NIGERIAN security officials have shot dead a leading commandant of the vigilante group the Eastern Security Network (ESN) known as Ikonso Commander in Awomama Village in Oru East Local Government Area of Imo State.
Created as the military wing of secessionist group the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), the ESN has taken on the responsibility of confronting armed Fulani herdsmen across the southeast geo-political zone. Of late, however, it has been accused of acts of bringandry, including raiding police stations and carting away weapons.
In its first major confrontation with the herdsmen in February, ESN operatives chased the pastoralists away from Isiukwuato, killing dozens of their cattle. However, in response to the ESN actions, Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State invited the Nigerian Army to confront them, leading to a raid of ESN camps inside the forests near Udah village in Orsu Local Government Area.
Since then, Ipob and the South East Governors Forum have been at loggerheads with the governors insisting it is a criminal organisation. Earlier this month, the governors created their own security outfit named Ebubeagu but Ipob has refused to recognise the body, describing it as a pawn of the federal government.
Yesterday, matters came to a head as a combined team make up of personnel of the Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Army and the Department of State Services (DSS) stormed ESN’s operational headquarters in Awomama village. They carried out the raid in response to an ESN attack on a local police headquarters and a Nigerian Correctional Service facility on April 5.
Ipob and ESN have also been indicted in several isolated attacks on security personnel at different locations across the southeast geo-political zone. Eyewitnesses said that during yesterday’s raid, ESN fighters opened fire as security forces approached their hideout, leading to a gun battle.
One intelligence source said: “In a clinical response, the joint security forces fought back gallantly. The forces eventually neutralised the overall commander of the insurgents in the southeast popularly known as Ikonso Commander and six other armed fighters.
“Ikonso is the vice president designate as well as the coordinator of all the militia operations of the group. He was the mastermind of the attack on the Imo Police headquarters and several other attacks on security and military personnel and facilities.
“The operation is part of deliberate effort by the police and other security forces to quell the activities of insurgents in Imo State and other states of the southeast and south-south region of the country.”
After battle, the remains of Commander Ikonso and others killed were recovered alongside six AK47 rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and bulletproof charms. Three policemen and one army officer are receiving treatment for injuries sustained during the fight.