Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
Forced disappearance of innocent citizens especially youths in the South-East geopolitical zone, has become a serious source of worry for stakeholders.
The stakeholders met at a one-day “Police-Stakeholders Dialogue on Security and Justice in the South-East: Tackling the Root Causes of Insecurity and Injustice,” held in Umuahia, Abia State.
The purpose of the dialogue organised by Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre(RULAAC) with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), was to provide a platform for interaction and dialogue between the police and representatives of civil society and community stakeholders.
Participants also included religious and traditional leaders, women and youth groups as well as people living with disabilities, to fashion out ways to create an atmosphere of mutual trust, understanding and enduring partnership towards tackling the root causes of insecurity and injustice and finding enduring solutions.
The dialogue is part of partnership between the police and citizens, projecting the voices of communities affected by insecurity and to enhance access to justice for the poor and most vulnerable.
Participants at the dialogue observed that “there is increase in incidents of illegal arrests of innocent citizens, detention and life-threatening torture in inhuman detention facilities, labeling of innocent citizens as IPOB/ESN members often leading to their execution or forced disappearances.”
This, according to them, has been perpetuated by notorious police units or formations in the states of the South-East, particularly Imo, Anambra and Enugu states.
In a communique issued at the end of the dialogue, the participants equally observed with dismay, that “even state actors who are well trained in human rights principles, still continue to engage in human rights abuses in the South-East.”
The communique signed by the Executive Director of RULAAC, Okechuku Nwanguma, said that the participants further observed the wide gulf existing between the security agencies in the South-East and residents as a result of mutual distrust, noting that law enforcement cannot work without the citizens’ support.
They equally observed that the security architecture in the South-East, as presently structured, “can only lead to more violence because the policing model in the region does not encourage any mutually beneficial citizens-police relationship.”
The communique made available to Ikengaonline read in part: “Among the drivers of the growing insecurity in the South-East are government’s and security agencies’ high-handed and brute force approach to addressing insecurity and the likely involvement of external interests in the escalation of insecurity in the South-East.”
They recalled that the directive by the immediate-past Inspector General of Police, IGP Baba Alkali, to police officers in Enugu in 2021 when he visited the state to launch a special security operation for the South-East, asking the police officers to go after IPOB members, kill them and not bother about complaints of human rights violation, contributed in worsening rights abuse by police in the zone.
Participants also noted that this particular order led to the escalation in cases of killings in the South-East, especially Imo State.
They equally blamed the growing insecurity in the zone on double standard by security operatives.
The participants recalled the incident of arms and ammunition laden truck that fell somewhere between Onitsha and Awka in Anambra State sometime in 2021.
“The source and destination of the arms were never disclosed despite Anambra State Police’s promise to do so after investigation,” they regretted.
Participants considered these factors and incidents as some of the sources and drivers of the escalating insecurity in the South-East.
They observed with deep regret that because of the lack of trust, victims of crimes no longer trust or have confidence in the system to report even life-threatening cases at police stations; and the police reluctant to respond to complaints, petitions and distress calls in many communities, especially in rural area.
They equally noted that the level of impunity by non-state actors had created the atmosphere in which residents live in perpetual fear and anxiety, a development that has largely whittled down investment portfolios in the South-East.
“The sad fact that every Monday has turned out to be a permanent sit-at-home in the South-East, sometimes violently enforced by splinter separatist groups, with citizens still afraid to come out despite IPOB’s and government’s assurances of safety is illustrative of the fact that criminals are in charge in the South-East,” they agonised.
While noting that security is tied to governance, the participants regretted that “good governance in its real sense, doesn’t exist in the South-East because of the erosion of all the ideals of democratic governance, and the seeming hijack and appropriation of relevant organs of government to serve the purposes of individuals (Governors) rather than the state.”
The participants unequivocally accused the South-East Governors (with the exception of the newly elected ones) of being largely responsible for the insecurity in the South-East because of their total control and overbearing influence over the various organs and institutions of the government as well as the imposition of traditional rulers and community leadership in the states.
They unreservedly condemned attacks on police, INEC and other government installations in the South-East and observed with regret that almost all the police stations destroyed by hoodlums in most parts of South-East have remained not rebuilt or rehabilitated.
The participants commended some police officers for making efforts to perform their duty legally under the difficult circumstance.
They expressed serious concern over the existence of multiple security checkpoints along major interstate roads in the South-East.
It further read: “Apart from being rather too many and at very short distance apart, the activities of the operatives at the ubiquitous checkpoints constitute more of a menace than checking crimes or protecting road users from insecurity.”
“Participants observed a dysfunctionality in the governance system in the states in the South-East that has led to apparent ‘state capture’ by the governors, who have appropriated every institution and regulatory organs of government to personal use.
“Of particular interest is the takeover of the leadership of communities in the South-East by the state governors, which has plunged many communities into chaos and reinforced insecurity and injustice in the zone.”