The directive given by the leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu; his penchant for hate speech using his radio station and social media, ethnic profiling and the eviction order to non-indigenes have led relevant authorities and security experts to point accusing finger at the members of Eastern Security Network (ESN) for the wanton attacks on police stations and people of Northern extraction in the South- East region.
Security operatives have become an endangered species in the South-East geo-political zone of Nigeria as they are easily attacked, maimed and killed by suspected separationists and cultists.
Many northerners in the South-East are also living in fear after many of them have been killed and their property worth millions of naira destroyed.
Security experts including those who keep track of attacks said in the five states in the zone – Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Enugu and Imo, more than 40 attacks have been launched in 2021 alone in the emerging trend of onslaught on security personnel and wanton destruction of security facilities and operational assets.
If neighbouring states in the South South, especially Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Cross River, are added, the number of attacks is more than 60, leaving not less than 50 security personnel killed.
This spate of attacks has compounded the insecurity in the Christian-dominated states and portends a grievous security challenge to the country, experts have warned.
Investigations have revealed that some of the attacks were carried out by members of ESN, the paramilitary wing of IPOB, an outlawed group led by Nnamdi Kanu. IPOB claims to be championing a secessionist agenda, calling for the declaration of a Biafra republic.
Last Monday’s attacks at the Nigerian Correctional Service and Imo Police Headquarters, which led to the release of a total of 1,844 inmates from prison custody and yet-to-be-ascertained number of suspects from the offices of the Criminal Investigation Department, were attributed to ESN even though they denied responsibility.
The police said the attackers came in their numbers with weapons such as General-Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs), Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs), AK49 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) among others.
Religion, insurgency and call to kill
A critical analysis of the frequent broadcasts by the bail-jumping leader of the banned IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, via his social media platforms including the Radio Biafra, indicated that he uses terms in Christianity – the dominant religion in the region, to pass his message.
He described his message as the propagation of the gospel of redemption, with regular reference to the Israelites in the Bible. He also described Biafrans as ‘direct descendants of the Most High God’.
In his one hour, 24 minutes long broadcast of March 30, posted on his Twitter handle, @MaziNnamdiKanu, he likened Arochukwu to the House of Levi in Israel.
“Arochukwu fell in 1904, our spiritual capital. All those claiming they are Ijaws are from Arochukwu. The same way you have the House of Levi in Israel, you have the House of Arochukwu. They are a priestly clan dedicated to the service and worship of God. It was our temple but Britain destroyed it in 1904,” he said.
In the broadcast which was aired a day after the police paraded 16 suspects for complicity in a series of violent attacks on security formations in the South East, Kanu claimed that the security agency arrested and parading ‘innocent people’ while and that they won’t go scot free.
The police had paraded 16 suspects, including Ugochukwu Samuel, aka Biggy, a 28-year-old native of Arochukwu in Abia State, who claimed to be the second in command of the special force of the group; Cletus Nwachukwu Egole, aka Alewa, a pastor with the Holy Blessed Trinity Sabbath Church, Orlu, Imo State; and Michael Uba, a prophet with the Association of Jewish Faith.
“ESN is in the forest, we are not in the street yet. You arrest pastors, torture them and give them confessional statements to read,” Kanu said.
“If you kill, you will be killed. Every police station where you mount your raid, it is just a matter of time, you can’t escape justice.
“Keep doing what you are doing. You are only building up hatred and anger for the police and the army, the same thing you did with Boko Haram. Boko Haram was a peaceful movement. It was Nigerian police that kept on killing them before they turned violent. The army and police in our land, you will die there. The more you kill us, the angrier and more fanatical we become,” he said.
He urged the natives to resist security operatives from arresting ‘innocent people’, adding that, “without IPOB, you are all gone. IPOB is the last line of defence between the people and their oppressors. We must all fight to leave this unholy union”.
In another broadcast which lasted for one hour, forty-five minutes, on April 4, Kanu who made a reference to the civil war, said members of the group are willing to die for the cause.
Kanu further called on the people and other nationalities to fight, hinting that Nigeria does not have enough security personnel.
This was a day before unknown gunmen attacked the federal prison and police command headquarters in Owerri, Imo State.
Even though some IPOB leaders had distanced themselves from Kanu’s claim of responsibility for the attacks in Imo, the Biafra warlord appears undeterred in giving directives for ESN members to kill.
