Gunmen have killed at least 37 police officers in 52 attacks on towns and communities in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria, checks by LEADERSHIP have revealed.
In no distant past, gangs of unknown gunmen have run riot in vast swaths of the South East region, with the security crisis snowballing into national prominence in the country.
The term “unknown gunmen” is a catch-all for the criminal gangs carrying out frequent bouts of attacks on police and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) facilities, killing and abducting citizens across that part of the country.
The criminals who are mostly suspected to be members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had in 2021 stepped up their attacks on the South East states despite military operations against their hideouts.
LEADERSHIP investigations showed that the worst hit is Imo where there have been over 30 attacks on police formations and personnel across the state.
Until April 5, 2021, Imo State was ranked one of the most peaceful in the country but all that changed after the attack on the Correctional Centre in Owerri, the state capital, where over 1,800 inmates were set free.
The gunmen alleged to be members of IPOB had on Easter morning broken into the Correctional Centre as well as the headquarters of the Imo State Police command and freed suspects, gunning down two military men at Umuoji junction along the Owerri-Onitsha expressway.
Of the 27 local government areas in Imo, the only divisions yet to experience an attack are Ohaji, Ngor Okpala, Ikeduru and Isiebu, while some of the local councils have been attacked more than thrice by arsonists.
Owerri North, Umuguma in Owerri West, Mbaitoli, Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ihitte-Uboma, Isiala Mbano, Obowo, Ehime Mbano, Ideato North, Onuimo, Orlu, Orsu, Njaba, Oguta, and several others have experienced attacks on Police personnel and formations.
Other stations attacked since the security breach include the Obowo, Aboh Mbaise, Ihitte-Uboma, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano, Mbieri, Arondizuogu, Oguta, Umuguma, Orji, Oru East divisions from February 2021 to date.
Gunmen also razed Ehime Mbano Police station, Mbieri, Oguta, Otoko, Umuguma, and Arondizuogu police stations.
According to data obtained by this paper, the gunmen on April 6, 2021 attacked the Ehime Mbano Police station and razed it, and two days after, on April 8, 2021, Mbieri Police station in Mbaitoli local government area was attacked.
Following a raid on IPOB’s hideout in which one commander, Ikonso, was killed, the country home of the state governor, Hope Uzodimma was attacked in a reprisal, with two policemen killed at Mgbidi junction.
On April 26, 2021, five policemen were killed during an attack in Okigwe South police division in Ehime Mbano local government area by gunmen.
On November 23, 2021, gunmen killed one cop and razed the Arondizuogu police station while another sustained a battered head.
On February 1, 2022, a retired chief superintendent of police, Christian Kpatuma, was killed and beheaded in Mgbala community in Agwa, Oguta local government area by a suspected inmate escapee, Daberechi Chukwu.
Om March 28, 2022, the gunmen attacked the Otoko police station in Obowo local government and fatally injured two policemen and razed the station.
On August 8, 2022, four policemen were killed and a commercial motorcyclist during the attack on Agwa Police division in Oguta council.
On November 7, 2022, a military man was allegedly gunned down in Izombe, Oguta local government area which attracted a reprisal and last month, on December, 2022, rampaging gunmen killed a policeman at 7up junction orji, in Owerri North during which an elder brother of Nollywood actor, Prince Osita Iheme was killed, while the commissioner for Solid Minerals, Martin Eke, was fatally injured.
On January 2, 2023, residents were jolted to the reality of insecurity in the region when gunmen ambushed a former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, and killed four policemen and a driver at Oriagu in Ehime Mbano local government area of the state.
Reacting to the development, Ohakim maintained that he survived because of his bullet-proof vehicle.
The Imo State Police Command in 2022, suffered series of attacks by suspected IPOB/ESN members, resulting in the destruction of about seven police stations, ten deaths and six officers sustaining various degrees of injuries.
This was made known by the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Michael Abattam while interacting with LEADERSHIP.
According to him, “On Sunday, February 20, 2022, armed men suspected to be members of the proscribed IPOB/ESN in their numbers went to the Isu Divisional police headquarters in two Toyota Sienna buses, a Toyota Camry car and an unspecified number of motorcycles.
“The hoodlums took advantage of the porous neighbourhood and attacked the station from the rear, shooting indiscriminately and throwing petrol bombs and IEDs that set the station ablaze.
