The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria makes the security of lives and property of the citizens the priority for the President and the state governors. The Constitution also makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Governors the Chief Security Officers of their respective states. Annually, in an attempt to keep securing the country, humongous monies are mapped out for security outfits in the country’s budget. In the 2021 budget which is N13.588 trillion (about $35 billion) passed by the National Assembly, security budget was captured as follows: (1) Ministry of Defence –  N840.56 billion, (2) Ministry of Interior –  N227.02 billion, and Ministry of Police Affairs –  N441.39 billion. This high security budget reflects the dare security condition in the country and the need to address it.

However, in Imo State, reports show that security has deteriorated and has left much to be desired. There is hardly a day one would not get stories of kidnapping, car snatching, murder, armed robbery, and etcetera. Obviously, the residents in the state’s capital, Owerri, now live in fear. The immediate past Governor Emeka Ihedioha had introduced Operation Iron Gate, made of the Army, Police, Civil Defence and DSS. Operation Iron Gate was to penetrate the nooks and crannies of the State and fish out bad elements.

The security formation became the fear of the bad elements, and we had peace. Operation Iron Gate, though now disbanded, had since got pat on their back as Imo enjoyed security. Dreaded cultists and pickpockets at the notorious Douglas Road disappeared and the unfortunate ones among them were captured. 

It was expected that Governor Hope Uzodimma would continue in that track but he disbanded it and introduced Operation Search and Flush, a concept many had considered to be similar to the Operation Iron Gate. But one marked difference between the two formations is that Operation Search and Flush is mainly for the Army and Police. Some critics had queried the idea behind the formation of Operation Search and Flush few months after Ihedioha had launching the Operation Iron Gate, but supporters of the Uzodinma’s administration said there couldn’t be an overdose of innovations in securing the State. Whatever the critics said, and whatever government sources posited, Imo people noted that the Operation Search and Flush had ensured security in the state, like the disbanded Operation Iron Gate. 

Sadly, within the last one month it seems there is a relapse as armed robbers and kidnappers have wreaked havoc in Imo State. They have within the period kidnapped the Auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri, Most Rev Moses Chikwe, and a Catholic priest, Rev Fr Valentine Ezeagu. On December 27, Imo people woke up to the sad news of the kidnap of the Bishop alongside his driver, Ndubuisi. It was reported that gunmen overpowered them at the World Bank area of the State and whisked them away amidst gunshots. The scalawags, feeling safe and secure in the city, had to drive the Bishop, his driver and another lady they kidnapped on the same day to Owerri Archdiocesan Headquarters, parked the Bishop’s car there and zoomed off on another car. 

Being a high officer in the Catholic Church, the Bishop’s kidnap was greeted with butter reactions from the high and low in the country and from the diaspora, including the Pope, as demand for his release became rife. Few days after, Bishop Chikwe and his driver were rescued in a border village between Imo and Rivers States. According to the Public Relations Officer of Imo Police Command, the Bishop was rescued without any ransom paid. He also confirmed the arrest of the suspects. 

Weeks before the Bishop kidnap, two brothers: Chidiebere and Tochukwu Anyanwu, on December 6, 2020, met their untimely death in the hands of suspected hired assassins at the backgate of the Imo State University, Owerri. Having left some bullets on the bellies of the two brothers, the gunmen made away with their Ford vehicle, shooting two others persons who were in company of the siblings. Imagine two brothers dying the same time! 

As if these bizarre events were not sufficient, the Punch Newspaper’s Correspondent in Imo State, Chidiebube Okeoma, reported that “on Christmas eve, gunmen killed two policemen and a chieftain of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, Soludo Akwaeke, in Orsu Local Government Area of the State. According to the report, the gunmen also made away with the politician’s vehicle and the cash he had withdrawn from an Automated Teller Machine in Orlu. The report added that the killing of the policemen was a big blow to the state police command and made security personnel to have an unpleasant Christmas celebration.

In a similar report, Punch reported that “On December 29, kidnapp abducted a motorist at the ever-busy Wetheral Road in Owerri and sped off with him on the Aba Road.
“On the same day, some hoodlums trailed and kidnapped another motorist at the Amaraku Junction in the Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of the State and zoomed off with him on the Nkwerre-Orlu Road, abandoning his Highlander SUV. The incident happened around 9pm.

“Last week, gunmen killed a businessman, Mr Leo Anuforo,  his driver and two policemen at a boundary between Imo and Rivers States. Our correspondent gathered that Anuforo, who was the Chief Executive Officer of Loraj Consult Limited, was killed by assalintts…The victims were killed by gunmen who trailed them to the scene…The men were travelling in a white Toyota Hilux vehicle when they were killed.” 

Just few days ago, it was gathered that a man identified as Obiezu, was killed in Akatta in the Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State. The deceased was a younger brother to Imo’s Accountant General, Valentine Obiezu. 

It is not yet clear why the security in Imo has deteriorated in the last four months. But not a few believe that it is not unconnected with the burning down of police stations by hoodlums during the #EndSars protests in the State. Hoodlums had burnt down police stations in Orji in Owerri North, Anara in Isiala Mbano, Nworieubi in Mbaitoli LGA and Orlu in Orlu LGA. Many believe that the height of brutality visited on the police could have demoralised the police and other security agencies, leading to the worsening insecurity in the State. 

The effect of the #EndSARS protests across the nation on police security agents and crime fighting was noted when the protest degenerated. Speaking on the effect of degenerated #EndSARS protests, a legal practitioner in Imo State, Kissinger Ikeokwu, warned that the police may not have the courage to restore normalcy. He wrote: “We have so frightened the Police that they are finding it difficult to deploy to restore normalcy. That means citizens are left to their fate.

“Stop urging or justifying hoodlums and looters. Those extremists urging you on are in London, Sweden, Spain etc using fake accounts to be inciting you. Let’s restore confidence in our security agents to restore calm. We are the people here who would feel it most if situation goes out of hand” [sic].
Granted that the negative effects of the degenerated #EndSARS protest may still be taking toll on the security agencies, they should not forget that no one is safe when there break down of law and order. They should rise up to the ocassion. They should stop thinking that the society is against them. They are doing great jobs and the society is solidly behind them. They should shake off the shackles and bounce back to duty. We believe in them. We believe them. 

It is expected that the Government is aware of the degenerating situation. In this regard, the Government is called upon to come up with fresh measures to bring back security in the State. As the Governor marks his one year in office on January 15, it is expected that he gives the State an anniversary gift by a pronouncing new measures towards addressing the insecurity in the State.