Years ago, the sight of a policeman, army officer and security agent would instill fears in the citizens, especially criminals. But with insecurity ravaging the land, security agents appear to have become soft targets by gunmen. PAUL OKAH asks if security operatives are now endangered species.
Presently, army officers, policemen, personnel of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and other law enforcement officers have become targets of attacks by gunmen. Though killing of security agents have been occurring in the past, it became pronounced during the #EndSARS protest that rocked the country in October last, when many security agents were killed and police stations set ablaze in different parts of the country.
Almost on a daily basis, reports filter in regarding how policemen, army officers and other security agents were killed either in gun duel with victims, at checkpoints or even in their stations, with many security agents reportedly abandoning the highways for fear of being killed by gunmen.
The Rivers checkpoints’ mishaps
On April 25, the Police Command in Rivers state stated that it had launched a manhunt for gunmen who attacked its checkpoints on the Port Harcourt – Owerri Road, which reportedly led to the death of some security operatives.
The checkpoints attacked by gunmen included checkpoints manned by the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) located between Elele, Isiokpo and Omagwa communities in Rivers on Ikwerre local government area stretch of the road, with several patrol vehicles belonging to the security operatives set ablaze by the gunmen. The Command’s spokesman, SP Nnamdi Omoni, who confirmed the attack in a statement in Port Harcourt, said details of the attacks were still sketchy and did not disclose the number of casualties.
“I can confirm the attack on security personnel along the Omagwa/Isiokpo/Elele – Owerri Road, and details are sketchy. The Commissioner of Police, CP Eboka Friday, has launched a full scale investigation into the dastardly attack with a view to arresting the perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
“Meanwhile, the area is now calm with reinforced and increased joint patrols on the stretch of the road and other areas in the state by security agencies. So far, the state is calm and secure, and no cause for alarm,” Omoni said.
The Imo killing
Similarly, on April 26, 2021, the Police Public Relations Officer in Imo state, SP Orlando Ikeokwu, confirmed to reporters that gunmen had killed five police operatives and abducted one in a fresh attack on a police formation in the state.
“Five officers have been killed, while one is yet to be accounted for, but the building was not burnt,” he said.
He said the assailants attacked the Okigwe South zonal Police area Command in Ehime-Mbano local government area of the state, where they shot and killed the operatives on guard. He added that the deceased had engaged the attackers in a gun battle, but were later overpowered. The incident brought to nine the number of such heinous attacks in Imo since April 5, when gunmen attacked the police headquarters and a correctional centre in Owerri, forcing many residents to flee their homes into the bush.
The Afikpo murders
On April 26, just as the dust was settling on the attack in Imo, residents of Afikpo North local government area of Ebonyi state were thrown into apprehension as two military men and a civilian were murdered by yet-to-be identified gunmen at the Timber Shade Junction, a boundary between Ehugbo (Afikpo) and Amasiri.
Speaking to Blueprint Weekend, a resident, who asked not to be named in print for obvious reasons, said the incident happened a few minutes to 9:00pm as the gunmen arrived at the checkpoint in a white bus from the Amasiri axis of the junction and opened fire on the military officers.
The gunmen reportedly killed the two soldiers, the civilian and injured many others, with the guns of the soldiers reportedly carted away, while other soldiers allegedly fled into the bush, even as those injured were rushed to an undisclosed hospital and the deceased taken to the mortuary.
He said, “It’s a very sad situation in Afikpo. Suspected gunmen came to the checkpoint at Timber Shade in a white bus. The military was checking them, as they usually do, since the checkpoint is a boundary between Ehugbo, Amasiri and Akpoha. However, all of a sudden, the gunmen opened fire on the military officers. Two of the military men, a man and woman, died. Others ran away.
“As I speak with you, the area is as quiet as the graveyard. These adjoining villages used to be very busy and people here are farmers and traders. But the moment that happened, people started going home. Nobody is seen outside as I speak to you. Every place is calm. There is fear here now. The world is about to end.
“Nobody knows whether the military officers were killed by Fulani herdsmen or those causing mayhem in other parts of the South-east. If military men can be murdered without resistance, who are we, bloody civilians? The situation is so pathetic, disheartening and uncalled for.
“For all we know, the killers may be living among the people and planning more attacks. In fact, Afikpo is no longer safe for anyone. It is also discouraging that politicians from the LGA, the state governor and the federal government are busy playing politics, instead of tackling the issue of insecurity. We’re now a defenceless people in a once peaceful Afikpo.”
The attacks on security agents have been attracting condemnations from politicians, civil society organisations, religious leaders and different Nigerians, who lament rising insecurity in different parts of the country. In fact, on April 23, in a communiqué issued at the end of its 68th General Church Council (GCC) in Jos, signed by Rev. Stephen Panya and Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, the ECWA president and general secretary, respectively, the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) condemned the frequent attacks on security personnel by the civil populace.
According to the communiqué, the church commended security personnel for their efforts in curbing insecurity in the country and called on Nigerians to support them to succeed.
The communiqué, however, advised security agencies to be professional and adhere to rules of engagement in carrying out their functions, even as it condemned the recent activities of army personnel in Benue, Imo and Bayelsa, where some people were killed and scores rendered homeless.
It read in part, “The Council condemns the reports of the frequent assaults on security personnel in their line of duty and views such acts as affronts on Nigeria and Nigerians. These personnel have placed their lives in harm’s way for the safety of our lives and the integrity of our national borders and need our support and prayers.
“We, therefore, call on the civil populace not to take the law into their hands at the slightest provocation, but utilise all available lawful means and civil approaches in seeking redress whenever there is any perceived infringement of their fundamental rights.
“The Council commiserates with families of deceased security operatives and advises those in active service to always adhere to the rules of engagement in the course of carrying out their constitutional duties. The Council views with serious concern the wanton destruction of lives and property of innocent citizens in the collateral punishment the military recently meted out on communities in Benue, Imo and Bayelsa states.
“Two wrongs cannot make a right. Agents of state must not act in a lawless manner. If the martial prowess demonstrated by the military in the pursuit of innocent citizens is directed against those terrorising our lives, the bandits and terrorists will be neutralised completely in no distant time. The federal government should compensate all affected communities in order to assuage the pains caused by the activities of the military.”