The horrific murder of a Nigerian army master warrant officer, Linus Audu, and his partner, an army soldier, Gloria Matthew, is expected to mark a turning point in ongoing measures to address violent attacks on security personnel, public infrastructure and civilians in the Southeast. The terrorists who perpetrated this atrocious act must be identified and arrested by law enforcement for prompt retribution. Justice must however be pursued within legal bounds and a new approach taken to end the senseless butchery in the region.
According to reports, Audu and his fiancee, Matthew, from Nkwerre local government area in Imo state, were on their way to Imo for their traditional marriage rites when they were intercepted by gunmen. The thugs allegedly raped Matthew in the presence of his fiancé before shooting the couple dead. Afterwards, they beheaded them. The heinous gang then circulated a clip of their heads and other dismembered remains on the internet. This is the height of wickedness and insensitivity!
The army’s director of public relations, Onyema Nwachukwu, quickly accused members of the indigenous people of Biafra and its armed affiliate, Eastern Security Network, of killing the couple. The IPOB, while also describing the murder as “an abomination in Igboland”, denied any complicity and blamed it on “unknown gunmen”. These gunmen, who have become a veil for every hideous criminal act in the region, are neither ghosts nor strangers. They are members of the Southeast community; it is therefore the responsibility of security officers and state governors to work with residents and security agencies to flush them out for prosecution.
The military is an important and essential institution in the security architecture of every country. In addition to protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity, it also plays a central role in internal security and responds to civil unrest when civilian law enforcement is overwhelmed. It therefore deserves the respect and appreciation of society. What happened to the couple is an unwarranted provocation, an assault on the country. It requires a very strong response.
Attacks on security agents have multiplied in the Southeast with beastly rapidity. It is unacceptable. The perpetrators are terrorists, no less. On May 3, gunmen stormed a police checkpoint in Imo State and opened fire on three officers, killing Deputy Superintendent of Police Ukam Efut. He had only two years to retire from the service. Horribly, the thugs severed and left with his genitals. Just hours before the military couple were killed, gunmen stormed a military checkpoint in Agulu, Anaocha LGA of Anambra State, and opened fire on soldiers, killing one of them. ‘them.
According to reports, between December 2020 and April 2021, 67 security officers were killed in the South-East and South-South. In October 2021, it was also reported that 175 soldiers, and police, among others, had been killed in 72 attacks in the Southeast. A more recent report indicates that between March 13 and 20, 2022, when 30 people were killed across the country, security agencies lost 20 officers, or 80% of the total. Nigeria is losing its field officers to murderous orgies perpetrated by non-state actors; the murderers must be arrested. As Chukwuma Soludo, the Governor of Anambra State, said, “The killers are not self-determination agitators but terrorists”. They should be treated as such.
The first priority for police and intelligence agencies is to definitively identify the killers, their motives, hiding places, sources of funding, weapons, supplies and enablers. They should go beyond quickly labeling all killers as IPOB/ESN members; it is important to verify their identity since the federal government has banned the organization.
However, the army, as a trained and disciplined organization, must avoid anarchy. Using human and signals intelligence, security forces should infiltrate, track down and corner terrorists and their sponsors.
While rightly stung by the couple’s murder and other provocations, the military must demonstrate professionalism and discipline, and adhere to globally accepted standard rules of engagement to respond. Troops must be guided by the rule of law, fairness and justice. Innocent people or entire communities should not be victimized. It is about justice, law and order; not revenge.
The Odi massacre in Bayelsa state in 1999, which was a retaliatory attack by the army after the deaths of some soldiers, drew worldwide condemnation. The government was forced to pay N15 billion in damages for the wanton bloodshed. Zaki Biam’s 2001 mass executions of unharmed Tiv natives for the murder of 19 soldiers led to N41.8 billion in damages being awarded to the victims.
Amnesty International, in its 2021 report on Nigeria, accused security forces of killing at least 115 people and “committing numerous other human rights violations and crimes under international law in response to the escalating violence.” and the murders of their officers in southeastern Nigeria”. Such behavior should be avoided.
All Nigerians are outraged by the atrocities of terrorists in the South East and support all legal measures to bring them to justice. For example, when an Israeli soldier extrajudicially killed a terrorist captured in Hebron, he was arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned, although the victim killed 28 Israelis.
Defeating terrorism requires strong buy-in from local communities. This is crucial in the intelligence operations needed to penetrate criminal networks. The military is a respected and admired institution and should woo the locals, not terrify them. Residents of the Southeast are also tired of terrorism and sit-at-home orders from criminals, which are destroying their businesses. The military should not alienate them with more authoritarianism.
The federal government must devise an effective strategy to defeat the insurgents. The Southeast is plagued by ruthless terrorists; effective strategies must be adopted to stop the carnage. Governors must demonstrate responsible leadership. Elite, political and socio-cultural groups should unite and work with security agencies to restore sanity to the region. It should start with justice for Audu and Matthew; their killers must be brought to justice.
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