisit the past to allow us establish a pathway for the future. The non-implementation of the agreed three-Rs (Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation) after the civil war, worsened the plight of citizens in the South-east. It retarded the economic growth of the region, exacerbated their poverty situation, created unemployment, zero window of opportunity and a completely dislocated social and political consciousness of the people. The aftermath was the emergence of non-state actors like MASSOB, IPOB, Bakassi and a constant cry of marginalisation.

"We must find a political solution to the situation ravaging the region. We must exhort politicians that while seeking political powers or offices at the Federal and state level, they should endeavour to play the game by the rules, demonstrate spirit of sportsmanship, elevate politics beyond ethnicity and self-aggrandisement and ensure fulfillment of promises made during electioneering campaigns. This will reduce acrimonies and violence associated with politics which oftentimes create tensions and insecurity in the society.

"I think that these persistent violent attacks against police checkpoints and sometimes targeting soldiers are not the types of aggressive conducts only military or police actions can bring to a quick and effective resolution. These issues demand a multifaceted approach towards analytically and forensically unravelling the faces behind the attacks. We must find out their political messages or demands and then see if a middle of the road agreement can be worked out to put an end to these incessant attacks. This is because the use of military style approach to try to extinguish an asymmetric warfare or urban guerrilla movements that are just about taking shape is not sustainable over a long period of time. The adoption of carrot and stick approach might as well work in seeking a quick end to these cocktails of coordinated violent confrontation against strategic national security assets and forces.

"In conclusion, we must eliminate stereotyping. The people in and outside the region should build trust between themselves and other Nigerians, including foreign investors. The present belief that South-east businessmen are not to be trusted, that they engage in underhand deals and can do anything for money, does not augur well with us as a people. Other tribes in Nigeria hardly trust and rarely come to the South-east to establish business. Efforts should be made to erase this negative image.

"For example, the adulteration of consumable and non-consumable products remains persistent in the South-east region. Substandard building materials, products like iron rod, electrical cables and other wares often cause building collapse and fire. Fake pharmaceutical products have killed many citizens over the years. Any action inimical to the safety and well-being of our citizenry should be avoided."

Resolving the Cliffhanger

In his paper titled "Resolving The Cliffhanger: A Case for Dialogue Pathway from the Rising Insecurity on Southeastern Nigeria" Senior Lecturer at Institute for Development Studies

University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Dr. Ben Nwosu recommended a neutral party, possibly the civil society to engineer dialogue between the government and the agitators.

Calling for effective security provisions for the country especially with the ease at which non-state actors have access to weapons and use same for criminality, he noted that "this is evidenced by the ease with which hoodlums have successfully invaded police stations, killed officers and even taken their weapons away. A lot of questions need to be answered about the quality and quantity of arms available for the job.

"The relevance of their training to meet the demands of modern policing is also troubling. Not even hitech CCTV cameras to pick the faces of these assailants are available in police stations. Hence, better armed bandits perhaps with more contemporary training are quick to assassinate policemen".

Blaming the government for the emergence of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), he noted that government's failure to proactively respond to murderous ravages of herdsmen in agrarian communities gave birth to a self help approach, lamenting that "government's response to these agitations (IPOB/ESN) tends to be fixated on one mode of approach namely use of force. This response template seems unmindful of the changing character of the dynamics at play.

"For instance, the emergence of the armed wing of IPOB is in the context of expansive agrarian violence which destroys lives and livelihoods while the state appears weak to mitigate the ravages and those of criminals who engage in other organised crimes like kidnapping and terrorism.

"In all, the state seems partisan. Its swift response to IPOB activities versus laid back approach to criminals outside of the South-east appear instructive. The disturbing development of attacks on security institutions and personnel in the South-east is blamed on IPOB/ESN, though this paper contests that it is still subject to conclusive investigation. Yet we know that ESN fights back against the military in Imo State. Both sides appear determined. However, with the superior fire power of the government's forces, ESN may resort to asymetrical warfare.

