By Gbemisola Esho

Origin and Ideology of IPOB

IPOB is the acronym for the Indigenous People of Biafra, a group within the South East of Nigeria pushing for secession from the state of Nigeria. The ideology behind IPOB is that of separatism and nationalism.

Nationalism in the sense of the primordialist perspective; as a reflection of the ancient and perceived evolutionary tendency of humans to organise into distinct groupings based on an affinity of birth.

The agenda is to restore the independent state of Biafra which was formed in the old Eastern Region of Nigeria by Lieutenant Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who was an officer in the Nigerian Army, who was once the commander of the 5th battalion domiciled in Kano, later Military Governor of the Eastern Region before he revolted and a civil war ensued from July 17th 1967 to January 15th 1970. 

The root cause being the massacre of the Igbos living in Northern Nigeria between 1953–1966 a catalyst for the already built up tension.

The backlash of the 1966 coup, which was termed “an Igbo coup” because majority of the officers involved were of Igbo descent. 

As a result of which people from the Igbo ethnic group were targeted in a pogromme; a matter that is still debated.

Ojukwu moved to declare Biafra due to these events, which helps buttress the narrative that the reason for separation was due to concerns for the wellbeing and safety of Igbo people.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Map of Nigeria before the eve of Biafra War after the Aburi Accord

Source: Researchgate

The group, described as a secessionist by some, has grown from when it was started by its leader Nnamdi Kanu. The IPOB is a faction of another Biafra separatist group called MASSOB the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, which was renamed Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) due to widening schisms and the “non violence” elements that seemed to take root in the factions, Nnamdi Kanu went ahead to form IPOB.

The Indigenous People of Biafra was founded in 2012 the group and the Nigerian Government have been at loggerhead from inception, they are regarded to be a terrorist by the government of Nigeria under the terrorist act.

Image of the flag of Biafra .Source:Wikipedia

Former President Goodluck Jonathan administration called out the organisation as being extremist; the Buhari administration is not any different with no love lost between IPOB and other Pro Biafra separatist groups. Nevertheless, this has not deterred the groups and they have continued to grow and recruit new members in their ranks.

The Growth of the Organisation

Over time, there have been outbreaks of violence, organised marches and protest which have escalated in various communities causing destruction and mayhem.

Visualisation of number of death over the years since founding of IPOB

The organisation has continued to attract sympathy from international organisations presenting different fronts to the world.

The most commonly explored are as follows:

* They are protesting because of the perceived bias against the Igbo community who forms a majority in the ranks. A narrative that was prevalent in the early years of Nigeria’s independence and led to a civil war from 1967–1970.

* That they are the lost tribe of Israel and as a result, they are persecuted like Israel was before they settled in a nation.

* Their agitation is a human right violation situation not a security, social or political agenda.

The organisation has grown under Kanu’s leadership as he deployed the use of technology; they have organised strong online presence in different geographical locations of the world; the most popular is an online radio called Radio Biafra to spread and campaign for their cause. The organisation has global attention and they have leveraged on this to push their cause and raise money.

Interest in IPOB in different region from Google trends.

Interest in IPOB in different subregions /states from Google trends.

Google Trend Interest over time on the topic IPOB in 5 states in Nigeria

The Nigerian Government and IPOB

The Nigerian Government and IPOB have a turbulent relationship with each accusing the other of foul play. 

The government of Nigeria declared the organisation to be a terrorist organisation in September 2017 and IPOB should not be tolerated.

IPOB on the other hand, rebut this, saying that the state of Nigeria is unfavourable in their disposition to them and are about a witch-hunt on their organisation, the leaders and friends of Nigeria.

Different school of thoughts have unequivocally alluded to that narrative that IPOB’s grievances are political, socio-economical, and cultural in nature which is as a result of being marginalised in the Nigerian State.

The Socialisation of IPOB

IPOB’s account of their agenda has gained some grounds in some parts of Nigeria particularly in the South East. The narrative pushed is idealistic and sensational paraded as the ultimate solution to the problems and issues of the Igbo ethnic group solving the conundrum.

They have been very vocal about their plight and have been defiant against the Nigerian State on several occasions and deliberately gone against them in different ways like holding unauthorised rallies, sit-at-homes and demonstrations.

IPOB has taken it upon themselves to extend its activities on the people and communities and forcefully conscript the people to obey their orders thereby, paralyzing business activities by shutting down markets places and they enforce the sit-at-homes actions on the populace.

The audacity of the perpetrators is further emboldened by the mishandling of communication by the present government. 

Past governments like those of President Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007) and President Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015) who dealt with separatists with non-kinetic strategies with a view to de-escalating tensions in the past with discretion.

The military have received great criticism for their handling of the members of the group and supporters from several cultural and interests group and on social media. 

The group has also been strategic in forming cross border relationships and partnerships to pursue their cause with other separatist groups.

The Culture of IPOB

The weaponisation of information is often used by the group via platforms and publications is gradually becoming the trademark of IPOB: A culture of violence born in hate speech plus misinformation and disinformation.

