Of the numerous issues facing Nigeria, it appears that the Nigerian government feels there are not enough.
Agitation in South East Nigeria for the restoration of the former secessionist Republic of Biafra has seen a resurgence particularly before and after the 2015 election. After President Jonathans shock defeat, neo Biafran agitation and Niger Delta militancy threatened to create another internal security situation for Nigeria.
Despite neo Biafran agitation being non violent and restricted to bloodthirsty rhetoric but peaceful demonstrations, the response of the Nigerian Government has been the disproportionate use of violence and repression, creating the classic conditions for an insurgency.
30th May 2017 will be the 50th Anniversary of Biafra’s Declaration of Independence a date of such significance that the actions of both the government and neo Biafrans could have far reaching effects, thus it is pertinent to review this situation in greater detail.
Eastern Nigeria- Physical Terrain
South East Nigeria is one of Nigeria’s 6 geopolitical zones, it consists of Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia States, which together with 4 States from the South South geopolitical zone- Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers and Bayelsa States constituted Nigeria’s former Eastern Region which became the Republic of Biafra between 30 May 1967 and 15 January 1970.
The River Niger forms the former Eastern Region’s western border separating it from Delta and Edo State, to the north are Kogi and Benue State, Cameroun to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
The terrain from south to north is characterised by the mangrove swamps and islands of the Niger Delta in tidal streams and rivers that deposit into the Gulf of Guinea. These transition into freshwater swamps further inland. North of the swamps are rain forests which rise to rolling hills around the northern border. Along the eastern border with Cameroun, from the south the Cross River Delta rises to the Oban Hills (foothills of the Cameroun Mountain range) and Obudu Plateau.
Major rivers such as the Nun, Escarvos, New Calabar, Anambra, Imo, Orashi, Otamiri, Cross Rivers run north to south. Some flow east to west from lakes like the Njaba or from the Cameroun Highlands such as the Qua Iboe.
Major population centres generally feature along main transport routes such as rivers (Port Harcourt, Calabar, Onitsha), roads (Uyo, Owerri, Ikot Ekpene, Awka, Nsukka) or railway lines (Aba, Enugu).
Other population centers consist of small, towns, villages and hamlets along minor lines of communication such as creeks, streams, minor roads and bush paths.
Eastern Nigeria- Human Terrain
The largest tribe in the region are the Igbo’s one of Nigeria’s 3 main tribes. Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia States are almost exclusively Igbo, whilst Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta have large ethnic Igbo populations, Igbo diasporas as well as Igbo related sub tribes.
Tribes in Rivers State include Ikwerre, Ekpeye Ibani, Opobo, Eleme, Okrika, Kalabari, Etche, Ogba, Ogoni, Obolo, Andoni, Ijaw.
Bayelsa is majority Ijaw, with elements of Kolokuma, Ekpetiama, Igbriran, Atissa and Biseni peoples. Akwa Ibom consists of Ibibios, Annangs, Oran Eket and Obolo, whilst Cross River consists of Efik, Ejagham and Bekwarra.
The lingua franca is English and pidgin English, Igbo is the most widely spoken language by population, followed by Ijaw, Efik and Ibibio. Unlike other Regional majority languages like Yoruba and Hausa, Igbo is not the Regional lingua franca.
The main foreign religion is Christianity, with Catholicism dominating the Igbo states, Anglicanism in Rivers and Bayelsa and Scottish Presbyterian in Cross River and Akwa Ibom. Modern evangelical churches proliferate. Traditional religions are still observed in conjunction with imported ones. Islam is almost exclusively practised by non-natives from Western and Northern Nigeria and non Nigerians. Most tribes were traditionally polytheist. The Igbo’s for example believed in one supreme god Chukwu, with other gods such as Ala, Amadioha, Idemili etc, each village or clan would have shrines dedicated to these gods or a particular local spirit or deity. There is no particular concept of heaven or hell only an afterworld where ones Chi or personal god (in essence their soul) goes afterwards to reside with their ancestors.
