One Nigeria, a phrase capable of setting off sparks depending on whom you address. Is Nigeria one? Or is this merely wishful thinking? Since its creation and independence, Nigeria has witnessed violence and conflicts; however, none of these threatened its existence as much as the 30-month long civil war from July 6, 1967 until January 15, 1970.
The civil war between the Nigerian-led government of General Yakubu Gowon and the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state led by Lt. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, is one that left the country more divided than ever before.
Often referred to as a genocide by the sympathizers of Biafra, the civil war saw the death of well over one million children due to starvation and diseases. It is a widely held belief that the casualties from hunger and starvation during the war were far more than those caused by combat.
Almost every ethnic group has its version of the war, blaming different individuals or citing failed strategies as the problem. However, the reality is evident in the unfortunate cruel segregation and oppression of the Igbos, which persists today.
Fifty years after the bloody civil war, new agitations for secession from Nigeria have rekindled, with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leading the charge. IBOP claims that the desire to secede from Nigeria is due to their treatment as slaves and second-class citizens in Nigeria.
The Nigerian government’s response has been to use violence to attempt to quell the agitations. As expected, the government’s response has only succeeded in spiraling things out of control, committing worse crimes and atrocities in their bid to safeguard the country’s unity.
Like most groups that adopt violent approaches, the recent agitations started peacefully. With the constant maiming and killings of members of the group by the Nigerian security forces, the group’s switch to violent means came as no surprise.
Today, the combat activities in some of the southeast states bear much resemblance to an ongoing war. The Nigerian government’s dogged approach towards quelling the agitations of Biafra in comparison to the extremism of terrorist groups in the northeast and northwest raises questions.
Python Dance II & the Dance of Peace
Operation Python Dance II was a military operation launched in late 2017 in the southeast region of Nigeria. The Nigerian Army publicly stated that this operation aims to curtail the activities of kidnapping, which have plagued the region. Consequently, operation Python Dance II began to take on a different form, looking like an attempt to suppress the agitations of Biafra.
The activities of the Nigerian Army raised fears among the people of the southeast, with several claims of indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilians and pro-Biafrans by the Nigerian Army.
Two years after operation Python Dance II, the Nigerian Army has renamed the operation Dance of Peace. Renaming the operation appears to be the most significant change since the activities of the Army largely remain the same.
Alleged killings of unarmed civilians are still highly reported; arrests and detainments of Biafra agitators are also on a steady rise. With these events, the agitations continue to intensify, with the IPOB group, now designated as a terrorist organization by the Nigerian government, launching both offensive and defensive attacks.
Following the unrest in the southeast region, civil groups have called on international actors to intervene in the situation. While the likelihood of secession via dialogue seems slim, the agitators are also unlikely to back down due to the current administration’s opposition.
In the words of Chief Cyprian Okoye, the leader of the IPOB in Australia, “we derive strength in the fact that we are already down, and a man that is down does not need to fear nor fall. You cannot beat a baby and ask him not to cry. If they have beaten us and deny that we are not members of the same country, it is our duty to cry, and I know those who have ears will not let the tears drop from our eyes to be in vain in the end.”
The fear of another civil war is slowly building among Nigerians, with many hoping that these fears never come to pass. Sadly, it seems that history is replaying itself again; grievances are uncapping, the government’s perception of unity is still the same, and the country is in a worse state than it was over 50 years ago. Rather than wait to initiate a disaster or crisis response, a better step is to prevent a disaster and crisis altogether.
Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow
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