By Emeka OMEIHE
Emerging recriminations on the masterminds of the attack at the Imo State Police Command headquarters and the Correctional Services in Owerri are a measure of the puzzles the incident presents. The gunmen who attacked both facilities in their numbers were reported to have first gathered at the roundabout opposite the Government House around 1 am for about 30 minutes singing solidarity songs before proceeding to hit their targets.
The first victim of the attack was the state police headquarters where they detonated sophisticated explosives that blew open cells housing detainees and set them free. Not done, they set on fire almost all the vehicles parked at the police command and affecting some buildings.
They proceeded to the correctional facilities located some distance from the police headquarters, blew open the cells and freed all prisoners and detainees. The gunmen had a field day carrying out their criminal objectives without challenge from the security agencies even as the area is the most fortified in the state. Why the hoodlums operated freely without any challenge from the array of security operatives that maintain strong presence in the area is the most tasking puzzle presented by the incident.
Government’s posts and security agencies from which resistance was expected to come are: the Government House itself, the state police command headquarters, the correctional facility and the old headquarters of the Department of State Services DSS. The chief security officer of the state, the governor lives there, so also is the commissioner of police. The commander of the artillery brigade at Obinze also has his residence located around the area.
One had expected serious confrontation with the armed gunmen from this array of security agencies. But nothing of such happened. The information that made the rounds is that the hoodlums operated unchallenged. None of the attackers was killed, wounded or arrested. The only inkling of resistance we were treated to was that the gunmen made serious attempts to break into the armoury at the police headquarters but met serious resistance. Apparently emboldened by the absence of resistance, the attackers then marched or sped off to the correctional facilities with several Toyota Hilux vans and Sienna buses they came with to complete their devious assignment. There, they also blew open the cells and freed about 1,800 inmates. It was a scene to behold as prisoners and detainees of all hue struggled to exit confinement.
Immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu who arrived the scene promptly, named the proscribed IPOB and Eastern Security Network as the perpetrators of the attack. Adamu’s fingering of the IPOB for culpability was hasty given that nobody was arrested during the attack and there are neither labels nor uniforms that mark out the so-called IPOB or ESN members for ease of identification.
From what material evidence did he then get his information or is it a case of the usual hallmark assumptions and profiling? But IPOB denied the accusation even as another self-determination group MASSOB has placed the blame for the attack on the federal government. MASSOB alleged the attack was a ploy by the federal government to invade the state and hound innocent citizens.
A new twist to the issue emerged when Governor Hope Uzodinma claimed in an interview with Channels Television’s Politics Today that aggrieved politicians were behind the attacks and their aim was to destabilize his government and that of President Muhammadu Buhari. “We have credible evidence leading to those who paid the hoodlums, where they met and how they met. Security agencies are already working with this information” he stated.
It is not clear whether the ‘credible evidence’ the governor claims to have were availed him before or after the attacks. But any doubt on this appeared to have been cleared by a former official of the DSS, Dennis Amachree. He claimed in an interview on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme monitored by The Punch that both the governor and the state police command were alerted three times by the DSS of the impending attack. This claim is yet to be denied.
If this information is correct, it further complicates the riddle surrounding the entire incident. It may then provide a lead as to why there was no resistance when the hoodlums levied terror of unimaginable proportion on the poor state. Uzodinma appeared to have corroborated the claims by Amachree by the way he volunteered knowledge of where the hoodlums met, how they met and their sponsors. What he did not tell us is whether this information was availed him prior to the attack or thereafter. If it is before the attack, then a profound statement has been made on why there was no challenge to the attackers. It also says something on kind of leadership in the state. But, if the information was made available to him after the attacks, then those who gave it to him must be arrested for complicity.
They must be arrested and immediately paraded by the police for withholding sensitive security information until after monumental harm had been done. Since the governor claims he has evidence of those who paid the hoodlums, where they met and how they met, it means all these were really available in some quarters before the attack. They could not have been generated after the attacks. Of what use then, is the information if it could not be deployed to prevent the attacks?
We do not want to believe that the alleged ‘credible evidence’ was availed the governor and he did nothing only for the criminals to unleash mayhem. But somebody is definitely complicit in the circumstance. That some people had prior information on the impending attack and kept it under wraps adds to the conspiratorial theories making the rounds since the incident.
Uzodinma’s claim that aggrieved politicians were behind the attacks was further narrowed down by his commissioner for information, Declan Emelumba when he pointedly accused a former governor of the state of being behind the spate of attacks on government’s establishments. The commissioner said the ex-governor had recently organized a group of northern youths to demand the imposition of a state of emergency on the state. By all the descriptions he provided, that former governor is identifiable. So why not have him arrested?
But more fundamentally, the new position of the state government counters the pinning down of the IBOP as the mastermind of the attack. So who are the suspects of the attacks: IPOB, politicians, a former governor or all of the above? And why bring in Buhari’s government into the matter if credibility issues are not behind it all.
The conduct of Governor Uzodinma evokes the impression of a man being haunted by the very manner he came into power. His demeanour and temperament since the incident do not speak of one intent on deescalating the tensed security situation in the state. Bandying allegations freely when investigations are still going on may end up compromising their outcome.
It is worrisome and condemnable that such an attack could take place in Imo. The development calls for serious introspection especially when added to the attacks on police station across the state, Why Imo? What is expected of a leader in such a circumstance is calmness for serious investigations to be carried out to unravel those behind those despicable attacks.
But he would not have any of such with his display of uncanny obsession with getting even with perceived political enemies. Such was the sentiments evoked when he asked the police during his visit to the scene of the attack, to use their riffles to defend themselves against suspected masterminds of the attacks. Why prod the police on self-defence?
In a clime law enforcement agencies are regularly accused of human rights abuses, telling them to use their weapons to defend themselves could be misconstrued, leading to rights abuses of the most extreme form. That is the potent danger in that advice.
What the circumstance demands is comprehensive investigation and proper examination of all leads to that reign of anarchy in Imo State. Nothing should be foreclosed in this investigation. Not with the serial abduction of hundreds of school children in northern states without resistance from the security agencies. Nothing should be ruled out in this investigation.