The activities of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has unsettled and spread fears in some parts of the South-East. Operating in forests, ostensibly to tackle suspected criminal herdsmen who destroy farms, maim or kill farmers, rape women and commit other atrocious crimes, the ESN seems to have warmed itself into the hearts of vulnerable rural peasants. But the group’s unnecessary attacks on and killing of policemen, setting fire on police stations, and carting away weapons, point to sinister motives.
The leadership of ESN has claimed that the outfit was set up as an emergency measure because South-East governors foot-dragged on establishing a regional security organisation, like Amotekun in the South-West, to deal with several security challenges in the region. One Emma Powerful, who claims to be the media and publicity secretary of IPOB, argued that, “Our leader [fugitive Nnamdi Kanu] even, for five months, was begging South-East and South-South governors to float a regional security to protect and defend our people against genocidal attacks by terrorists masquerading as herdsmen. Our leader even wrote a letter to the governors which was made public but they turned deaf ears to all the pleas, including the clamour by the people for a regional security outfit. Every honest person will attest to the fact that ESN was floated by IPOB in response to the yearnings of our people for self-defense against terrorists…”
On the surface, the objective of establishing ESN aligns with contemporary opinions in tackling the perennial insecurity in all parts of the country. However, every regional security arrangement should only complement the work and activities of the Nigeria Police Force, and not turn against the agency of government, vested with the constitutional powers to detect, prevent and punish crime and criminality. The concept of community policing presupposes that vigilantes and local security networks provide the police with intelligence information and assist in investigations into criminal activities in local communities. But in the case of ESN, rather that cooperate with the police, it antagonizes the law enforcement agency, killing police operatives and destroying police stations. This means the ESN is against police presence in the areas where they operate. Boko Haram terrorism took off on a similar note. Attacks on policemen in the guise of regional security is totally unacceptable.
The insecurity in the country has given teeth to ethnic nationalism due to the failure of governance at both federal and state levels. However, self-help approaches, whether at regional or community level, must not create ample space for the seed of right-wing insurgency to be planted, watered and made to grow, as that would do no part of the country any good. For instance, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam in Sri Lanka emerged on the crest of ethnic nationalism. What was clothed as a pro-Tamil movement led to a civil war fought from 1976 to 2009. In Africa, the senseless and repugnant Rwandan genocide was sustained by the zeal of ethnic nationalism. Tribal or clannish cleavage is responsible for the ungovernable state of Somalia, in spite of the fact that there is a central government. The spate of insecurity in Nigeria must not be used as an excuse for destroying the Nigeria Police Force.
We align with the position of a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, Austin Iwar, who said recently that the attacks on the police would weaken the security structure of the state and defeat it. He argued that: “The implication of this is anarchy. They [IPOB/ESN] intend to create anarchy, to create a state of fear and violence in the minds of, not only the people, but in state institutions. You know IPOB is an insurgency group and the government needs to do something about it before it snowballs into terrorism.”
We challenge South-East governors to rein in the ESN by working with the police in dealing with criminality in that geopolitical zone. They should collaborate with the federal government and Inspector General of Police for an arrangement that would not endanger national unity or promote anarchy. Also, we must note that unemployment has made youths available for recruitment into the group. Government at all levels cannot continue to gloss over this issue. They must embark on jobs creation and urgently too. The federal government should immediately commence investigation into the activities of the group to ensure that it does not become a problem for the country in the near future.