Ongoing military operations aimed at countering the activities of the Biafran separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and their military wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), have had profound and troubling consequences on the lives and livelihoods of the residents of the southeastern states of Nigeria.
Over a three-year period, from 2021 to the present year, 2023, an in-depth investigation has unveiled a grim reality of the collateral damage wrought by the kinetic actions of the military. The repercussions are extensive and alarming, ranging from the displacement of entire communities, the destruction of property, and a burgeoning humanitarian crisis.
The military’s relentless search for IPOB/ESN members has forced many residents to seek refuge in open spaces, with their towns and villages left in ruins. These operations have created a dire humanitarian situation, characterized by a lack of shelter, sanitation, access to clean water, food shortages, and heightened health risks. Numerous individuals have lost loved ones, and countless are still missing.
Local businesses have not been spared from the military’s actions. Markets worth billions of naira have been reduced to ashes, destroying the livelihoods of countless entrepreneurs and vendors. This economic fallout has exacerbated poverty in the region.
The military campaign against Biafran independence agitators has garnered significant media attention, both locally and internationally. Human rights groups have condemned the humanitarian crisis resulting from the displacement of entire communities. Allegations of human rights abuses, including rape, beatings, torture, and harassment, are widespread. Disturbingly, there have been numerous cases of wrongful and extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians due to the military’s inability to distinguish between IPOB members and civilians. This blanket profiling has had devastating consequences, as innocent individuals have lost their lives.
One harrowing case is that of 47-year-old Solomon Monday Onuoha, a farmer from Ihe Town in Awgu Local Government Area, Enugu State. He has been missing since December 2022. According to his wife, their ordeal began in November 2021 when the military descended on their community in search of IPOB members. In the ensuing chaos, their home was destroyed, and they sought refuge in neighboring towns. However, their plight continued as the military’s operations expanded. In December 2022, Solomon was arrested, tortured, and taken to a state-owned hospital in Enugu, where he was left unattended. His wife has not seen him since, and their family’s stability has been shattered.
Similar incidents of civilian casualties have occurred during military raids on suspected IPOB/ESN camps. Innocent residents have lost their lives, and entire communities have been upended. Economic and social life in the Southeast has been brought to a standstill, with countless towns and villages enduring displacement and destruction of property.
With such profound and widespread consequences, experts and concerned individuals are calling for a reevaluation of the military’s approach in Southeast Nigeria. Suggestions include adopting a more nuanced strategy that combines dialogue and force, improving intelligence gathering to differentiate between separatist group members and civilians, and using minimal force, particularly when engaging with civilian residents, to mitigate collateral damage.
The unfolding situation in the Southeast has revealed the urgency of finding a more effective and compassionate approach to address the region’s challenges while distinguishing between legitimate security concerns and innocent civilians who have tragically become unintended casualties.