Perhaps, the Eastern Security Network (ESN) which was set up by the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a measure to secure the South East from kidnappers, armed herdsmen, robbers and other criminal elements, has come to stay with the people since its operatives have reportedly continued their training and operation, though secretly, despite the crackdown by the federal government’s security forces, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
Despite attempts by the government to clamp down on their activities, members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) are said to have intensified their training in their base along the Orlu axis.
The training was intensified after the recent skirmishes between soldiers and the ESN operatives. Daily Trust correspondent gathered that most of these training sessions take place in the night, away from the searchlight of security agents. Though their operations are clandestine, they appear to be operating between the boundaries of Orlu and Lilu in Anambra State.
They are also said to be operating along areas of Orlu main town, Umutanze, in Orlu, Orsu Ihitte Ukwa, and Okporo Orlu. Those operating at Ubomiri in Mbaitoli are said to be controlling the Owerri – Orlu road, making it impossible for security agents to operate along that axis. Indeed the police appeared to have been helpless in this regard as they have abandoned most of the major roads in the Orlu axis for fear of attack by operatives of ESN.
It was also gathered that residents of the area act as informants to the operatives against any advancing security agents. One thing about the operatives is that it is not possible to point out a particular location where they operate from. A resident of Orlu, who simply gave his name as Chima, told our correspondent that anybody that talks about ESN is looked at suspiciously, reprimanding our correspondent to be careful about his enquiries. He said,
“When you ask anybody about ESN, you are looked at suspiciously because the people of the area have come to embrace ESN as their own police. So when you ask this kind of question, it is presumed that you are either a security agent or their informant. So I am advising you to be careful because ESN informants are everywhere or you may even know if the person you are talking to is a member of ESN.”
The Police Public Relations Officer, Orlando Ikeokwu, could not answer questions on this issue as he said it’s a security matter. But our correspondent gathered that because of constant attacks on personnel along the Orlu–Owerri road, policemen dread patrolling the road.A police source said that men of ESN target policemen for attack mainly to collect their guns.
However, it was gathered that apart from the ‘Operation Search and Flush,’ which the state government had set up, the government is tinkering with the idea of forming what it called ‘Homeland Security Network.Indeed our correspondent sighted some vehicles at the Government House, Owerri, already branded for the job. In Anambra State, the presence of the contentious ESN is not quite pronounced or noticeable, though its ‘quiet existence’ has seemingly continued to raise dust and generate concern among the populace.
However, for now, nobody or no security report has indicted the outfit concerning its training or operations anywhere in Anambra State. Findings by our correspondent show that the state is literally free from activities of the ESN and no notice of its operatives in the state. But some of the people in the state appear to have welcomed the idea of the security outfit to secure the zone from intruders and criminal elements of all kinds – whether from within or outside the zone.
A trader in Awka, Mike Okereke, said that ESN is a welcome development that Eastern governors must encourage and support. Commenting on the development, the spokesman for Anambra State Police Command,DSP Ikenga Tochukwu, said the command has not recorded any incident about the ESN. He said that the state does not know nor has it reported about the training of the outfit and at the same time does not have issues about their operation and activities in the state.
However, the story seems different in Ebonyi State which calls itself “Salt of The Nation” as the operation ESN has continued to gather momentum within the state and its environs. Although the ESN which Nnamdi Kanu said was set up chiefly to improve the delicate security situation in the zone where armed herdsmen and farmers’ clashes have done a lot of harm to the people, there seems to be more to it than meets the eye.
No one can certainly say. Nnamdi KanuIndeed, the operations of ESN in Ebonyi State are mostly common in rural areas, but the security network has, so far, remained peaceful in terms of its operations in the state. Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the group in their hundreds recently visited some communities in the state with the purpose to expel criminal herders in those areas.
But findings by the Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that the ESN, otherwise regarded as a vigilante organization, has continually made its operations secret including its recruitment, training and camps or stations. Efforts made to reach the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), DSP Loveth Odah, to comment on the said activities of ESN in the state were fruitless as she did not answer calls put to her telephone line. In Enugu State, not much is heard about the existence or otherwise of the controversial ESN. But in an attempt to get more information on the security outfit in the state, our reporter was asked to visit Emene.