“Their raid led to the death of two police officer with the police in turn arresting 18 of the attackers,” the PPRO revealed, adding that Otoko Divisional Police Headquarters was also attacked by hoodlums on 28 March, 2022.
He said, “On Monday, March 28, 2022, gunmen stormed the Otoko Divisional Police Headquarters in the Obowo local government area of Imo State, along Owerri–Umuahia road.
“Armed men suspected to be members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)/Eastern Security Network (ESN), its militia wing, came in their numbers from the rear of the division, which is an ungoverned forest, threw petrol bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that fell on the transit camp and a vehicle, shooting sporadically.
“Three undetonated explosives, four pieces of expended ammunition, five live cartridges, 33 expended catridges, two masks, one pump action gun and a motor saw machine were reportedly recovered from the gunmen. Minimal damage was caused to the transit camp, and a vehicle. Though no life was lost, a police operative sustained an injury”.
He explained that Umuguma Divisional Police Headquarters was also attacked by suspected IPOB/ESN members.
According to him, “Gunmen in the early hours of Saturday, March 19, 2022 attacked and set ablaze the Umuguma Divisional Police Headquarters in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State, killing two police men.”
Abattam stated that Omuma Divisional Police Headquarters came under attack in 2022.
“The attackers engaged policemen in a gun duel on arrival at the Omuma Divisional Police Headquarters. Four of the attackers were killed as policemen and the operatives of the Department of State Services engaged the gunmen in a gun battle.”
The Police Command indicated that “gunmen in the early hours of Friday, April 1, 2022 invaded the Mbieri Divisional headquarters situated in the Mbaitoli local government area of Imo State.
“They arrived at Mbieri Divisional headquarters around 3am and opened fire on the police facility.”
However, the police spokesperson for the command, Michael Abattam, stressed that they were repelled.
He noted that the petrol bombs the attackers threw at the police station affected parts of the roof, while one vehicle was torched in the incident.
He listed some of the incidents to include Izombie police station, Isiala Mbanompolice station and Nwaoribi police station where he said the various stations were attacked and burnt with lost of lives and injuries recorded.
Speaking on the way forward, the Program Director, Development Dynamics, Dr. Jude Ohanale, advised the federal government to approach the IPOB/ ESN with carrot and stick.
He also called on the authorities to dialogue with them so as to find lasting solution to the security challenges confronting the nation.
Also, no fewer than 10 police officers were killed by hoodlums in Anambra State in 2022.
LEADERSHIP authoritatively gathered that during the period the hoodlums who generally operated with various sophisticated weapons, including AK 47 rifles, ammunition, Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, charms, attacked and destroyed facilities at six police divisional headquarters across the state.
One of gruesome killing of the police officers was recorded on April 13, 2022, when a gang of heavily armed hoodlums swooped on Atani police station in Ogbaru local government in the early hours of that day.
Before escaping from the police stations, they killed four police officers on duty and set the station ablaze.
The police public relations officer in the state, Ikenga Tochukwu, was not forthcoming on the records of officers and men of the command killed, the stations and facilities destroyed during the period.
Findings by LEADERSHIP, however, showed that in addition to the Atani killings, two other police officers were killed at Amukabia village, Achalla, headquarters of Awka-North local government area on July 16.
Tochukwu had, while confirming previous Atani attack, said two officers who were among a six-man police team on a recovery operation of a Toyota Sienna space wagon vehicle snatched at gunpoint at Oye-Agu, Abagana area, Njikoka local government area, were killed on July 9, 2022.
He stated that the police officers had gone on the operation with a civilian car- tracker expert, but the hoodlums at Amukabia, Achalla, on July 16, engaged the police team in a gun duel and succeeded in disappearing with two of the policemen whose deceased bodies were later found.
Tochukwu stated that the police team had recovered several weapons which the hoodlums abandoned to escape including, one AK-47 rifle, ammunition, charms, police beret, etc.
LEADERSHIP also gathered that the police command also lost another of its personnel to gunmen at a check point somewhere between Ihiala and Uli, along the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway on November 8.
The gunmen, sources revealed, were those enforcing the Monday sit-at-home earlier ordered IPOB in the entire South East zone, but which the group later suspended following the public outcry over the severe hardship on the people of the region.
Another police officer was also said to have been killed by gunmen at Utuh, Nnew-South local government area on May 2. The killers were also suspected to be carried out by a gang of hoodlums enforcing IPOB’s suspended sit-at-home order.
