Protests Ensue In Southeast Nigerian Over Government And Detainment Of Separatist Leader

Southeastern Nigerian city centres were deserted Monday after people stayed at home to show solidarity with detained separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu and to express grievances about how the country is run according to Reuters

The stay-at-home protest called by the banned group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was successful in shutting down banks, shops and markets displaying the IPOB’s stronghold in the southeast, Lagos-based Channels Television reported. They ask for everyone to stay home every Monday until Kanu is freed. This is also one of the first of a series of planned protests for this region. 

Residents of centres and cities that shut down included Onitsha, Enugu, Awka and Owerri said roads were clear of traffic and students did not go to school. 

“The entire state is in total shutdown in solidarity with Nnamdi Kanu. They should release him because he has done nothing wrong,” resident Caroline Madu said. 

Kanu was forcefully brought back to Nigeria in June after being on the run for years. He is currently in custody pending a trial on 11 charges including treason. The IPOB wants to establish an independent state for the Igbo ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria which is this group’s homeland. This land includes the country’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, and would directly threaten the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy. 

The region attempted to secede in 1967 under the name Republic of Biafra, which triggered a three-year civil war that left more than a million people dead, mostly of starvation.  The Igbo people also feel that they are discriminated against by the federal government and wider society. The IPOB says it is nonviolent, however, authorities accuse its members of attacking targets, including police stations. The government has outlawed the IPOB and declared it a terrorist group according to Bloomberg News. 

Amnesty International reports that state security forces have killed 115 people in the southeast Nigerian region this year. More than 500 people were arrested after police and military raids, with widespread allegations of torture and ill-treatment. 

The severe crackdown on dissent in the region has exacerbated discontent where residents see the difference in government treatment to herders from the northern Fulani ethnic group who clash with farmers and are accused of perpetrating violence. The social unrest adds to Nigeria’s security challenges which include a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast and increased kidnappings for ransom. 

President Muhammadu Bahari is unpopular over his failure to address criminality and to improve the economy. Kanu demanded urgent action from the United Nations against the Nigerian government’s actions. He pleaded his case by raising the issues of discrimination of Biafrans, attacks on Biafrans by northern Fulani herdsmen, alleged forceful Islamization, among other actions. 

Amnesty International has gathered evidence to show that Nigerian security forces have committed a catalog of human rights violations and crimes under international law in response to discontent in Southeast Nigeria. 

In order to peacefully reach a solution to benefit both parties, talks between the IPOB and the government should be facilitated to ensure that Biafran people discontent with the Nigerian government have their demands met. “Just see how Buhari has turned Nigeria upside down. Salaries are not paid, people are being slaughtered like fowls by Fulani herdsmen and bandits all across the country,” said Anayo Eze, a civil servant who was at home in protest.

Jadenne Radoc Cabahug
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