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Eastern Security Network (ESN)

Updated: Jan 25

Insurgency Overview

The Eastern Security Network (ESN) is the paramilitary branch of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB),a separatist organization that operates primarily in the south eastern provinces of Nigeria. The group is purported to be a defensive organization whose aim is to protect the ethnic Igbo people, who make up the Biafran identity, against violence from either state forces or other ethnic groups. The Eastern Security Network exists as a part of IPOB and the goal of both organizations is to restore an independent state of Biafra (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016).

History and Foundations

The group was established in December of 2020 by Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of ESN and IPOB, after escalating incidents of violence between the IPOB and Nigerian state forces. The Eastern Security Network and Indigenous Peoples of Biafra are groups composed primarily of ethnic Igbo people, who aim to restore their cultural homeland. At the time of their inception, Kanu claimed that the creation of the ESN was intended to protect Igbos from the Fulani — another prominent ethnic group in Nigeria (Campbell, 2021)

Half a year after the establishment of the ESN in June of 2021, security personnel informed Cable News that IPOB had recruited over 50,000 foot soldiers into the ESN. This operative also claimed that ESN had been stockpiling weapons, many of which had been stolen from police armories during previous protests. The individual stated that “they (ESN) have been bringing in arms through Cameroon in partnership with the Ambazonia Governing Council, a separatist movement in Southern Cameroon. IPOB sends at least 2,000 men and women to Cameroon for training on weapon handling every week” (Yusuff, 2021). This information however, was never confirmed by individuals from the ESN or IPOB.

Objectives and Ideology

The purported objective of the ESN is to act as a defensive force and protect the ethnic Igbo people from discrimination or violence from the Nigerian state or other ethnic groups in the regions. However, as the ESN is a part of IPOB, their broader objective is the same — to establish an independent Biafran State (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016).

While the ESN may be aimed at secession through military force, there are reasons that highlight the need for defensive forces to protect Igbo people — as claimed by Kanu and IPOB. There have been incidents, recorded by Amnesty International, of extrajudicial killings as well as the Nigerian military firing live ammunition with little to no warning in order to disperse crowds (Brody, 2020). Between August 2015 and 2016, before the established of the ESN, the investigations of Amnesty International showed the Nigerian military consistently firing live ammunition on crowds, as well as mass killings by security forces — including at least 60 protestors who were shot dead over two days while participating in events that mark Biafra Remembrance Day in May of 2016 (Amnesty, 2016). The IPOB gatherings and protests documented by Amnesty International that led to these killings were largely peaceful, leaving no doubt of the illegitimacy of the use of military force.

Military & Political Capabilities

The ESN and IPOB have been engaged in guerilla conflict with Nigerian state forces since 2021 — with Nigeria claiming that the group(s) are responsible for a number of attacks in recent years (Nwonwu, 2023). Police blamed ESN for an armed assault on the Imo State Police Headquarters and correctional facility in April of 2021 which led to the escape of more than 1,800 inmates. Muhammadu Buhari, the then president of Nigeria, denounced the attack as an “act of terrorism” and ordered security forces to apprehend the fleeing convicts (Owolabi, 2021). IPOB and ESN denied responsibility for this attack, and accused the Nigerian government of staging attacks in order to blame them. According to police reports from the incident, the attackers used a range of weaponry, including General-Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs), Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs), AK47 rifles, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) (Sahara Reporters, 2021)

Shortly after this incident, the media and publicity secretary for the organization, Emma Powerful, stated the group “produces their own arms locally.” This came as a response to state claims the IPOB was planning to attack local banks in order to acquire money and purchase weaponry. He went on to caution banks in the Biafran region, stating that the Department of State Services may have been planning to sponsor attacks in order to blame IPOB and ESN (Akpan, 2021). These claims were never backed up.

While the group claims their arms are produced locally, there are incidents of conflict or seizures by the Nigerian state forces that would suggest otherwise. In July of 2023 troops raided an enclave in Asaba, the Delta State capitol. The troops exchanged gunfire with ESN forces before they fled. The troops captured one of the fleeing individuals and recovered small weaponry including AK47 rifles, semi automatic rifles, and a G3 rifle (Oyero, 2023). Several months after this incident, in October of 2023, Nigerian state forces reportedly recovered several locally made artillery projectile launchers as well as 48 rounds of 7.62mm NATO ammunition (David, 2023).

There has been an ongoing back and forth of blows between the ESN and Nigerian forces, but as recently as December of 2023, a commander of IPOB and the ESN — Uchechukwu Akpa — was arrested at his hideout in Awgu Government Area of Enugu state, along with three other operatives. Akpa was purported to be the second-in-command to a previously captured ESN leader, was taken into custody after sustaining a gunshot injury in an attempt to flee. It remains to be seen what will happen to Akpa and the ESN’s leadership structures in light of his apprehension (Leadership News, 2023).

Approach to Resistance

The ESN has claimed to be solely a defensive organization, whose purpose is to protect the indigenous Igbo people from discrimination by the Nigerian government or other ethnic groups (Campbell, 2021). However, there have been numerous incidents of violence carried out by the group that conflict with their alleged purpose. The group is also subject to IPOB, being simply a wing under the umbrella organization that is led by Kanu. 