Eastern Nigeria- History
Eastern Nigeria originated from the activities of British traders like George Goldie who traded along the River Niger from the coast to Lokoja (in present day Kogi State). Goldie to counter French and German competition amalgamated British trading companies into the West African Company (which became the United Africa Company in 1879 and National African Company in 1882)
The Company controlled trade in the Niger Delta (then known as the Oil Rivers) via treaties with local chiefs who brought goods from the interior (mainly palm oil) which they traded with the British who also sold manufactured goods such as soap, guns, cannons, gunpowder and alcoholic spirits. These monopolies with locals were regulated by Royal Navy gunboats and armed troops. European competitors such as the French and Germans were run off or bought out until the 1885 Berlin Conference gave Britain exclusivity. In 1886 a Royal Charter transformed the National African Company to the Royal Niger Company which established the Oil Rivers Protectorate with its capital at Calabar in 1889. It was renamed Niger Coast Protectorate and sold to the British government in 1899, becoming the Southern Nigeria Protectorate in 1900. Lagos was added in 1906 and Southern Nigeria was amalgamated with Northern Nigeria in 1914 by Lord Frederick Lugard to become the Colony of Nigeria.
Missionaries followed traders, officials and military forces into the interior setting up schools and churches. Despite resistance to both colonial rule and Christianity, both eventually took hold, with the Igbo’s in particular rapidly assimilating western education. Ancient Igbo culture emphasised hard work, egalitarianism and social advancement. This was likely influenced by the necessity of sustaining a subsistence agriculture economy based in thick jungle terrain, where hard working people working communally was the only way to survive.
Thus most Igbo communities were ruled by quasi democratic loose councils of elders and titled men. All were farmers, with varying degrees of side trades such as hunter, artisan, palm wine tapper, blacksmith etc., there were generally no standing armies meaning that warfare prior to the slave trade was usually limited and consisted mainly of raids and were generally resolved by negotiation.
Despite the kings or an aristocracy, the society was still a masculine, hierarchical society, however the hierarchy was based on age and a system of titles, making power and position attainable to anyone who worked hard enough to afford the expensive title ceremonies.
The lack of kings was an impediment to the normal British colonial practice of indirect rule through existing power structures thus the British had to create warrant chiefs in order to staff a local administration. In the coastal areas where there were established Kingdoms, the British left them in place as long as the rulers were compliant (removing or exiling rebellious ones like Jaja of Opobo).
The Southern Protectorate was divided into Eastern and Western Provinces in 1939 with all Regions becoming self governing following the 1954 Ibadan General Conference. Upon Independence in 1960 fear of Igbo domination in the Eastern Region by coastal minorities led to a short lived rebellion by an Ijaw man Isaac Boro.
In 1966 a coup by led by Major Nzeogwu (an Anioma Igbo from then Mid West Region- present day Delta State), motivated by a continuing political crisis in the Western Region (after rigged elections in 1965) led to the other throw of the First Republic and ushering in military rule.
The counter coup in June 1966 by Northern officers led to the death of many Eastern officers and soldiers, these were followed in quick succession by two pogroms of innocent Easterners (mainly Igbos) in the North and the rest of the country.
This led to a mass displacement of Easterners back to the Eastern Region, following a breakdown of negotiations, between the Federal Military Government and the Eastern Region, the Eastern Military Governor Lt Col. Ojukwu declared the region independent as the Republic of Biafra on 30th May 1967.
The Nigerian Federal Military Government invaded 4 weeks later on 6th July 1967. After relatively rapid advances around the hills in the north of Biafra and the creeks south of Port Harcourt and Calabar, it became a slow grinding war of attrition along the roads leading into the rain forest of Igboland, until Biafra surrendered on 15th January 1970, with Ojukwu fleeing into exile in Cote d’Ivoire.
Whilst Easterners of all tribes fought fanatically for Biafra, the fear of Igbo domination and the creation by the Federal Military Government of 3 states out of the Eastern Region (Rivers, East Central and Cross River) served to separate Igbos from the coastal minority tribes. Post war Bayelsa State was carved out of Rivers State and Akwa Ibom out of Cross Rivers.
