By Raymond Mordi, Deputy Political Editor
The escalating security situation in the Southeast appears to have cast its long shadow on the security situation in the Southsouth, given the historical and cultural links between the two geo-political zones. Four of the six states in the Southsouth were part of the defunct Eastern Region until May 5, 1967, when former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon carved out 12 states from the then four regions, as part of the strategy to counter the rebellion by the then administrator of the Eastern Region, Lt-Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu.
Today, similar separatist unrest in the Southeast has made the region the country’s latest zone of insecurity. The resurgence of the separatist bid stems from a perception that the region is marginalised under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari; particularly the perceived heavy-handed policing by security forces that have resulted in the death of hundreds of people since the emergence of the administration in 2015.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which was banned as a terrorist organisation in 2017, capitalised on the rising farmers-herders crisis and the grievance of the populace against the northern dominated security forces to form the Eastern Security Network (ESN) last December. It justifies the emergence of the ESN by stating that it was established to drive out pastoralists from the Southeast. The herders traditionally migrate to the southern part of the country with their cattle each year during the dry season. But, in recent times, the presence of the pastoralists who are usually armed nowadays has brought discord in its wake because they are perceived as part of the “Fulanisation agenda” of the present administration. The idea of the Fulanisation agenda is not limited to the Southeast; it is prevalent in the North-central and all the geo-political zones in the South.
The deadly attack penultimate Sunday against security operatives at checkpoints along the ever-busy Port Harcourt-Owerri Road, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State suggests that the coordinated onslaught against security forces in the Southeast is spilling over to the Southsouth. Eight security officials, including two police officers were said to have been killed during the attack in Rivers State. The killings have prompted Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike to ban people from entering or leaving the state at night.
His Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Governor Udom Emmanuel has also announced a ban on the use of motorcycles l from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily. A motorcycle is one of the commonest means of transportation in the oil-rich state, especially in rural areas. The government’s decision appeared to have been prompted by the continuous attacks on security agencies in the state, with the latest being the killing of two police officers last Saturday during an attack on a police facility in Ikono Local Government Area.
In the last three months, no fewer than nine police officers have been killed and their vehicles burnt at security checkpoints by unknown gunmen in Essien Udim, Ika and Ikono local government areas. The perpetrators of the heinous attacks are suspected to be members of the proscribed IPOB, using its militia group, the ESN.
Poor policing is one of the factors aggravating the insecurity in the country at the moment. The ratio of policemen to the civilian population is well below what is required to maintain peace, going by the United Nations’ recommendations. There is also the lack of equipment, poor training, and the low morale of the average officer. In recent times, the Federal Government has been drafting the army to assist in maintaining security. But the military does not also have the number of men to cope with such increasing demands. Besides, military men are not trained for purposes of policing the country; they are trained to kill and do not have the temperament to deal with civilians.
Before the advent of the current spate of attacks, the Southsouth has been battling with its peculiar security challenges, such as sea piracy, pipeline vandalism, kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism, smuggling and pockets of other violent crimes common to littoral states. With the rate of unemployment and the sheer amount of ungoverned space in the region, insecurity is a thriving business.
There is widespread poverty in the Southsouth, even though the region constitutes the milking cow of the federation. The Southsouth economy is not growing as it should because of the level of crime and instability in the region. Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta particularly were very notorious for militancy and youth restiveness in the heydays of the Niger Delta crisis.
The enabling environment to attract investment and create jobs for the people are lacking in most of the states. Many businesses that would have naturally been located there because of the proximity to raw materials are being moved to safer locations like Lagos. For instance, 650,000 barrels per day (BPD) Dangote integrated refinery and petrochemical project under construction in the Lekki Free Zone, in Lagos State, was to be located at Onne in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State. But, owing to the volatile nature of the region, the project was later cancelled and relocated to Lagos, a more secure environment for the project.
Niger Delta people, especially the youths, are still agitating for commensurate infrastructural development and empowerment of the people, despite the continued implementation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) for the repentant Niger Delta militants. The Federal Government’s interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs have almost become a drain pipe for politically exposed persons to siphon the resources of the people. Besides, all oil-producing states are receiving 13 per cent derivation from the oil revenue generated in their domains. Nevertheless, Niger Delta people continue to be subjected to poverty and unemployment, as well as inequality and marginalisation.
Neglect and insensitivity is at the heart of the problems of the Southsouth states, which are the main oil-producing states in the country. The governors of the region have not done much to empower the youths, by raising the level of human capital development in different fields. The revenue generated from crude oil sales ought to have been used to develop other sources of wealth and raise the quality of lives of the people. Like elsewhere in the country, the ruling class continues to rely solely on the idea of using monthly allocations from the Federation Account to run their states. The manner the federation generates and distributes resources encourages docility among the political class.