The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is not relenting on its mission to achieve the creation of an Igbo nation. According to Africa Confidential in a newsletter sent on Friday, February 19, the secessionist group is maintaining high-level lobbyists in Washington to sell its project – the actualization of a sovereign Biafra.
IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian, is seeking a referendum that will determine if the Igbos still want to remain as part of Nigeria. For this, Kanu has retained the services of Mercury Public Affairs, a Washington DC-based lobbying and public relations firm to persuade the United States government on the incompatibility of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria and the need for a possible break-up. Mercury refers to itself as a “high-stakes public strategy firm.”
Nigeria is tugging on all sides. The military has been deployed in 32 out of the country’s 36 states. Apart from the war with Boko Haram in the North East, bandits and armed herdsmen have infiltrated the North West, North Central, and the entire southern states. The herdsmen provoke violent conflicts with rural farming communities, creating a pervasive sense of insecurity in the country.
After several months of criticism of Nigerian Generals, President Muhammadu Buhari only recently reluctantly eased out the service chiefs whom many hold responsible for the poor handling of the nation’s security.
Igbos tend to believe that they are still punished politically for the Biafra war, lamenting the fact that their region is yet to produce a Nigerian president and the low number of Igbos holding Federal appointments. President Buhari’s flat-footed and indifferent political style has reinforced the perception of marginalization. IPOB has made huge public relations gains from President Buhari’s many missteps.
IPOB is now so popular that Governors of the South Eastern States step gingerly around its secessionist campaign, fearing that an outright condemnation of the IPOB would political suicide. A new generation of politicians from the region seeks to profit from Kanu’s popularity even when they do not share IPOB’s agenda.
The Igbos are very entrepreneurial and have a tradition of migration, settling in many parts of Nigeria. Nigerians say only in half-jest that there is no worthwhile business in any Nigerian town that lacks a sizeable delegation of Igbo business people.
From Lagos to Abuja to Port Harcourt, the Igbos hold the dominant positions in real estate, trade, and manufacturing. This complicates the quest for secession. Igbos have not forgotten the bitter experience of losing property and businesses when the Biafra war forced them to quit Nigeria’s main commercial centres.
It has become clear over the years that IPOB activities are not funded by Nnamdi Kanu’s unemployment cheques; he is not known to practice any profession or hold down any job in the United Kingdom.
IPOB enjoys the support of Igbos in diaspora. This is a plausible source of funding. A good number of the Igbo diaspora are descendants of those that fled during the civil war who hold dear stories of the ‘gallantry’ of the Biafran soldiers during the war.
To them, Biafra holds the key to realising the dream of an egalitarian and prosperous nation for the Igbos. The suboptimal performance of the Nigerian state which many consider stifling only fuels the desire for an independent country.
Kanu is a master propagandist whose aims are invariably aided by the cack-handed Nigerian government. He set up the Eastern Security Network in December 2021 ostensibly to tackle the growing insecurity in the region, notably “killer herdsmen”. The Nigerian authorities, as usual, responded in the only way they know how to; deploy military might to the area. On February 13, 2021 air force jets conducted reconnaissance missions on ESN purported bases.
The Federal Government’s poor human rights record, demonstrated most boldly through sending soldiers to shoot young people protesting police brutality, no doubt provides good material for the $80,000 per month assignment of Kanu’s lobbyists.