Post war there was an effort to reintegrate the Igbos and the East into the country, under the slogan ‘No Victor, No Vanquished’ and a comprehensive relief programme, which worked relatively well considering the brutality of the pogroms and bitterness of the war. However, the memory of the war, the blockade and starvation remained sore point as did the post war policy of exchanging Biafran currency for 20 Nigerian pounds irrespective of the quantity, thus wiping out the savings of many Easterners. Other sore points included the difficulties some returnees had reclaiming their properties and assets in other parts of Nigeria.
However, there was little agitation by the survivors of Biafra and the bitter defeat was generally accepted. Ojukwu was pardoned and returned to Nigeria in 1982, unsuccessfully contesting for a Senate seat in the Second Republic.
Military rule continued until 1999 (except for the Second Republic, from 1979 to 1983, when current President Buhari overthrew the civilian government of Shehu Shagari), with muli party elections won by Olusegun Obasanjo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who ruled for 16 years until defeated in 2015 by Muhammadu Buhari representing a coalition of political parties known as the All Peoples Congress (APC).
Neo Biafran Separatism
MASSOB: In 1999 as military rule ended and multiparty democracy began, an Igbo lawyer Chief Ralph Uwazuruike formed the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB). The group called for a peaceful separation of the former Eastern Region from Nigeria as a new Republic of Biafra and engaged in a generally non violent secessionist campaign using publicity stunts such as hoisting Biafran flags, issuing Biafran currency and passports, forming a ‘Government in Exile’ and a ‘Shadow Government’ in order to raise funds, generate popular support and pressurise the Federal Government and international community.
MASSOB attracted the attention and some support of some of the key personalities from the defunct Republic of Biafra and had some popular support; particularly amongst lower socio economic groups. Despite their determination to follow Ghandis path of non violent resistance they attracted a fairly typical Nigerian government response of over reaction, violence and repression.
Processions were met with force, activists were beaten, shot, detained and charged with everything from breaches of the peace to treason for demonstrations or acts as innocuous as playing football matches at MASSOB organised events.
This approach was relatively consistent throughout all the administrations of the 4th Republic, whilst President Obasanjo (a former military ruler) reacted with typical brute force, some of the most egregious attacks on MASSOB took place during the administrations of the allegedly much milder Presidents Yar Adua (Fulani, Katsina State) and Jonathan (Ijaw, Bayelsa State) the latter describing the group as one of the three key threats to Nigeria’s security despite the fact that unlike Boko Haram they had not engaged in a single armed attack, unlike the Niger Delta militants affected the regions or country’s economy or mobilised a critical mass of the populace in their target area, influencing elections, public policy or discourse, unlike other regional groups such as the Oduduwa People’s Congress (OPC) or Arewa People’s Congress (APC).
MASSOB split into factions in 2015 with one led by Uchenna Madu, with Chief Uwazuruike renaming his faction the Biafra Independence Movement (MASSOB/ BIM). During the 2015 election, which was remarkable for how much money the government diverted from the treasury to various personalities and groups for partisan electoral purposes, Uwazuruike publicly supported President Jonathan’s re-election despite the extra judicial killings and continued detention of MASSOB activists under his administration, the endorsement did not gain any corresponding easing of repression on MASSOB, release of prisoners, guarantees for a referendum or increased in development in the South East, nor did it change the electoral outcome which was rigged in Jonathans favour in the South East and South South anyway. MASSOB remains riven by factionalism and has had no further public effect.
IPOB: the Director of MASSOB’s Radio Biafra their online radio station, Nnamdi Kanu, formed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in 2012 from his council house in Peckham, UK, as a more radical neo Biafran group, combining secessionism, conspiracy theories, Jewish lost tribe theories, Igbo supremacy and tribalism into a quasi-religious cult.
Like MASSOB their objective is to create a new Biafra but with different methods and tactics.
