Ghosts Of Biafra: Nigerian Militias Demand Release Of Separatist Leader

On December 14th, Sahara Reporters obtained footage depicting armed members of the separatist Biafran National Guard (BNG) urging the Nigerian government to release Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the outlawed Igbo nationalist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) organization. Vanguard reported on December 11th that Kanu, who was imprisoned on terrorism and treason charges in June, is allegedly being mistreated in custody. The Department of State Services (DSS) has since denied these claims. Kanu’s abuse and humiliation will accomplish nothing but incite bloodthirsty militias to commit violence in the name of Biafran sovereignty.

The BNG and IPOB are just two among many other secessionist movements and insurgencies tearing Nigeria apart. The Daily Post reported in July that Chief Gani Adams, a founder of the Yoruba nationalist Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), declared during a Zoom conference in Washington D.C. that the Yoruba people will soon seek self-determination. Prominent Yoruba figures, like the recently incarcerated Sunday Igboho, are also calling for the creation of an independent Oduduwa Republic in southwestern Nigeria. In the Niger Delta, remnants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an organization encompassing numerous militias that waged guerrilla warfare against exploitative oil refineries, are still active in the region according to Sahara Reporters.

Moreover, Punch says jihadi groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa Province (ISWAP) are establishing miniature caliphates throughout Nigeria’s northeastern states. Even members of the Shi’ite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (ISN) refuse to recognize the Nigerian government and intend to transform the country into an Iranian-style Islamic republic, as noted by the BBC. Federal authorities invariably react with extreme violence and repression to any group exhibiting separatist tendencies.

The Nigerian police and military are largely responsible for the radicalization of Biafran activism. Amnesty International revealed that between August 2015 and November 2016 alone, security forces killed at least 150 IPOB members or supporters during mostly peaceful gatherings, rallies, and marches. Countless people told researchers that they were tortured and denied medical treatment while in custody. Police and military personnel unleashed another reign of terror earlier this year in response to the emergence of the IPOB’s armed wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN). Testimonies allege that security forces “engaged in excessive use of force, physical abuse, secret detentions, extortion, burning of houses, theft, and extrajudicial executions.” It is unlikely that President Muhammadu Buhari will ever launch an inquiry to investigate these egregious violations.

The perception that Buhari is being unduly harsh on Biafran activists and far too lenient on endemic crime is fueling separatist sentiments in the Igbo minority as well. Nigerian authorities have proven utterly powerless to control a kidnapping epidemic. Premium Times discovered that approximately 4,962 people were kidnapped and held for ransom between January 2015 and May 2020. State Security Service (SSS) agents, who are quite adept at suppressing dissent, have lost count of the number of kidnappings taking place in Nigeria. The fact that Nigerian police officers rank among the most corrupt in the globe, according to AfroBarometer, the World Internal Security and Police Index, Human Rights Watch, and Transparency International, has pushed vigilantes in Igbo communities to take the law into their own hands.

Finally, a burning desire to avenge the millions who died of hunger during the Nigerian Civil War has resurfaced and is driving thousands of disillusioned Igbo youths to resurrect the struggle for Biafran nationhood. The Federal Military Government (FMG) of Nigeria, backed by British and Soviet weaponry, initiated a borderline genocidal campaign and economic blockade to defeat the separatist Republic of Biafra between 1967 and 1970. Historian Mark Curtis demonstrated that the mass starvation of Biafrans “was no mere byproduct of the war, it was a deliberate part of the FMG’s war policy.” Survivors and their descendants never forgot this heinous atrocity, despite decades of state-imposed censorship, silence, and denial. President Buhari’s revolting pledge to deal with the IPOB “in the language they understand” (read: famine and slaughter) has fanned the flames of insurrection in the southeastern states, as noted in the Conversation. Buhari, as legal scholar Anthony Aladekomo recommends, must grant the Igbos a chance to decide their fate in an independence referendum to prevent a second civil war.