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Nigerian Police officers endangered species …as southeast becomes a death zone

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When Augustine Ukegbu, a Police Inspector, attached to Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), Orji Police Division Imo State Police Command decided to travel with his family back to his home town in Umuoshike Ogbor in Aboh Mbaise local government area of Imo State to spend the Easter celebration with his kinsmen never did it envisage that he would be abducted or lose his life in the process.

Unfortunately what was meant to be a memorable celebration became a nightmare as Ukegbu was kidnapped by gunmen upon arrival into his village on April 8th at about 11 pm and whisked away in a Lexus jeep; later discovered dead in a bush along Mbutu in the Aboh Mbaise local government area.

As usual, the incident was reported at Oke Ovoro police division, and investigation is still ongoing.

According to the police spokesperson, Imo State Command, Henry Okoye, we are investigating, it was a case of abduction, and we will communicate the full details when we conclude it.”

Like Augustine Ukegbu on Friday morning, five policemen were ambushed and killed by gunmen at Okpala junction in Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State.

A couple, Mr and Mrs Chinaka Nwagu, were also killed alongside the policemen.

The officers reportedly travelled from the nearby Abo Mbaise Police Division to eat at the junction, when some gunmen arrived on the spot and started shooting at the policeman while they were eating.

Regrettably, three police officers were murdered on the spot, while two others who fled were killed alongside a couple at a shop where they ran for cover.

The assailant also cart away five riffles belonging to the slain police officers.

In the last couple of years, the rampaging activities of gunmen have assumed a fearful dimension as policemen are at the receiving ends of these unending attacks.

Nothing less than 40 police officers have lost their lives in over 54 attacks communities in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria, recent checks have revealed.

Some of the communities where these notorious attacks, kidnap and killing of police officers have taken place are:

Owerri North, Umuguma in Owerri West, Mbaitoli, Aboh Mbaise, Ahiazu Mbaise, Ihitte-Uboma, Isiala Mbano, Obowo, Ehime Mbano, Ideato North, Onuimo, Orlu, Orsu, Njaba, Oguta, and several others have experienced attacks on Police personnel and formations.

Some of the stations attacked since the security breach include the Obowo, Aboh Mbaise, Ihitte-Uboma, Isiala Mbano, Ehime Mbano, Mbieri, Arondizuogu, Oguta, Umuguma, Orji, Oru East divisions from February 2021 to date.

Gunmen also razed Ehime Mbano Police Station, Mbieri, Oguta, Otoko, Umuguma, and Arondizuogu police stations.

It is noteworthy that gunmen on April 6, 2021, attacked the Ehime Mbano Police Station and razed it, and two days later, on April 8, 2021, Mbieri Police Station in Mbaitoli local government area was attacked.

It will be recalled that following a raid on IPOB’s hideout in which one commander, Ikonso, was killed,  the country home of the state governor, Hope Uzodimma was attacked in a reprisal, with two policemen killed at Mgbidi junction.

On April 26, 2021, five policemen were killed during an attack in Okigwe South police division in Ehime Mbano local government area by gunmen.

On November 23, 2021, gunmen killed one cop and razed the Arondizuogu police station while another sustained a battered head.

On February 1, 2022, a retired chief superintendent of police, Christian Kpatuma, was killed and beheaded in Mgbala community in Agwa, Oguta local government area by a suspected inmate escapee, Daberechi Chukwu.

Om March 28, 2022, the gunmen attacked the Otoko police station in Obowo local government and fatally injured two policemen and razed the station.

On August 8, 2022, four policemen were killed and a commercial motorcyclist during the attack on Agwa Police division in Oguta council.

On November 7, 2022, a military man was allegedly gunned down in Izombe, Oguta local government area which attracted a reprisal and last month, on December 2022, rampaging gunmen killed a policeman at 7up junction orji, in Owerri North during which an elder brother of Nollywood actor, Prince Osita Iheme was killed, while the commissioner for Solid Minerals, Martin Eke, was fatally injured.

On January 2, 2023, residents were jolted to the reality of insecurity in the region when gunmen ambushed a former governor of Imo State, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, and killed four policemen and a driver at Oriagu in Ehime Mbano local government area of the state. 

Reacting to the development, Ohakim maintained that he survived because of his bullet-proof vehicle.

The Imo State Police Command in 2022, suffered a series of attacks by suspected IPOB/ESN members, destroying about seven police stations, ten deaths and six officers sustaining various degrees of injuries.

On Sunday, February 20, 2022, armed men suspected to be members of the proscribed IPOB/ESN in their numbers went to the Isu Divisional police headquarters in two Toyota Sienna buses, a Toyota Camry car and an unspecified number of motorcycles.

Speaking on the development, the Executive Director,  Rule of Law and Accountability Centre RULAAC Okechukwu Nwanguma said the unlawful police killings call for a deeper understanding of the root causes.  If after the October 2020 EndSARS protests, extortion, torture, extrajudicial killings and other forms of police brutality remain prevalent, then there is a need for serious reassessment to understand the causes and apply the appropriate solutions. There is no doubt that impunity, a consequence of the state’s failure to ensure effective investigation of incidents to bring perpetrators to account is a key causative factor.  But I think that that alone will not suffice unless another factor is addressed: the compromised process of police recruitment which circumvents the established guidelines and allows unqualified, unfit and untrainable people to find their way into the police. An additional factor is the failure to ensure psychological evaluation of candidates before they are recruited and periodically while in service to ensure that they are mentally fit to be entrusted with firearms.  Other factors are the deficit in forensic capabilities and professional standards, and poor working conditions which impoverish personnel and make them prone to corruption and violence.  All these are contributory to the predatory behaviour and tendency to easily misuse firearms.  Unless there is a genuine commitment to implement reforms that address these problems, we will only continue to lament and condemn after every incident and wait for the next to happen. And then police authorities will do no more than give assurances of investigation and that may be the end. Addressing these challenges calls for competent leadership and commitment both at the level of the police and at the political level.

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