On May 30th 2017, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra from the former Eastern Region, neo Biafran groups IPOB and a faction of MASSOB ordered their supporters to sit at home for what they termed ‘Heroes Day’.
On 6thJune 2017 the Arewa Youth Leaders Forum a collection of Northern Nigerian organisations released a statement in Arewa House, Kaduna, Kaduna State. Named the Kaduna Declaration it was an ultimatum expiring on 1st October 2017 to people from Nigeria’s 3rd largest tribe (the Igbo’s) to leave Northern Nigeria in 90 days due to ‘Igbo Provocation’ in the form of the 30th May sit at home protests.
The announcement was followed by condemnation by several Northern Nigerian groups and Governors as well as an order for their arrest (as yet unrealised) and a relatively reserved but smug response by IPOB.
This situation bears looking at as it ties into Nigeria’s current political and its historical approach to ethnic conflict with clear security and humanitarian implications. We will look at the different factors that pertain to this situation below, starting with the declaration itself.
The Kaduna Declaration:
The key points from the declaration can be summarised below.
- Described as ‘unruly’ and ‘cruel’
- Accused of encroaching on others rights by the sit at home protest in the South East,
- Accused of damaging collective nationhood’ by leading the first coup
- Accused of ‘orchestrating’ the civil war
- Deemed responsible for ‘Nigeria’s cultural and moral degeneracy’ through crime
- Accused of supplying weapons to Boko Haram
- Accused of masquerading as Fulani herdsmen to commit violent atrocities
- Accused of showing contempt for Nigerian democracy
The signatories complained about the ‘docile Northern response’, proposing instead to:
- Refuse to coexist with Igbos
- Call upon national and international stakeholders to facilitate the final dissolution of ‘this hopeless union’
Their method for doing this was:
- ‘Reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership of landed properties all over the North.. enjoyed by the ingrate Igbos’, with the signatories of the declaration ‘…..mandated to commence immediate inventory of all properties, spaces or activity in the north…by Igbos for forfeiture at the expiration of the ultimatum….’, on the basis that Igbos living in the North and Northerners living in the East had 3 months to leave, each Region.
- The ultimatum is to be enforced by ‘civil society and pressure groups…to mobilize for sustained and coordinated campaigns at their respective State Government Houses, Houses of Assembly, Local Government Council Secretariat and Traditional Palaces to mount pressure…’.
It concluded by stating that as of 1st October 2017 an ‘effective, peaceful and safe mop up of all remnants of the stubborn Igbos…. shall commence’
The Declaration was reportedly supported by 16 groups however there were only 9 signatories namely; Nastura Sharif of the Arewa Citizens Action for Change (ACAC), Alhaji Ambassador Shettima Yerima of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Aminu Adam of the Arewa Youth Development Foundation (AYDF), Alfred Solomon of the Arewa Students Forum (ASF), Abdul- Azeez Suleiman of the Northern Emancipation Network (NEN), Mohammad A. Mohammad of the Northern Youth Stakeholders Forum (NYSF), Mohammed Tasiu Pantami of the North East Assembly and Joshua Viashman of the Northern Youth Vanguard.
The groups are an interesting mix, it is unclear how established they are or how many members they have. There is a fondness in Nigeria for setting up groups and associations which generally have large, important titles but few if any members, to try and clarify this we can review open source English language and some Hausa language sources.
The Arewa Students Forum seems mainly focussed on education issues especially in Bauchi State.
Abdul- Azeez Suleiman’s Northern Emancipation Network describes itself as a coalition of Northern groups but appear to insert themselves into spats involving the former ruling political party the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) such as when the ex COAS General Ihejirika and ex Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sherrif were accused of complicity with Boko Haram in 2014, in which they issued a press release focussed on exonerating PDP of the alleged links to Boko Haram. In 2015 they complained that former President Obasanjo tore up his PDP membership card, comparing him to a ‘motor park tout’, a compliment they also extended to the Oba of Lagos when they defended former Vice President Atiku from him.
In 2014 the ACAC issued a joint press release with the AYDF taking umbrage with Niger Delta militant Asari Dokubo. Curiously it is signed on behalf of ACAC by Aminu Adamu current signatory for AYDF, while AYDF’s signatory was Barrister Ali Usman.
Aminu Adam’s Arewa Youth Development Foundation (AYDF) appears to be the most consistent in a hard line Northern chauvinist attitude, with several petitions for non Northerners to leave the North. They also spent some time defending Atiku from attacks by Nasir El Rufai
The most interesting was issued in July 2015, in which they issued a 2 week ultimatum at the Emir of Kanos Palace, to all Northerners in the east and Igbo’s in the North to return to their Regions of origin due to the ‘humiliation of Northerners in the East’.