IPOBs method appears to be threefold;
- An aggressive propaganda campaign using internet radio and social media in order to dominate the media space, disseminate their narrative and generate international support and sympathy;
- Publicity stunts in the diaspora consisting of demonstrations outside Nigerian embassies, public spaces and at public events
- Demonstrations amongst communities in Igboland
Their narrative (which is fairly IPOB specific) asserts that the Igbo peoples descended from the Jews of the Middle East and are the chosen people of their god (described by IPOB as Chukwu Okike Abiam) and that Biafra rather than being created in 1967 by Col. Ojukwu on the advice of the Eastern Consultative Council out of the old Eastern Region in response to the pogroms and massacres of the Easterners in Nigeria, was in fact an ancient African kingdom, pre existing colonialism, which was suppressed by the perfidious British in order to give Hausa Fulanis control of the future Nigeria.
The exact area claimed as Biafra (or Biafraland as IPOB describe it) varies with some of their maps including Eastern Nigeria and Delta State, others parts of Kogi and Benue States and some just the core Igbo states.
The lack of any historical or traditional reference to the Kingdom of Biafra does not affect this narrative (like all good conspiracy theories, a lack of evidence is in fact evidence of a cover up) and it is used to dominate the media space, wear down opponents and aggravate real and perceived enemies. The latter include other tribes (especially the Hausa Fulani and Yoruba), other religions, countries, personalities and Igbo’s who do not agree with them.
IPOB’s messaging for Nigerian audiences is anti Nigeria (described as the Zoo), anti Muslim, anti Yoruba, anti Hausa Fulani, anti President Buhari.
Internationally it identifies with Brexit, anti Islam, ultra right wing Israeli, ultra right wing American, anti US President Obama, anti homosexuality, anti British and happily propagates the most virulent conspiracy theories emanating from these arenas, which have now coalesced as being fanatically pro Donald Trump with such an enthusiasm that even pro Trump social media sites have taken to banning IPOB supporters for their tendency to spam these sites with pro Biafra messages and gory photos.
It has scored some international successes, such as getting a British Labour MP to publicly support their cause and two Ulster Unionists to table an early day motion in the UK Houses of Commons calling for a referendum on Biafra (the only other signatory was a female Muslim Labour MP of Pakistani origin), as well as getting a few mentions on the US right wing conspiracy theory fringe, the first being that Obama supported Buhari in order for the latter to impose Sharia Law on Nigeria and legalise gay marriage in Nigeria.
Despite this IPOBs appeal has remained solid with its base but at the fringes of Igbo society, neither attracting the state or local level political support or patronage that other groups such as the Niger Delta militants or pre-2009 Boko Haram obtained. Its message resonated mainly with a core of disenfranchised youth until the 2015 election which pitted President Jonathan; an unpopular incumbent from the Bayelsa State against Gen. Buhari; a Northern Muslim Fulani former military dictator (who was also a participant in the July 1966 coup that led to the murder of the first and only Igbo Head of State and the subsequent pogroms).
In the hands of politicians who excel at manipulating tribal, religious and regional differences, the campaign became a contest between extremes. For groups such as IPOB this was their break out moment, which in a precursor of the Brexit vote and the 2016 US election the most extreme conspiracies about the upcoming election entered the mainstream via social media, regurgitated by a plethora of pop up blogs and the ubiquitous Radio Biafra.
The partisan weaponization of the separatist movement was completed with MASSOBs endorsement of President Jonathan, whilst IPOB contented itself with anti Buhari and anti North propaganda.
President Jonathan’s unexpected loss deprived mainstream PDP politicians of patronage and exposed them to potential corruption investigations.
For Northern PDP politicians this meant biding their time until they could negotiate a way to join the winning party, for South Eastern and South South politicians especially the newer ones who did not have access to the established political and patronage networks, yet had become very wealthy and powerful during the Jonathan administration as well as those Northern politicians who had personal grudges with the incoming administration new tools were needed, thus tribal extremists like IPOB found a willing echo chamber amongst angry, frightened and shocked regional activists as well as the alleged support of newly disenfranchised politicians.
Within this feverish atmosphere Kanu was filmed at an Igbo Conference in the US in September 2015 requesting assistance to buy arms and ammunition for an unspecified purpose from the shocked attendees. In one of his characteristically quaint but confident speeches, Kanu alleged the presence of a ‘blood moon’ made the time particularly portentous for his unspecified activities.
