Tens of policemen have lost their lives in several attacks on police formations across the South East as the region has recorded more than fifty attacks on security formations and killings of operatives in the South East by suspected members of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, in recent times.
Most of the cities in the region have also become a ghost town as businesses are forced to close early to avoid being caught in crossfire.
Meanwhile, at least seven policemen are facing an orderly room trial for deserting their duty posts in Imo State.
There are strong indications that policemen attached to the Imo State Police Command are currently seeking to be redeployed out of the state following a series of attacks on security personnel by suspected members of ESN, the paramilitary wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
Some of the policemen are seeking help from both serving and retired senior police officers as well as from their political godfathers.
Investigations by our correspondent revealed that the officers are seeking to be deployed to Investigating units such as the Special Fraud Unit (SFU), Inspector General of Police (IGP) Monitoring unit, and special Squad.
It was also learnt that the affected personnel are currently meeting with their contacts within and outside the state and are willing to pay for their prayers to be granted.
While some senior officers believe that the officers should remain in the state to tackle the insecurity, others have already reached out to the police high command in a bid to facilitate the deployment.
A senior police officer who did not wish to be named said he turned down several of such appeals, insisting that those seeking redeployment also sought to be transferred from the North East in a bid to escape from the Boko Haram insurgency in the area.
“If they all leave, who will stay back to help the Command restore peace in the state?” he asked.
“They should remain. After all, they enjoyed it when it was peaceful,” he said.
It was learnt that some of the officers based their request on the need to be reunited with members of their families.
Police desert street, checkpoints disappear
Moving from Garki, in Enugu South Local Government Area to Camp in Enugu North, and heading to the New Market through Trade Fair Complex areas in Trans-Ekulu to Nike Lake Hotel, in Enugu East Local Government Area – all within the state capital – there is no security check-point on any of the roads. This is unlike in the past when security check-points were mounted for stop-and-search exercises on motorists.
The roads and streets of Enugu, capital of Enugu State, are lacking uniformed policemen and the usual security check-points. This is not unconnected with the hike in violent attacks on security men and formations in the zone.
It was also observed that police personnel no longer move about freely in their uniform.
“The fear of attack from unknown armed men is the beginning of wisdom now,” said a female police officer.
Mr. Amuche Ani, a taxi driver, said the development is a welcome one as he no longer gives out money grudgingly to security men at check-points. But a passenger, Mrs Amaka Ugwu quickly interjected: “What you are calling a good development now may turn a bad one tomorrow when armed men will probably attack you and your family and there will be no official security men to call for rescue.
“The situation is as bad as that. We should discourage attacks on security men and their formations. Also, security men should stop killing our youths,” she said.
The same scenario was observed in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State as most checkpoints have been abandoned with no personnel to man them.
A resident who does not want to be named said, “I can confirm to you that there are no checkpoints in Aba again.
“The policemen have all deserted over fear of possible killings by unknown gunmen. Policemen no longer patrol again.”
Our correspondent observed that most policemen now go to work wearing mufti. They only dress in their official uniforms when they get to their offices. It was also noted that policemen now use unbranded vehicles to effect arrest and carry out other operations in the state.
Military checkpoints are also deserted, especially in the evening
Cultists on the prowl
The attacks on security formations have made policemen “withdraw” their services from the streets which have given room to increase in crime related activities. Residents of Aba have decried the rapid increase in the number of youths currently getting involved in cult related activities.
Findings show that some popular areas are now controlled by cultists who reign supreme, with little or no confrontation from security operatives.
Ogbor-Hill is controlled by a group called Supreme Vikings; Over-Rail by Aro-Baga; Osisioma by Aiye; Ndiegoro by Aro-Baga while other areas are controlled by different cults.
A Police sergeant, who first expressed fear talking to our correspondent, said security operatives are no longer safe in the state.
“Why are they killing and attacking us? We do this job with fear. We don’t know if we’ll return home alive after leaving the house in the morning. Most of the policemen killed have young children, who will take care of them?” he queried.
“Personally, I don’t have the connection else I would have moved my family out of here. I have to move my family out of Aba for fear of possible attacks,” he added.
Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Geoffrey Ogbonna, said he won’t disclose efforts and modalities put in place to ensure the safety of their officers and police formations in the state.
Self-imposed curfew in Imo
Residents of Imo State have gone into self-imposed curfew following the spate of attacks on government institutions in the state.
No fewer than 10 police stations have been attacked in the state, including the headquarters of the state police command.
There are also reported cases of indiscriminate killings of citizens, suspected members of ESN by law enforcement agents. Residents now go to bed as early as 8pm as major streets are deserted from 6pm.
The ESN members have also being accused of attacking and killing people from the North.
For a city known for its nightlife, Owerri has become a ghost of itself as fun spots across the metropolis witness very low patronage. Transporters plying Owerri now leave the town before dark, making some travellers to remain stranded and scramble to gain a seat in the few ones that dare to take the risk.