They apparently withdrew the ultimatum only to reissue it again in November 2015, the renewed ultimatum not only uses more or less the same reasons as the 2017 Kaduna Declaration (except for the accusation of supplying Boko Haram) and had exactly the same signatories (except that the Northern Youth Vanguard was named the Arewa Youth Vanguard).
The most prolific activist appears to be the media friendly Alhaji Ambassador Shettima Yerima of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, who opines on topics as varied as absolving the North of complicity in the death of MKO Abiola (June 12 1993 Presidential election winner), complaining about youth and student groups endorsing former President Jonathan in the 2015 election despite disavowing a collection of Northern Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors named the G7 (Niger, Jigawa, Kano, Sokoto, Adamawa and Kwara States) who were seeking to challenge the incumbent President Jonathan in the PDP Presidential primaries in 2013. In September 2013 he held a curious meeting in Owerri, Imo State with MASSOB leader Ralph Uwazuruike, Hamza Al Mustapha (ex dictator Sani Abachas former Chief Security Officer), Niger Delta militant Mujahid Asari Dokubo, Dr Frederick Fasheun of the Oodu’a Peoples Congress and Sani Abacha’s son Mohammed Abacha, ostensibly to discuss the ‘general interest of the country’. Al Mustapha had been sentenced to death for the 1996 murder of MKO Abiolas’ wife Kudirat but had been freed from a death sentence on appeal in July 2013, an event that drew praise from Shettima and the AYCF.
Al Mustapha subsequently attempted to organise a million man march with Asari Dokubo, including ACAC and AYDF, who rapidly dissociated themselves from the effort
In 2009 he was charged by the DSS with recruiting and training Hausa youth in Lagos as a paramilitary force, it is unclear what happened to those charges.
His most curious past pronouncement was in October 2015 in which he voiced solidarity with the Eastern complaints of marginalisation and stated he thought neo-Biafran agitation to be justified.
In 2017 Shettima took Senate President Saraki to task over his refusal to swear in an elected Senator from Akwa Ibom State. In April 2017 he complained that ‘a cabal’ around President Buhari was ‘turning him into private property’ and a few days before the ultimatum he accused the Vice President/ Acting President Yomi Osibanjo of appointing mostly Yorubas and members of his church (the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG)) to his staff, which the Acting President refuted by publishing a staff list.
The contradictory positions and personalities advocated for in the past indicate most of the signatories are professional ‘activists’ who host events and issue press releases at the behest of politicians hence. Although many of their pronouncements have a strong (but understandable) Northern bent and in some cases a Northern supremacist tendency, the groups and their leaders seemed to embrace a wide variety of causes, giving credence to the observation that the groups are more tools of politicians (particularly PDP politicians) than actual ethnic ideologues. The PDP focus might be significant however it could also be simply a factor of that party’s 16 year dominance of the political sphere, giving them more funds and reasons to pay for surrogates.
IPOB and Kanu:
The ostensible reason for the 2017 ultimatum is neo Biafran agitation (also cited in the 2015 ultimatum).
As discussed in previous articles, neo Biafran agitation began in 1999 with the end of the Abacha dictatorship by the Movement for the Actualisation for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Ralph Uwazuruike.
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was formed in 2012 by the former Director of Radio Biafra (MASSOB’s online radio station) Nnamdi Kanu as a more radical neo Biafran group, combining secessionism, conspiracy theories, Jewish lost tribe theories, Igbo supremacy and tribalism into a quasi-religious cult. Their narrative is disseminated by Radio Biafra, social media, an aggressive propaganda campaign and publicity stunts and claims that the Igbo peoples descended from the Jews of the Middle East and are the chosen people of their god (Chukwu Okike Abiam) and that Biafra was an ancient pre colonial Kingdom which was suppressed by the perfidious British in order to give Hausa Fulanis control of the future Nigeria and enslave Chukwu Okike Abiam’s chosen people, i.e. the Igbos.
IPOB remained at the fringe of Igbo society and polity and even at the fringe of the neo Biafran movement until 2015 and the defeat of former President Jonathan and the PDP in the Presidential election after which IPOB and neo Biafran agitation attracted the support of disgruntled politicians and Niger Delta militants, with rhetoric and agitation increasing until the arrest of Kanu in October 2015 on charges of treasonable felony.
