Pro-Biafrans protest for Nnamdi Kanu release
A pro-Biafra supporter holds a poster of jailed activist Nnamdi Kanu during a protest calling for his release AFP/Getty Images

Pro-Biafra protesters are welcome to hold their planned demonstrations in Lagos, but they should do so within the law, Nigerian security forces have told IBTimes UK. Defence spokesperson, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, made the comment as a pro-Biafran group announced it will hold demonstrations in Lagos on 16 and 17 December.

Abubakar said: "We have never had problems with pro-Biafran or any other type of protests as long as they are done peacefully and in respect of the constitution. There shouldn't be any violence or obstructions causing havoc. There is no need for any person to act against the constitution. We will work to make sure there won't be any volatile situation."

Earlier in December, the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) announced it will hold demonstrations in Lagos on 16 and 17 December calling for the "unconditional release" of their leader Nnamdi Kanu, detained by the state security service (DSS) on charges of criminal conspiracy, intimidation and belonging to an unlawful society.

During the second day, protesters are expected to visit embassies, as well as Amnesty International and UN offices.

Deadly protests

Ipob and other pro-Biafran groups hold demonstrations throughout south-eastern Nigeria calling for the independence of the Biafran territories. They claim they are neglected by the Nigerian government, which allegedly uses proceeds from resources in the Biafran lands to invest in the central and northern part of the country.

Massob, BIM and Ipob

Massob and Ipob have claimed several times they are not related. Both movements accuse each other of violent propaganda and actions. According to Ipob members, violent actions blamed on Massob smear pro-Biafrans' reputation and are used by the government to claim the whole movement is violent.

The Nigerian government has deemed Massob as an extremist group. Its leader Ralph Uwazuruike was arrested in 2005 on treason charges. He was released two years later.

Uwazuruike announced on 6 December the group had been renamed Biafra Independent Movement (BIM). He explained the decision was necessary following violent actions by internal dissidents.

He said during a press conference in Owerri, capital of Imo state: "The change in name became absolutely necessary because of the sad introduction of violence by the disgruntled dissidents and this is at variance with the non-violence stance of Massob over the years."

Uwazuruike also alleged he had recruited Kanu in 1989 and appointed him as the director of Radio Biafra. "He started preaching hatred and brainwashing the youths. Massob sacked him." Ipob denies the allegations.

Pro-Biafrans also argue they were forcibly annexed to Nigeria during the British colonisation and they cannot live with Nigerians due to cultural and religious differences. A Biafran Republic was established in 1967 and reannexed to Nigeria in 1970, following a civil war that claimed between one and three million lives.

Protests have increased following Kanu's arrest. In one instance, a demonstration in Anambra state in which at least 20,000 took part resulted in the alleged death of at least nine people. Speaking to IBTimes UK, the Nigerian police denied the killings and claimed the protests were disrupting peace after demonstrators had blocked the Niger Bridge in Onitsha.

However, the Abuja-based Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (Huriwa) said it has gathered evidence of the killings.

It is not yet clear whether the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob) will also take part in the protests.

Ikechukwu Opara, Massob coordinator in the US, told IBTimes UK: "Massob remains united with other organisations in the Biafra movement, including Ipob and Biafra Independent Movement (Bim), on the non-violent realisation of the Independent State of Biafra. All protests and demonstrations are halted until further notice, respecting requests from different factions of the Biafra movement.

Calls for peace talks and referendum

Earlier in December, Nigerian politicians and elite members held a discussion on the Biafra issue. The talks took place in the federal capital of Abuja and were chaired by Nigerian politician and former UN representative Maitama Sule.

However, pro-Biafran groups rejected dialogue calls arguing the only person suitable to attend the talks is Kanu.

Meanwhile, Washington-based NGO Organisation of Emerging African States (Oeas) – which advocates for people's right to self-determination – warned that Nigeria could risk "civil strife" if pro-Biafrans' demands are not met. In a statement released on 4 December, the organisation also said Nigeria should hold a referendum on the Biafra issue within 90 days with independent observers supervising the polls.

Calls for a referendum have been also made by the UK, where MPs Tom Elliott and Danny Kinahan signed a motion acknowledging pro-Biafran calls for independence. The motion read: "That this House acknowledges the Biafran issue could be improved with the co-operation of the Nigerian government by offering a referendum; and urges the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to use its diplomatic strength to assist in the resolution of this matter."

The UK government told IBTimes UK: "The Biafran War caused great suffering and the UK supported the reconciliation work that followed the conflict. The UK supports the territorial integrity of Nigeria and President Buhari's commitment to work for a secure and prosperous Nigeria for all Nigerians."

President Muhammadu Buhari has so far not made any comments with regards to a referendum. Earlier this year, a spokesperson for the 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".

Earlier in December, the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, urged Nigerian leaders to defend the unity of the country but said pro-Biafran demonstrators are completely legitimate.

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