Former Inspector General of Police, Adamu Mohammed, blamed IPOB for the attack.
In a question-and-answer session that lasted for over two hours on April 2, Kanu opined that the group is not interested in any election being held in the region, reiterating that the group is focused on actualising Biafra republic. He, however, said there are people who argued that the group should participate in the election.
The birth of insurgency in South East
A retired Director with the Department of State Service, Mike Ejiofor, has said that attacks on security formations in the South East are the beginning of insurgency.
The security expert said he predicted the outcome when IPOB was proscribed by the government in 2017, stressing that the attacks are aimed at instilling fear in the public, weakening the security institutions and public confidence in the government.
“I foresaw it and predicted it in 2017 when IPOB was proscribed and driven underground. I warned that it would become more difficult for the government to control because they will start operating from underground and that is what is happening now.
“This is the beginning of an insurgency. It is pure insurgency. The intention is to weaken people’s confidence in government by attacking security formations. When you begin to attack security formations, the confidence of the people will weaken, that the government is incapable of protecting them. This is exactly what they are doing by instilling fear in the people,” he said.
He added that attacks on correctional and detention facilities are aimed at releasing members of the group that are under incarceration.
He urged the federal government to call leaders of the region and address issues of marginalisation as well as rein on the youth.
The former DSS boss urged police to beef up security around its formations and seek the cooperation of the public.
On his part, Security Risk Management and Intelligence Specialist, Kabir Adamu, said at least 43 attacks have been launched on security formations and operatives from January to April 7. He said the attacks are coordinated to weaken the ‘already weakened security institutions’ in the region towards possible insurgency or insurrection.
“I can’t categorically state the group responsible for these attacks but it is obvious that they are non-state actors. And the only non-state actors in that region that has the capacity to launch these types of attacks are members of the ESN, the armed wing of IPOB,” he said.
He added that the group will recruit some of the inmates released from detention facilities while others, especially hardened criminals, will likely go back to their old acts and become a security threat to the region and neighbouring states.
He warned that attacks on security formations portend grave danger for the country.
“There is a possibility that other non-state actors might want to replicate this in another region. If we take our mind back, the ability of non-state actors to confront security operatives in the North East and North West would have possibly emboldened the ESN to do the same in the South East. This can also influence other non-state actors in other regions and this portends a serious challenge to our national security,” he said.
The security expert said there is a reported split in the group, which might have been driven by political interference, stressing that the sponsors of recent attacks might have political agenda ahead of elections in the region, especially the 2023 presidential election.
He said the government would have provided a platform for security agencies to do their work if they (government) can address the issues driving the secession agenda in the region such as marginalisation, nepotism in appointments, etc.
Communication expert, Dr. Tunde Akanni, who blamed what he termed ‘weak government’ for the atrocities being committed by the group, said the security agencies need to properly brief the Ministry of Information and relevant agencies to be able to dispense appropriate information that will counter the narratives being pushed by Kanu and other secessionists in the region.
Fear in the land: Police now operate in mufti, avoid checkpoints
The frequent attacks on security formations have instilled psychological fear in the security operatives who are now afraid of wearing their uniforms in public. Moreover, the development has also caused a sudden disappearance of security checkpoints on the roads in most states in the region.
One of the policemen who spoke to Daily trust on the condition of anonymity said that, “With the way things are going, we hardly wear our uniforms from home to office. We are no longer being posted to road checkpoints.”
He said that policemen in Anambra are afraid of going out for the fear of being attacked by the gunmen.
The activities of ESN have also driven fear and terror in the hearts of most residents of the region. It is a taboo to talk about the group in public as members are said to cut across age groups and communities.
A retired civil servant, Pa Ndubuisi (not real name), who has temporarily relocated from Arochukwu to Aba, said the people now live in fear as nobody wants to be caught unawares of any clash between security operatives and the group.
The octogenarian also disclosed that residents are being forced to support the cause of the group while security operatives treat every South Easterner like a potential member.
“I am afraid that we might have another war in our land. The clash and subsequent military raids in Orlu reminded me of the civil war. During the war, Orlu was a centre for humanitarian relief agencies in the region. I don’t want to see another humanitarian crisis in our land during my days,” he said.
Pa Ndubuisi, who regretted that there is no more credible socio-political group in the region, counselled the government to urgently address the issues that have made IPOB popular.
