Biafra separatists in Nigeria have hijacked a ship and demanded the release of their leader

Kanu, the leader of pro-Biafra groups.
Kanu, the leader of pro-Biafra groups.
Image: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
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This post has been corrected.

The spokesman of the Nigerian Defense Ministry has confirmed that pro-Biafra separatists have hijacked a merchant ship and are threatening to blow it up unless the group’s detained leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is released.

Kanu was arrested last October and put on trial for treason by the Nigerian government. Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group has led agitations for the secession of eastern Nigeria to become an independent nation called Biafra. Original calls for the creation of Biafra led to Nigeria’s bloody three-year civil war between 1967 and 1970 during which a million civilians died. While the Biafran troops surrendered in defeat 46 years ago, there have been groups, like Kanu’s IPOB, who have continued to agitate for secession.

The group has been accused of hate speech as it spreads messages of secession, by violence if necessary, through its many media channels like Radio Biafra, the group’s online station which the government has tried to shut down unsuccessfully. 

Following Kanu’s arrest, pro-Biafra groups have rallied and organized protests calling for his release. Some of these protests have resulted in bloody clashes with law enforcement agents. The groups have now stepped up their agitations with the hijacking of the merchant ship. The hijackers have issued a 31-day ultimatum to the government to release Kanu after which they say they will blow up the ship and its crew, who are foreign nationals.

Kanu’s continued detention has been led to a legal impasse between the government and the judiciary after a Federal Court declared that his detention is unlawful. The rise of violence in Nigeria’s east is bound to make president Muhammadu Buhari’s job even more difficult as he continues to work to permanently end Boko Haram’s seven year insurgency in Nigeria’s north.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the Nigerian army confirmed the hijack of the merchant ship by pro-Biafra separatists. That is not the case. The confirmation came from the Nigerian Defence Ministry spokesman.