Repression of IPOB demonstrations and meetings became deadly in 2015 with detention, fatalities and injuries in Onitsha, Bayelsa and Port Harcourt. This was repeated in 2016 in Aba, Asaba and Onitsha.
The last fatal demonstration was a Trump solidarity rally in Port Harcourt on 21 January 2017.
Several Eastern politicians such as the Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, (or Okoro-awusa according to Kanu during his Radio Biafra days) from the ruling APC party requested the Federal Government release him on bail.
Other prominent Eastern supporters were 3 term Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe and former Minister of Aviation Osita Chidoka (UPP, Anambra)
Interestingly Kanu’s his most vocal supporters outside IPOB were two Yoruba politicians; Femi Fani Kayode (popularly known as FFK) and Ayo Fayose.
Fani Kayode, a British educated scion of a Yoruba political family from Osun State, was a Minister of Tourism and then Aviation in President Obasanjos’ administration
Originally a member of the opposition All Parties Congress, in 2008 he was charged and tried with corruption. He was a vocal and articulate critic of PDP and President Jonathan until June 2014 when he joined PDP, becoming a vocal and articulate critic of then candidate Gen. Buhari and the APC.
In November 2014, the number of charges were reduced from 40 to 2 and the allegedly laundered amount from N100m to N2.1m. Charges were dismissed in July 2015
The defeat of PDP and a resumption of corruption charges led FFK to identify with all of President Buharis, perceived political adversaries such as Sambo Dasuki and Kanu, adopting the IPOB cause and advocating for neo Biafra in the media. He visited Kanu in court and prison, with Kanu returning the hospitality upon release.
A similar personality is the Governor of Ekiti State (a Yoruba State in the Southwest) Ayo Fayose, whose self appointed mantle of opposition attack dog has seen him accuse President Buharis wife of being wanted for money laundering in the US as well as adopt the IPOB/ Kanu cause.
Kanu was eventually released on bail on 28 April 2017, leaving his 3 co defendeants in detention, despite his bail conditions stipulating no media interviews or gatherings, he has used his notoriety well, to give interviews and meet with his members and other publicity stunts.
Sit At Home
30 May 2017 would mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra. Whilst the day generally passed quietly throughout the country, neo Biafrans have tagged it Hero Day and have used it to commemorate the fallen from the Civil War with rallies, which were repressed by the Government.
In a change of strategy (which undoubtedly saved many lives) IPOB declared the day to be a ‘Sit at Home’ Day for all ‘Biafrans’, in which schools, businesses, markets would not open.
There were significant closures on the day in the East, particularly the core Igbo States and Port Harcourt, with some sitting at home in compliance and others for fear of violence and reprisals.
Several key events moved IPOB from being a ridiculous fringe movement to being a major player in Nigerian politics; the first being the defeat of the PDP government, who had used appropriated the IPOB narrative of Buhari as a tribalist, religious fundamentalist who would impose Sharia law nationwide (and legalise gay marriage) during the election. The shock loss of power gave IPOB a boost in the South South, ably fuelled by out of favour politicians and Niger Delta militants.
Secondly the arrest of Kanu, elevated him from a minor irritant to a cause celebre. His prolonged detention on fairly flimsy charges, without trial or bail elevated him to a prisoner of conscience.
Thirdly the response of President Buhari and the Nigerian security forces of repression and a failure to empathise, ignore IPOB or even dialogue with moderate Igbo elements.
The fourth component was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Biafra, a date which resonates with Igbo’s if not the rest of Nigeria.
The successful sit at home demonstration, followed by the litany of politicians and others visiting Kanu, put IPOB at the height of its powers.
The Kaduna Declaration followed 6 days later
Northern: the Declaration was met with general condemnation by Northern elites, with a few notable exceptions such as Northern Elders Forum (NEF) leader Ango Abdullahi.
On 7th June, Yerima Shettima and Isaac Balami recorded a video stating, there was no need for panic and advocating unity. They did not explicitly renounce or take back the ultimatum and then the next day the signatories issued another Press Release reinforcing their demands.
Eastern: Eastern politicians and elites universally condemned the Declaration and called on the Federal Government to intervene and host governments to protect Igbo people
Rest of Nigeria: groups from the East, West, South South, Middle Belt etc condemned the declaration.
A coalition of Niger Delta militants not to be out done stated that Northerners should return all oil blocs and leave all oil producing states in 3 months and that the Federal Government should replace the Inspector General of Police, DSS Director General and NSA with a person from the South West, South east and South South respectively.
