South East Insecurity: Healing Wounds of Human Rights Violations

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A selected crop of human rights activists, lawyers, scholars and journalists on March 27, met at the Predia Hotel and Suites in Enugu State to discuss the burning issue of insecurity in the South-East geopolitical zone and fashion ways to ensure peace. It was also the day the Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), a nongovernmental organisation, in partnership with Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) launched a report titled, “Unveiling the roots of insecurity, healing the wounds of human rights violation in South-East Nigeria: A path Towards Peace, Open Democratic Space And A Prosperous .”

This became the central point for discussants drawn from different sectors. Executive Director of RULAAC, Mr. Okechukwu Nwanguma, said that it was particularly inspired by the need to address the narrative challenge regarding the nature, roots and consequences of insecurity and what ought to be the appropriate government approach in responding to insecurity in the South-East. His words: “The report is an attempt to document and project the correct narrative about the roots, drivers, actors, patterns, dimensions and effects of insecurity in the South-East.

The report is a sequel to the various stakeholders' convening and brainstorming on insecurity in the South-East facilitated by RULAAC and its partners, including the Institute for Development Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria. “It was particularly inspired by the need to address the narrative challenge regarding the nature, roots and consequences of insecurity and to influence appropriate and informed government approaches in responding to insecurity in the South-East.


“The Federal Government's single and prejudiced narrative is responsible for its failure to adopt an open-minded and holistic approach in responding to insecurity in the South-East.” He stated that RULAAC's formal engagement with the problem of insecurity in the zone started in 2021, following the October 2020 #EndSARS protest and its outcome and impact on Southe-East security. He said: “I read a recent report about the self-help effort by the people of Agwa community in Oguta Council of Imo State, who decided to task themselves and contribute funds to rebuild the burnt down police station in their community.

The police station was burnt and some police officers were killed during an attack on the police station by hoodlums in 2022. “This development aptly and typically illustrates one of the key findings in the report which was that police personnel and infrastructure in the South-East have not benefited from any Federal Government intervention including the Police Trust Fund set up in 2019 to provide an additional window for police funding in the face of Federal Government's perennial inability to fund the police adequately.

“The burnt police station in Agwa has remained in ruins until recently, when the community, desperately in need of security presence, resorted to self-help to raise funds to rebuild the burnt down police station in their community. This demonstrates that the government is simply distant if not absent from the people in the South-East.”

Bleak picture of public security policies

Nwanguma said that RULAAC's findings paint a bleak picture of public security policies in the region, heavily reliant on repressive police and military action, often with excessive force. The report documented instances where the police in the South-East have acted in compliance with reckless directives such as the ‘'shoot at sight'' order by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2021 and the Inspector General of Police's subsequent order for policemen to go after the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) despite shouts of human rights violation.

He noted: “The police embarked on indiscriminate mass raids and arrests, incommunicado detention, torture, public parade, and executions of accused, mostly innocent persons. Not a few people of conscience were shocked to receive the information that no less than 107 citizens were indiscriminately arrested from different locations in Owerri, Imo State, labelled IPOB members and arraigned, not in any court, but at the car park of the Shell Camp Police Division, Owerri and later shifted to the conference hall of the Commissioner of Police, Imo State, with some magistrates presiding.

“They were charged with offences of treason, including plots to overthrow President Buhari and Governor Hope Uzodinma and remanded at the Owerri prisons. The sheer number of persons arrested and arraigned in one day by the police in Imo State for purportedly conspiring to overthrow President Buhari and Governor Uzodinma was outlandish. “Police did not show what weapons with which the people, including women and children, were going to carry out the overthrow.

That was nothing more than a malicious declaration of war against innocent and law-abiding residents of Imo State going about their legitimate businesses. “It was a direct outcome of the Inspector General of Police's directive to police officers to take the war to IPOB and not to bother about observing the rules of engagement or be deterred by the media shouts of human rights violation.”

He acknowledged the challenges faced by an overstretched security force battling insurgencies across the country, but stressed that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions had emphasised the limitations of this approach, which is that “relying on ‘militarized solutions' exacerbates existing weaknesses within the police and judiciary, creating a breeding ground for human

Issues like high unemployment and unequal development are some of the major drivers of insecurity in this region. Limited economic opportunities, particularly for young people, can lead to frustration and a sense of hopelessness

rights violations, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity.” Nwanguma said that another worrying dimension is the increasing control of media outlets by state governments in the region. This and the absence of strong political opposition and a weakened civil society, he said, allow the government and security agencies to control the narratives and conceal their abuses.

While Nwanguma acknowledged that pro-Biafra agitation and insurgency were significant contributors to insecurity in the South-East, he argued that attributing the problem solely to these factors paints an incomplete picture. His words: “A lasting solution demands acknowledging the intricate web of additional forces fueling the flames of violence. One of the additional factors fueling the cycle of violence as documented in this report is the Federal Government's single-minded brute force and counterproductive approach to fighting insecurity in the zone.

