Discontent with the federal government has never been far from the surface in the Biafran region but it has increased over the last few months, after the leader of a hardline pro-Biafra group, Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested and put on trial in the capital, Abuja. Kanu, of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was arrested in October on charges of "treasonable felony" and described as committing "atrocities" against the state by the Nigerian President, all in a quest to silence justice.

A visit to the Biafra region has left me with more facts than I would ever know by reading the Nigerian dailies.

In Portharcourt, the strategic city, the hub of Nigeria's oil and gas industry, that was part of the independent Republic of Biafra in the 1960s until it was recaptured by the army in 1968, news of Kanu's trial dominates the front pages of newspapers and radio airwaves here and pro-Biafra graffiti and posters are commonplace on the streets unlike in Abuja and Lagos.

In the wider south-east, Kanu's IPOB group seems to enjoy VIP status. It operates with martial discipline, has chapters in many south-east states and uses code names. With Kanu behind bars, IPOB is suspicious of strangers, fearing they are agents of the federal government.
The suspicious atmosphere is aggravated by long-standing ethnic animosities in a country that before colonial rule was a multitude of kingdoms and tribal states and today is home to some 500 ethnic groups, with Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo as the three largest; merged by the British colonial masters and supported by the present day British government in a bid to gratify their selfish desires.

The ethnic divisions are being aggravated in a worsening economic climate caused by the fall in global oil prices, which has drastically cut government revenues from exports.
Ijaws from the south who want a fairer share of oil revenue have started to attack pipelines and facilities again; in demand for justice, leaving the Yoruba in the south-west where many oil companies have their bases and the entire Nigeria in panic.

The mostly Kanuri fighters of the Islamist group Boko Haram have attacked the Hausa - and everybody else - in the northeast in their quest for a hardline Islamic state. And nomadic Fulani cattle herders have stepped up attacks against farmers, mostly in the religiously mixed central States, and core Christian south-east states.

In the south-east, where the Igbo people dominate, IPOB alleges it is purposefully sidelined by the others, and shreds of evidence prove that to be true. The region and its people seem to be in punishment for the civil war of the 1960s. The Nigerian security forces have left many injured during peaceful protests. Some have amputated legs; one man lost an eye, and many have bullet wounds. During three separate protests, Nigerian security forces shot "indiscriminately" into the crowd, and dumped the dead protesters into mass graves. Police forces are on a constant rampage, against anyone found with a red, black and green Biafran flag, or pro-Biafra photos on their cellphones in the Biafran area. Random street skirmishes with Nigerian security forces are common in the south-east.

Little, if any, of this news, gets reported in the national daily papers. There are many versions of events. Without being there when it happens, it's next to impossible knowing whose version to trust.

IPOB members are devout people. In their "gospel of the restoration of Biafra," they describe Biafrans as the Israelites of West Africa and demand independence from Nigeria and total control of the vast riches in the region, including oil, which they say have been unfairly syphoned off by leaders from the north and south-west since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.
The Biafran War may have ended in 1970, but people in the south-east still have the same grievances, which have been jolted awake by the injustice and unfair treatment unleashed on the people by the Nigerian nation and its government, resulting in renewed tensions and violence in the region.

In Nimbo, an Igbo farming community outside Nsukka, villagers said they were attacked by Fulani herdsmen, nomadic cattle rearers who usually don't venture so far south....{conitued}

At first glance, it was hard to imagine violence in such a beautiful place, where the red copper soil produces flawless canary-yellow bananas and juicy mangos with a scent so fragrant it could be worn as perfume. The illusion was brief. Men were in the hospital with deep gashes in their skulls, shattered jaws, arms and legs - all a result of machete attacks. Staring at the Frankenstein stitches, you would nauseate. Had the machete hit just millimetres lower, some of them would have been dead. The farmers thrust photos of their dead relatives into my hands, saying they had no protection from the government and that a separate state of Biafra is the only answer to their troubles.
You could feel the fear. The village was deserted. People had closed shop and moved to safety. They didn't believe that anyone would protect them from another Fulani herdsmen attack. In certain respects, the Biafran dream is a modest one: a state with constant electricity, good roads, freedom from violence, and more jobs.

IPOB has tapped into that frustration at a time when life in Nigeria is getting harder as a result of the record low price of oil, the country's main source of income. Now with charismatic Kanu behind bars - a populist martyr in the making - independence is increasingly being presented as the only course of action in the face of perceived bias against the Igbos. It is a struggle that, at the very least, has many sympathisers in the south-east.

Flying out, I looked through the airport bookstand, where the young shopkeeper was reading "Half of a Yellow Sun". She was selling textbooks on Biafran military strategy and three different titles of pro-Biafra newspapers.

The Freedom Journal said 'Second Biafra Genocide Commence!' Beside it, the Message had a photo of Kanu going handcuffed into court, with the headline "I won't die, be steadfast, Biafra is at hand."

Written by Ken Pat
Edited and Published by Uchechi Collins
For IPOB Writers
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