Two police officers attached to Senator Ifeanyi Patrick Ubah representing Anambra South senatorial zone of Anambra State were among the five persons killed when gunmen attacked his convoy in Enugu-Ukwu, Njikoka local government on Sunday, September 13, 3022.
Spokesperson of the police in the state while confirming the killing of the police officer said the other three victims were civilians.
The commissioner of police in the state, Mr. Echeng Echeng on behalf of the Inspector General of police, IGP, Usman Baba, had few days ago distributed cheques totalling about N43.2million to families of deceased police officers in the state under the Inspector General of police Insurance Scheme.
Speaking during the ceremony held at the state police command headquarters, PPRO Tochukwu said, “The (insurance) scheme is aimed at giving succour to the families of police officers who died in active service, and, at spurring officers to greatness while discharging their statutory duties with the assurance that their welfare is of paramount importance to the administration of the Force”.
Meanwhile, the police stations and facilities attacked during the year, according to LEADERSHIP findings, included Ihiala police divisional headquarters in Ihiala local government area where the gunmen razed down on December 28.
Others are Amichi, Ezinifite and Osumenyi police divisional stations respectively, all located in Nnewi-South local government area. The police stations were attacked by gunmen on April 1.
They were among those earlier destroyed by hoodlums during the EndSARS 2020 protests and were undergoing reconstruction when the hoodlums again stormed them and destroyed the facilities.
The gunmen were said to have destroyed the facilities just about 12 hours after the state governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, visited the local government headquarters, Ukpor, after the hoodlums attacked and destroyed the council headquarters.
The Ekwuluobia police divisional headquarters in Aguata local government area of the state governor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, was also destroyed during the year by hoodlums who launched attack on the facilities on March 19.
The station was also undergoing reconstruction having also being destroyed during the EndSARS 2020 protest when it was again attacked by the hoodlums.
Anaku police division station, according LEADERSHIP findings, was also attacked by gunmen on April 20.
Though the deputy commissioner of police in charge of operations led a fierce police team and succeeded in chasing the hoodlums away, the gunmen before escaping, however, succeeded in throwing locally made explosives into the premises of the police station, destroying three operational vehicles in the station.
In his reaction to the development, a retired superintendent of police, SP Kelvin Okpe, stated that the attacks and killings on policemen and facilities were a reflection of the general insecurity common across the country.
He advised that governments at all levels, including state and federal government, should address the issues of youth unemployment, hunger and hardship, arguing that when people have a meaningful source of livelihood they would not like to indulge in acts that would endanger their lives.
“All the attacks on policemen, soldiers, government institutions and facilities are clear expression of dissatisfaction by the angry youths. It doesn’t matter whatever name: be it ethnic militia, agitators for self-determination, etc, the major cause is hardship facing the entire masses of this country, especially the youth”, he stated.
In Enugu State, no fewer than 13 policemen were killed by suspected members of IPOB in 2022, our investigations also revealed.
It was gathered that the attacks were carried out by the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant wing of IPOB.
It was gathered that the hoodlums also burnt down more than four police facilities including police stations.
Among the police facilities burnt down by the hoodlums were Inyi police station in Oji River local government area. A policeman was killed in attack which took place on October 10, 2022, while two civilians were feared dead.
On November 20, 2022, three policemen were killed at a checkpoint at Agbani, as spokesman of the police in Enugu, Daniel Ndukwe, confirmed the attack.
Hoodlums enforcing IPOB’s sit-it-home also set ablaze a police van in Enugu on December 10, 2022.
Also in the last quarter of 2022, 3 policemen who were on patrol at Chime Avenue, New Heaven Enugu were killed by ESN Operatives and their patrol van set ablaze.
In an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP in Enugu, a security expert, Osita Udeh advised security agencies to focus more attention on intelligence, adding that with good intelligence, the attacks can be prevented.
The founder of Civil Rights Realization and Advancement Network, Barrister Olu Omotayo, said it is wrong for the state governors in the Southeast to push the ugly development to the Federal Government.
He insisted that they have no reason for their failure to stop the attacks on policemen and their stations and advised them to make use of their security votes and not to push the whole thing to the Federal Government.
He argued that it is only when they are overwhelmed that the military should be approached.
When contacted earlier on attacks by the IPOB hoodlums, the spokesman of the police in Enugu , Daniel Ndukwe wondered whether revealing their strategy and what they are doing will not geopadize their plans.
