The recent killing of late Dora Akunyili’s husband, Dr Chike Akunyili in Anambra state underscores the growing security threats from the South-east region which gives cause for concern. Various reports stated that he was shot dead while returning to Enugu from an event to honor his late wife. If, indeed, the gruesome video purportedly showing his corpse on social media is authenticated to be his, then the mysterious “unknown gunmen” have had their way once again.
One has never had the pleasure of meeting his acquaintance, but from reports from those who were close to him, he was a healer, a passionate surgeon and a philanthropist. He was the Medical Director at St. Leo’s Hospital in Enugu and for decades served countless people, many of whom he cared for and healed at no cost. For 45 years it was said that he treated priests in Bigard Memorial Seminary and beyond for free, trusting this to be his calling. It is also said that he was a man of the people, loved by many for his wisdom and for his courage to always speak the truth. His counsel was sought far and wide.
While the growing security threats from the South east is fast becoming worrisome, it wasn’t always so. Until recently, the region was, arguably, the most peaceful part of the country. Except for the occasional criminal cases that include, cult wars, armed robbery, kidnap-for-ransom cases, the region was popularly known for its rich tradition as well as hustle and bustle commonly associated with manufacturing, trading and open-air markets.
The famous Ariaria International Market in Aba, Abia state is a bee-hive of activities. It is one of the largest markets in West Africa and nicknamed “China of Africa” because of its versatility in the making of wears and leather works. Anambra state boasts of many of the super-rich from the region. The people of the region are known to be industrious and hardworking, and known for their entrepreneurial skills. Many believe strongly in the “Igbo spirit” of independent hard work and struggle to achieve success.
Recently, however, the region is evolving into a hotbed of violence where pro-Biafra secessionist agitations in most cases turn fatal. State security institutions have also been consistently targeted by armed men popularly referred to as “unknown gunmen.” These include multiple attacks at police stations, courts, INEC offices as well as other state infrastructure. Apparently, these unknown gunmen are lashing out their frustrations on government establishments. The attacks, however, have shown that it does more harm than good.
According to Nextier SPD, an international development consulting firm based in Nigeria which utilizes evidence-based research and policy in developing knowledge and skills for governing the society, insecurity in the region from its violent conflict database shows that 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. In the first five months of 2021, 149 people have been killed in 36 attacks in the region.
If these statistics are anything to go by, it portrays an increasing wave of violence despite the Nigerian government’s efforts to contain the violence. The unknown gunmen mostly attack police formations, simply because they are tactically easier to attack. This new wave of insecurity indicates that the Nigeria Police Force expected to maintain law and order have become vulnerable like the citizens, hence the increased deployment of soldiers to the region. If the deadly attacks on the Nigerian security agencies continue, it will surely complicate the already deteriorating security situation in the region.
The call to lockdown the South-east every Monday by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) is also causing more harm than good. It is inflicting more problems to the people already burdened with lots of hardship. Not too long ago the region as well as the entire country was on lockdown due to COVID-19 and many Nigerians went through harsh economic hardship during the lockdown period. The Monday sit-at-home order in the long run will adversely affect the economy of the region.
Another major dimension to the order is that it has continued to hold because of fear. It is on record that many people in the region who tried to go about their businesses were attacked, making others to stay indoors for fear. Offices and markets have remained closed too on Mondays. Goods and equipment of traders have been destroyed by flouting the order. Therefore, both those who want to observe the sit-at-home and those who don’t want to do so stay at home.
Activities hardest hit by the order includes transporters, the hospitality industry, self-employed persons, artisans, blue-collar formal sector workers, students, and white-collar formal sector workers. So far, the sit-at-home order has shown that it is not the best way for the supposed actualization of “Biafra.” Instead, it has revealed to be a direct way of killing the businesses in the region. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise soon, when big and small businesses begin to consider the South-East region unsafe and the mass exodus of these businesses to other zones begins to occur.
The argument of many of those who support the sit-at-home order is that it will put pressure on the Federal Government to release Nnamdi Kanu. Others say that it will bring the attention of the international community to the Biafran agitation. Neither has been the case. Rather, the economy of the region is deteriorating by the order and insecurity is slowing plaguing the region.
The marginalization of the region has also been constantly fingered as a major factor that has led to the region’s woes. While every region In Nigeria can argue that it has faced one form of marginalization or another over time, one cannot run away from the fact that the South East of Nigeria has been marginalized. The South East is presently being marginalized in more ways than other regions in Nigeria on top of the common attributes of lack of power supply, lack of good roads, poor healthcare facilities, high unemployment and poverty rates, lack of affordable and qualities schools that every other part of Nigeria faces.
Since the advent of our democratic dispensation 22 years ago, the 5-states in the region have had governors, both federal and state legislators and local government chairmen. Statutorily, state governors get monetary allocations every month from Abuja, how have they expended these funds in the development of their states and region? Many might argue that the region gets the least monies from the federal coffers, however, the question remains how have they expended the monies every month in the last 22 years? This is excluding the monies they get from internally generated revenues.
Going forward, beyond the usual communiqué that the governors of the region reel out after their emergency security meetings, a bottom top approach needs to be explored to alleviate the security situation in the region. Many in the region have complained that groups such as youth groups, market groups and even traditional rulers in the region aren’t carried along or involved in the security decisions of the region. These are people who reside in the grassroots and know their communities inside out. They ought to be the “go to” in terms of consultations and intelligence gathering since they are informal representatives of the people.
The insecurity in the South East is dire and needs urgent resolution. There are existing options to salvage the situation but only if the region’s political leaders in tandem with the national security authorities wake up, shelve regional discrimination, local politics and take critical action to put the South East In a Secure place from Insecurity.