In Anambra State, hoodlums have been regularly attacking public buildings over the last few months, including Independent National Electoral Commission offices, police stations, and local government secretariats, among others, causing the loss of valued lives and property, writes
The South-East region, particularly Anambra State, is bleeding at the hands of hoodlums who have specialised in carrying out attacks on public facilities and killing security personnel as well as individuals.
In the last few months, quite a number of public structures, especially those of the Independent National Electoral Commission, police stations, and local government secretariats, have come under serious attack, leading to the destruction of lives and valuable properties.
It is more worrisome that the attacks by these hoodlums have continued unabated with security operatives not able to offer a solution to the menace, which has surged in recent times and has become a serious threat to the smooth flow of normal activities.
Many residents in the state are also of the opinion that, if it is not checked, it may hamper the peaceful conduct of the forthcoming general elections in the affected communities.
Over the last few months, some communities, including Ihiala Local Government Area, Nnewi South LGA, Idemili South LGA, Ogbaru LGA, and Orumba, have continuously been attacked by the rampaging hoodlums, where public facilities belonging to INEC and security formations have come under severe attacks and destruction.
Worthy of note is also the fact that the police in the state have yet to unmask or identify any of the gunmen in the state, as these hoodlums have continued to be tagged as “yet-to-be-identified assailants.”
Even the police look helpless in going after them. This is just as the hoodlums have continued to unleash mayhem and havoc, particularly on security formations, with a high level of impunity.
For instance, the most recent of the attacks was carried out on the night of February 1, 2, and 3, 2023, when the “yet-to-be-identified assailants” attacked the Ojoto Local Government Secretariat and burnt the building housing the INEC office on the premises. They also attacked a police station in the neighbouring Nnobi community, where they set a building on the premises ablaze using a petrol bomb.
A 16-year-old boy was also killed during the exchange of gunfire between the police operatives and the armed men.
Both Ojoto and Nnobi communities are in the Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. The attack on the INEC facility in Ojoto was the third in a series of attacks in recent months, with similar ones carried out in Ihiala LGA and Nnewi South LGA.
Again, the following day, February 2, the hoodlums, in a brazen manner, attacked the anti-cult unit in Obosi, Idemili South, burning down the security building with the help of improvised explosive devices. They also fatally killed one police operative and a vigilante during a gun battle with the security operatives, while on February 3, it was the turn of the Abagana Police Station, also in the same local government area, to be attacked. Although the security personnel on duty prevented the hoodlums from gaining entrance to the police facility, they had earlier attacked the Anambra State Vigilante Operatives on patrol and murdered two of their operatives on their way to the Abagana police station.
Last Friday, the hoodlums attacked the security operatives attached to the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, killing four of the operatives in the Ihiala Local Government Area, on their way to Abia State for a function.
The state police spokesman, DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, confirmed all the attacks while declaring that the situation is being monitored.
Ikenga, while confirming these attacks, said the hoodlums always come in large numbers and with heavily armed men, promising that the police were on top of the situation.
But as of the time of this report, nothing has been heard from the police operatives on the development, a situation that has become the usual practice, thereby causing members of the communities to call for a total overhaul of the security architecture in Anambra.
But reacting to the development in a statement, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, said no fewer than 1,240 non-sensitive materials were burnt during the attack on its Obosi office.
When our correspondent visited the Ojoto secretariat, in Idemili South LGA, on Saturday, it was observed that the burnt INEC office, located at the back of several other buildings, was under lock and key. Among the several offices located in the large premises of the secretariat, the INEC office was the only place that was attacked by the hoodlums, as its roof was blown off. The office had been deserted even as some people, who had come for their Permanent Voter Cards were seen loitering in the vicinity looking for someone to attend to them.
Residents in the area who commented on the incident believed that the attack on the INEC facility was “deliberately” carried out in order to instil fear and tension and discourage people from voting on Election Day.
Sharing their experiences and fears, a community leader in Ojoto, identified as Chief Ifeanyi Okoro, appealed to both the state and federal governments to deploy security operatives who are well-trained in handling special crimes like “bandit attacks” in the communities ahead of the election, especially in the frontline local government areas, insisting that the security architecture in Anambra should be overhauled as according to him, the police in the state do not seem to have the capacity to face the hoodlums.
Okoro said, “These hoodlums are doing this in order to scuttle the election, especially in the South-East, and the incessant attacks on the facilities of the electoral commission are indications that they are determined to carry out their threat. These attacks are coordinated; in fact, I will suggest that both the state and federal governments beef up security in all the frontline local government areas. The hoodlums don’t stay in the communities; they come from the bushes in the border areas and then operate before returning to their base. They have various camps inside the forests that lie between Anambra, Imo, and Enugu states.”
A security guard at the secretariat, whose name was withheld, disclosed that the hoodlums encircled the arena before starting to shoot sporadically before gaining access into the secretariat, where they went straight to the office of the electoral commission and set the place ablaze without any resistance.
However, a community member in Nnobi and a legal practitioner based in Onitsha, Mrs Josephine Agha, on her part, blamed the security operatives for the upsurge of “coordinated attacks” on public facilities in communities, insisting that the security personnel have lost the bite needed to tackle the menace.
According to Agha, the police are no longer interested in going beyond their comfort zones to protect lives and property in the state.
“Although there has been some notable progress in the fight against criminalities initiated by the state governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, in recent times, the relevant authorities should go beyond rhetoric in this fight. The police have not shown enough commitment in this fight. The hoodlums have continued to unleash terror and mayhem on the communities unabated, while the security operatives looked overwhelmed,” she said.
Also speaking on the development, the Public Relations Officer, Igbo United Front in Anambra, Mr Raphael Udeh, who condemned the attacks, said, “It is a pity that these attacks have continued without the security agencies being able to nip it in the bud. What this means is that the people have lost confidence in the security architecture in the region, and there is an urgent need for overhauling the security mechanisms in the South East.
“The security architecture in Anambra needs serious overhauling. The security personnel are not experienced enough to fight the upsurge of these attacks. They prefer to stay in the comfort of their offices and issue directives; they can’t fight the hoodlums that way. How many arrests have been made since these attacks started? I can tell you that over 50 public facilities have been attacked in Anambra in the last two months, including in the hometown of the state governor himself.
“These hoodlums attack with impunity, the police commissioner in the state, Echeng Echeng, needs to do something urgently and go beyond the rhetoric.”
Also speaking on the development, the convener of the South-East Security Forum, Mr James Uko, blamed the increase in attacks on Biafran agitations, which he claimed were hijacked by hoodlums while security agencies looked on.
He said, “The truth of the matter is that the so-called Biafran freedom agitations have been hijacked by a bunch of criminals. The reason for this is that they have no source of funding to sustain them, so they have resorted to criminal activities, armed with guns they stole from the police during the peak of the agitations in 2021. These guns are what they use in perpetrating these attacks, and it is a pity that the police have not been able to subdue them due to a lack of intelligence gathering.
“Why burn INEC offices and police stations located in your locality simply because you are agitating for Biafra? So, this is what led to the situation we are facing now. When they organise themselves, they go and attack public facilities in order to create fear and tension so that it will be easy for them to perpetrate their evil agenda.”
When contacted once again, Ikenga did not confirm if any arrests have been made since the incidents took place on February 1, 2, and 3, insisting that heavy security patrols have been mobilised in the affected communities and life has returned to normal.
The Press Secretary to the Anambra State governor, Chris Aburime, in his response, said the state government would soon issue a statement on the development.