Soft drink company Coca-Cola has told IBTimes UK it is making sure its cans are not being customised to show support for political causes. The statement was issued after some campaigners supporting an ongoing pro-Biafran separatist movement in south eastern Nigeria claimed the company was behind their cause after pictures purportedly showing some Coca-Cola cans with the words "Nnamdi Kanu" and "Biafrans" emerged.
Pro-Biafrans are calling for the independence of the Biafran territories forcibly annexed to Nigeria during British colonisation, which ended in 1960. They hold regular marches across the country's south east demanding independence and the release of their leader Nnamdi Kanu, Radio Biafra director and head of the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob). He is standing trial on six counts of treasonable felony charges.
Some Biafran media outlets claimed that several shops across Nigeria were selling "specially customised" Coca-Cola drinks. "Many noted this as unprecedented as some also declared their interest in getting at least a few. Biafrans are exploring every available avenue to promulgate the gospel of the restoration of Biafra," said the Biafran Times.
However, Coca Cola told IBTimes UK: "Our latest Share a Coke, Share a Feeling campaign offers Nigerian consumers the opportunity to customise Coca-Cola cans with personalised messages, words and inscriptions. While measures were introduced to ensure that no derogatory or offensive words could be included, we are updating them to ensure that the cans are not customised to show support for political causes.
"As a company that operates in over 200 countries around the world, Coca-Cola has no political or religious affiliation and will work harder to ensure this is reflected through our promotions and the popular Share a Coke campaign moving forward." A spokesperson for Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari has not responded to a request for comments on the customised cans.
Kanu's arrest and allegations of violence
Kanu's arrest in Lagos in October 2015 shed light on the independent movement and alleged abuses by the Nigerian government against pro-Biafran supporters. Kanu was arrested on conspiracy and terrorism charges, which were later dropped. A day after the Abuja High Court ordered his release, officials pressed new treasonable felony charges against him, while President Muhammadu Buhari said Kanu would not be granted bail due to the "atrocities" allegedly committed.
Amnesty International confirmed to IBTimes UK that Nigerian security forces had used excessive force against pro-Biafran protesters. However, in subsequent interviews with IBTimes UK, the army and police have denied allegations of violence.
The Nigerian government has always maintained that Nigeria's unity was a priority for the country and that although peaceful pro-Biafran protests were welcome, demanding the breakaway of the Biafran territories was against the constitution. A Biafran Republic was established in 1967 and re-annexed to Nigeria in 1970, following a civil war that claimed between one and three million lives.