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Eastern Security Network: What We Know About IPOB’s New Vigilante Group

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist organisation founded in 2012, appears to have joined a growing trend of sub-national groups forming self-help militias in Nigeria to protect their members from insecurity.

Known as the Eastern Security Network (ESN), IPOB’s new vigilante group was launched mid-December. The sole objective of the armed group,Emma Powerful, IPOB media and publicity secretary, announced on December 14, was “to halt every criminal activity and terrorist attack on Biafraland”.

“This outfit, which is a vigilante group like the Amotekun in the South-west and the Miyetti Allah security outfit, will ensure the safety of our forests and farmlands which terrorists have converted into slaughter grounds and raping fields,” Powerful said in a statement.

“We can’t watch helplessly while those we are agitating to liberate from bondage are gradually being eliminated by terrorists.” 

Amotekun in the southwest was launched earlier this year by state governments in the region under the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN). Some of the state assemblies, including in Ogun, Oyo, Osun, and Lagos have passed bills establishing the security outfit into law.

IPOB has taken the latest bold step despite its proscription and declaration as a terrorist organisation in September 2017 by the Federal High Court in Abuja. 

The legal framework guiding the ESN is still unclear, especially as some governors in the region and other interest groups have denied its legitimacy. The youth wing of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo group, for instance, has withdrawn its support from the launch. 

“Ohanaeze will not recognise the outfit because they were never consulted by IPOB before floating the ESN,” noted Osmond Nkeoma, the Igbo socio-cultural organisation’s media and publicity secretary.

“We can’t support what we do not know the motive. They said it is a security outfit, but how do we know this is true; they undermined us and went ahead to float their security outfit, we can never be part of it.”

John Abang, the Commissioner of Police in Anambra State, has similarly denounced the group.

The bearing of firearms without due process also violates the Nigerian Firearms Act which requires that licences are first obtained from the President or Inspector General of Police. 

The source of the guns brandished by the members of ESN in videos circulated online or how the secessionist group got funding for the weapons remains unclear.

A video recently uploaded showed an ESN member testing a 20-inch rocket technology, which he said had passed the first testing phase.

He demonstrated that the rocket elevator could be rocket directed using a control panel and said it had a capacity to travel up to 2000 feet above the ground level. 

Meanwhile, Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB, has said the security outfit was launched because of the failure of governors in the region to provide security for the people.

“Having waited for many years for our governors to secure our land as Yoruba governors did to no avail, we, the people of the East comprising of South-East and South-South have resolved to defend our land from the ravages of terrorism and extrajudicial killings,” he stated in a statement released on December 15.

“It has fallen on this generation to defend our land against the ravages of Fulani terrorism and the hegemonic tendencies. For years, our mothers have not been able to visit their farms for fear of being raped and cut to pieces. Our invaders, some of them from Sene-Gambia, are in our villages raping and killing at will.”

He described ESN his group’s “first and last line of defence”.

Fears about the possible misuse of the launched security outfit partly stem from typically inciting statements often released by IPOB.

In early October, during the End SARS protests and following the highhandedness of deployed military personnel, IPOB had urged its members to cause havoc to police authorities in their areas in defiance of curfews.

“As this struggle to free Nigerians from bondage and Fulani subjugation gets to its crucial stage, IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu urges the #EndSARS protesters not to give up,” Emma Powerful said on October 21.

The Guardian Nigeria likewise reported that the group urged its members to organise themselves and bring down every property belonging to a former governor and other “wicked politicians” whom it accused of aiding the killing of peaceful protesters.

The legality and legitimacy of the ESN, which was created by a banned group, is a hot topic among different stakeholders and observers. 

Ben Okezie, a security analyst, told HumAngle that the group and its platform are all based on illegality because of the proscription

He argued that the creation of a security force is an exclusive discussion made by the Federal Government, based on powers conferred by the constitution.

“Security is plain and does not have any tainted colouration, so you can not set up an illegal group and want people to accept it,” Okezie added.

“On the issue of whether the governors of the Eastern states are ready to organise their own legitimate internal security outfit, there is already an internal security outfit in Abia state which is called Neighbour Watch and some other states have their own. The next step will be synergy,” he proposed.

“There are already talks on the establishment of a security outfit like Amotekun in the southwest. Talks are on about the process of the establishment such as finances, staff, and its headquarters.”

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