The circulation of unverified stories and mostly propaganda issuing inflammatory words and speeches about other ethnic groups. The lack of diplomacy is also a norm with groups who rather than communicate use force, coercion and manipulation in bringing light to issues.

A classical example of such act includes the almost coincidental rise in violence after the collection of South East governors paid no heed to create a security outfit similar to Amotekun (A southwest local security operative) in the South East to protect from the incessant herdsmen menace.

Nnadmi Kanu not only gave an order to establish ESN, Eastern (Nigerian) Security Network; a security outfit without legal backing the group under his leadership has extended its tentacles by taking things a notch higher.

There have been increased attacks in the region on government facilities like the correctional service centres, police stations, DSS State offices, INEC offices, and the targeting of security agents. 

The Armed Forces, Police, Customs, Immigration among other officers of the law inclusive.

Still unsatisfied with this outcome, an element of criminality is revealed in the matter, with taking the laws into their hands by issuing a ‘Sit-At-Home’ order on Mondays to everyone who resides in the SouthEast states made up of predominate Igbo people otherwise called “Àní Igbo” (Igbó land). Harming those who disobey the order most of the time killing them; all these done by groups of young men, armed with weapons.

The Politics of IPOB

The Politics of IPOB cannot be traced to any certain framework or set of principles in play.

Chudi Offodile wrote in his book “Politics of Biafra” and the future of Nigeria, the ideology of Biafra and its congruence of its Politics juxtaposes this with that of IPOB in his interview on the Book Club

Part 1

Interview with Channels BookClub

Part 2

Offodile compares this stating that though the ideology is similar if not the same, the circumstances are different. He was not agreeable with the methodology, modus operandi and feels Ojukwu would probably not be too.

When asked directly, by the Channels correspondent if Ojukwu would have directed or opposed Kanu, Offodile felt that the Biafra leader would not oppose him stating his reasons that Ojukwu supports that recognition of the rights and freedom of individuals should be upheld; that though the way the agitation is deployed may be faulty, he has a right to agitate if he feels his rights are trampled upon.

Religion and IPOB

The leader of IPOB Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is seen to be quoted by members of IPOB in many places saying “We are the indigenous people of Biafra under oath to restore Biafra.

“Biafra to us is a religion, we believe that the restoration of Biafra is not in the gift of a man to give.”

He sees himself as a Moses of some sort who received a call to liberate his people.

This is the narrative that is pushed and widely accepted by the group.

Many believe that Biafra is their religion and the Biafra Radio their place of worship though this may be an analogy, it is not clear if it is as it is said.

However, it may be, IPOB, in the name of religion, pursued, a precarious path.

Common grounds with the State of Nigeria and IPOB?

The State of Nigeria and IPOB can put their differences away and meet themselves half way if:

* The spirit of true reconciliation is embraced and both sides apologise and forgive each other for the various acts they have committed against one another.

A remembrance day for the day Biafra started or ended could be the first step to reconciliation and call for understanding.

A handpicked group of both parties with no ulterior motives intended arrange a meeting.

Rules of engagement is another consideration that could be given priority, where IPOB’s agitations may be looked at objectively and handled like some past governments as in a democratic government and IPOB considers their engagement with the Nigerian Government to embrace peace and dialogue.

This comes highly recommended by an Igbo Elder Statesman, Major General Alexander Madeibo, on his 90th birthday and relaunch of his book, The Nigerian Revolution Biafran War who said pursues peace with your neighbours and fellow Nigerians, saying “Violence is not a way of going about the agitations.”

Madeibo is one of the first set of officers in the Nigerian Army (among with Arthur Unegbe and Yakubu Gowon who were coursemates in Sandhurst Academy in 1954) he outranked Ojukwu, he later became the Chief of Army Staff on the Biafra Side.

Photo Credit : Uyi Obaseki(The Nigerian Nostalgia Project) ;Cadets Arthur Unegbe,Alexander Madeibo and Yakubu Gowon at Coursemates Sandhurst Military Academy UK in 1954

The Legacy of Biafra

IPOB continues the legacy of Biafra, their ideology may be non-congruent but schools of thought have affirmed to this stating that the Biafra is an idea.

Professor Wole Soyinka a Nobel laureate who won the Prize of literature in 1986 alludes to this when he said in an interview that “Once an idea has taken hold, you cannot destroy that idea” advising the government to come up with new strategies for dealing with the issue in other to deal with the reactivated zeal for independence in the South East.

He also said “You may destroy the people that carry the idea on the battlefield, but, ultimately, it is not the end of the story.

Soyinka said this way back during the war and reiterated this in 2015 before the communication between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Pro Biafra agitators degenerated.

Joseph Achuzia nicknamed “Hannibal” who played a similar role in the Biafran War as Benjamin Adekunle on the Nigerian side who was nicknamed “the Black Scorpion” said “The Biafran dream lives, we are in Nigeria now, but Biafra lives as an ideology in the heart of every Igbo man”.

This story was produced with the support of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), in partnership with Code for Africa and Ayin Network.

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