The Yoruba Sociocultural group Afenifere called for a referendum to determine the countries future, the Arewa Youth Forum disassociated itself from the ultimatum
Government: The Kaduna State Governor ordered the signatories arrest on the 7th of June.
Virtually all Northern Governors led by Borno and Kaduna State condemned the Declaration as did numerous traditional leaders, with the Emir of Kano releasing a statement in which he stated ‘the Igbo’s had learnt their lesson’.
On the 8th of June, the IGP of the Police put police forces on alert and the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum Ebonyi State Governor Chief David Umahi condemned the statement and reiterated Eastern support for One Nigeria
On the 13th members of the National Assembly met the head of the police and Armed forces
On 14 June The Acting President Osibanjo, Senate President, Speaker of the House and Chief of Defence Staff met several Northern leaders including Ibrahim Coomasie (Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Ango Abdullahi (NEF), former Sokoto State Governor Aliyu Wamakko, former Plateau State Deputy Governor Pauline Tallen, a former Minister from Benue State Dr Paul Unongo, publisher of Leadership newspaper Sam Ndah-Isah, Liberty Radio and TV Chairman Tijani Ramalan and Editor of Daily Trust newspaper Dan Ali. On the 14th he met eastern political leaders, on the 16th he met Eastern traditional rulers and on the 18th traditional rulers from the North
International: Curiously there was muted international response, although the local UN coordinator immediately called for tolerance, the US and UK remained silent until almost 2 weeks later, when the British High Commission commended and supported the Acting President’s response to the issue and called for calm and reconciliation
IPOB: reacted with barely restrained glee, thanking the coalition for the ultimatum and urging Igbos to return to the East
Social media: whilst social media is an imperfect tool, there were curious patterns in the response, whilst there were many jubilantly supportive posts for the ultimatum from non Igbos in public forum and timelines, curiously there was muted support on purely Northern forums or timelines.
Verbal and physical attacks on Igbo’s have been fairly consistent throughout the life of Nigeria, anti Igbo riots or pogroms date from 1945 and almost all of them were linked to events external to the participants. The riots of 1945 were sparked by a quarrel between Hausa and Igbo traders, however took place during agitations by southern (mainly Igbo) politicians for independence from Britain as well as a general strike. The 1956 riots in Kano were in retaliation for Northern politicians being jeered in Lagos.
This practice has been continued and expanded in modern Nigeria with the perennial massacres in Plateau State and Kaduna State categorised as tribal or religious but are really struggles for political positions. Clashes in Igboland classed as cult wars are also political battles.
Thus in the context of Nigerian politics the anti Igbo invective and even the ‘quit notice’ ultimatum are not unique, this exact same coalition issued the exact same ultimatum against Igbo’s 2 years ago, however this time they have managed to gather political and media attention due to the neo Biafran agitation.
When the personalities involved are taken into account as well as the uncertainity occasioned by President Buharis ill health and the behind the scenes jockeying for power in advance of the 2019 elections, one can postulate that a group of politicians have commissioned this a coterie of professional ‘activists’ to issue the ultimatum. The key question is to what end?
Why- Different Scenarios
There are several different ways politicians can exploit this situation:
Peacemakers: certain politicians will exploit the situation to act as ‘peacemakers’, defusing the crisis, giving them national prominence and credibility as well as attract patronage
Kite flyers: the ultimatum could also be seen as a kite flyer, in which politicians wish to test the national mood and see if an anti Igbo campaign or pogrom would energise their base or at least intimidate their opponents.
Mobilisers: if the people overtly and covertly behind the ultimatum act on their threats and begin action against Igbo people, that ability to mobilise ‘the street’ as it were is a valuable commodity that can be marketed to anyone with political aspirations to utilise their foot soldiers to campaign or rig elections.
Chameleons: whilst anti Igbo rhetoric sells well in many quarters, Igbos are electorally insignificant. With only 5 states all of which are under the control of venal, political godfathers, there is almost no reason to actively campaign in Igboland as long as a candidate has reasonably broad support in the west and north.
Igbo populations in the Northern states are equally electorally insignificant, neither voting nor supporting parties or candidates as a bloc. However under the cover of anti Igbo riots or demonstrations, politicians could attack political, religious or tribal rivals, either to ethnically or politically cleanse an area prior to an election or intimidate the electorate and rivals.