"The frustration from this type of warfare leads the government troops into rights abuses and collateral damages which attracts opprobrium for the fighting troops and could enlarge the support base of the separatists and further escalate the conflict. In all, one strategy that the federal government has not applied in this conflict is the dialogue approach. Communicative engagement is therefore recommended. The dialogue should be comprehensive, involving the factions of the elite and other groups, with adequate demographic and geographical representation.

"This is to be coordinated by a facilitator with a view to arriving at a framework which the people expect as the basis of equitable membership of the nation. The same formula may be considered for other zones of the country. To end this piece, dialogue may not give a quick solution, but it would lead to a lasting one.

"Continued indifference to the need to apply it merely nurtures the destructive anger that is already pervasive across the country as well as leave opening for aggrieved groups to dialogue with similar groups across ethnic groups. The implication is clear for national unity."

Embracing Dialogue

For Senior Policy and Research Analyst of Nextier SPD, Ndidi Anyanwu, the government needs to rethink its law enforcement strategies and galvanise actions towards building peace which include addressing the cause of the agitations.

According to Anyanwu, multi-stakeholder response must include exploring alternative options of mitigating insecurity and preventing the escalation of violence, adding that " the government's repressive stance on violence from the region must shift to include dialogue. Repressive activities against the pro-secessionists over the years have not stopped further agitations. Therefore, peaceful engagement is essential to achieve a widely desirable outcome.

"The avoidable deaths due to the violent face-offs must encourage government to seek less repressive forms of managing separatist movements. Rather than the traditional reactive approach of responding to violent conflicts, the government must become more proactive.

"Sustainable peace is achievable when state violence and repression are traded for investments in human capital development and security, as in the case of southeast secessions fuelled by perceptions of marginalisation and uneven distribution of public goods. A solution for reducing violent conflicts not just for the southeast but for the country at large, is developing early warning strategies anchored on responsive governance, inclusiveness, balanced wealth and job creation, and impactful poverty eradication".

Way Out

In his presentation on " What does it take for a State in Crises to Provide Security and Restore Hope for its People in the Face of Despair",

Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Centre for Peace and Security Studies, Modibbo Adama University of Technology, Yola, Adamawa State, Dr. Chris Kwaja noted that the country was enmeshed in crises that manifest in three key ways- uncertainty around the economy worsened by corruption; weakening of inter-group relations and rising insecurity in the form of ethno-religious conflicts, armed banditry, insurgency and secessionist agitations, as well as sheer recklessness of the political elites whose vested interests is linked to a political culture that places high premium on access to power without any concrete agenda for governance.

He said the way out was for the Nigerian state to reclaim its monopoly of the instruments of coercion and ensure its usage in a legitimate and accountable manner, adding that "national dialogue as a key pathway for healing and rebuilding trust and national cohesion.

"De-militarise the public space as a condition for rebuilding trust with the military and empower the police to effectively law and order. Bridge the gap with the communities by providing for their security and welfare as a basis for making it difficult for them to be mobilised or recruited by violent extremist groups.

"Design and implement a robust programme on community policing or state police in ways that empowers the state and local government to effectively respond to early warning signs in a proactive manner".

Summarily, Nextier SPD posited that the Nigerian government has a duty to protect lives and livelihoods in the country, "however, in doing so, it must appear to be objective and not a government-sanctioned operation against the people. For instance, there are reports of unlawful arrests and detention of people in cities across South-east Nigeria as part of the current securitisation efforts of security operatives. The ongoing insecurity in the region and echoes of self-determination presents a highly delicate environment for security agencies to securitise.

"There is a need to initiate non-combative strategies that will counteract the growing distrust people may have towards the government. This distrust is evident in the reported raiding of communities in southeast Nigeria and large scale arrest of youths.

"Rather than resort to unlawful raiding and arrest of people, the Nigerian security operatives must demonstrate openness to work with the people in managing the escalating crisis in the southeast zone. The tensions in the area suggest that relying solely on combat actions will not achieve sustainable peace but widen the growing gap between government and the people", they added.

Although it was agreed that the next dialogue be carried out at the grassroots, with those who ferment trouble inculcated in the meeting, the stakeholders forum was engaging as the rigorous dialogue ended in a resolution with the overriding goal of advancing peace and development.

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