The attention of the Building Blocks for Peace (BBforPeace) Foundation has been drawn to a heart-rending violence in Imo State. On 5th and 6th April, 2021, a series of violent attacks on state institutions were witnessed in Owerri, the Imo State capital and Ehime Mbano Local Government Area. According to media reports, on 5th April, 2021, gunmen burnt down the headquarters of the Imo State Police Command and Nigerian Correctional Centre in Owerri, freeing close to two thousand inmates. A day later, police headquarters in Ehime Mbano Local Government Area was also razed. These series of arson have spilled over to neighbouring Abia State with indefinite dusk to dawn curfew declared by the Abia State government. More than this, there have been organised serial attacks in the last few weeks by gunmen in the southeast. These are very disturbing developments.
These attacks on state institutions are condemnable. No matter the excuse, these attacks will worsen an already fragile security situation in the Southeast and Nigeria. It will also lead to untold hardship on the citizens of the two states and the region. Worse still, it will engender further militarization of the region and create a culture of fear in the region. More than this is the economic crisis these attacks will generate for the states and the country.
For us at the BBforPeace, there is no conflict or disagreement that cannot be resolved peacefully. Violent reactions to conflicts and disagreements normally worsen such conflicts and lead to a chain of violent responses. We therefore call on youths in Imo and Abia States and indeed in the whole of the Southeast, not to succumb to violent temptation or fall prey to violent campaigns by agents and propagators of violence. Nigerian youths, and indeed, youths in the Southeast are not only peace lovers and peace advocates, they are also industrious. They must remain peaceful in the face of current provocation. In fact, we must be our brother’s and sister’s keepers.
Furthermore, we want to implore the security agencies that, in responding to the situation, they must maintain the highest level of professionalism that protects rights of citizens, abide by international and regional human rights conventions and rule of engagement, and ensure protection of democratic ethics. While we agree on the need to maintain law and order, and protect lives and properties, we believe that this should be done in a manner that does not criminalise ordinary citizens going about their private engagement, neither should it mean over militarization of the whole region. It is important for the security agencies to prioritize intelligence gathering and peaceful engagement with citizens, especially as regards fugitive inmates.
While it is not clear the aim of the attackers, it is important to note that security agencies have been accused of extrajudicial killings and right abuses especially as regards response to separatist agitations and violent crimes. This could have been a factor in the current wave of violence in the South-East. Therefore, there must be a change of tacts to those that will douse already high tension in the region. We must learn from history, and not allow another regional war in the country.
Conclusively, Nigerian government must de-emphasis military and combat approaches to various agitations across the country, especially those relating to national questions and issues of marginalization. There is the need for the government to genuinely engage in peaceful discussion and resolution of various agitations by regional and ethnic groups. This is a better approach than military combats that usually lead to abuse of rights of citizens especially given the poor intelligence gathering capacity of security agencies. Government should be proactive and open minded to various suggestions from various quarters.
In addition, there is the need to give positive meaning to governance through democratic and economic deliverables. Behind various agitations of marginalization and separatist agenda is the economic deprivation, underdevelopment and wealth inequality. Aside from promoting ethnic and regional affiliations, it also provides separatist groups with mass followership especially among the poor and unemployed people. Government must ensure a fair distribution of development, economic opportunities and political involvement. The youth, as the most active and biggest demographic, must be carried along in these processes, with a view to achieving bigger results and ensuring sustainability.
Akinwotu, Emmanuel. 2021. Nearly 2,000 prisoners escape jail in south-east Nigeria. The Guardian (online), 5 April, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/05/prisoners-escape-jail-in-south-east-nigeria-owerri-imo. Accessed, 12 April, 2021
Amnesty International. 2016. Nigeria: At least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra activists killed in chilling crackdown. 24 November, 2016. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/peaceful-pro-biafra-activists-killed-in-chilling-crackdown/. Accessed, 12th April, 2021.
Njoku, Lawrence, et al. 2021. Again, gunmen raze police station after VP, sacked IGP visited Imo. Guardian newspaper (online), 7 April, 2021. https://guardian.ng/news/again-gunmen-raze-police-station-after-vp-sacked-igp-visited-imo/amp/. Accessed, 12 April, 2021.
Communications Team, Building Blocks for Peace