With heightened insecurity across the country, it would seem inappropriate to single out a state for special interrogation. Such inquisition could also be faulted by the desperate outcries of three governors last week on the degenerate security situations in their states.
Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum, his Niger State counterpart, Sani Bello and Samuel Ortom of Benue State had independently raised serious alarms on the degenerating security situation in their states. While Zulum was piqued by the increasing momentum and dexterity of Boko Haram attacks with huge casualties in military and civilian population, Bello is scared stiff by the sacking of about 42 communities and hoisting of flags by the Boko Haram insurgents. He painted a pathetic picture of how the insurgents kidnapped many indigenes, their wives seized from them and forcefully attached to Boko Haram members.
Ortom spoke pathetically and emotionally on the killing of seven Internally Displaced Persons IDPs in their camp by herdsmen militia. He painted a gory and moving picture of how the IDPs fled their ancestral homes for refuge on account of the insurgency of the herdsmen only for the same herdsmen to attack and kill them at their camps.
Elsewhere, it has been a tale of attacks, ambushing and killing of security personnel for no just cause, kidnapping for ransom, burning down of police stations and sundry criminalities. With the catalogue of complex criminalities across the country, what makes Imo a special case and does it make sense singling events there out for special investigation?
Yes. Imo stands out not only in terms of texture and nature but the weight and momentum of violent attacks that have taken place there. The character of security infraction in the state since the beginning of this year stands it out among its counterparts from the zone. In those infractions can be located, the imprimatur of a state primed by acts of omission or commission for some form of cataclysm. If anything, emerging allegations from the Department of State Services DSS that the IPOB/ESN has acquired bombs and explosives to destabilize the state further supports the peculiarity of the Imo situation.
Reports quoting a letter from the DSS to the Brigade Commander, 34 Artillery Brigade Obinze, credited the secret police to have alleged that bombs and explosives were being moved in articulated trucks from Lagos to a hide-out in Orlu, Imo State ostensibly to attack security and government installations in the state. Though IPOB has dismissed the allegation as baseless, it adds to the puzzles on the precise nature and texture of the insecurity in a state that before now, ranked among the most peaceful in the country.
So, what really went wrong? How did Imo get to the current situation? Is the state now the headquarters of the IPOB/ESN or are we contending with the verity of a choreographed simulation of violent attacks with the aim of achieving pre-determined ends? What really are the issues behind the sudden prominence of Imo in the insecurity matrix? Or do events there have a link with the way the leadership of the state emerged after the last elections?
Before the ENDSARS protests turned awry across the country, Imo had no known history of violent attacks on security operatives and government installations. It also harbored no organized violence of the magnitude that could attract serious national attention. But the state suddenly came under national focus early this year, when Governor Hope Uzodinma imposed a dusk to dawn curfew in 10 local government areas of Orlu senatorial zone citing the activities of a “group of militants who unleashed a shooting spree in the Orlu area killing and maiming innocent citizens”.
The governor said he was appalled by what appeared as a breakdown of law and order in Orlu and admitted inviting the military to quell the attacks which he claimed were beyond the capacity of the local arrangement. Before then, his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Cyprian Akaolisa had said the state government invited the military to Orlu after members of the IPOB/ESN killed several policemen and innocent citizens alleging attempts by the group to attack Orlu people and the government in the guise of looking for herdsmen.
Imo people were taken aback when military helicopters entered the scene firing sporadically in a manner reminiscent of war situations. But the military deployment and the reasons for it did not go down well with the people. They did not see anything in the security situation in Orlu that could not be managed by the regular security agencies.
Uzodinma was deemed to have over-reacted and his invitation of the military seen as an escalation of whatever security challenges that hitherto existed in the area. There were others who imputed a dubious agenda to the matter. It is not surprising that Imo has since that controversial outing remained on national focus albeit, for the wrong reason. Whether that misadventure was a harbinger of events that had since unfolded is a matter of conjecture.
As if that was not enough, Imo was thrown into serious confusion when the state police command headquarters and the correctional facility in Owerri were attacked by unidentified gunmen without resistance from the array of security agencies that maintain serious presence around there. The bravado of the gunmen, the ease with which they overran both facilities, freed prisoners and detainees without challenge, gave vent to all manner of conspiracy theories.
Immediate past Inspector-General of police Mohammed Adamu was quick to attribute the attack to the IPOB/ESN and the state government easily bought into the narrative. But the governor later said he had information on where, how and when the attacks were planned and the brains behind them. He fingered aggrieved politicians for sponsoring the attacks. Curiously, the description of the aggrieved politician and sponsor of the attacks the state government gave fitted into the profile of a well-known former governor. Yet, he walks the streets free. Uzodinma’s disclosure that 40 to 50 suspects from both the state and outside had been arrested for the attacks further widens speculations on the motive of the attacks.
Another dimension to the security challenges emerged when a combined team of security agents ambushed and killed a man identified as Ikonso with about six of his men. The security agents claimed Ikonso was an ESN commander and was shot dead in an exchange of gun fire. Curiously, IPOB admitted that Ikonso was their ESN commander but denied he was killed in a shootout.
Few hours after Ikonso’s death, a group of gunmen set the country home of Uzodinma on fire in what appeared a reprisal attack. They burnt some vehicles in the premises and left in their trail human casualties. It is worthy of note that Awomama where Ikonso was killed and Omuma, the country home of the governor are in the same local government. This proximity perhaps, accounts for why the attack at the governor’s house happened around 9am in the morning in full glare of villagers.
Again, Uzodinma has blamed the attack on aggrieved politicians. The consistency with which he points accusing fingers at aggrieved politicians, suggests he may have his facts. Why they have not been turned in to security agencies and if he has, their inability to arrest the suspects is behind the suspicion that some unseen hands are behind the orgy of violence in Imo state possibly to justify invasion of the state. The sophistication and clinical execution of the attacks seem beyond what ragtag operators could do.
This suspicion is amplified by DSS allegation on ferrying of bombs and explosives to destabilize Imo State. Why Imo and why Orlu? Since the DSS knows the source of the bombs and their destination, what prevented them from arresting those behind it? The allegation reinforces the suspicion of a hidden agenda to escalate insecurity in Imo in particular and the southeast to provide grounds to attack its peoples. With the difficulty in differentiating IPOB/ ESN operatives from the ordinary residents, the outcome of such invasion could be dire. That is the potent and present danger as signs of anarchy loom all over Imo state.