Insecurity in S/East Nigeria: Why Igbo want to secede 51yrs after the Biafran war

Insecurity in S/East Nigeria: Why Igbo want to secede 51yrs after the Biafran war
Charles Nwoke, Abakaliki, Nigeria.
April 17, 2021

Image courtesy of local sources, fair use. 

Recently, especially since the beginning of the year, 2021, the South-Eastern part of Nigeria, which is made up of five states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo states have witnessed series of security challenges and disarray as a result of clashes between a secession group and the government.

These countless crises and disaffection among the duo have left the region in serious chaos, with the secession group holding the government on the jugular through its various strategic plans aimed at frustrating government activities in the zone.

The group who have used several peaceful means such as peaceful protests, diplomacy, dialogue, and the media to express their feelings and grievances, to get the government to listen to their plights and meet their demands were rather treated with utmost disdain and hatefulness by the governments, both at the center and in the region.

Reasons behind IPOB/ESN pogrom in the zone and why security agencies are targeted.

The rejuvenated secession struggle returned after so many decades the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu led the Igbo Nation to pursue secession from Nigeria. The secession failed after what should be regarded as a humanitarian disaster and millions of lives lost in a 30month long fratricidal war (1967-1970).

The Nigerian government, however, never did anything to ensure the better welfare, accommodation, and healing of these group of people after the calamitous carnage which so many parts of the world condemned. Instead, they were denied so many opportunities ranging from the unequal distribution of resources, unequal appointments into government positions, unequal allocation of facilities and infrastructures, the worst being denying them the presidential position in the country where they are said to belong, injustices in all spheres of life endeavor and above all, the massive extrajudicial killings of Igbos by the government for no just course.

However, with undying and ever-memorable Biafran sentiments among many Igbo, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu formed a group that he called Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB in 2012. The group gained significant prominence after the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015.

Just within two years after his inauguration, President Buhari while speaking at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC, ingloriously said, the part of the country that “gave me 97% (percent) vote cannot be treated, in all honesty, the same way with the constituencies that gave me only five percent.” By this statement, the president was referring to the outcome of the 2015 presidential election in which the South-East and the South-South massively supported his opponent and Goodluck Jonathan, the then incumbent.

Observers believed that such divisive statements made in the faraway United States and perceived nepotistic filling of political and security command offices may have provided Mazi Nnamdi Kanu with some points to inflame intense separatists’ passions and enthusiasm.

According to observers, other factors, such as the Buhari administration’s perceived bias in handling the disagreements and differences associated with herdsmen and farmers – mostly of the same Fulani ethnic group like Buhari himself – dragging for space with farmers, and deepening socio-economic hardship and difficulties may have equally contributed in Mazi Kanu, generally known for his fearless and fierce commentaries, statements and conspiracy theories.

The British-Nigerian, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, escaped from Nigeria after he was released on bail, in September 2017 in a serious face-off between the secession group and Nigerian Army in his home, Afara-Ukwu, Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State. It was then that IPOB was proscribed and pronounced a terrorist organization by the South-East Governor’s Forum, and subsequently affirmed by the Federal Government of Nigeria and later, the Appeal Court.

His trial for a treasonable felony is still open in court, but it seems the secession leader and his group is becoming more radicalized and their popularity skyrocketing among a significant number of Igbo youths.

A political analyst and social commentator Sampson Oko argued that the agitation for separation is not farfetched from frustration being faced by many youths because of unemployment and bad governance in the country.

He said, “The major issue with the ESN, from my point of view, is a combination of frustration at governance and high unemployment, which has created a fertile ground for a demagogue to take root.”

He also blamed the federal government for unequal treatment of citizens and what seemed to be planned silencing of voices in the South-Eastern part of the country.

“Unfortunately, the high-handedness of the federal response coupled with its one-sidedness in dealing with the various issues facing the country has effectively silenced voices in the South-east that would hitherto have provided a counterweight to the narrative pushed by IPOB, thus giving them more latitude than they’d have had a decade ago.”

Imo State residents, expressed deep concerns with the activities of the Eastern Security Network, ESN, affirming they were involved in violence and criminal activities, some revealed that they were self-conflicted, accusing the government of political marginalization and failure to check herders’ onslaughts in the country, especially the region.

“We perceive their violent activities,” said an Orlu resident, who pleaded anonymity to avert being attacked or hunted by IPOB loyalists, referring to IPOB-ESN and highlighting their “strikes” targeting police and civilians. “But our people are crying over the menace of the Fulani herdsmen and the South-east has been politically marginalized.”

Still reacting to the development, Oko said, “The data available to SBM shows that the South-east is still the least violent of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, but the army’s reaction in the region has always been overbearing, essentially feeding a vicious cycle. The region is ill-equipped for a battle of attrition, and if this situation deteriorates even further, Ndị Igbo will be the loser.”

“As has happened with Amotekun in the South-west and the various Hisbah forces in the North, the ESN in the little time they have been around has shown that they are badly trained and have no idea of what due process and rule of law mean.

“The difference between them on one hand, and Amotekun/Hisbah on the other, is that they are non-state actors, so no one can put pressure on any state government officials if there’s a need to check them. It is only the FG that can act, and the current FG’s kind of reaction is always going to risk escalating the situation.”