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Assault On Security Forces Increased In Nigeria’s Southeast, After ESN Formation

Not long after the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) launched its Eastern Security Network (ESN), Nigeria’s Southeast became home to a series of attacks on police facilities and a major jailbreak. 

The spate of attacks in Southeast Nigeria, especially against security agencies and their structures is a reminder of the insurgency that the country is battling in the Northern region.

After a series of attacks, the police in Anambra State have blocked some access roads in  Awka, the state capital as preventive measures against attacks on security facilities which have also spread to some parts of the neighbouring South-south region.

These attacks on security forces and police facilities bear semblance with tactics employed by the Boko Haram terror group in the course of its over a decade long insurgency and terror campaign in Northeast Nigeria. This has led to concerns on the trajectory of the violence and those behind it. 

In Jan., HumAngle reported the brewing crisis and drivers of the insurgency that was slowly gathering momentum in the Southeast.

Nexus between ESN and spike in violence 

Since the formation of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed division of the proscribed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) in Dec. 2020, insecurity incidents have surged in the Southeast.

Although the Southwest has a security outfit, Amotekun, set up by Governors in the region, IPOB is a proscribed group with no constitutional backing. 

On Sunday, April 11, governors in the Southeast region announced the creation of a counter  regional security outfit tagged Ebube Agu as a response to the growing insecurity in the region.

In the early hours of Thursday, April 8, the Mbieri Divisional Police Headquarters situated in the Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State was attacked and suspects in police custody released. 

On Monday, April 5, the State Police Headquarters and a correctional facility in Owerri, Imo State capital, were hit during coordinated attacks that led to the destruction of properties, targeting of police armoury, and escape of over 1,800 inmates. 

Shortly after the attack, Mohammed Adamu, the then Inspector-General of Police, speaking through Frank Mba, the Force Public Relations Officer, said that preliminary investigations revealed that the attack was carried out by IPOB/ESN members.

Hours after the attack, specifically, on Tuesday, April 6, a Divisional Police Station in Ehime Mbano area of Imo State was also set ablaze and detainees were freed. Similarly, on the same day, security forces clashed with ESN  fighters in Essien Udim Local Government Area in Akwa Ibom State, South-south Nigeria. 

The incident happened days after it was reported that three police officers were killed and four others went missing in the same area of the state. 

On Monday, April 5, Daily Trust reported that the Njaba Local Government secretariat in the town of Nenasa in Imo State was attacked and military checkpoints along Onitsha road and another around Ugwu Orji in Owerri North Local Government Area were also dismantled by some armed groups.

The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) in its March 19 report stated that two police officers and two prison warders were killed in the Aguata area of Anambra State. On March 18, four naval officers and three police officers were also killed in Oyi and Anaocha Local Government Areas of the state. 

On March 22, three police officers were ambushed and killed at Abiriba in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State. Two rifles belonging to the deceased officers were subsequently taken away.

Earlier on Feb. 24, Frank Mba, the police spokesperson, briefed the press that a daring raid on a police station in Abia State led to the death of two officers.  

Police operational vehicles and weapons were stolen during the attack as about 200 assailants armed with AK47 rifles, machetes, petrol bombs, and other explosives stormed the Abayi police station in the state.

In another incident on Feb. 24, a police patrol team in Calabar, Cross River State, South-south Nigeria was attacked. Some officers were killed and their weapons carted away. Two more police stations were raided in Anambra on the same day where four police officers were killed and police vehicles burnt. 

The Cable, in a recent review of media reports and data from the Council on Foreign Relations, found a rise in violent attacks after IPOB launched the ESN.

Security agencies have reacted to threats by targeting ESN camps and members

In March, Ikot Akpan community in Essien Udim was deserted by natives on the heels of an operation by the Nigerian Army to dislodge the ESN position.  

On March 23, security forces killed 16 members of the ESN and injured others during an operation in Abia State.

Similarly, in March, the police announced the arrest of ESN-IPOB members alongside the recovery of weapons and explosives. The police said they were arrested for “complicity in a series of violent and unprovoked attacks on security operatives and facilities” around Nigeria, especially in the Southeast region.

On March 20, the Imo State Police Command disclosed that it had launched an investigation into an attack on Isiala Mbano. In the same month, Awwal Gambo, Nigeria’s Chief of Naval Staff , ordered Air Force personnel deployed to Anambra State to be on alert, following threats from the ESN.

“I am here to reassure our staff at the Naval Outpost, who have been here since 2010, to redouble their efforts and to be more alert, based on the potent threats we are observing now from the ESN, the security arm of the IPOB,” Gambo said.

In response to the Navy’s Chief comments, Emma Powerful, IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary,  denied the involvement of ESN in the attacks on security operatives. 

Powerful said Gambo was part of plans to relaunch a manhunt for IPOB members in the Southeast even when it was common knowledge that the security outfit only operated in the forests and not in cities. 

Again, even though IPOB has denied responsibility for the violence, its leader Nnamdi Kanu’s utterances, particularly on social media, and the operational style of the attacks shows that it is the handwork of a separatist and potential terror group.

Nigeria’s security agencies are yet to track and capture even one of such attackers and get valuable information that could point to the culprits, Security analyst Ben Okezie pointed out.

“At the moment, it appears that it is the government’s word against that of IPOB. Although “the state government has alleged that it could be his predecessor that organised the attacks,” Okezie said.

The former Assistant Director of the Department of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amach revealed that the DSS had informed the police and Imo State Governor of the possibility of an attack on the state’s police command and prison facility.

The government has not denied it, which means it is true and that’s unbecoming of a governor or whoever is in office,” Okezie added. “Once there’s an intelligence report, there’s a need to act on it and nip it in the bud. We have had such situations in the country where the Federal Government didn’t heed Intel and it claimed lives.”   

The security analyst also pointed out that if lives had been lost in the course of the prison break, it would have been a different issue. 

In the 21st century, a whole correctional institution with more than 1000 inmates doesn’t have CCTV cameras,” Okezie said. “It’s very unfortunate. You can’t see that anywhere in the world. Even the Benin Republic has a fortified prison, and Owerri is in the state capital.”

In every state capital where there is a Police State Command, there is always a unit of the mobile police left behind around the gate in case of an emergency, so they can be able to launch an attack and ensure that there is no access into the armoury, Okezie explained.

“We didn’t see any of such, to the extent that the perpetrators had the time to set fire to cars there,” he said.

The security analyst expressed surprise that no citizen had a video of any part of the incident, especially when there were high rise buildings in the area. “This means there is a lot of work to be done in that state. Their security consciousness is zero,” he said.

He also blamed the inefficiency of the police force on poor welfare. “I called Owerri and they said everything is normal now. But there are few policemen on the road. Their morale is very low,” he said. 

“Unfortunately, the former IG did not do much to raise their morale after the EndSARS activities.”

“Their morale needs to be boosted, so we see the real police carry out operations. Criminals study the movement of security personnel and know what is lacking. That is why they have the boldness to carry out such attacks.”

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without proper attribution to HumAngle, generally including the author's name, a link to the publication and a line of acknowledgement.

Nathaniel Bivan

Nathaniel Bivan is Head of Solutions Journalism Desk at HumAngle. He tweets @nathanielbivan.

Murtala Abdullahi

Abdullahi Murtala is a researcher and reporter. His expertise is in conflict reporting, climate and environmental justice, and charting the security trends in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. He founded the Goro Initiative and contributes to dialogues, publications and think-tanks that report on climate change and human security. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Education from the University of Abuja.

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