The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its Eastern Security Network (ESN) are understandably the most talked-about groups in the country today, owing to controversies surrounding its true status as a peaceful unarmed group and the terrorist organisation the Nigerian Government dubbed it when it applied to a Federal High Court in Abuja for it to be proscribed.
A once little known IPOB, led by the controversial Nnamdi Kanu, who is based in the United Kingdom, became the sing-song on the month of Nigerians, in the run-up to the 2015 general elections, with scathing commentaries by its leader, reeling out reasons the then President Muhammadu Buhari must not be elected, and even after when Kanu, in his several outbursts, nicknamed Nigeria a Zoo!
During this period, Kanu and IPOB members cut an ordinary picture of just Igbo nationalists fighting for a Biafra nation, and upping the agitation for a sovereign state of Biafra, in the mould of what members of the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Chief Ralph Uwazuruike have been doing for years. For the Nigerian government under President Buhari, Kanu and IPOB members were just another set of irritants causing distractions.
However, the narratives changed when Kanu was arrested immediately he arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and was slammed into detention, followed up by his now-stalled prosecution on charges bordering on treasonable felony. That singular act changed the complexion of IPOB and its activities, as its members constantly clashed with law enforcement agencies, with claims of massacres by the group on several occasions.
Things have, however, taken a turn for the worse since the worsening insecurity in the country, especially alleged brutality by the Fulani herdsmen in parts of the country, especially the South, prompting the setting up of the ESN, supposedly to defend ‘Biafraland’ against the murderous activities of the herdsmen, who IPOB sees as being on an expansionist agenda to annex Igboland and others in the South.
The complexion of the faceoff between IPOB and the Nigerian government further changed after the military moved against operatives of the ESN in the Orlu area of Imo State, dislodging them from their camps deep in the forest, as what looked like a well-coordinated and systemic decimation of security agencies, especially the police in the South-East, begun in earnest.
Since the military bombardment of ESN camps, hardly any day passes without reports of an attack, many of them deadly, on police facilities in the South-East and the South-South.
The attacks were initially believed to be the handiwork of IPOB/ESN but the group put up a highly spirited defence, claiming that it was indeed a peaceful self-determination group and not violent, neither are they terrorists.
The spokesman for the group Emma Powerful has no doubt become one of the busiest image-makers in the country, beating even Garba Shehu, the untiring Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari. Powerful has the unenviable job of changing the narration and convincing Nigerians that IPOB is indeed not a terrorist group.
Powerful’s inability to get the job done successfully is largely due to recent events and revelations that tend to present his group otherwise.
Aside from Mr Powerfull’s efforts, other Igbo leaders, including Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State and the President General of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Professor George Obiozor, have at different times tried to exonerate IPOB from having hand in the alarmingly growing attacks.
For Umahi, IPOB cannot be involved in the attacks as he sees it as alien to their objectives, which is protection and advancing Igbo interests, while Professor Obiozor reasoned that the attacks were being orchestrated by enemies of the South-East, who have invaded the region in other to deny it of the 2023 presidency.
Also, it would be recalled that Governor Hope Uzodinma, who IPOB have so much axe to grind with, after initially blaming the group for the daring attacks in the state at the police headquarters and Correctional Centre both in Owerri, quickly recanted, instead of blaming politicians for the attacks.
These efforts, at exonerating IPOB, notwithstanding, the narratives seem large to be against it, as every media reports concerning attacks in the South-East now comes with ‘gunmen suspected to be IPOB members’, from simply gunmen.
What has changed? Why are Nigerians now cocksure that IPOB/ESN are likely responsible for the attacks in the South-East and parts of the South-South states like Rivers and Akwa Ibom states? At what point did a supposed self-determination group become a terrorist organisation?
Several broadcasts, comments and tweets from Kanu no doubt suggests that he has been one of the principal persons making efforts to present his group in a better light, a difficult one. In his vociferous outbursts, the IPOB leader more or less presents the group as violent and terror inclined, threatening elected political office holders, security agencies and even intending recruits into the South-East joint security outfit, Ebubeagu.
“If you’re the commander of troops in the Nigerian army or police, hear this: That you’re wearing a uniform and adorning a rank does not make you invincible. If any #Biafran is killed on your orders, you will be hunted and punished, sooner than later. We’re taking stock and bidding our time”, Kanu tweeted in one of his many outbursts on his Twitter handle @MaziNnamdiKanu.
He also tweeted “if you are Efik, Ijaw, etc; and after reading this article with all these open facts you are still shouting One Nigeria or still screaming APC or PDP under the present 1999 Military Decree then you need to be shot at the sight because you are a danger to humanity and your race.”
As expected, Nigerians are still divided on what IPOB really stands for, a freedom fighting group for a Biafra nation or a terror group! Some, who are sympathetic to its course, in chats with Our Source, believe that Kanu and his group are only been demonized while others feel differently, insisting that though it started as a self-determination group, recent activities linked to the group, put it in the same mould with Boko Haram, as they are also spreading fear and terror in the land.
Chidiebere John, a Lagos based spare parts dealer believes that IPOB has not done anything wrong to be called a terror group, instead, they should be praised for defending and protecting Igbos against the atrocities of killer herdsmen.
“People are only calling IPOB names because of their own selfish interests. How can a group that is fighting for the emancipation of its people be the same that will be terrorising them? It does not make any sense to me. IPOB is about freedom for the Igbos while ESN is for the security and safety of the Igbo man in Igboland, which is what we all need at the moment because the government has failed to protect our people.
“Nigerians should be more broad-minded in viewing IPOB and ESN because what is happening is part of a written script to decimate IPOB. The best way to achieve the government aims to demonize the group and make people see the members as terrorists but we know that is not true”, John said.
A chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Joe Igbokwe, however, thinks differently, as he expressly referred to IPOB as a terror group in a recent interview.
He said: “I must commend the entire Eastern Governors for rising to condemn the unnecessary attack launched against Hausa Fulani headers by the notorious proscribed terrorist group IPOB.
“Nnamdi Kanu has bitten more than he can chew and must not be allowed to continue insulting and abusing the fundamental human right of Nigerians to live anywhere across the country.
“With the creation of EBUBE AGU Security outfit, it means change has come and I wonder if Kanu will ever step his foot here in Nigeria again because these security guards will not take it lightly with him and his terrorist group ESN.”
For Maxwell Agu, a Lagos based lawyer, it will be hard for anyone to convince him that IPOB has not or is not tendering towards terrorism or terror-related activities with the recent attacks on police formations in the South-East and South-South geopolitical zones.
“Those sympathetic to the course IPOB is fighting will find it difficult to exonerate IPOB from all that is happening in the South-East and the South-South. It will certainly be a tough task because if not IPOB, who else is doing it? Who else is embittered in the zones against government and security agencies? Who else organised to carry out these coordinated attacks? Who else has the numbers to have the kind of spread they have in attacking security agents and their facilities? Your guess is as good as mine.
“For me, I think IPOB actually derailed and lost sight of its original vision in a bid for vengeance, which has always threatened. He allowed his quest to avenge whatever attack they claim against members of his group to derail him for his earlier set objectives. This has made it difficult for many reasonable people who actually believe Igbos are being marginalised in Nigeria from supporting their agitations. It is no longer agitations but pure criminality and crimes against humanity.
“No reasonably intelligent person who has followed his threats overtime against personalities and security agents will believe his group does not have a hand in what is going on at the moment in Igboland. It just does not make sense”, Agu said.