Last Monday, three persons were killed in front of the Government House, including a first-year undergraduate of the Imo State University, identified as Divine Nwaneri and a pig farmer who was shot while carrying some pigs inside his bus.
A day before, a robbery incident along Orji road, leading to Okigwe, left two persons dead, while a serving commissioner was shot. This came 24 hours after the private residence of Governor Hope Uzodimma was attacked and three security agents killed.
The situation was made worse by the fact that there was no single law enforcement officer along the streets.
Many residents, who spoke to our correspondent, said they can’t afford to be caught up in any shooting spree as no part of the state is safe anymore.
Mr. Leonard Akudinanwa, a motor parts seller, said he now closes his shop at 5.30pm in order to get to his Naze home on or before 6pm.
He said, “Even if the government did not order any curfew, any sensible person should know that these are not the best of times. So, you need to devise any means to protect yourself. One of these means is to avoid staying out late. I close my shop as early as 5.30 and get home by 6pm or thereabout. I either retire to bed or watch TV with my children if I am able to buy petrol. For the past one month, we’ve not had electricity in my neighbourhood.”
A hotelier, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it has been bad business for the hospitality industry since the problem started as most hotels are now recording very low patronage.
He said, “This is a 50-room hotel and at best of times, you need to book ahead before you get accommodation, but today you hardly get up to 10 guests. It is as bad as that.”
He said the situation has worsened with the closure of land borders by the governments of neighbouring states.
Popular areas like New Owerri, where ladies of easy virtue stand to solicit for clients are now deserted.
Government buildings fortified
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that stricter security measures have been put in place in most government-owned establishments. Accessing any of these buildings has become a Herculean task as several blockades are mounted by stern-looking security operatives.
In Enugu, sensitive places such as the Government House, otherwise known as Lion Building located in Independence Layout, the office of the DSS also located in Independence Layout, state Police Command Headquarters in GRA, the Police College on Agbani Road, have had their security beefed up.
“When you hear that a serving governor’s country home was burnt by gunmen and that they attempted to force themselves into the Government House, Owerri, you can now understand why to enter the Lion Building is an uphill task,” said a security man at the Government House who didn’t want his name in print.
The same ‘heavy blockade’ is also placed on the road to the office of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad, formerly known as Special Anti-robbery squad, SARS, at the New Market area or Trans-Ekulu also within the state capital. You can’t easily access these places without explaining your mission while being thoroughly searched or screened by the security men.
The aides to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who were asked to comment on the reason for the ‘air-tight’ or ‘water-tight’ security in the Government House declined. “Don’t bring me into such security matters,” one of them said. “It’s a very sensitive issue.”
Six inspectors, one sergeant on trial
It was learnt that policemen now desert duty posts that are considered too risky or that will likely expose them to danger.
Our correspondent gathered that at least seven policemen in Imo State are facing an orderly room trial for leaving their duty posts without authorization.
The officers were said to have included six inspectors and a sergeant.
A senior police officer, who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, said that the level of frustration among policemen had never been so high.
According to him, policemen are afraid to move freely on the road, while those who dared to report to work on a daily basis go to office in mufti and only kit themselves when they get to their premises.
He said, “Everybody is looking for redeployment. Even I am ready to move if my redeployment letter comes today. Nobody uses a siren on the road in Imo again.
“It’s rare to see official cars on the road. Even the police commissioner more or less sneaks in and out of his office unannounced. Nobody is safe in this country.”
Our correspondent who moved round Owerri metropolis for two days consecutively noticed the near absence of policemen on the road.
Police Spokesman, Orlando Ikeokwu, was not available to speak on the development as his phones were off.
However, a senior police officer at the CID unit of the Enugu police Command said there is no evidence to show that the policemen in the Command are requesting to be transferred outside the state following the increase in insecurity in the southeast zone where security personnel and their formations are targeted for attacks.
Abia State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Geoffrey Ogbonna, who felt uncomfortable with the question on request for redeployment by policemen asked if any officer applied to this newspaper for transfer before ending the call.
No police officer lobbied for redeployment from S’East – Force headquarters
A senior police officer at Force headquarters, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, has been holding strategic meetings with senior officers in the South East and South South.
The meeting, according to him, was to rejig the security architecture in the zones in order to tame gunmen who have been carrying out attacks on officers and their formations.
When contacted yesterday, the Force spokesman, Frank Mba, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents described as “untrue” the claim that some police officers and men are lobbying to leave the South East.
“You know, sometimes people just conceived ideas. They just come to a conclusion because something is happening, they just build a hypothesis. For me, this is a pure hypothesis somebody has just built. If I am to respond to this, I will just tell you that as far as I’m concerned, I have not seen any sign of anybody lobbying to be redeployed,” he said. (Daily Trust)