This report, produced and printed with financial support from Ford Foundation, is intended to drive the true narrative about the nature, roots, patterns, dimensions and the effects of the current government's approach to tackling insecurity in the South East.”

He concluded by stating that he hoped that the report would contribute to the effort to unravel the roots, nature, multiple dimensions and consequences of insecurity and the appropriate measures to holistically address insecurity and the attendant human rights violation, particularly, the impact of insecurity on the civic and democratic space. He maintained that the people of the South-East desired and deserved an environment, where the people and residents live in peace, safety, freedom and prosperity.

NHRC perspective

The Deputy Director of Investigation, National Human Rights Commission, Mr. Damian Ugwu, presenting a paper on “Addressing insecurity and human rights violations In South-East Nigeria,” stated that several critical factors have emerged as key contributors to the insecurity plaguing the zone. Enumerating these factors, Ugwu said lack of political will is a primary cause. According to him, the political landscape in the region suffers from a deep-seated disregard for democratic processes.

He explained: “This manifests in rigged elections, political violence, and a general erosion of faith in the system. This environment, aptly described as ‘political gangsterism,' fosters a culture where power is seized through brutality, not through the will of the people. Silencing youth voices only exacerbates the situation, breeding frustration and creating a fertile ground for unrest.

“There is also the factor of systemic corruption, where the abuse of power extends beyond elections. Public funds meant for development are siphoned, leaving communities impoverished and basic needs unmet. This rampant corruption stifles progress and fuels resentment. The recent elections, instead of offering hope, solidified this reality.” “Gang violence is another issue, whereby politicians, emboldened by impunity, exploit this environment. They arm and unleash criminal gangs, terrorising opponents and citizens. These gangs become entrenched, perpetuating violence and instability.

Among the mix is another factor I prefer to describe as socio economics issues. “Issues like high unemployment and unequal development are some of the major drivers of insecurity in this region. Limited economic opportunities, particularly for young people, can lead to frustration and a sense of hopelessness. “This can make them more susceptible to recruitment by criminal gangs or militant groups. Unequal distribution of resources across the region can create tensions and feelings of marginalization among certain communities.

I believe that a lack of economic opportunities and social marginalization are underlying factors contributing to the current insurgency in the southeast, extending beyond the activities of IPOB.” Ugwu opined that the most concerning factor driving insecurity in the South-East is the issue of weak law enforcement coupled with human rights abuses by security agents. He added that lack of trust in the police and security forces could have a detrimental impact. Proffering solutions, Ugwu said: “Having examined the background, impact, and key actors involved in the insecurity plaguing the South-East, I propose some recommendations to address this security challenge.

This is to the Federal Government of Nigeria, to establish a robust system for providing effective remedies to victims of human rights violations in the zone. This includes addressing both civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. “The government should also reinvigorate efforts to control the spread of small arms by strengthening the ECOWAS Moratorium on the Importation, Exportation, and Manufacture of Small Arms and Light Weapons.

It should also act on reports from past efforts to investigate human rights abuses by security forces, including the NHRC reports and Justice Oputa Commission. Investigate individuals identified as perpetrators and pursue criminal prosecutions where evidence exists.” Ugwu also wants the federal government to ensure impartial and thorough investigations of offences under the Electoral Offences Act, and hold perpetrators of electoral violence accountable, regardless of affiliation.

He urged the government to shift the focus from deploying the military for civilian policing to utilising a well-equipped and funded police force for maintaining public safety. Ugwu also has some nuggets for southeast governors. He advised them to develop and implement a comprehensive public security plan that tackles violent crime, protects human rights and addresses the underlying causes of violence in the region. He also charged the governors to also implement strategies to progressively achieve the economic, social and cultural rights of the people in South-East as outlined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Chairman of the event, Prof. Okey Ibeanu of the University of Nigeria Nsukka, who was also the chairman of the launch of the special report on South-East insecurity, said: “We may not appreciate the report now, but history will vindicate this kind of work. It is important for the South-East because our stories are not often told. “In recent times, there has been a lot of insecurity and human rights violations in the South-East and many are now being heard and seen on social media, but verifications are difficult. Documenting these issues in the report is good, timely and useful. It is good for journalists, academia and the education of the citizens.

It helps citizens to understand their rights and seek redress. The report is well-researched and brings up many things with concrete evidence. “In terms of understanding these issues, we must situate them in general and specific perspectives. What the report has done should be regarded as diagnostic, and important in setting the stage. We must combine them with more specific investigations and publish them individually.

We must show how one killing trickles down to affect families, do an in-depth investigation and follow it through.” Mr. Ano Anyanwu, a representative of Ezuruezu Mbaise, while applauding the report, urged that it should be made into an abridged version, listing the highlights and should be made available to the top hierarchy of the Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Services (DSS), Nigerian Army, other security forces and stakeholders in Nigeria.

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