We Can’t Give Exact Number Of Policemen Killed – Ebonyi Command
The Ebonyi State Police Command yesterday said that majority of the police divisions and stations were attacked and destroyed by hoodlums between 2020 till date”.
He expressed concern over the reoccurring incident in the state.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State Police PRO, SP Chris Anyanwu, said that between 2020 and 2022, the stations attacked include 135 police stations in Ohaukwu local government area, Abaomage police station, Onicha local government area, Onueke police station in Ezza South local government area and Ikwo police station in Ikwo local government area.
Others include B Division, Kpirikpiri police station, Unwana police station in Afikpo North local government area, central police station, Onuebonyi, C Division, Ekumenyi, Ohaozara police station, Ishielu police station, Ugbodo police station and Ezza North police station.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the hoodlums attacked the 135 police station on October 18, 2021, Abaomege police station on May 2, 2021, Kpirikpiri police station, central police station and Ekeaba police station on October 21, 2020.
The police PRO who could not give the exact number of police officers killed and those injured said that a good number of men of the command have been killed while many sustained various degrees of injuries.
He maintained that the attack has not in any way demoralised the men from carrying out it’s duties and warned those perpetrating the act to desist.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP, a security expect and retired Biafran soldier, Clifford Nweke, attributed the persistent attack to the high level of insecurity in the country and the activities of the unknown Gunmen.
He noted that hoodlums now hide under the name, unknown gunmen to perpetrate evil and make the South East unsafe, adding that the agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra was never a violent one.
According to him, the attack and burning of police Station are carried out by criminal elements and not IPOB.
He maintained that there is the need for the South East governors and other stakeholders of the zone to convoke a security summit in the zone ahead of the general election and put in place adequate security measures to apprehend those perpetrating the act.
“Those we describe as unknown gunmen have families; they don’t live in the bushes. They go to market with us and with concerted effort, they can be fished out. It is the duty of everyone to know those living around us, especially traditional rulers and town union presidents.
“People should avail police with useful information of criminal elements living around us. The fear of the persons’ identity being disclosed has made people not to volunteer information. We need whistle blowers around us”.
Also speaking with LEADERSHIP, the Abia State police public relations officer, Superintendent Geoffrey Ogbonna, said it was difficult to pin such attacks on either the IPOB or ESN.
“You can only make such categorical statement after you have identified the suspects as members of any of the groups or by their own confessional statement,” he further stated.
Explaining that one can be sure if arrests were made, the image maker added that the year was one of the best for the command in countering such attacks.
According to him, on September 22, a gang of unidentified hoodlums attacked the Police Criminal Investigation Department headquarters, Umuagu, along Uzuakoli in the state capital.
“The suspects disposed two police who were on duty at a check point in front of the office their rifles after inflicting injuries on them,” he noted.
The superintendent added that there was another attack in the same month in Umunneochi local government area which led to the death of a policemen
Meanwhile, explaining why the criminals don’t dare the military, the spokesperson of the 34 Artillery Brigade Obinze, Capt Joseph Akubo, said they are not victims of mob or crowd attacks but sometimes they have skirmishes with the proscribed IPOB and Eastern Security Network (ESN).
Akubo said, “For us, we don’t really have any issue per say. IPOB is a proscribed organisation by the federal government. It is not them attacking us; we are going after them and wherever we see them, we take them out. We are not giving them space to operate.
“Due to the onslaught against IPOB and ESN, because we go after them wherever we see them and that is part of their pain, they vent their anger on those that are probably light targets where they have soft targets. They don’t have what it takes to stand us because we have not given them peace to operate.
“In the last two weeks, we have taken out about 10 or 12 of them at various locations. Now, if you go to Orlu, Orsu, right about now, I don’t think they have what it takes to come outside; they are running helter-skelter. We know who we are looking for and we go after them.
“We are bringing peace to communities, go to Orsu now, vehicles are moving freely after a long time from the front of the local government down to Ihiala, people are moving. Throughout the festive period, that road was crime-free”.
But two security experts, Anyaele Ukomadu and Comrade Jeff Nkemakolam, attributed the attacks to failure by the federal government to address burning issues affecting the country.
Nkemakolam listed the issues to include unemployment, marginalisation and ethic agitations, adding that until they are addressed, the end to them might not be in sight.