By Mark Michael
Nigeria’s national government should take seriously the concerns raised by separatists and move forward on plans to restructure the national government, says the Rt. Rev. Ephraim Ikeakor of the Anglican Diocese of Amichi. Speaking at an October 14 press conference held in advance of his diocesan synod, Bishop Ikeakor urged Nigeria’s president Muhammad Buhari to address the widespread discontent in his predominantly ethnic Igbo region of Southeastern Nigeria.
Amichi was part of the short-lived Biafran state, whose 1967 attempt to secede from newly independent Nigeria resulted in a three-year civil war and a campaign of starvation that attracted widespread attention in the West in the late 1960’s.
Regional Secessionist groups like the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), and O’odua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC) have significantly expanded their activity in the region of the former Biafran state in recent months.
The groups, which draw most of their members from the predominantly Christian Igbo and Yoruba ethnic groups, advocate social change through peaceful means. But they also call for an eventual resurrection of Biafra as an independent, majority-Christian state.
MASSOB has formed a shadow Biafran government and flies the flag of the former state at public protests. Police attempts to disrupt an IPOB meeting last August in Enugu, a town about 100 kilometers northeast of Amichi, resulted in a shootout that left 21 civilians and 2 police officers dead.
The separatist groups, which the federal government has defined as terrorist organizations, sharply criticize the inability of President Buhari, a Fulani Muslim from Northern Nigeria, to contain repeated attacks on Christian farmers by herdsmen from his own ethnic group.
The advocacy group Genocide Watch says that between 11,500 and 12,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed by the Fulani herdsmen and Islamist group Boko Haram since the Buhari government came to power in 2015. In 2020 alone, Genocide Watch says, 2000 churches have been destroyed, and millions have been displaced.
A recent hike in fuel prices has also been extremely unpopular in the region, which is a center for Nigerian oil production.
Bishop Ikeakor questioned the Buhari government’s labeling of the separatist groups, declaring, “they say the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a terrorist organization and I continue to ask, ‘for doing what? What did they do to be tagged a terrorist group,’ that is my question? I also ask, ‘why has our president kept quiet on the activities of the herdsmen that kill people and sack them from their communities and claim responsibility.’”
He also urged the Buhari government to address concerns raised about equal access to admission to national schools, and to seriously consider proposals for devolving power to regional authorities that have wide support in his region. “Restructuring is the safest and most morally upright way to address the numerous problems of Nigeria and agitations,” Ikeakor said.