Militants of the outlawed Nigerian separatist group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) perpetrated a deadly armed attack on both Nigerian soldiers and civilians on Easter Sunday in southern Nigeria’s Imo state, Nigeria’s Premium Times online newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Armed members of the IPOB attacked the Ihioma community in Imo state’s Orlu Local Government Area on April 17, killing an unspecified number of Nigerian civilians and troops.
“The gunmen … were said to be on a manhunt for members of Ebubeagu Security Network, who reportedly arrived in the area last Saturday [April 16],” according to the Premium Times.
A coalition of state governors across Nigeria’s southeastern region established the Ebubeagu Security Network in late 2021 to support local law enforcement “and other security agencies in checking the rising crime rates in the region,” according to Nigeria’s Sahara Reporters news website. The IPOB in December 2021 vowed to resist the Ebubeagu Security Network’s presence in regions it claims as its own separatist territory.
“The [IPOB] gunmen, it was learnt, were infuriated by the presence of the members of the security outfit in the area,” the Premium Times revealed on April 19 while reporting on the separatist militant group’s latest attack in Imo state.
“[M]embers of the community remained indoors on Monday [April 18], 24 hours after the attack, out of fear of being attacked by the [IPOB] gunmen,” a resident of the affected Ihioma community named Kosiso Agu told the Premium Times.
“They killed so many people. It started while we were in the church, but we had to run back home,” Agu added.
Members of the IPOB initiated an armed attack on the village of Ihioma on April 17, the Nigerian Army confirmed in a statement issued on April 18. Nigerian Army spokesman Onyema Nwachukwu said members of the army’s 34 Artillery Brigade killed at least one IPOB militant during the violent altercation.
Nwachukwu revealed Nigeria Army troops were conducting a routine patrol on Sunday “when they encountered the IPOB members firing gunshots at the Banana Junction of the area and challenging the soldiers.”
“The IPOB/ESN criminals, on sighting the troops, withdrew in a blue Toyota Highlander towards Ihioma Community for reinforcement,” the military representative said.
“In the firefight that ensued during the operation, one of the criminals was taken out, while others fled in disarray,” he added.
The Nigerian federal government officially designated the IPOB as a terrorist organization in 2017. The group demands independence for a region of southeastern Nigeria it labels Biafra, often through violent means. A civil war between Biafra secessionists and the Nigerian federal government took place from 1967 to 1970 and resulted in the deaths of one million people.
The IPOB’s attack on Imo state’s Ihioma community on April 17 occurred on Easter, the holiest day in Christianity. An estimated 98 percent of Imo state’s population is Igbo, which is a majority Christian Nigerian ethnic tribe. The Igbo group is one of the main ethnic identities represented by the IPOB. Some members of the IPOB identify as Jewish, including the group’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
IPOB chief Kanu claimed he was in Israel in October 2018 during a time period in which he was considered a fugitive by Nigerian government authorities for failing to appear at a court hearing in Nigeria to face treason charges.
“He [Kanu] maintains the Igbo people, who are in the majority in southeast Nigeria, are a lost tribe of Israel and it is his mission to lead them to the promised land of Biafra,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) noted in October 2018 while reporting on Kanu’s allegation at the time that he was “in Israel.”
Nigerian authorities arrested Kanu in Kenya in June 2021 and subsequently repatriated him to Nigeria.
The high court of Abuja on April 8 “validated the [Nigerian] government’s repatriation of Kanu from Kenya to face the charges pending against him in Nigeria,” Africanews reported on April 9.
“The 54-year-old has been held in solitary confinement, in the custody of the Nigerian secret police since then,” according to the news outlet, which added, “A new hearing is scheduled for 18 May.”