In 2021, IPOB threatened to deploy the ESN after 14 days if governors of southeast Nigeria did not, in compliance with the 1969 Statutory Law of Nigeria, ban open grazing – a practice that was attributed primarily to members of the Fulani ethnic group. (Njoku, 2021). After this statement was made, the ESN did not wait for the promised 14 days but instead attacked a Fulani camp in Isuikwuato, Abia State, where the operatives killed livestock, chased away herdsmen, and burned down their houses. Kanu shared a video after the incident which showed these actions and contained audio of members speaking out against the Fulani. (Sahara, 2021)

In January of 2021, shortly before this incident, another conflict took place between the ESN and the Nigerian army. The government deployed troops with the directive of destroying ESN bases, which were perceived as a threat to the state's authority. Fighting broke out in the town of Orlu, in Imo State, and the conflict lasted for a week before Kanu declared a ceasefire, stating that he was redirecting ESN efforts against “Fulani raiders” and noting that they had withdrawn from the city (Campbell, 2021).

A more recent instance of conflict comes from October of 2023, when a group of suspected ESN members attacked motorists at the Ezzamgbo Junction in Ohaukwu Local Government Area and burnt several vehicles. Ebonyi State Police stated that a group of armed men in a Sienna car set fire to three commuter buses, four motorcycles, and one tricycle while shooting into the air to intimidate residents. No injuries were sustained during this attack. This attack was thought to be an attempt to enforce the Monday sit-at-home protest order that IPOB implemented — a demand that local residents stay at home every Monday to protest in support of IPOBs cause (Ogbonnaya, 2023).

While the  IPOB and the ESN tend to frame their conflicts as defensive, they have been blamed for numerous attacks and violent incidents over the years, though they are difficult to prove. In September of 2023, 8 security personnel were killed in a gunfight in the country’s southeast. This was just one of the most recent examples of what has grown into a string of attacks in recent years that are blamed on IPOB and the ESN (Asadu, 2023).

Primarily through the military activities of the ESN, IPOB was Ranked as the 10th deadliest terror organization of 2023 according to the Global Terrorism Index — though this was based on attacks attributed to the group, and not ones they themselves have claimed. The Institute for Economics and Peace, which creates the Global Terrorism Index, attributed 40 attacks and 57 deaths to IPOB in 2022, a significant increase from 26 attacks and 34 deaths in 2021, though again all through attacks that IPOB has denied or failed to claim responsibility for (Johnson, 2023). While it is not possible to know the exact scope of the ESN and IPOB’s military capacity, their tactical abilities remain a formidable force against the Nigerian state.

Works Cited (MLA-style)

Akpan, Samuel. “IPOB: We Don’t Buy Arms -- We Produce Them Locally.” TheCable, The Cable, 16 Apr. 2021,

Asadu, Chinedu. “Several Security Forces Killed in an Ambush by Gunmen in Nigeria’s Southeast.” AP News, AP News, 19 Sept. 2023,

Brody, Pariesa. “Nigeria: New Clashes after Security Forces Break up Meeting of Biafran Separatists.” The Observers - France 24, 26 Aug. 2020,

Campbell, John. “Security Deteriorating in Nigeria’s Former ‘Biafra.’” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 9 Feb. 2021,

Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), including objectives, structure, activities, relations with other Biafran independence groups, and treatment by authorities (2014-October 2016), 10 November 2016, NGA105658.E, available at:

Chris, Njoku. “IPOB Gives Southeast Governors 14 Days Ultimatum to Ban Open Grazing.” The Nation Newspaper, The Nation, 30 Jan. 2021,

David, Tarkaa. “Troops Seize Artillery Projectile Launchers, Others from IPOB.” Leadership News, Leadership News, 17 Oct. 2023,

“Herdsmen Flee as IPOB’s Eastern Security Network Invades Fulani Camp in Abia, Kills Many Cows.” Sahara Reporters, Sahara Reporters, 31 Jan. 2021,

Johnson, Hannah. “Global Terrorism Index: Body Clarifies Position on IPOB Listing.” Punch Newspapers, Punch Newspapers, 27 Mar. 2023,

Leadership News. “Army Arrests IPOB/ESN Commander, Recovers Weapons in Enugu.” Leadership News, 14 Dec. 2023,

Nigeria: At Least 150 Peaceful pro-Biafra Activists Killed in Chilling ...” Amnesty International, 24 Nov. 2016,

Nwonwu, Chiagozie. “Biafra Quest Fuels Nigeria Conflict: Too Scared to Marry and Bury Bodies.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Jan. 2023,

Ogbonnaya, Obinna. “Police Go after IPOB/ESN Members over Burnt Buses, Motorcycles.” Leadership News, 3 Oct. 2023,

Owolabi, Tife. “Gunmen Free More than 1,800 Inmates in Attack on Nigerian Prison | Reuters.” Reuters, 6 Apr. 2021,

“Breaking: Attack on IMO Police Headquarters, Prison Facility Carried out by IPOB’s Security Operatives – Police Inspector-General, Adamu.” Sahara Reporters, Sahara Reporters, 5 Apr. 2021,


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