The chairman of Awka branch of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Ekene Okonkwo, said that the security situation in the state and the country need to be reorganised for effective operation.
He, however, emphasised that he would restrain from attributing the attacks to individuals or groups as he does not “have the competence to do so because he does not have adequate information.”
However, an insider in the Anambra government who preferred anonymity for fear of being attacked said that the attack on security formations, kidnapping and killing in the state are traceable to cultism, communal clash and activities of members of IPOB.
Killing your own brother and sister
Another source lamented that members of ESN are killing their brothers and sisters ignorantly.
“Most of those people killed are the same people they claim to be fighting for their freedom. Those policemen, naval officers and prison officers killed so far are Igbo,” the source said.
A resident and traditional chief in the state, Nnoruka Micheal, said that the killings and kidnapping are the consequences of unemployment facing the youths and bad governance in the land.
He said that the attack on the security operatives, especially policemen, could still be an extension of the #EndSARS protest because, “In the past, the police really dealt with the youths in the state.”
A community leader in Anambra who does not want his name in print argued that those attacking security agents, killing them and collecting their weapons have a hidden agenda and the government must act immediately before their plan gets materialised.
“I want to believe that they are building armoury for their hidden purpose. If it’s not just ordinary robbery, why would they be targeting security operatives and their guns?” he queried.
Govts, stakeholders condemn attacks
The Deputy Governor of Abia State, Rt Hon Ude Oko Chukwu, who visited Abiriba Community in Ohafia LGA after two policemen were killed at a checkpoint, pledged that the state government will deploy all necessary resources available to it to ensure the protection of the people and all law-abiding citizens.
He called for community vigilance and support to security agents to ensure that the perpetrators are quickly identified and brought to justice.
Commenting on the rising attacks, Abia State House of Assembly, led by Chinedum Orji, condemned the ugly development.
Relying on a motion raised by the member representing Isiala Ngwa South constituency, Chikwendu Kalu, the House demanded the arrest of those behind the attacks and recovery of all looted weapons.
Chikwendu Kalu, who is a former Speaker of the House, had cried out that his constituency was becoming unsafe because of activities of some unidentified elements around the area.
The Isiala Ngwa South legislator expressed worry at the manner a policeman was killed at the Omoba Police Station by unknown men who later burnt the station. He expressed the fear that his constituency has been exposed to danger by the dastardly activities of unknown attackers.
Speaking to Daily Trust on the issue, the Chairman of Abia State Council of Traditional Rulers, Eze Ndubuisi Nwabeke, condemned the attacks, adding that those responsible were sabotaging the peace and unity efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
The native ruler observed that it was wrong to attack policemen who are on duty or to destroy their stations and working tools, while cautioning youths against resorting to violence.
He further said: “Killing of policemen is totally condemnable. Our state is safe under Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as he has demonstrated the courage to keep Abia safe. Those destroying public properties should know that they were built with public funds and it will still require public funds to repair them.”
Also speaking, the Obasiukwu (II) of Umuobasiukwu Ozuitem Autonomous Community, HRM Eze John Akaliro, said it was wrong for anybody or group to become violent to the police, no matter the situation.
The President-General of Ahuwa Oboro ancient kingdom in Ikwuano LGA of Abia State, Engr James Uchegbuo, called for an end to the attacks, noting that killing of policemen or other security agents and burning of their property ere not the right way to register displeasure of any kind.
Uchegbuo, who is also a former Secretary of Police Community Relations Committee, Abia State chapter, condemned the murder of security men on official duty.
The continued attacks have now endangered the lives of policemen working in the state, including those on highways and those working in stations.
The safety of police officers and their families have not been so challenged as being witnessed because of the rising attacks by the unknown group.
A policeman who spoke under the condition of anonymity said this is not the best time to be a policeman in Nigeria, especially in Abia State. As he puts it, “A police station with just eight men on duty could be overrun by hundreds of attackers armed with weapons. We have lost over 20 of our officers in less than six months,” he said.
The officer called for more protection of policemen and their families.
From Abiodun Alade, who was in Aba, Tony Adibe (Enugu), Jude Aguguo Owuamanam (Owerri), Linus Effiong (Umuahia), Titus Eleweke (Awka) & Nabob Ogbonna (Abakaliki)