Présidence de la République du Bénin

In early June, Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, threatened a crackdown on separatists in the country’s southeast region.

In recent weeks, members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a Biafran separatist organization, have been blamed for attacks on electoral offices, police stations, and security forces in the region.

While authorities blame IPOB for the attacks, the group has repeatedly denied these allegations.

In a tweet, which has now been taken down by Twitter, Buhari seemed to suggest his government would use excessive force against IPOB.

Buhari said, “many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War.”

He warned that those who fought in the country’s civil war, like himself, will treat those “misbehaving” today “in the language they understand.”

Buhari referred to the civil war that led to the death of over 3 million people, fought between the Nigerian government and Biafran separatists.

His tweet did not go down well with many Nigerians who criticised the president and questioned why he was threatening the region with military force.

M.I Abaga, a popular Nigerian artist, posted a video on his Twitter account to show his support for the region while calling on other Nigerians to do the same.

It was his tweet that sparked the #IamIgboToo hashtag on Twitter. The hashtag, which has thousands of retweets, had other Nigerians condemning the threat and expressing their support for the region.

In the video, Abaga said, “The narrative that ‘Nigeria hates Igbo people’ is an outdated context that will leave with the old and bitter generation. Today let us stand with our Igbo family and say #IAmIgboToo. I can’t imagine being an Igbo citizen and seeing those tweets yesterday. I can’t imagine how it would have made them feel. So, I thought it could be beautiful today if we rally round organically on Twitter. Just post videos and messages on our timeline to tell our Igbo brothers and sisters that we are one and that we are Igbo too.”

Aisha Yesufu, a political activist, wrote “ Any threat to Igbo people is a threat to me. An attack to Igbo people is an attack on me. I condemn the 1967 threats from President Buhari to the Igbo people. No Nigerian is more Nigerian than any Nigerian.”

Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, dismissed Twitter’s decision to delete Buhari’s tweet, saying the president had “the right to express dismay and anger” about recent attacks targeting security forces in the region.

“Twitter may have its own rules, it’s not the universal rule,” he said. “If [Buhari] anywhere in the world feels very bad and concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views.”

Where the problem lies

Several years after the civil war, the region still feels ignored and uncertain about its future. In particular, its political representation, federal employment opportunities, and political appointments.

As a result, it isn’t a surprise to see a rebirth of a Biafran separatist movement who have been championing the independence of a sovereign state of Biafra.

In 2017, Nigeria categorised the IPOB as a terrorist organisation, saying that its activities are similar to those of other terrorist groups.

Prior to this decision, the group has often accused the Nigerian army, police, and other security forces of committing severe human rights abuses, ranging from indiscriminate arrests to mass executions against the Biafran people.

Most notable among these supposed atrocities, the group says, was the killing of over 150 civilians who were celebrating Biafran Remembrance Day.

This year, the group’s order for a sit-at-home protest crippled commercial and economic activities across the five states in the region. Shops, motor parks, banks, and offices were closed. This shows that despite the crackdown, members of the group are not willing to back down on their demands.

Olu Omotayo, a human rights activist and president of the Civil Rights Realisation and Advancement Network (CRRAN), says that rather than employ the use of brute force to clamp down on activists, the Nigerian government needs to address feelings of marginalization.

“What do you expect from people who feel the government does not care about their welfare. They feel their leaders do not have their interests at heart. Rather than remain part of the country and continue to suffer, they want to go,” Omotayo said.

Arinze Chijioke is a Nigeria based freelance journalist. He writes stories on conflict, development, climate change, global health among others. He has had his works published in the African Exponent, Ynaija, and THISDAY newspaper, among other media outlets.