Barbaric killing of military couple is unacceptable

Couple in military

THE gruesome murder of a Nigerian Army Master Warrant Officer, Linus Audu, and his partner, an Army Private, Gloria Matthew, should mark a turning point in ongoing measures to combat the violent attacks on security personnel, public infrastructure and civilians in the South-East. The terrorists who perpetrated this atrocious act must be identified and arrested by law enforcement agents for swift retribution. Justice must, however, be pursued within legal bounds and a new approach adopted to end the senseless butchery in the region.

According to reports, Audu and his fiancée, Matthew, who hailed from the Nkwerre Local Government Area of Imo State, were on their way to Imo for their traditional marital rites when they were intercepted by gunmen. The hoodlums reportedly raped Matthew in the presence of her fiancé before shooting the couple dead. Thereafter, 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 heartlessness!

The Director of Army Public Relations, Onyema Nwachukwu, promptly accused members of the Indigenous People of Biafra and its armed affiliate, Eastern Security Network, of killing the couple. IPOB, while also describing the killing as “an abomination in Igboland,” denied complicity and blamed it on “unknown gunmen.” These gunmen, who have become a veil for every hideous criminal act perpetrated in the region, are neither ghosts nor foreigners. They are members of the South-East community; it is, therefore, the responsibility of security agents and state governors to work with locals and the security agencies to smoke them out for prosecution.

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The military is an important and critical institution in every country’s security architecture. Aside from protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria, it also plays a central role in internal security and responding to civil unrest when the civilian law enforcement is overwhelmed. It, therefore, deserves respect and appreciation from society. What befell the couple is an unjustified provocation, an assault on the country. It demands a very strong response.

Attacks on security agents have increased in the South-East with bestial rapidity. It is unacceptable. The perpetrators are terrorists, no less. On May 3, gunmen invaded a police checkpoint in Imo State and opened fire on three officers, killing an Assistant Superintendent of Police, Ukam Efut. He had just two years to retire from service. Horribly, the hoodlums severed and went away with his genitalia. Just a few hours before the military couple was killed, some gunmen invaded a military checkpoint in Agulu, Anaocha LGA of Anambra State, and opened fire on soldiers, killing one of them.

According to reports, between December 2020 and April 2021, 67 security agents were killed in the South-East and South-South. In October 2021, it was also reported that 175 soldiers, and police officers, among others, were killed in 72 attacks in the South-East. A more recent report said between March 13 and 20, 2022 when 30 people were killed across the country, security agencies lost 20 officers, accounting for 80 per cent of the total. Nigeria is losing its field officers to killing orgies perpetrated by non-state actors; the murderers must be stopped. As Chukwuma Soludo, the Governor of Anambra State said, the “killers are not self-determination agitators but terrorists.” They should be treated as such.

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First priority for the police and intelligence services is to definitively identify the killers, their motivation, hideouts, sources of funding, weapons and supplies and enablers. They should go beyond swiftly labelling all killers as IPOB/ESN members; it is important to verify their identity since the Federal Government has outlawed the organisation.

However, the military, as a trained and disciplined organisation, must shun lawlessness. Using human and signals intelligence, the security forces should infiltrate, track and corner the terrorists and their sponsors.

Though justifiably stung by the couple’s murder and other provocations, the military should demonstrate professionalism and discipline, and adhere to globally-accepted standard rules of engagement in responding. Troops must be guided by the rule of law, equity and justice. The innocent or entire communities should not be victimised. It is about justice, law and order; not vengeance.

The Odi, Bayelsa State, massacre of 1999, which was a retaliatory attack by the military after some troops were killed, attracted global condemnation. The government was compelled to pay N15 billion in damages for the wanton bloodshed. The 2001 Zaki Biam mass executions of unharmed Tiv indigenes over the killing of 19 soldiers led to the award of N41.8 billion in damages 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 increasing violence and killings of their officers in south-eastern Nigeria.” Such behaviour should be avoided.

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All Nigerians are outraged at the atrocities of the terrorists in the South-East and support all lawful measures to bring them to justice. For instance, when an Israeli soldier extra-judicially killed a captured terrorist in Hebron, he was arrested, prosecuted and jailed, notwithstanding that the victim had killed 28 Israelis.

Defeating terrorism requires a strong buy-in from the local communities. This is crucial in the intelligence operations needed to penetrate the criminal networks. The military is a respected and admired institution and should woo the locals, not terrify them. The people of the South-East are also tired of the terrorism and sit-at-home orders by criminals, which are destroying their businesses. The military should not alienate them by further high-handedness.

The Federal Government must devise an effective strategy to defeat the insurgents. The South-East is afflicted by ruthless terrorists; effective strategies must be adopted to stop the carnage. The governors should demonstrate responsible leadership. The elite, political and socio-cultural groups should unite and work with the security agencies to restore sanity to the region. This should start with justice for Audu and Matthew; their killers must be brought to trial.

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