There is a fierce backstage struggle for power within the hierarchy of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the separatist group courting a secessionist agenda for the Igbo people of Nigeria. The control of the enormous leverage the group wields over this ethnic nationality in Nigeria is at issue.
Kanu’s arrest triggers undercurrent of power struggle
More strategically, there is a desire to fill the void created by the absence of the group’s “supreme” leader, Nnamdi Kanu. In his absence, there is no one with the authority and persona to instruct both the IPOB movement and its armed group, the Eastern Security Network, (ESN) with equal submission and reverence. The struggle has gone on viciously but never openly acknowledged.
Kanu was arrested last June and has been in incarceration in Abuja. In his absence, the commanders within ESN have no other authority to take instructions from. His latest arrest is the first time since the launch of his combat force, the ESN.
By the structure set up by Kanu at the inception of ESN, the combat force was not designed to take instructions from IPOB co-ordinators. The co-ordinators, on paper, are at the same authority level with ESN commanders. But with heavy armoury and armed troops under their command, it does not call for special scrutiny to see where power has been tilting between the ESN commanders and the IPOB co-ordinators.
With the leader suddenly out of the line of the daily command structure, it is not difficult to see who have been forcing their ideology of the struggle through everyone’s throat. For instance, IPOB commanders, using their public information channels have decried the continued weekly enforcement of the “sit-at-home” order decreed last August by ESN commanders.
ESN runs out of control
No week passed since August without targeted violent attacks against individuals who go about their businesses on Mondays in Southeast Nigeria. ESN foot soldiers, largely stealth, lurk in public corners, move and manoeuvre through heavy traffic in motor bikes, or drive through distances in vehicles to reach their victims.
IPOB co-ordinators have been ignored by ESN foot soldiers. They have largely been left carrying the trash can, regularly issuing statements denying involvement in killings and violence that are metaphorically credited to “unknown gunmen.” The division between the two groups has also reflected in the line of public statements issued from the Biafra agitators recently.
There were multiple attacks on schools in Okporo last September in Imo State in the bid to enforce the contentious “sit-at-home” order. Teachers’ motor bikes and a part of the school building were torched by armed men suspected to be ESN members.
The gunmen murdered Rev. Emeka Merenu, principal of Saint Andrew’s Anglican Secondary School, Ihitte-Ukwa, Orsu Local Government Area (LGA), presumably for inviting soldiers to secure the school while his students sat for an external examination. IPOB’s spokesman, Emma Powerful issued a statement condemning the attacks which he described as “barbaric and stupid.” He said IPOB would fish out the perpetrators and treat them as “traitors.”
ESN’s creed of extremism
Amid the public revulsion and outrage that followed these attacks, Simon Ekpe of IPOB’s Directorate of State Department, who has been sitting in for Mazi Kanu, went on air in a radio broadcast, to warn that more attacks should be expected, although he sought to shift responsibility for the killings from the ESN.
Making sure to drench the threat in the line of the IPOB’s popular propaganda, he invoked a familiar trope: “The Fulanis are here killing. We don’t want you killed. Do not drive any political party branded vehicles, do not have your shop or office in a house with political party colours. Do not go to any political party meeting or rally. You will get killed if you don’t obey these instructions which are based on our intel. We already have a consensus on this. We don’t want elections in Biafra land.”
He detailed the new creed to include: “Those bringing Nigerian security personnel to Biafra, public and private buildings flying Nigeria flags, houses and landlords whose houses are bearing political party colours, individuals transacting business in houses with political party colours, individuals attending political party meetings and rallies.”
The creed was updated in a voice note by an ESN member days later to include video recording of attacks and killings by unknown gunmen. They had killed a female student of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Nnewi, who reportedly was filming an attack by the gunmen. The “unknown gunmen” is a euphemism in Southern Nigeria for non-state actors.
The assassination of the Anglican Rev. Merenu in Ihitte-Ukwa mid-September fitted into the ESN death sentence for ranking members of society who go out or invite security officers to guard their facility. On Sept. 29, Dr Chike Akunyili, a medical professional and husband to former Minister of Information, Culture and National Orientation, late Prof. Dora Akunyili, was killed together with his security orderly and driver close to Onitsha, Anambra State.
ESN issuing a creed and Fulanis enforcing it?
In one week within the last days of Sept. 2021, no less than 10 people were killed in Anambra State. Two eyewitnesses who spoke with HumAngle in respect to Dr. Akunyili’s murder said what attracted the killers to the vehicle was the coming out of the security orderly to clear the traffic for their movement.
Two days before the murder of Akunyili and his aides, the gunmen had attacked a political party office in Ogidi, Idemili LGA, killing a middle-aged man they found in the vicinity. IPOB’s spokesman Powerful, however, denied that his group had any hand in the rising cases of murders in the Southeast.
If one scratches the surface of the claims by both IPOB and ESN on the escalation of violence in Southeast Nigeria, the illogicality that ESN gives an order but it just had to be the Fulanis who must come to enforce such orders with extreme violence is laid bare.
There are also rising cases of individuals being threatened on account of their views. Dr. Joe Igbokwe, a political office holder who has publicly criticised IPOB and Kanu, had his country home in Nnewi torched days ago. The same inferno razed the country home of Dr. Chu Okongwu, who’s over 80 years and one of the foremost Nigerian economists.
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, ex-boss of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently alerted that he is being threatened daily by IPOB agents for his public views of the activities of the group.
Anarchy in view
The lines that separate the enemy from the rest is unclear to members of the public. The violent activities of non-state actors are eclipsing communities and cities in the Southeast. State actors have already been deployed in what is looking like the early stages of a full-blown insurgency.
Unlike the insurgency in Northeast Nigeria where jihadist doctrines have driven the 12 year-long insurgency, the burgeoning anarchy in the Southeast bears no religious imprints. Nevertheless, its intolerance of any contrary views and use of extreme force on victims bear similar result with the jihadist insurgents.
Troops have been deployed for an operation code-named Golden Dawn. On the eve of the deployment of the troops to cities across the Southeast, governors from the five states in the zone were hosted in Enugu for an emergency security summit.
The summit mainly considered and condemned the killings in the region, opting to join forces with security agencies to arrest the situation, condemned the “sit-at-home” orders and resolved to stop further observance, and also agreed to launch its regional security outfit, Ebubeagu before the end of 2021.
Between the devil and the sea
In cities and communities, residents in the Southeast are already seeing themselves trapped between the devil and the deep sea. The non-state actors are routinely killing them and hurting their businesses. The military troops deployed are treating them as dangerous enemies.
Igbonekwu Ogazimora, a former state government official in Enugu, reported a near death experience he had in the city in the hands of trigger-happy soldiers while driving home. He was assaulted and repeatedly labelled “banza,” a derogatory word for the “unbeliever.” To worsen the situation, the non-state actors are already taking the war to the soldiers with some attacks reported against military vans and checkpoints.
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