ENUGU, Nigeria Nearly half a century right after a civil war in which a million individuals died, 27-year-old Okoli Ikedi is element of a new protest movement in southeastern Nigeria calling for an independent state of Biafra.
Such calls have turn out to be typical considering that the leader of the group Ikedi represents in Enugu, the region’s major city, was arrested in October, prompting thousands in the oil-making southeast to join demonstrations in recent weeks calling for his release.
It really is an additional challenge for President Muhammadu Buhari, who is grappling with a sharp slowdown in Africa’s largest economy, the bloody Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast and fears that militancy could resume in the oil-rich southern Delta area when an amnesty ends in December.
Like numerous in the surge of southeastern secessionist sentiment, Ikedi was born long right after the war ended.
Displaying absolutely nothing that would betray his pro-Biafran leanings such as a flag or campaign T-shirt, to steer clear of unwanted police consideration, the diminutive baker stated poverty and high unemployment in the region have been symptoms of government neglect.
“They want to make us economically poor. They think the only way to handle us is to increase our suffering,” mentioned Ikedi in a trembling voice, adding that his group, the Indigenous Individuals of Biafra (IPOB), wants a referendum.
The group points to fundamental difficulties to help its demands for an independent Biafra, on which presidential spokesman Garba Shehu declined to comment, adding that he was not conscious that the government was undertaking something on the problem.
The highways that connect southeastern cities are a source of frustration for enterprise men and women in the area who say the partially tarmaced roads, punctuated by potholes, must be arteries of commerce but are dangerous to navigate.
And the refuse strewn by roadsides, combined with the acrid stench of open sewers, hints at the dilapidation that has fomented discontent in the 45 years since the civil war ended.
The 1967-70 conflict followed a secessionist attempt by the eastern Igbo people. Most of the million who lost their lives died from starvation and illness rather than violence.
Now, like then, Igbos say they have been marginalized – excluded from essential government posts and denied important funding for infrastructure improvement, schools and hospitals.
IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu – an activist who divides his time among the UK and Nigeria, spreading his ethos on social media and Radio Biafra – was arrested last month on charges of criminal conspiracy and belonging to an illegal society.
Political analyst Okereke Chukwunolye said the selection to arrest Kanu, previously a little known figure whose social media following outweighed actual help on the ground, was a error because it “enhanced his recognition and made him much more visible”.
The sight of the red, black, green and yellow Biafran flag at largely peaceful protests in the southeastern cities of Port Harcourt and Aba, and the capital, Abuja, has prompted secessionist debates in newspapers, on radio and social media.
“The troubles that brought about the Biafran-Nigerian civil war have remained unresolved,” stated Chukwunolye.
In the 1960s, Enugu – which was the capital of Biafra – became recognized for its coal production which designed jobs, as did steel, cement and gas industries.
“NO VICTOR, NO VANQUISHED”
When the civil war ended, Yakubu Gowon, the basic who led the government side to victory more than Biafra, declared that there should be “no victor, no vanquished”, in a pledge of reconciliation. But the Igbos feel left behind.
Nearby individuals say the demise of Enugu’s industries, a decline that coincided with the oil boom in Africa’s best crude producer, led to widespread unemployment and was a consequence of the federal government failing to fund projects in the region.
At a industry in Asata, an impoverished city center district of Enugu, it is difficult to discover anybody who supports the government.
“Why cannot you leave a slave to go?” asked vegetable stall holder Victoria Emelue in response to the query of secession, raising her voice above the cacophony of traders, shoppers and blaring music.
She mentioned her three kids – all graduates in their twenties – had been unable to uncover perform, prompting her to be fearful about the future.
“Of course I’m in support of Biafra,” said 28-year-old wholesale food trader Uchenna Ede. “If we are freed, the eastern portion of Nigeria would have a enormous turnaround.”
A widespread complaint is that Nigeria’s presidents have tended to come from the north or southwest – areas dominated by Hausa and Yoruba individuals – which, some say, has led to Igbos not being appointed to influential government positions.
The constitution says there have to be a minister from every of Nigeria’s 36 states, but the presence of a Muslim northerner as president with a Yoruba vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, has been cited as evidence that the north and southwest stay dominant.
It’s a reminder of the complicated alchemy that brings together 170 million individuals in Africa’s most populous nation, split roughly equally amongst Christians and Muslims across around 250 ethnic groups, who mostly co-exist peacefully.
Tensions are rising. IPOB campaigners say they are committed to peaceful protests, but their demonstrations prompted the military to concern an “unequivocal warning” that efforts to bring about the “dismemberment of the country” would be crushed.
Chukwunolye mentioned it was unlikely that Igbo anger would outcome in bloodshed, in stark contrast to Boko Haram militants who have killed thousands and displaced two.1 million men and women since 2009 in an try to set up an Islamic state in the northeast.
“There is no separatist movement – it is just an agitation by some youth elements,” he mentioned. “Those who had been involved in the thick of the Biafran struggle will never want to see war once again.”
(Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram Further reporting by Anamesere Igboeroteonwu, Camillus Eboh, Felix Onuah and Buhari Bello Editing by Ulf Laessing and Giles Elgood)