An independent study conducted by Nextier SPD Violent Conflict Database into the activities of dissident groups in Nigeria’s South East region, particularly between 2021 and 2022, revealed how Non State Armed Groups, dubbed “unknown gunmen,” killed 83 civilians and 36 security personnel in the first half of 2022.
Aside from the death, another 73 people were said to have been kidnapped in 28 kidnapping incidents in the South East during the same time period.
According to the independent study, at least three civilians and one security personnel are killed each week as a result of the activities of the unknown gunmen in the region.
The situation is described as worse in Anambra State, where the total number of UGM-related deaths exceeds the South East regional average.
According to the report, Anambra state accounted for 31.5 percent of all kidnap victims and 40.9 percent of all civilians killed by the UGM in the first half of 2022.
According to the report, the NSAGs’ violent activities and subsequent deployment of state security personnel across Anambra State have caught civilian communities in the crossfire of NSAGs and state security forces, both of which are willing to punish civilians with violence if they suspect civilian collaboration with the opposing side.
“At first, some perceived the UGM as radical secessionist groups because they targeted and killed members of state security forces. Their activities were romanticised by some social media users who recorded and spread scenes of their attacks on state security forces on social media.
“A trend analysis of killings by the UGM as documented by Nextier SPD Violent Conflict Database shows that the targets of the UGM appear to have shifted to focus more on civilians. For instance, in 2021, security personnel accounted for 70.7 per cent of the total killings by the UGM, while civilians accounted for 29.3 per cent of total killings by UGM in Anambra State.
“However, by the first half of 2022, civilians accounted for 80.9 per cent, while security personnel accounted for 19.0 per cent of total killings by UGM in Anambra State.
“The same trend is observed in the larger data for the South East region. This suggests that more civilians are being targeted and killed by the UGM in the South East. The governor of Anambra State recently alleged that many of those parading as UGM are known persons indulging in self-serving criminal activities, including human organ harvesting,” Dr Chukwuma Okoli and Dr Ndu Nwokolo both key resource persons who carried out the study on behalf of Nextier SPD, submitted.
Both researchers agreed that since 2015, civilian communities in Anambra State, like other South East states, have found themselves victims of both the NSAGs and state security agencies, highlighting the limited autonomy of civilian communities in the ongoing violence in Anambra State.
They claimed that while the NSAGs extort the communities through the imposition of illegal taxes/levies on some communities, kidnapping for ransom, and murder, some state security personnel commit various forms of human rights violations in an attempt to decimate the NSAGs.
The report also revealed that many of these civilian communities have been unable to protect themselves from the violence of both armed groups, as well as maintain independent decision-making over their daily livelihood and conflict outcomes.
According to the research experts, “For instance, in addition to the kidnapping and killings by the NSAGs, the persistence of Monday sit-at-home in Anambra State even when the IPOB has announced its cancellation and despite an attempt by the state government to put an end to it attests to the limited autonomy of the civilian communities in the ongoing violent conflict.
“More so, a recent Nextier SPD Policy Brief reveals that civilian communities experience human rights abuse by some security personnel deployed to engage the UGM and cannot hold the security agencies accountable for such abuses by the security personnel.
“The recent discoveries of hideouts of some NSAGs, particularly the kidnappers in some locations within Anambra State and the allegation that some community members, particularly native doctors, were aiding the NSAGs indicate that there are persons in the communities collaborating with the NSAGs who have hideouts in the communities from where they operate.
“The inability of the civilian communities to expose or even expel the NSAGs who use their communities as hideouts in the communities even though civilians are increasingly falling victims to the self-serving criminal interests pursued by the NSAGs is another evidence of the limited autonomy of the civilian communities in the ongoing violent conflict”.
As a result, the report concluded that Anambra State is experiencing unprecedented violent conflict, and civilian communities are caught in the crossfires of the NSAGs and state security agencies due to their limited autonomy in the conflict.
It suggested that using nonviolent strategies to strengthen civilian communities’ autonomy would improve social cohesion and contribute to the de-escalation of violent conflict in Anambra State.
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