Insecurity in the Southeast: Between Scylla and Charybdis



By Osmund Agbo

“Around evening time Monday, we saw some people in a bus approach the police station, shoot the gate open, killing all the six officials who tried to resist them.” That was one eye witness account, narrated the dare-devil attack a police facility in Imo state that happened Monday April 26th. Meanwhile, in the nearby city of Port Harcourt, River state, five security officers including two soldiers were also murdered in cold blood around that same time.

According to a Premium Times report,
between February 23 and 9, a space of just two weeks, at least 10 police officers had been killed and six police stations razed in a wave of attacks targeting in the South-east and South-south regions of Nigeria.

If the deadly attacks the Nigerian security agencies continue, security experts warn, it could potentially complicate an already deteriorating security situation in the region. Potentially? Well, I hate to break it down to the gurus the bad days are here, alive and thriving. To many especially the indignant southeast public, those attacks are sweet revenge. Years of repression and systemic injustice against the people in their homeland have left them permanently bruised and forever scarred. It’s like the Biafran war never ended.

The ubiquitous unknown gunmen offensive of today is targeting mostly police formations with just a fewer military officer killed thus far. I believe police casualties are more, simply because they are tactically easier to accomplish and not that the soldiers are hated any less. The people could hardly forget the likes of Operation Python Dance and the extra-judicial killings targeting young Igbo men using one guise or the other. Am pretty convinced that the honeymoon 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 northeast is a good history lesson to draw from.

In truth, the attacks are as repugnant and condemnable as they are counter-productive it would be a barefaced lie to feign ignorance of we got here.

The role of the Nigeria security agencies whether police, in the southeast seems more like an occupation force. Of course, one has no doubt that there are still good men and women in uniform doing their best, such individuals now exist only in the fringes. Their good effort is submerged in a sea of criminal activities of the mainstream that thrives in the business of operating an elaborate extortion scheme in most parts of the country more so in the southeast region. In some cases, they have also been accused of aiding and abetting .

Japhet Nnaeto (Department of political science, Gregory University, Uturu, Abia State) and his of researchers published a report years ago following an extensive interrogation of the issues bothering on police extortion in the region. As at the month of April 2010, there were 1,350 roadblocks in the South east. They reported that between the year 2009-2011, the Nigerian Police Force realized a total of N32.26b in the Southeast out of the N53.48b made at Police roadblocks across the six geopolitical zones, quoting from a data supplied by the international society for civil society and rule of law. Now am unsure of the reliability of this data but we have all heard stories of officers paying hefty sums of money, lobbying to be posted in the southeast. We know it’s not out of love for 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 IGP, Mr. Louis Edet (1964-1966) till the IGP, Usman Alkali Baba, out of the 21 officers that have thus far served in that capacity, IGP Ogbonaya Okechukwu Onovo (2009-2010) is the only one that came from the southeast Nigeria. Of the five commissioners of police in the southeast zone, none is Igbo.

Very recently, a friend had asked my take on IPOB’s Eastern Security Network (ESN). My response was that it’s difficult to fault Nnamdi Kanu and his group for creating a security outfit at this point in our nation’s history. While the political leaders in the southeast chose to play dirty politics, Ndigbo are being massacred, homes razed, farmlands destroyed and wives gang-raped. ESN has now been accepted by many as a child of circumstances, filling the huge security vacuum created by inaction on the part of our state governors.

The challenge we face with ESN is that any organization that can’t be held accountable is a recipe for disaster. From stories told, there was a similar outfit that existed during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, simply called the “Militia” by locals at the time. Like ESN, it was a community-based self- initiative formed to protect the people. At the time, the group also handled the responsibility of wartime local policing. Unfortunately, they ended up committing atrocities and horrific crimes against the very people they were meant to protect. It’s just plain human nature to abuse when not answerable to the people and with no consequences for infractions.

In Greek mythology, Homer lamented on the difficult challenges encountered by those attempting to cross a narrow strait that connects the two Italian cities of Sicily and Calabria called the Strait of Messina. Off the coast of Sicily was a whirlpool called Charybdis and, on the Calabria, side was a rock shoal, named Scylla that was described as a six-headed monster. Both were serious maritime hazards, positioned so close to each other and so posed an unavoidable threat to every passing sailor.

At one time when Odysseus, the legendary Greek king of Ithaca wanted to cross, he was advised to pass by Scylla. In that way, he might just lose some of his sailors but not risk the frightening possibility of the loss of the entire ship with its crew in a whirlpool. The point being that, either way, none of the circumstances offered his highness an escape without bearing some hefty cost.

It’s been a couple of centuries after the passing of the Greek epic poet and Nigeria is over 5000 kilometers away from Sicily, yet the people of southeast Nigeria have come to find themselves trapped between Homer’s rock and a hard place. In Buhari’s Nigeria with timid southeast governors, ESN with all the foreseeable danger that comes with an unregulated militia has become a matter of Hobson’s choice for the people. The alternative is to become slaves to bloodthirsty foreign savages aided and abetted by the State security architecture populated by men executing a tribal agenda.

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, worry less about their political future and take firm and decisive actions. Anything short of that, we would be attempting to escape Charybdis while falling into Scylla and even the mere thought of that gives me goosebumps and leaves one perpetually in a funk.

Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]