Kanu returned to Nigeria in October 2015 where he was promptly arrested in a Lagos hotel and has been in detention ever since.
His detention set off a series of demonstrations in various Eastern cities and towns as well as in major cities abroad.
IPOBs demonstrations had previously been peaceful and well controlled, with authorities given advanced warning and IPOB stewards controlling the crowds and maintaining order however after August 2015, the security force response became deadly with 2 killed and 22 wounded in Onitsha, 1 killed in Bayelsa in November 2015, another in Port Harcourt and several wounded and detained. December 2015, saw 6 dead and 12 wounded in Onitsha, January 2016 had 8 killed, 5 wounded in 2 demonstrations in Aba, in February 17 killed and 30 wounded in Aba and up to 60 killed and 70 injured in Asaba and Onitsha on 30 May 2016
There have been no reported incidents of security force casualties indicating that there was no violence or reason to use deadly force, likewise video from some of the incidents shows the security forces making no attempt to peacefully disperse the crowd before adopting fire positions and engaging the crowd with teargas and gunfire. These incidents include demonstrations or meeting in churches schools or other places where the IPOB members are not conceivably constituting a public threat much less nuisance.
The Niger Delta Avengers whilst blowing up pipelines in Ijawland included the release of Nnamdi Kanu and Col Sambo Dasuki, President Jonathans National Security Adviser (who was arrested on corruption charges in 2 December 2015) as part of their demands as did a group who abducted some sailors in February 2016, however there is little evidence of coordination by IPOB, with their spokesman arguing that these acts were actually deliberate provocations by the government to claim IPOB as a terrorist organisation.
On 27th November 2016, the Army’s 82 Division began Exercise Python Dance, a month long Command Post and Field Exercise encompassing CIMIC, medical outreach, patrols, show of force exercises, cordon and search operations, anti kidnapping drills, check points and road blocks in conjunction with other agencies such as the Police, DSS, Civil Defence etc. It was met with mixed feelings, with some asserting it was a crack down on potential neo Biafrans in particular and Igbo’s in general and others hoping it would relieve kidnaping, armed robbery and other crimes. The exercise was completed peacefully, with the Army reeling off positive statistics about reduced road traffic accidents and crime
As Kanu’s detention continued indefinitely in defiance of several court orders for his release on bail, the demonstrations petered out until IPOB supporters decided to commemorate Donald Trumps inauguration with a demonstration in Port Harcourt on 21 January 2017.
The Trump solidarity rally was clearly aimed at generating media buzz in order to get Donald Trump’s attention, which the Nigerian security forces happily assisted with by allegedly opening fire on the rally killing 11 (or 57 according to IPOB), wounding up to 27 and detaining 57, 35 of whom were released.
Despite the international media attention this garnered neither Donald Trump nor his supporters have shown interest in neo-Biafra, who are yet to benefit from either a tweet or retweet, much less any particularly pro neo-Biafra or even anti President Buhari policy, a disappointment further cemented by news that Donald Trump had a cordial phone conversation with President Buhari.
Thus far the crisis (such as it is) remains frozen with Kanu still in detention, scores of IPOB and MASSOB activists killed, wounded, detained or disappeared.
It is unclear if Kanu returned to Nigeria to organise an insurgency or was just visiting, likewise it is unclear if he deliberately engineered his arrest in order to provide a catalyst for a popular uprising, was betrayed or just unlucky.
However IPOBs’ campaign of virulent propaganda appears to seek to radicalise the population of the former Eastern Region and goad other tribes and religions into retaliation, in order to recreate the conditions of 1966-67 in which the persecuted Igbo’s return to the South East and unify under a single, sovereign political entity, with IPOB in a position to claim leadership of the nascent state.
Alternatively, IPOB could genuinely believe that tribalistic and sectarian propaganda would lead to a referendum and a genial parting of ways.
We will look at the strength and weaknesses of the neo Biafran movement, opportunities for the Nigerian government and potential threats.
