A GROWING secessionist swell in southeastern Nigeria is dividing the country once again, 50 years after the civil war that claimed a million lives.
Thousands of troops have been deployed to the region in a heavy-handed crackdown on pro-Biafra agitation, and the leader of the breakaway Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) campaign, Nnamdi Kanu, has gone missing – reportedly detained by the army.
Secessionist sentiment has been building in recent years under the leadership of Kanu, a skilled propagandist. He won sympathy among Igbos in the southeast during a lengthy trial on terrorism and treason charges.
A pro-Biafra social media campaign portrays President Muhammadu Buhari as a pro-Muslim northerner out to crush the southeast. In June, northern youth groups upped the ante by demanding that all Igbos must leave the north by October 1 – an uncomfortable reminder of the pogroms in the north that led to the declaration of Biafra in 1967.
Kanu’s announcement of the formation of self-defence units and threat to prevent elections in the southeast has also worsened the tension. Igbos are a successful trading community, spread throughout the country. Many leading Igbos have condemned Kanu’s cause, including the southeastern governors.
But the governors have also called for urgent dialogue, drawing parallels between IPOB, an inflexible government, and the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast.