ESN: Biafran Army Or Vigilante Group?

279 views | Ozodinukwe Okenwa | February 8, 2021

Days before the dawn of Yuletide last year the fugitive leader of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) Mazi Nnamdi Kanu had launched the Eastern Security Network (ESN) to protect the people of south-east and south-south regions from terrorists, bandits and armed Fulani herdsmen allegedly trooping in from the north and even elsewhere outside our borders. The formation of the security outfit was announced by a video online showing thousands of young men and women decked in paramilitary uniform inside a jungle. 

Kanu called it a vigilante group out to protect Biafrans from marauding Fulani herdsmen attacks and kidnappings and banditry but the federal goverment viewed it differently describing ESN as a “Biafran Army” formed by the leader of a ‘terrorist’ separatist organization.

Days after the formation of the ESN the panicked federal security forces reportedly began combing the entire south-east forests by air to be able to locate where the Kanu ‘army’ were lodged with an ‘order from above’ for them to be dislodged or neutralized. 

Reports online had it that the Nigerian Army under the recently-retired Gen. Tukur Buratai (now Ambassador-designate!) had deployed combat helicopters, gun trucks and soldiers to search some forests in the south-east states. The frantic search was fruitless as on one was arrested nor any camp inside the jungle located.

Last December Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), had advised President Muhammadu Buhari and the Inspector-General of Police, Muhammed Adamu, to allow ordinary Nigerians to bear firearms to protect themselves. He had reportedly argued that the unprovoked attacks especially on villages by bandits would drastically reduce in the country if the communities were allowed to arm themselves with weapons to defend themselves. He spoke the minds of millions of oppressed Nigerians.

When ‘Amotekun’, the south-western regional security organization was launched last year it sparked national controversy. Like ‘Amotekun’ ESN had generated some controversy even in Igboland due to Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafran nationhood agitation. And his ferocious battle against the country he labelled a “zoo”.

Unlike ‘Amotekun’, however, ESN was not backed with any state legislative instrument thereby giving it a legal backing. Kanu must have seen the dire need to save a people terrorised or subjugated and he exploited the vaccum left by the foot-dragging attitude of the Governors of the region.

Now that the Governors have seen the extent to which Kanu is prepared to go in defense of the people noises are being made from Abakaliki to Owerri over the imminent emergence of Amotekun-like force for the south-east geopolitical zone. According to Gov. Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State they are in the decisive conclusive process of forming a regional security outfit.

Few weeks ago a war-like situation prevailed in Orlu town, Imo state, where the army and the ESN forces clashed violently. The soldiers drawn from the 34 Artillery Brigade in Obinze engaged the armed youths leading to loss of lives and destruction of properties. What led to the exchange of fire was not made public but it could be said to be the federal force’s continuing provocative acts that must have instigated the bloody conflict.

If the federal government had doubted the capacity of Kanu and his boys to bark and bite and fight then such doubts must have evaporated with the violent encounter. At a point it was alleged that the soldiers had to beat a hasty retreat having faced a resistance they never imagined or envisaged.

The uproar that greeted the unabated cases of killings, kidnappings, raping and plundering of farmlands by some marauders, nay Fulani herdsmen, led to the issuance of eviction orders and formation of vigilante groups to nip the development in many communities in the south-west and south-east in the bud. Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu seem to be operating on the same page on this.

In a nation where insecurity is as ‘good’ as hell, where the lives and properties of nationals are not guaranteed by the misruling class then the Igbohos and Kanus could be thrown up by circumstances permitting them to boast of love for their people. They may be seen as outlaws by the ruling elite but many of their people see them differently preferring them to the corrupt uncaring elite making their lives miserable.

Igboho and Kanu may be seen as liberators or heroes yet what makes their case essential to society is their public appeal. It takes guts to take on the currupt establishment, be it at the federal or state level, a decadent establishment enabling injustice, state terrorism and commission of atrocities. Under such circumstances those courageous enough like Sunday Igboho, Nnamdi Kanu and Comrade Omoyele Sowore to stand up to be counted could well book a date with immortality.

In the yawning absence of state policing mechanism, something desirable and long advocated for, the generalized insecurity in the land could constitute an opportunity for the vigilante groups to locally organize themselves and bring security to bear in the hinterlands.

Is the ESN a vigilante group (as Kanu claimed) or a Biafran army as claimed by the Buhari regime? We believe the Eastern Security Network is a ‘child’ of necessity that resembles more of a vigilante organization than a Biafran army. Whenever the South-east Governors are done with their plan establishing the oriental force equivalent to ‘Amotekun’ then the Kanu-led ESN must be made to exist side-by-side with the government-sanctioned vigilante group.

The ESN, no matter what the government or anyone says, remains a timely strategic intervention towards securing lives and properties. Any attempt by the Igbo-speaking Governors or politicians of fortune to dismiss the ESN or seek to instigate a conflict among the forces would be counter-productive. It could boomerang leading to chaos or anarchy.

Nnamdi Kanu may not be a saviour (much like Igboho in Yorubaland) but his love for his ‘people’ and engagement for a better equitable society must not be taken for granted. Kanu is urbane, sophisticated and smart, so he must be treated with the respect he deserves.

SOC Okenwa


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