Eight suspected members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), the militant wing of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), have been arrested in Umuodeche, a community in Isiala-Ngwa North Local Government Area of Abia State, Nigeria’s South-east.
The suspects were arrested on 20 July inside a thick forest popularly known as “Ikeohia-Umuodeche.”
A vigilante group from the community and another vigilante group from a neighbouring community, Umuezeukwu, carried out the arrest when they raided the suspects’ camp in the forest.
Five of the suspects, including a lady, were arrested in their hideout.
Hours later, the vigilante group, with the help of the information from the arrested suspects, also arrested three more suspects.
Members of the community had not entered the forest for many years, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
The suspected IPOB members erected a makeshift tent inside the forest and had spent about two weeks there before they were arrested.
A team of police officers who visited the place reportedly razed the makeshift tent, hours after the vigilante arrested the suspects.
Some video clips and pictures, taken before the camp was razed, showed that the suspects had erected two shrines where they usually force their recruits to take oath before beginning their operations.
“This is where I stood and took the oath with this kola nut,” said a recruit, in yellow sportswear, pointing at a piece of kola nut on the ground.
In his confessional statement to the joint-vigilante group, Uchenna Otuocha, one of the arrested gang members, confirmed they were IPOB members.
“We are here as IPOB members, we are 11 in number, three indigenes of this village and eight of us, we got an information that you guys (vigilantes) are coming and this guy (pointing at the one in yellow sportswear) said we should leave here.
“That he will find us another forest inside and cook food for us. As we got that information, we don’t know here, so they led us to the other road while they followed the main road with the tools bag (containing guns and other weapons),” an IPOB member, who was shirtless in the clip, said.
While he was still speaking, the only lady among them, who identified herself as Chinenye Amaka, told the vigilante that some of her colleagues who had the gang’s arms and ammunition followed one of the indigenes to his house to pass the night.
“Those three guys with the bag followed this guy (pointing at another indigene of the place whose name is yet to be ascertained) to their house to pass the night,” she said.
Continuing, Ms Amaka, who claimed she is from Enugu State, said the gang members usually carry out attacks, although she denied ever taking part in the attacks.
“We were brought here for armed robbery, we also set police stations ablaze,” she said.
When asked what else they do, she said, “We also kidnap people. We are five – myself, Lampard, Hotwater, Reported and Young.”
She said Reported nickname of one of the suspects is the owner of the arms they used to carry out the attacks.
“Reported brought me from Owerri,” she said.
A suspect, Chinedu David, who had been implicated by other gang members before his arrest, however, denied his involvement in the robberies and other crimes.
“I didn’t commit any crime. I don’t know why they mentioned my name. Let the person that mentioned my name prove it,” he told our reporter.
Tracing of their camp
Many of the suspects confessed to the crime of kidnapping and armed robbery, including attacks on police stations, which have been on the increase across Nigeria’s South-east.
A source, who asked not to be named in this report because of the fear of being attacked, told this reporter that the suspects were traced to their camp when some members of the community became suspicious and uncomfortable due to strange faces they kept seeing around the community.
“We started noticing that this girl (Ms Amaka) will always come out from somewhere, buy something from our market and go towards the forest. So, we started monitoring her until we ascertained where she was coming from and then alerted our vigilante group,” the source said.
A leader of the joint-vigilante group said the arrest of the suspects was in response to a distress call from another vigilante group in a neighbouring community.
“We planned and went into the bush at about 7:30 to 8:00 in the night and apprehended four boys and a girl. So, we brought them back to the community,” he said.
He said the vigilante handed over the suspects to the police.
The leader of the joint-vigilante lamented that fighting crime in the area had been difficult because of the lack of arms.
“Had it been that those suspects came with guns that day, there was no way we could have faced them because we only went with machetes,” he said, as he displayed his machete.
“You don’t expect a vigilante member with a machete to arrest a suspected criminal with rifles.”
He appealed to the government to assist them with some rifles to enable them to fight crimes in their communities.
Meanwhile, some police officers from Abia State visited the community and picked up the arrested suspects.
The police paraded the suspects in the community before taking them away, but the officers denied our reporter access to interview or take photos of the suspects.
The police also denied a State Security Service official access to the suspects.
Three of the suspects who fled the scene were said to have left with their arms. They were yet to be arrested at the time of filing this report.
When contacted on 29 July, nine days after the arrest, the police spokesperson in Abia State, Geoffrey Ogbonna, said he was not aware of the incident.