Despite the assurances of military and police authorities that they will ensure peaceful elections across Nigeria in the 2023 general elections, happenings in the South East geographical zone leave little room for optimism that there will be peaceful elections in the region.
It is well known that insecurity afflicts all parts of Nigeria, from terrorism and banditry in the far north and parts of north central, kidnapping and ritual killing in South West, illegal oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism in the South South region and separatist violence in South East. However, herdsmen and villagers’ conflict and kidnapping cut across northern and southern parts of Nigeria..
Successful military onslaught in the North West and North East has degraded the activities of the ideological terrorists, like Boko Haram and ISWAP members, with tens of thousands of terrorists surrendering to troops of the Nigerian Armed Forces along with their families. Also, some of the known bandits are being hunted and neutralised.
Instructively, the threat of the aforrmentioned violence affecting the conducf of the 2023 general elections is not as potent as in the South East, where some bloodthirsty hoodlums are hell-bent on scaring people away from exercising their franchise. Just recently, kidnappers seized the sole administrator of Ideato north local government area of Imo State, Chris Ohizu, and two others. Despite collecting ransom, according to reports, they not only went ahead to slaughter him in a most bestial manner, they also filmed the blood-chilling act and posted same on the social media. One of the killers was heard declaring that elections will not hold in the South East; that their action was to serve as a warning.They also threatened to give Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimna the same treatment. They claimed they were not members of the known separatist group, IPOB, or its militant arm, ESN. IPOB had been known to oppose elections in the South East in the past but renounced that position in the run-up to the last governorship election in Anambra State.
The fear of violence is so pervasive in the South East that despite IPOB declaring it had lifted the ban on socio-economic activities on Mondays, people in the region still do not dare move about in the entire region due to fear of falling victim of violence by unknown gunmen, whom the security agencies have not been able to nail down.
Also recently in Imo State, the home of the spokesman of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), Barr. Ugochinyere Imo, was raided by gunmen who burnt down the house, razed many campaign vehicles in the premises and killed some persons, including his uncle. Mr Ugochinyere Imo had weeks before the attack alerted the police that a certain person allied, as he claimed, to the state governor had threatened him. Ugochinyere is a PDP House of Reps’ candidate in the coming election in a state run by the APC.
The Independent National Electoral Coomission (INEC) has not been spared, too. The election management body has been recording attacks against its offices, facilities and staff across Nigeria in the last two years, but no region has suffered anything close to the scale INEC has sufferd in the South East, pointing to the resolve of the unknown gunmen seeking to stop election in the region trying to make good their threat.
Even security agents have not escaped the violence in the South East; in fact, an investigation by this newspapers showed that gunmen killed at least 37 police officers in 52 attacks on towns and communities in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria in the last few months.
Also, four policemen were killed recently during an attack on the convoy of a former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim. When assailants attacked the convoy of the senator representing Anambra South, Ifeanyi Ubah in September last year, at least two policemen were killed.
As a newspaper, we are concerned that despite the modest gains of security agents in the South East, many violent criminals are freely operating in the region. It is also widely believed that some of these criminal elements are the errand boys of top politicians who do not mean well for the region and the country as a whole.
We recall that prominent leaders from the South East have called on the federal government to grant conditional release to IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is facing treason charges, as a veritable step towards improving the general security in the region. There is almost unanimity of opinion that such a move would be helpful in easing the insecurity faced by the beleaguered inhabitants of the South East. This is a call the government should give considerable consideration ahead of the polls as it will remove the cover of those masquerading as his followers to perpetrate violence.
Also, the federal government should do its utmost to repatriate a certain Mr Simon Ekpa, who claims to be a protege of Kanu and who is believed to be instigating violence in the region and especially against the conduct of election in the South East from abroad. Mr Ekpa is believed to be on the payroll of desperate politicians who seek to benefit from instability in the region.
Finally, the security agencies should do a thorough investigation into the violence in the South East to uncover the real culprits instigating and benefitting from it.