- The neo Biafran movement is sustained by a hard core of fanatical believers
- Their narratives are supported by several genuine grievances that constitute a unifying narrative
o Nigeria is a fairly unjust and under developed country, poorly run by greedy and venal elite.
o Igbos were persecuted and massacred in 1966/67
o There have been subsequent pogroms of Igbo’s in the north since the civil war
o The war was devastating for Igbos and Igboland
- Modern technology allows media content to be easily produced and disseminated from any location on the globe to any location on the globe.
- The evolution of the interconnected information age and advent of social media has not increased knowledge rather locked most people into hermetically sealed information bubbles making counter radicalisation difficult.
- Biafra as a concept resonates very strongly with Igbo’s and is a fundamental part of Igbo history, forcing even non IPOB supporters to have to defend their tribe and history from the backlash of IPOBs activities, creating a classic ‘them and us’ situation.
- A continued convergence of interest between out of favour powerful and wealthy politicians seeking to put pressure on the government presents an opportunity for IPOB to attract support or patronage
- The use of disproportionate violence against IPOB by the security forces elicits sympathy for them if not their cause
- There is a general dislike for Igbo’s amongst certain sections of Nigerian society, envy of their ambition and suspicion of their motives. This animosity reinforces IPOBs narrative.
- Whilst IPOB and MASSOB might have global networks and the ability to generate street protests, their ability to translate this into useful positive effects such as national or international support has been limited.
- Despite MASSOBs conciliatory, non violent approach it failed to form partnerships with other mainstream tribal, regional or sectional groups. IPOB’s tribalistic and sectarian rhetoric and penchant for hyperbolic claims and insults has done little to improve on this.
- The concept of Biafra has a strong emotional pull on Igbo’s, IPOBs revisionism and tribalistic rhetoric in essence desecrates this memory further weakening their support amongst the people they purport to represent
- IPOB’s advocacy for Biafra generally ends at its creation, with no mention of what happens after secession, further reducing their appeal to potential local and foreign allies
- The factional nature of the separatist movement dilutes their message and dissipates their energy
- IPOB has escalation inferiority, even if it uses violence in response to repression, the effects will be felt disproportionately by innocent civilians.
- The economies of the Igbo states are mostly based on trade and manufacture, industries that need the free movement of goods, capital and people, which requires stability
- At the core of IPOBs message are the genuine political grievances of perceived marginalisation, under development, poor governance and lack of accountability for past injustices, if IPOB capitalises on these common grievances it could achieve popular support. Conversely acts of reconciliation and good governance from the Nigerian government can neutralise this
- IPOBs divisive rhetoric is easy to counter if one wished to, with a well planned and targeted media and psyop campaign to suppress their messaging with counter narratives and cyber warfare to shut down their online media outlets.
- Absorbing the lessons learned from the north east concerning adherence to human rights, using local auxiliaries, collecting human and technical intelligence and preparing the battlespace can prevent potential insurgents from using violence.
- IPOB rallies can be properly policed, not only preserving the lives and rights of Nigerian citizens but removing the main plank of their propaganda
- Observing the rule of law by trying detained IPOB members fairly counters the IPOB ‘zoo’ narrative
- Radicals could attack northerners or Muslims and provoke a response in the North leading to another set of pogroms.
- A guerrilla campaign against the security forces based in the rainforest or cities of Eastern Nigeria would overwhelm the single 2 understrength and already deployed Divisions in the area. History shows that in these situations troops resort to a massive and indiscriminate use of firepower and abusive practices to counter an insurgency
- IPOB uses the 40th anniversary of Biafran Independence to conduct a series of protests, provoking a violent security force response, radicalising more youths and hardening the resolve of current activists
- Nnamdi Kanu dies in detention splintering the group under more radical unknown and unpredictable leaders
- In the run up to the next elections, politicians seek to co-opt IPOB, using their networks and activists to rig the election, giving IPOB access to weapons and political protection.
