Armed ViolenceNews

Spike In Attacks Targeting Security Forces In Southeast Nigeria

Nigerian security officials have become targets of frequent attacks by armed militants linked to a separatist movement in Southeast Nigeria.

Southeast Nigeria is witnessing a spike in attacks on security officials in the region. The attacks are also spreading to some parts of the neighbouring South-south region. 

The Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed division of the proscribed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), has been linked with the recent spike in security incidents and confrontation with security forces.  

In December, IPOB announced the launch of the militant-style unit which the group said was formed to address security challenges in the Southeast and South-south regions.

Multiple videos have been released online showing ESN members conducting combat drills with military-grade rifles. But there is no smoke without fire.

Recent ESN attacks in the Southeast

On March 19, Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) report stated that two police officers and two prison warders were killed in the Aguata area of Anambra. 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 policemen were ambushed and killed at Abiriba in Ohafia local government area of Abia state. Two rifles belonging to the deceased officers were taken away by the assailants.

The Imo State police command on Saturday, March 20 disclosed that it had launched an investigation into an attack on Isiala Mbano Divisional police facility in the state. 

In February, HumAngle reported the attack and destruction of the police station in Abayi, Aba, the commercial centre of Abia State. 

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in February dispatched at least one helicopter gunship to support a pre-emptive assault on ESN enclave, HumAngle gathered from intelligence sources that the ongoing operation in Orlu and Orsu border area of Imo and Anambra states was initiated to counter an imminent threat and escalation.

On Feb. 24, the police headquarters spokesperson, Frank Mba, briefed the public on the daring raid on a police station in Abia State that led to the death of two officers.  The Police operational vehicles and weapons were stolen in the incident as about 200 assailants armed with AK pattern rifles, machetes, petrol bombs and other explosives swamped the Abayi police station in Abia.

In another incident on Feb. 24, members of a police patrol team in Calabar, Cross River State in the South-South were killed and their weapons carted away. Two more police stations were raided in the Southeastern state of Anambra on the same day. Four policemen were killed and police vehicles were burnt. 

A Police inspector was killed on Feb. 1 when a police outpost in the Umuoba area of Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area in Abia State was invaded. The facility was burnt alongside operational vehicles, arms and ammunition were also carried away. 

The trend continued when the Aboh Mbaise Divisional Police in Imo State was hit a day after on Thursday, Feb. 25, the police spokesperson, Ikeokwu Orlando, said the incident occurred at about 7 p.m.  Premium Times who reported the attack said that two police officers were killed in two separate incidents in Anambra State on Wednesday, Feb. 24 when some gunmen attacked a police patrol team at a checkpoint.

In the early hours of  Tuesday, Feb. 23, two police officers reportedly lost their lives when gunmen in the early hours of the day attacked a police station in Aba, Abia State.  According to the paper, the gunmen carted away arms and ammunition from the station, However, two of the attackers were gunned down by police officers trying to repel the attack.

On Monday, March 1, gunmen attacked police stations in Ebonyi State in the South-east and Akwa Ibom State in the South-south. 

The paper reported that three police officers were killed in a previous attack in January, on a police station in the Ezza area of the state and in February, another station in the Onitsha area was attacked and set ablaze alongside four patrol vehicles.

On Jan. 25, armed ESN militants in four vehicles stormed a market in Orlu, the second-largest city in Imo State after the capital Owerri. The masked attackers proceeded to shoot indiscriminately and set fire to the market with members from the northern part of the country and neighbouring Niger republic.

The attackers were reported to have killed four soldiers in a military vehicle on their way back to the group’s enclave before the attack on the market, they had tried to attack a local police station but were repelled.

Premium Times disclosed that on January 5, Mobile Police personnel on hot pursuit of suspected ESN operatives after they seized a car were killed and their rifles were stolen. 

On Dec.  24, 2020, two police officers at a checkpoint were killed and their rifles were stolen by suspected ESN fighters chasing after a man, driving a Lexus car. The man was also killed by the suspected ESN operatives.  A few days later, on Dec. 27, 2020, two police officers were shot dead and their rifles were stolen at a checkpoint, the assailants were also accused of killing a civilian and stealing his car.

In January, HumAngle noted the gradual build of tension and violent confrontation between separatists and security forces and IPOB exploitation of deepening social grievances, perceived marginalisation and deterioration of economic opportunities in the Southeast.

From indications, the growing crisis requires intelligence-based security interventions and efforts to address the underlying stressors sustaining the agitation.

Nigeria escalating the problem

The Nigerian military’s approach to the IPOB group has been that of kinetic warfare, even at times when negotiations would have been a favourable option. 

Nigerian military have at different times attacked unarmed IPOB agitators in the Southeast region. Additionally, innocent citizens in different parts of the Southeast region have been victims of the kinetic warfare against the group. 

An intelligence driven approach is becoming increasingly difficult because the innocent civilians who are caught in the middle of the violence no longer know who to trust. They are victims of both the ESN group and the Nigerian military. 

While the intention of ESN is highly speculative of an insurgency, the Nigerian government needs to focus on peaceful de-escalation mechanisms.

Additional reporting by Muhammed Akinyemi.

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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 tweets via @murtalaibin

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