The intensifying violence associated with the secessionist movement in Nigeria’s South-east is fuelled by the excessive militarised response of the state security forces as well as collective feelings of marginalisation and misinformation, a new report has said.
The report – Multiple Nodes and Common causes: National Stocktake of Contemporary Insecurity and State Responses in Nigeria – was authored and released on Friday by the Centre for Democracy and Development in West Africa (CDD). The report states that Nigeria faces an epidemic of insecurity, including the violent secessionist agitations in addition to terrorism, banditry, and the perennial farmer-herder conflicts.
The proscribed separatist group, IPOB, with its armed wing, ESN, has intensified an armed struggle in a radical push to force the South-east out of Nigeria and create an independent state of Biafra, decades after an initial effort caused a devastating civil war (1967-1970) and failed.
In the violent wave, attacks blamed on IPOB and ESN operatives have resulted in the killings of state security personnel and civilians. The attacks have targeted police stations, markets, and other public properties, including INEC offices and custodial centres.
The separatists have continued to enforce a sit-at-home every Monday to protest the continued incarceration of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is standing trial in Abuja. The weekly sit-at-home protests, with substantial compliance, mean schools are shut to avoid endangering pupils and suspension of socio-economic activities.
In its report, the CDD said military action by the government in 2016 worsened the IPOB crisis.
“Since the launch of a military operation known as “Operation Python Dance” in 2016, the region has witnessed an intensification of confrontations between IPOB and the Nigerian security forces – especially, the police, the Department of State Security (DSS), and the military,” CDD said, and then referenced a report by PREMIUM TIMES exposing massive extra-judicial killings by the Nigerian security between 2015 and 2016.
Among the factors contributing to the recent intensification of violent separatism in the region, CDD identified: “a violent defensive counter-response to the state’s militarised approach; a pronounced perception of contemporary marginalisation in Nigeria’s current federal political and security architecture; and the development and spread of false narratives legitimising armed mobilisation as a pathway to a regional secession.”
“For many interlocutors in the region — both those identifying as formal members of IPOB and those who rejected the movement’s aims — the militarised response of the security forces to the initial emergence of separatism was frequently highlighted as a key driver of the group’s counter-mobilisation,” CDD said.
The organisation further said that “attempts to address the conflict arising from secessionist agitations – which remain the most significant node of conflict in the region with a bearing on national cohesion – need to account for the central role of the state as a perpetrator of violence and injustice in any resolution.”
The Nigerian government has not only proscribed IPOB but also officially labelled it a terrorist organisation, thus ruling out formal discussions with the group.
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu is currently in detention where he is standing trial for treason and other charges.
There have been calls by political and traditional leaders from the South-east for Mr Kanu’s release as part of efforts to stem the violence in the region. President Muhammadu Buhari has, however, rejected such calls, saying the trial of Mr Kanu should run its course.
On Saturday, traditional rulers from the South-east restated their demand for Mr Kanu’s release. They said this was part of their agreement with violent secessionists who in turn agreed to end the sit-at-homes on Mondays in the region.