At Emene, a native told him to go to ‘Malasia Forest’ in Uzo-Uwani, Ezeagu Forest, Nkerefi Forest in Nkanu where there is a boundary between Enugu and Ebonyi states. The native, who warned our correspondent to be “extra-careful” on how he goes about making enquiries about this group, so that he wouldn’t be seen as ‘suspected security agent’, also informed him that, “the ESN people are not trouble makers; but when you push them to the wall, you may not like what you will get.”
Another resident of Emene said, “If you are looking for the ESN members in the city, you will be wasting your time and energy. They stay in the forest. But if you enter the forest to search for them, I won’t go with you.” The activities of the group are covered in secrecy, according to the resident. An Enugu-based Human Rights Activist, Mr. Larry Emenike, blamed the government at all levels for the existence of the ESN, insisting that the indifferent attitude of government to issues that should matter actually contributed to the emergence of ESN.
“Nigerians should not shy away from the truth. These people (ESN) said they are in the forests and they exist. They even mentioned the forests where they are training. The government security agents know these forests. They should go there and look for them,” said Emenike, who quickly added: “The problem is that Nigerian leaders are not sincere. They play needless politics with everything. And that was why they were unable to nip in the bud Boko Haram before the insurgents turned to an uncontrollable monster.”
Emenike said the precarious security situation calls for a national dialogue where the leadership of IPOB and other pro-Biafra groups will meet with the Nigerian leaders who will demand to know what actually are their complaints or grievances. “But the government failed to do that when these boys were bearing the Biafran flags only; for over 16, 17, 18 years, the boys were carrying flags…. But nobody cared to listen to their complaints because the Nigeria government believes in the use of crude force, violence and raw power; therefore, the stiff-neck leadership in Nigeria led to the emergence of the group called ESN.Why…? Because if the government had done the needful, nobody would be talking about ESN.”
A lecturer in the Faculty of Law, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus (UNEC), who did not want her name published, said, “I suggest that the ESN should try to work with the state governors in the zone to avoid misunderstanding and misconception which may lead to violence.” According to her, “There is no point talking about the legality or otherwise of IPOB and its offshoot like ESN. The case of IPOB is still in court, we were informed. The IPOB has gone to court to challenge its proscription. Therefore, until the case is decided you may not be right to say IPOB is legal or illegal.“But it is important to state here that in terms of regional security – the North has its security; the southwest has its own, Amotekun. What’s wrong in the Southeast having its own security outfit?
The insecurity going on in Nigeria cuts across all the regions – North, West, and Eastern Nigeria. So to some extent, it’s not all about ESN; it’s about security of lives and property of innocent citizens.” A native of Amechi in Enugu South Local Government Area of Enugu State, who identified himself simply as Mr. Chika, said that it’s a waste of time and resources for the security agents to be going from house to house searching for ESN members.
“Jesus Christ after His resurrection asked His disciples why do you look for the living among the dead. So why do security forces look for ESN members in the houses, streets and roads instead of in the forests? Don’t be surprised to hear that the Southeast people are supporting the ESN as its operatives are providing the zone with the needed security,” Chika said. He added: “Can’t you see that there is calmness in the Southeast zone? The rate of herdsmen rapping women and kidnapping people and killing farmers has reduced in the zone since ESN came on board.” The spokesman of the Enugu Police Command, Daniel Ndukwe, could not be reached on his line. Even text messages sent to his line bounced back; an indication that his line was inaccessible. However, a police source who pleaded anonymity said that the Enugu police will not shy away from performing “our constitutional duty of maintaining law and order in our area of jurisdiction whether there is ESN or not.”
But in a statement by its media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, IPOB said ESN was created out of necessity after it claimed that an opportunity was given to the governors in the zone to form a regional security outfit which would protect the area from several security challenges. “Our leader even, for five months, was begging South-east and South-south governors to float a regional security to protect and defend our people against genocidal attacks by terrorists masquerading as Fulani herdsmen. “Our leader even wrote a letter to the governors which was made public but they turned deaf ears to all the pleas including the clamour by the people for a regional security outfit.
“Every honest person will attest to the fact that ESN was floated by IPOB in response to the yearnings of our people for self-defence against terrorists. It was a child of necessity as a result of the failure of the governors to rise to their responsibility of protecting lives and property of the people,” Emma Powerful said. (Text, excluding headline, courtesy Daily Trust)