Independence Push for South-East Nigeria will not End with Disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu
Decades after the Nigerian civil war, the drum of disunity continues to resonate. With ethnic tension still rife and political instability at its peak, the south-east of the country feels ignored and their future threatened by the uncertainty in Nigeria’s current political climate.
A consequence of the perceived marginalization and the need for self-determination was the re-awakening of the secessionist bid that was crushed in the country in 1967 through the formation of series of pro-Biafran separatist movements, leading to occasional clashes between the Nigerian military and supporters of the movement for independence.
The disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu
In early September 2017, the Nigerian military launched military operations in the south-east, to ostensibly capture Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra). Major General David Ahmadu explained that during the exercise emphasis would be placed on security cordons, search operations, anti-kidnapping drills, roadblocks, checkpoints, humanitarian relief activities such as medical outreach and a show of force to curb the rising threat to national security.
Few days after the operation, there were widespread reports of arbitrary arrests and human rights abuses in Abia State.
That same month, the military attacked the home of Nnamdi Kanu, where an unconfirmed number of people were killed and several others injured. After the attack, Kanu went missing.
Nnamdi Kanu has been missing now for over a year. There is no information as to whether he is dead or alive. The group, however, believes that Nnamdi Kanu may have been killed.
Pro-Biafran supporters to continue protests
With the disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu, the news that the federal government has finally succeeded in its attempt to reduce the influence of the group made the rounds. But contrary to those claims, members of the IPOB and other supporters of the Biafra struggle have openly reiterated their resolve to continue to fight for independence.
In an interview with the Daily Post, a Nigerian-based online medium, the spokesperson of IPOB was quoted to have said that the movement is gaining in strength and that the government narrative that the group has been diminished due to the disappearance of Kanu is misleading.
“Rather than diminishing, our influence is growing daily from strength to strength. We are still rallying all over our towns and villages but we remain conscious of the fact that nobody can command media attention and large following the way our leader does, so it is impossible to replicate the large crowds that turn out to welcome him on his tours. If you are expecting millions to march on the streets on a daily basis when we evangelize then you will be disappointed because we have different approaches and strategies,” the spokesperson said during the interview.
In a bid to further express continued loyalty with the Biafra struggle, the IPOB has declared that regional strikes will continue.
Last month a group of women staged a protest over the continued detention of Kanu. The women, dressed in all black, marched through the streets of Owerri, and chanted war songs and displayed different placards with inscriptions asking the federal government to release Kanu. They said they were ready to die for the Biafra cause.
Olu Omotayo, a political analyst and the President of Civil Rights Realization and Advancement Network (CRRAN), believes that the deployment of military operatives to the home of Nnamdi Kanu and his subsequent disappearance will only serve to reduce the activities of IPOB but cannot put an end to the agitation until self-governance is actualized or the people are given a sense of belonging.
Biafran agitations: How it all started
In 1999, Ralph Uwazurike, a young lawyer began the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) in the aftermath of the Nigerian election that elected President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Displeased by MASSOB’s growing popularity, the Nigerian government, then under Olusegun Obasanjo, began to clampdown on the group. Uwazurike was arrested on several occasions.
In 2008, MASSOB released a list of 2,020 of its members killed by security agents since its formation in 1999. The clampdown continued until August 2011 when Uwazurike and 280 MASSOB members were arrested in Enugu while attending a function in honour of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. They were subsequently arraigned before a Magistrate court and remained in custody.
The clampdown on Biafra supporters and the arrest of their leader by security forces did not weaken the struggle for independence. Instead, it led to the formation of more aggressive movements such as the Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM) led by Benjamin Onwuka, a British trained lawyer.
In November 2012, at a rally in Enugu, Onwuka declared Biafra a Sovereign state. In his words, “the rebirth of the republic of Biafra is finally actualized.” After the declaration, 500 supporters were arrested by operatives of the Enugu State Police Command for allegedly being part of the re-declaration of Biafra as a sovereign state.
The landslide defeat of Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 general elections by Muhammadu Buhari further heightened the perception that a worse era of discrimination has dawned for the people of the south-east who had been displeased with the structural imbalances in the country.
The result of the perennial winds of discrimination that blew in the south-east was the resurgence of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a movement, while largely unknown outside of Nigeria, had been gathering momentum under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu who also heads a pirate radio station, Radio Biafra.
On return to Nigeria from London in 2015, Kanu was arrested in Lagos by the Department of State Security Service and charged with a treasonable felony. But rather than deter IPOB members, the arrest signaled the rebirth of the Biafra movements and the increasing support base for the movement particularly among the youths of the south-east region.
Since August 2015, there have been series of protests and gatherings and refusal to back down by members of IPOB who have been seeking the secession and sovereignty of Eastern Nigeria as the only way to salvage the people from the unfair treatment they have suffered.
Although the many protests by supporters of the Biafra struggle seem to have waned a bit, especially with the disappearance of its leader, the fight for self-actualization will not cease. “Until the Federal government tries to settle the grievances that often results in the protests, supporters of the struggle will not throw in the towel,” said Olu Omotayo.