- The use of deadly force against peaceful protestors reinforces the narrative of Igbo marginalisation and repression and creates a revenge motive for a violent secessionist movement
- Constant repression and the denial of fair trial to detained IPOB leaders much less any form of trial to ordinary IPOB members, removes any incentive for IPOB members to remain non-violent
In the panoply of Nigerian security threats, IPOB and neo Biafran agitation currently ranks far behind Boko Haram, Middle Belt Herdsmen/ Farmer conflict, Niger Delta militancy, other Islamic militant groups and even crimes such as kidnap for ransom, piracy, cattle rustling and armed robbery.
However, in the context of Nigeria, its internal politics and international relations and the situation is fraught with dangers.
The Igbo’s as a tribe occupy a unique place in Nigeria (and West Africa) as an avowedly assimilationist and commercial peoples, there are Igbo communities in every part of Nigeria and Africa (the author met unveiled, fully made up Igbo girls trading in Maiduguri market at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency), this aggressive entrepreneurialism as well as the Igbo’s egalitarian traditions that do not recognise traditional hierarchical boundaries cause resentment amongst some peoples however as the anecdote above shows, Igbo’s are also welcomed into the diverse communities they move to.
As the only group to actively and (for a period) successfully rebel against the state, Igbo ‘exceptionalism’ from the Nigerian norm is a complicating factor
Based on this and the 10s of anti Igbo religious/ tribal riots across Northern Nigeria it is likely that a renewed conflict in Igboland would be bloody, non discriminating and protracted.
The security forces use of violence unfortunately mirrors methods used in other theatres such as the North East and the Niger Delta, in neither of which were they effective. The Niger Delta insurgency was paused by paying off the militants whilst Boko Haram continues their war.
Despite the successful radicalisation of certain sections of Igbo and Eastern society both in Nigeria and abroad by the ‘alternative’ narrative of a ‘chosen people’ of an ancient kingdom of ‘Biafraland’, the fundamental flaws in their method and narrative that not only challenge the meritocratic hierarchy of Igboland, the memory of Biafra, as well as the egalitarian history and culture of Igboland but also materially threatens the livelihood of the Igbo political elite, business class and educated middle class as well as the multiple Igbo communities all over Nigeria particularly in the north. Thus IPOB remains a small, noisy fringe movement with limited popular support.
The only thing that can substantively change that would be a radical change in their narrative and methodology or the violent repression by the Government and security forces.
Unfortunately it would appear Nigerian Government and security forces would decided violence and repression are the best solution. Exercise Python Dance was completed successfully and more peacefully than other Divisional exercises such as Ex Shirin Harbi in 3 Divisions AOR focussing on cattle rustling and banditry, Ex Harbin Kunama in 1 Division AOR in July 2016 focusing on cattle rustling COIN and banditry, Ex Crocodile Smile in 2 and 82 Divisions AOR in September 2016 focussed on oil bunkering, oil theft and piracy, all of which transitioned seamlessly from exercises to kinetic operations, some of which are still ongoing.
However the exercise can be seen as a as a dress rehearsal for COIN operations in the South East featuring as it did urban surges such as that conducted by 144 Battalion in Aba from a FOB set up in a school, check points at the River Niger bridge head in Onitsha and on major routes.
The pacific outcome however gives lie to the narrative that neo Biafran separatism is a violent existential threat to Nigeria as claimed by President Jonathan, President Buharis statements on the issue have been no less disappointing, dismissing all concerns out of hand and addressing the agitation purely through the prism of an existential security threat.
This narrative is reinforced by the curious name given to 82 Divisions exercise, Ex Python Dance
In most parts of Igboland the python is a sacred creature, left to their own devices free to move around and enter homes at will (which can be considered an omen) without molestation. If a python is killed it is given the same burial rites as a human being (in a country as ophidiophobic as Nigeria this is remarkable).
The python is the messenger of the goddess Ala, the goddess of the earth, fertility, harvest, morality and the underworld, an offence against whom (such as murder) is an offence against the earth and one of the highest taboos in Igboland.
A Python does not dance and would not be made to dance.
It is thus curious that the Army would chose the one revered creature in the Igbo tradition as the name of its exercise.
As the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafran Independence approaches, opportunities to defuse the crisis exist. It is hoped they are taken.