Anxiety mounts over growing notoriety of unknown gunmen

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Bandits in Katsina state
Bandits in Katsina state
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Bandits in Katsina state

Nigerians are becoming apprehensive with daily reports of the activities of ‘hoodlums’ now commonly referred to as unknown gunmen, not just in the media but also daily discussions.

The unknown gunmen gained notoriety with daily reports of attacks carried out in the South-East and the South-South geopolitical zones of the country since the first quarter of 2021.

These attacks, that bear almost the same signature was directed first at security agencies, but gradually extending to other government facilities including offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and in the case of Ebonyi, a federal complex in Abakaliki.

In all these attacks, the targets have primarily remained Federal Government owned facilities, leading to fears that the now notorious unknown gunmen may be up in arms with the Nigerian government.

Though leaders of the South-East are quick to come up with different theories of who these unknown gunmen are, security agencies have not been able to convincingly tell Nigerians who these criminals attacking security agencies and other federal facilities are. While the police and the military readily point at the direction of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its Eastern Security Network (ESN), many other leaders in the Southern zones are of the opinion that the attacks are the handiwork of politicians, while others feel, especially the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, that the enemies of the South-East’s resolve to produce the next Nigerian President may be behind them.

These have, however, led to greater anxiety by Nigerians, who are daily inundated by disturbing stories of these attacks, without any assurance that those behind them will be unmasked soon.

The discovery of a lorry loaded with live bullets in Onitsha, in Anambra State about two weeks ago, did not also help, as the discovery, has heightened apprehensions that what is happening in the South-East is just another form of criminality or another shade of the insecurity pervading the land.

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For many, who spoke to DAILY POST the discovery of the bullets in the lorry which was involved in a lone accident points to the fact that there is a greater plot, by these unknown gunmen and their backers to upscale their activities beyond the frequent attacks on security agencies.

A Lagos based security expert, Dr. Joe Ameh of Real Strikers Security Services Limited, believes that there are obvious dangers around the corner with the activities of the unknown gunmen. According to him, the worst enemy you can contend with is the one you don’t know.

“The unknown gunmen, as far as I am concerned, remains unknown despite what the military and the police want us to believe. Agreed they have made some arrests but IPOB have continued to deny the allegations that they are involved in the attacks. When ‘Commander’ Ikonso was killed, it was believed that the mastermind of the attacks had been neutralised but IPOB denied his involvement, saying he was merely moved against because of his refusal to join Ebubeagu. And of course, the attacks have not abated, instead, they are becoming more frequent.

“Until we are able to unravel the identity of the attackers, we may never be able to stop them, which is dangerous for the country. For all I care, the pattern of attacks suggests that a armed movement is gradually building and of course, they are beginning to cash in popular sentiments in the country, advancing beliefs in several quarters that the government of the day cannot secure Nigerians. This narrative is becoming real everyday since those expected to secure the people have themselves become subjects of attacks and are increasingly becoming helpless to the point that police authorities have stopped stopped their operatives from escorting their principals to the South-East,” Ameh said.

A Lagos based public affairs commentator, Debo Olawale, in a chat with DAILY POST on Sunday, believes the Federal Government is not doing enough to unravel the identities of those behind the unknown gunmen phenomenon, adding that there are several pointers to who they may be.

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“Unraveling the identities of the unknown gunmen, as the people attacking federal assets and security operatives in the South-East and the South-South have unfortunately come to be known, is not rocket science. There is already an established pattern to the attacks and the targets have become obvious, which is the federal government. Some arrests have been made, while some of the criminals have been killed. It is expected that our security agencies would have been able to put things together with all these and come up with a definite conclusion on who these people are.

“Until that is done, there are many people who will believe the police and the military are merely pointing at IPOB just because of its critical stand on the agitation for Biafra, a situation that may eventually pitch the government against the people. But let them be scientific in their investigations and come up with waterproof findings and conclusions. That’s the only way we can solve the unknown gunmen riddle”, he said.

Speaking further, Olawale said the security agencies too need to do more in foiling the constant attacks since a pattern has been established and the timing of the attacks some how has become consistent, late night or early hours of the morning.

“That means security agents have to be extra alert at such times, not just to foil the attacks but to apprehend the attackers. Also, government must immediately deploy its intelligence assets to the zones and infiltrate them. These people are not ghosts but Nigerians living among us. If things are done properly, and done timely, the unknown gunmen will be known before things escalate to the level of the insurgency in the North-East and the banditry in the North-West”, Olawale stated.

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DAILY POST recalls that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, during a recent press conference in Lagos, declared that the activities of the unknown gunmen is a declaration of war against the country, a statement, many Nigerians believe represents the actual situation in the country.

Mohammed said: “I want to say, unequivocally, that any attack on our security men and women is an attack on the state and a declaration of war against the nation. It follows, therefore, that this will be countered with overwhelming force.

“Whether known or unknown gunmen, those engaged in this dastardly act (of attacking security personnel) will pay dearly for their actions.”

A commercial bus driver, with one the popular transport companies in the country, plying the Lagos-Owerri route, but wants to remain anonymous, said it is becoming increasingly dangerous for them on the road because even the policemen they rely on to make the roads safe for them, especially when they enter the South-East, are themselves fighting for their lives.

“Driving to the East or from there on a daily basis is becoming scary for many of us but we are still in it because we really don’t have any option. Before now, kidnapping and armed robbery was the major things we were fearing but of course, with the police at the many checkpoints along the way, we usually have this sense of security. Things are, however, different now. The police themselves are no longer safe in their stations not to talk of the checkpoints. It is not an easy thing and we can only trust God to keep us safe at the moment. Things are bad and the fear is real; I only pray government can find an immediate solution so we can play the roads with some confidence again”, the driver said.

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