RISING insecurity in Nigeria’s South-East region has led to the deaths of more than 1,700 people between January 2021 and June 2023, The ICIR analysis from two data agencies has shown.
By calculation, there are 913 days between January 2021 and June 2023. If the total number of deaths is divided by each day, at least two persons are killed daily in the region.
According to the data, the deaths occur from protests, armed clashes, abductions, mob violence, secessionist groups, riots, electoral violence, and other conflicts.
The affected states are Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
The ICIR analysed data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), two data agencies that collate data on insecurity crises in Nigeria.
These two agencies gather their data by surveying Nigerian and international media reports.
According to NST data, between January 2021 and June 2023, 1,844 people were killed in the region. Breaking it down, in 2021, a total of 951 people were killed in 227 incidents that occurred in the region.
In the following year, 627 people were reported killed in 223 incidents; between January and June 2023, 266 died in 92 incidents.
Meanwhile, ACLED data analysed by The ICIR showed a total of 1,761 killed between January 2021 and May 2023.
The data showed that 758 and 779 were killed in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Meanwhile, between January and May 18, 2023, 224 people have been killed in various incidents.
Further analysis of both data by The ICIR revealed that Anambra state had the highest death rate recorded. It was followed by Imo and Ebonyi states, while Abia state reported the lowest death rate.
Further findings showed that Abia state has the lowest incidents reported despite being the hometown of leaders for proscribed groups.
Lingering attacks in the region
Agitation by the Igbo ethnic group to become an independent state (Republic of Biafra) separated from Nigeria started as far back as 1967 or even earlier. The declaration resulted in a prolonged civil war that claimed hundreds of lives.
Between 1967 and 1999, Nigeria experienced several military interregnums, but this did not stop the southeastern nationalism movement from gaining political and social relevance from the people up until the emergence of secessionist groups, including the Indigenous People of Biafra founded by Nnamdi Kanu in 2012.
IPOB has played a major role in the calls for Igbo secession from Nigeria, including engaging in actions considered by the Federal Government as treasonable, culminating in its proscription by the former President Muhammadu Buhari’s government in 2017.
Despite the proscription, IPOB has remained undeterred, with its major action being the enforcement of the Monday sit-at-home directive.
A recent ranking by the Global Terrorism Index listed the group among the 20 deadliest terror groups in the world.
The group communicates with its members, both in the diaspora, via social media and other platforms. It also holds protests and lockdowns, some of which develop into riots and clashes with security operatives or counter-groups.
When Kanu was arrested in August 2021, the group, in solidarity, locked down the southeast region and continued a mandatory Monday sit-at-home order that suspended every economic activity in the affected state.
A two-part investigation by The ICIR (here and here) captured the implications of the sit-at-home order on businesses in the five states. There, however, have been efforts by the state governors to end the sit-at-home order, but this has not yielded much results.
The ICIR has also reported recent developments on residents protesting against the order and the security checks on transporters within the region. Some deaths captured in the data analyzed by The ICIR resulted from clashes by secessionist groups in the region.
‘A sad national reality’
A professor of political science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Freedom Onuoha, told The ICIR that the conflict experiences within the region are not unconnected to failed policies from the government alongside militarized responses, which led to the emergence of separatist groups.
Onuoha said, “The case of the Southeast is a reflection of this sad national reality, but it is more a product of the way the past administration of Muhammadu Buhari deliberately or inadvertently mismanaged separatist agitation in the Southeast.
“The result was the rise and reign of roving armed criminal groups described as unknown gunmen. This group of criminal marauders are majorly behind the killings in the Southeast. Unmasking their true identity, whether state or non-state sponsored, is key to addressing bloodletting in the region.”
However, the professor noted that the emergence of a new administration at the federal and state levels opens a great prospect for resolving the crisis if strategic dialogue is made that would promote the interest of residents and agitators within the region.
“The administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu can leverage his political position to extract a negotiated settlement of the trial of Nnamdi Kanu in furtherance of national unity and cohesion while the state governors can close their ranks to effectively reign in the agitators towards the restoration of peace and economic vitality in the region,” he said.