War in the East

An upsurge in criminal activities nationwide in recent times has upped an already volatile security situation in the country.Armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, sectarian crises, assassinations, you name it,are just some of the more serious forms of violence that make life in Nigeria”solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” as well as – if I may paraphrase the Hobbesian dictum – inconsequential. The alarming rate of violence and criminality is bound to worsen in the coming months as poverty, unemployment,collapse of moral values as well as political thuggery increase.

While criminality is on an upswing nationwide,the eastern part of the country presents a bigger challenge. Almost on a daily basis, one atrocity or the other takes place in that region. Just about anybody could be kidnapped for ransom or killed. Many top politicians from the area,including members of the National Assembly, and other Igbo that have made it in business, the academia, the entertainment industry and other fields of humane ndeavour fear to visit their ancestral homes. Traditional weddings for successful Igbo are guarded by armed policemen or specially hired thugs.Consequently, many top Igbo avoid the region like the plague, choosing to remain in Lagos, Abuja and other cities. I hear that the Igbo’s biggest headache is when they must of necessity travel to Igbo land for a wedding,funeral, thanksgiving, or at Christmas. Many would rather not go. Some have actually moved their parents out of the region.

As a favourite Igbo proverb says, when one finger touches oil it affects the others. The malaise is spreading fast. There have been kidnappings in far-flung cities like Lagos, Kaduna and Jigawa. In Kaduna,a Canadian volunteer of the Red Cross was abducted on April 16, 2009, and had to be rescued in a James Bond-style operation. The secretary to the Kaduna State Government, Mr. Waje Yayok, was seized at gunpoint in Kaduna on September 21, 2009, and driven all the way to Edo State where he was released after millions were paid to his abductors. Recently in Jigawa, the wife of the speaker of the State House of Assembly was kidnapped. Mercifully, she was rescued by the police; her kidnappers, who were at first reported to have been arrested, were all killed in a “shootout” with the cops.

In Port Harcourt, on June 11, the head of the Rivers State Civil Service Commission, Chief Anthony Egobueze, was killed by unknown gunmen around 3 a.m. The police, to whom he sent a distress call as the brigands were forcing themselves into his residence, arrived after the hoodlums had escaped. “No arrest has been made, but investigation is in progress,” said the state Police Public Relations Officer, Dr Rita Inoma-Abbey, echoing what the police said in previous cases of unsolved assassinations in Nigeria. In the same city, two days later, unknown gunmen stormed a church at about 9:30 a.m., killed two worshipers and kidnapped the traditional ruler of Umuebulu community in Etche Local Government Area of the state, Eze Sunday Njoku. Inoma-Abbey simply stated that the hoodlums had driven towards Aba, Abia State, with their big catch and the police were waiting for them to make a contact, i.e., name their price. The following day, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi said at a birthday party that his big headache was that the hoodlums perpetrating crimes in his domain come from neighbouring states. He appealed to Riverians living in border villages to watch the borders.

Are the Igbo mainly behind the upsurge in criminality in Nigeria? Reports tend to suggest just that. Recall that the Canadian volunteer, Mrs Julie Ann Mulligan, was kidnapped by Igbo elements. The federal government, which also seems to share this belief, appears to be fed up with the situation, which truly makes nonsense of its seven-point agenda and threatens foreign investment. It has, therefore, declared war on the criminals disturbing the peace in the South-East. Acting on a memorandum from the minister of Police Affairs, the Federal Executive Council revealed on Wednesday this week that President Jonathan has ordered the deployment of thousands of mobile policemen to the South-East.

Prof. Dora Akunyili, the Information minister,told reporters that the operation, codenamed ‘IHE’ – whatever that means -commenced simultaneously as planned across Anambra, Abia, Imo and Enugu states on June 6. According to her, 13 units of the police force were deployed to Abia, six to Imo, four to Enugu and 13 to Anambra. Throwing light on the operation at a different forum in Abuja, the inspector-general of police, Mr Ogbonna Onovo, revealed that 10,000 police personnel were deployed to the East”for search-and-rescue operation, as well as arresting the criminals and their sponsors”.

It sounds like the “police measures”(but in reality the deployment of federal troops to the battle front) declared on July 6, 1967, on the eve of the Biafran war. Both Akunyili and Onovo, who are Igbo, must be very disturbed by this cankerworm which their people appearto be orchestrating more than any other tribe in Nigeria. Onovo should worry more. The task of stopping the spiral in criminality nationwide lies squarely on his broad shoulders. Any increase questions his effectiveness as the nation’s No. 1 cop. No wonder when elders from the Ihiala community in Anambra State visited him in Abuja this week, he poured out his fury over what”his people” are doing to the nation. And he even revealed what most commentators on the issue would have otherwise missed: it’s an Igbo-on-Igbo vicious circle. Onovo fumed: “States in the South-East are the only states in the country that kill and maim their own people. This is not in the history of the Igbo people.”

The history is fast changing, no doubt. The Igbo youths’ fabled craving for money has apparently doubled. And with increasing poverty, occasioned by lack of jobs and an atmosphere conducive for trading -an area in which the usually industrious Igbo people made a name – that ancestral record may become even more twisted. Onovo’s solution to the problem is putting the responsibility of securing the region in the hands of community elders. He told his visitors that they should rise to the occasion. He said:”This is time the elders and everybody, especially the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo,join hands together to stop these dastardly acts. Enough of all this criminality!”

It is a carrot-and-stick solution. While the IG beseeched the elders, he sent 10,000 cops to deal with it their own way.Hopefully, it will work. But while this two-pronged approach is pursued, it is equally important to embark on massive creation of jobs, not only for the Igbo, but for youths in other parts of the country too. For without creating the necessary environment in which Nigerians can live, the war declared by government on criminals in the East would have to spread nationwide. Then it would no longer be a mere “police measure,” but a full military operation against hoodlums.

Published in LEADERSHIP, on Saturday, June 19, 2010

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