Dickson Iroegbu
Dickson Iroegbu Facebook

"I do not believe in an independent Biafra, but I defend freedom of speech and equality," Nigerian film-maker Dickson Iroegbu told IBTImes UK. Iroegbu has come under fire in the past few days after he posted a comment on Facebook saying that if anything happened to controversial Briafran leader Nnamdi Kanu - currently detained by the state service (DSS) in Abuja - Nigeria "will burn"

Kanu is the director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob). He was arrested in Lagos in October on charges of criminal conspiracy, intimidation and belonging to an unlawful society. He pleaded not guilty.

Ipob and other pro-Biafrans call for the independence of territories that constituted the Biafran Republic, established in 1967 and reannexed to Nigeria in 1970, following a civil war that claimed between one and three million lives. Pro-Biafrans often stage rallies - which they call evangelisations - across states in the south-east, calling for independence. Demonstrations have increased since Kanu, who lives in the UK, was apprehended.

Dickson Iroegbu comment on Nnamdi Kanu
Dickson Iroegbu comment on Nnamdi Kanu Dickson Iroegbu / Facebook

"Some people thought my post was a threat, but it's not," Iroegbu said. "I do not support the independence of Biafra, but I believe that Kanu should not have been arrested for simply exercising freedom of speech, a right that our constitution guarantees.

"As long as you are not taking up arms, you have the right to say what you want and the government should initiate dialogue. There are people who are confirmed to be terrorists and are free in Nigeria, while a young man who has not in any way afflicted pain is now being treated as a terrorist, according to the news out there".

Iroegbu reiterated that although he comes from the Igbo, the largest ethnic group in the Biafran territories, he does not support the calls for independence. However, he added that he understands the frustration of the Igbos, who he said feel neglected by the government and disenfranchised.

"My statement does not have anything to do with secession," he said. "My call for the release of Kanu is simple: So that we can move our nation forward. It has nothing to do with destroying Nigeria.

"Nigeria is a great nation but the leadership, at the moment, seems it's not there for the country. I am an Igbo man and I understand Igbos' frustration. Igbos are discriminated against and they deserve equity and justice. The Nigerian governement should engage with youths in this country, who are not happy with the treatment they are getting."

Government's position on pro-Biafran movement

Pro-Biafrans claim they hold peaceful demonstrations and accuse the police of violence against demonstrators. Amnesty International said in an exclusive report by IBTimes UK there was "credible evidence that pro-Biafran separatists in Nigeria are targeted by police".

Police have denied these claims, arguing that pro-Biafrans hold violent rallies that disrupt peace. Public relations officer for the police in Anambra state Oleehkukyu Ali also said the police have nothing against pro-Biafran groups as long as they behave in a peaceful way.

"Our country provides freedom of association, speech and movement. But groups have to behave peacefully. Police in Anambra are operating a very open policy and leaders of groups should engage with us and let us know what they are doing so we are aware of protests," said Ali.

The Nigerian government told IBTimes UK that it does not consider the separatist movement a threat to the current leadership and defined pro-Biafrans as an "insignificant number of frustrated people who are not a threat to the existence of Nigeria".

Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman told IBTimes UK: "The message to the Biafrans is clear: The army and police might use the Rules of Engagement (ROE) on security operations to the fullest depending on the circumstances."

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