Nigeria is facing major insecurity in terms of scale, spread and sophistication. Around 1486 people in the country were victims of this insecurity during January 2022, out of which 915 were killed, and 571 were kidnapped.
While no state or zone in Nigeria is free from violence, but security governance in the southeast region is particularly worrying. The institutions, structures and personnel accountable for providing management, security and oversight at local and national levels are lacking.
The importance of the southeast to national development can’t be ignored, and conflict here risks destabilising the economy of the area. Cities like Aba, Onitsha and Nnewi have developed as commercial and manufacturing hubs, with export relations to other West African and Central nations. Manufacturing accounts for 31% and 30% of businesses in Onitsha and Aba.
The unfolding brutality in the southeast poses a severe threat to financial development and social stability.
The dramatic rise in the criminals’ activities that has been described as ‘unknown gunmen’ has not happened in a vaccum. It is a result of separatist protest and associated repressive state responses, as well as the designation by the federal government of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation.
The deterioration of security comes from a growing campaign for Biafran independence staunchly championed by the IPOB, directed by Nnamdi Kanu, with a massive following of young people born after the Nigerian civil war. Their aspiration for an independent Biafra state is pushed by the feeling of marginalisation and historical grievances against the government.
The shooters usually target security personnel at their stations or even checkpoints. Personnel is killed, and their cars and duty posts are burnt. More than 20 police stations were attacked in parts of the southeast in the first five months of 2021, with many police officers killed. The most recent attack was at the Umuguma police station in Imo State.
In some cases, even the police stations are burnt, and weapons were robbed. With more guns in their hands, assailants have become bolder and have branched into other criminal activities like kidnapping for ransom in the zone’s five states.