The historical efforts by the Igbo people of South East Nigeria to achieve a separate state, Biafra, are now 50 years old but the simmering tensions appear to have come to a boil in the recent past. A campaign to recreate the state of Biafra appears to be in full swing, led by the enigmatic Nnamdi Kanu. Peter Ezeh reports.
It is becoming ever clearer that even 47 years after the end of the Biafran war in Nigeria's southeast, the aspirations of the Igbo people, who lost their bid for secession as well as over a million lives, have not faded. Following the end of the brutal war, those aspirations simmered deep inside but have resurfaced strongly in recent times.
The latest bid to break away from Nigeria is being spearheaded by the relatively young British-Nigerian Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) pressure group. The group, which has now being proscribed by the government as a terrorist organisation, has demanded a referendum "to settle the issue of Biafra in a civilised and democratic manner".
Kanu ran a London-based radio station called Radio Biafra, agitating for a break with the federal government and the creation of a new state of Biafra. He was visiting Nigeria from the UK in October 2015 when the secret police picked him up in Lagos.
After well-publicised court appearances on charges of treason, he got bail on condition that he should not leave Nigeria and should not be involved in campaigns while the trial lasted. But from his father's house he resumed his agitations, and his following grew by leaps and bounds.
Unless a referendum was held and Nigeria "restructured", he warned, his organisation would not allow any elections to be held. The next gubernatorial elections are scheduled for 19 November.
As part of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the old Biafra on 30 May this year, Kanu and his IPOB asked people in the region to stay at home in symbolic mourning for those killed during the 1960s war; and stay at home they did.
Offices, marketplaces, transport services--all activities were ceased. Streets were empty in the region that is home to more than 30m people. Enraged counter-activists, protesting as a coalition of youth organisations in the north of Nigeria, reacted by issuing a notice to people of Igbo extraction living in that part of the country to leave before 1 October. Efforts by diverse actors, including government officials, defused the situation, persuading the youth organisations to rescind...