Checks and balance: the sit at home protest by Kanu’s IPOB was a strategically brilliant move. Whilst IPOBs leadership has been happy to exploit the Nigerian authorities penchant for lethally overreacting to the slightest challenge and utilise the deaths of their members to maximum propaganda advantage, this tactic has thus far not got them any where. The Sit at Home on the other hand deprived the Security Forces of people to shoot or arrest but amply demonstrated the reach of IPOB, elevating Kanu’s status. The coterie of Eastern and other politicians who have flocked to visit Kanu are also visible demonstrations of the the mans perceived power. The ultimatum could simply have been a response from other groups of politicans to demonstrate that they still retain the trump card of a pogrom to keep the Igbos in general and other political opponents in particular in check.
Pre emptive strikers: In Nigeria’s lexicon of rotational Presidency, only the South East has not yet produced a President. Whilst Igboland is currently run by a coterie of extremely corrupt and incompetent political leaders vying to be the Igbo consensus candidate, non of them has truly broken out of the pack and declared their intentions beyond the Imo State Governer, who appears keen to leverage his successful gamble at supporting APC and President Buhari to being an APC Presidential nominee.
However this is complicated by the fact that the last Northern President died in office and was succeeded by a man from the South South, whilst the current Northern President is extremely unwell and even if he survives could conceivably step down prior to the next election. Logically APCs next candidate would be the Vice President (from the South West), if he won a term by himself and stood for another term them it would mean that the South East having waited 28 years since the inception of the 4th Republic and would definitely get the next candidacy.
Amongst some Northern politicians there is the belief that they have been twice cheated by the south in general and Yoruba’s in particular, with Obasanjo imposing the sickly Yar Adua and now a sickly Buhari potentially succeeded by another Yoruba.
In order to stake their claim in the short term to a Northern candidacy in 2019 (in the event of President Buhari’s demise or resignation) or in the long term in 2027 or beyond, threatening the Igbos has the dual benefit of scaring them out of agitating for their ‘turn’ and also puts the Yoruba political elite on notice.
Coupists: a favoured tactic in Africa is to create crisis in order to declare national emergencies and thus suspend the Constitution or impose martial law, allowing the existing elite to rule indefinitely and define all their opponents as enemies of the state.
In another scenario, creating a crisis, with killings and mass displacements would create such a crisis for the Government, that the military could conceivably overthrow the government ‘to restore order’.
Ungovernable: a variation on the theory above is to create a crisis which makes the country ungovernable, creating a narrative of incompetence, insecurity and failure (considering the state of Nigeria, one needs extreme measures to make anyone notice anything different). The government would then be overwhelmed and politically vulnerable.
Whilst Igbo bashing and anti Igbo pogroms have been part and parcel of the Nigerian political landscape, behind every massacre is a disgruntled politician or a political opportunity.
This situation is no different.
For Northern politicians President Buhari’s ill health has created a political vacuum opening the possibility that a canny politician could usurp the Vice President as a ‘Northern consensus candidate’ or at the very least build up sufficient momentum that they can convert to patronage in order to step aside.
For Eastern politicians with Presidential ambitions this situation gives them a radical element, they can claim to have ‘controlled’. For local elections IPOB provides foot soldiers for rigging and intimidation.
It is perhaps instructive that Osita Chidoka who drove Kanu from prison, left PDP and joined a smaller party the UPP and announced he was running for Governor a few days later
Whilst this might seem like business as usual unfortunately it is not. There are many IPOB true believers for whom ‘Biafra or death’ is a reality. Likewise there are many Northern supremacists for whom the uppity Igbo’s need to be put in their place.
There are many variables in play here with multiple outcomes, three of the most important are President Buhari’s health, memories of 1966 and the unpredictability of IPOB.
Whilst IPOB neither has the capacity or capability for violence or retaliation outside of the East, it does have the ability to make the South East and South South ungovernable (at least for a little while), which threatens oil production.
Acting President Osibanjos’ has responded promptly qith a series of conciliatory actions such as a sympathetic speech in the run up to the Sit At Home protest as well as meeting leaders from all Regions after the ultimatum.
These actions indicate the beginnings of a new approach to agitation around the country how much it resonates with the political elite is questionable.
The feelings of marginalisation in Igboland that feed neo Biafran agitation are on the surface simply symptoms of the abject failure of governance that pervades Nigeria, however greatly exacerbated by the history of the 1966 pogroms and Civil War.
As an alternative to secession many have stated that this is an opportunity to restructure the Federation in order to try and address some of the inequities of Nigeria, in the eyes of Nigeria’s venal and incompetent political class this could simply be an opportunity to get more contracts and appointments.
The seriousness of this situation is yet to be ascertained but the lessons of the Niger Delta and Boko Haram are there to be learned.