The Imo State Police Command has reported the apprehension of more than 150 individuals associated with the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a group linked to the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), between January and August 2023.
Various individuals hailing from Imo and Anambra states, as well as South-Eastern Nigerians who have migrated to the South-Western region, have come forward to describe how the insurgent activities attributed to the so-called “unknown gunmen” or ESN have spurred a significant migration from the Eastern part of Nigeria.
While attempts to reach the spokesperson for the Anambra Police Command for comments were unsuccessful, the Police Public Relations Officer for the Imo State Command, Henry Okoye, conveyed in a telephone interview with our correspondent that the implementation of stop-and-search directives by the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Barde, has resulted in a decrease in IPOB/ESN-related incidents.
Okoye stated, “Addressing this challenge has occupied our efforts for over three years. Nevertheless, under the leadership of Commissioner of Police Mohammed Barde, the Imo State Police Command is committed to enhancing state security. Our patrols have been reinforced, leading to improved security.”
“The CP has instructed Area Commanders and tactical commanders to deploy personnel for feasible policing and to conduct stop-and-search operations at strategic locations within the state. This strategy has contributed to the reduction in activities involving IPOB and ESN affiliates.”
“We’ve also established collaboration between our officers at the Special Investigations Department and the Department of State Services (DSS), which has facilitated the gathering of credible information. This, in turn, has enabled us to raid and dismantle several IPOB/ESN camps. Consequently, between January of this year and the present, we have apprehended over 150 individuals associated with IPOB and ESN, as well as those engaged in armed robbery and kidnapping within Imo State.”
“Imo State is now considerably safer. We have secured Owerri and Orlu, with our primary challenges residing along the boundaries of Oguta LGA and Okigwe, where neighboring states are situated. Some of these culprits used to cross into our state, commit violence, and leave. Nonetheless, Governor Hope Uzodinma’s support has empowered us, and we are actively fortifying the state’s entry and exit points to eliminate these elements.”
Meanwhile, residents interviewed by our correspondent have conveyed the adverse effects of the IPOB-triggered insurgency, which has led to reduced market activity and a surge in various criminal activities, including robbery, rape, assassination, and banditry.
One individual, who preferred to be identified as Johnson, shared, “The South-East, particularly Imo State, has become unsafe due to IPOB’s activities. Even a king’s palace in Mbaise was attacked recently, resulting in a fatality. If royalty isn’t immune, what about ordinary citizens? I’ve resided in Imo State for over 20 years, but due to these circumstances, I recently relocated to Akure, Ondo State.”
Ijeoma, a young woman residing in Owerri, Imo State, expressed, “Our lives in Owerri have been greatly disrupted by their violence. Our markets are now deserted, with shops often vacant. They strike without warning, often on Mondays, subjecting people to assaults and even death. Many individuals are fleeing Owerri for Lagos due to this instability, which has contributed to a rise in robbery and rape incidents. Recently, the well-known store SLOT was robbed, and a couple was held up and robbed of a substantial sum.”
A man identified as Chinedu from Ihiala LGA, Anambra, said, “The presence of IPOB has created a constant sense of unease in our region. Going to the market or the rivers has become fraught with anxiety. We hope the government will intervene.”
Chukwudi, another resident of Anambra, stated, “A significant number of my friends and relatives have relocated from Anambra to Lagos and Ibadan due to insecurity. Market activity has dwindled as fear of potential attacks by unknown gunmen has discouraged people from venturing out. It’s become a recurring issue.”
It’s evident that the activities of the IPOB-associated gunmen have instilled fear and disruption within affected communities, leading to significant consequences for social and economic activities.