As Boko Haram ravages northern Nigeria, civil war threatens in the South

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/02/16, 03:00 pm

A growing separatist movement in southeastern Nigeria could pose a new threat to the country’s stability. Much like Syria in 2011, Nigeria faces the threat of civil war as it struggles to contain an Islamist terror group, Boko Haram. Over the weekend, Boko Haram brutalized villages in the North, burning children alive in their homes.

In the South, the Independent People of Biafra, one of the leading separatist groups, claims to have members in more than 80 countries. The group’s major propaganda tool is Radio Biafra, where the call for “emancipation” from Nigeria is a major theme.

“Biafra is under siege,” Radio Biafra host Uche Mefor said. “There’s no other way of putting it.”

The cry for secession resonates with other ethnic groups in Nigeria. In Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil hub, militancy continues to thrive as the locals get the brunt of gas fires and oil spills. The same feeling of marginalization contributed to the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Nigerian authorities detained Biafra leader Nnamdi Kanu on charges of criminal conspiracy and hate speech Oct. 17. A Federal High Court ordered Kanu’s release, but Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said his government would not release Kanu. John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations described the move as “fairly clumsy.”

The government’s actions sparked protests from Biafran supporters around the country. More than 14 protesters have died and nearly 200 people have been detained since demonstrations began in October, according to local authorities.

Another separatist group, the Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra, escalated the protests by hijacking a merchant ship Jan. 29. The group threatened to blow up the ship with its crew unless Nigerian authorities released Kanu.

“The government still needs to address the fundamental drive of this crisis,” said Shutola Olusegun of the Nigeria-based Initiative for Public Policy Analysis. “It’s a response against marginalization in the country.”

In 1967, the Republic of Biafra successfully seceded from Nigeria until 1970, when the Nigerian civil war reunited the country. More than a million people died within that timeframe.                                                   

“I think the Biafran movement still has a way to go in terms of going towards militant mode,” Olusegun said, as he explained such a move requires planning out territories, governance, and income sources, among others. “But the country should not assume the present movement cannot grow to the stage of insurgency.” 

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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