Since the electoral victory of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in 2015, the erstwhile fringe secessionist organisation, Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra aka IPOB, has ballooned from an obscure internet celebrity group, to a frontline threat to peace and long-term stability in Nigeria.
Conspiracy theories would have it that the foundations and growth of IPOB doesn’t lie in any sincere desire for the Biafra of the 60’s but rather in opposition to the Buhari administration. This conclusion is wrong. To be able to successfully deal with the dangerous problem that is IPOB, Nigeria’s strategic deciders must first understand where it originates from.
The roots of IPOB, MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation Of the Sovereign State Of Biafra) and the Biafran Zionist Movement, etc, lie in an idea of Igbo supremacy as an ideology/way of thinking, which predates the Civil War days. This ideology sees the Igbo race as a ‘Special Race’, much like the Nazis saw the Germanic peoples as special. It preaches that the Igbo by virtue of their being Igbo deserve to be treated better than everyone else, and deserve to rule over the rest of the country.
This was the ideology which drove Capt. Ifeajuna and co to murder the leaders of the non-Igbo regions of Nigeria in the Jan 1966 putsch. This was the belief-system that made the Igbo residents of Northern towns to jubilate wildly at the news of the gruesome murder of the Sardauna of Sokoto. This was the ideology that made Ojukwu constitute himself as an equal to Gen Gowon and the Federal Government before, at, and after Aburi meeting. For the adherents of this ideology, the Igbo either rule over the whole of Nigeria, or they leave Nigeria and rule over the Niger-Delta states. This rule over all or rule over some belief system, was responsible for the decision by Ojukwu and the Igbos to declare a Republic of Biafra including the Efiks, Ibibios, Annang, Ikwerre, Ijaw etc, without bothering to consult with these peoples. This same ideology was responsible for the brutal Biafran occupation of Port-Harcourt during the Civil War, and for the Biafran invasion of the Midwestern Region and its creation of a proxy Republic of Benin.
Even in the remarks of the Igbo political class on the Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB and Biafra agitation issues, one can clearly see this either we rule all or we leave and rule some belief system that sadly has found a stronghold in people of that ethnicity. Now this Igbo Supremacy ideology must be carefully understood, as it is, along with its sister Biafran Zionism ideology, at the heart of the recurrent agitation for Igbo President and Biafra, before a workable solution can be found. However it must be understood, that many Igbos do not see themselves as a superior or special people in the mould of the Zionist Jews, which those who believe in Igbo Supremacy are advocating. This dichotomy between Igbo supremacists in the mould of IPOB/MASSOB/BZN, and other Igbos in the mould of Ike Nwachukwu and Rochas Okorocha, must be carefully exploited to divide and weaken the support base which the supremacists sections of the Southeast region need to mobilise in order to successfully destabilise that area.
The usual Nigerian solution of bribing the agitators cannot work in killing off the Biafran cause, as it will mean surrendering Nigeria to one ethnic group, at the expense of over 600 others. However the other Nigerian solution of brute force application will also not work, rather it will be counter-productive, leading to a situation where instead of weakening the Biafran cause, the Nigerian government will only strengthen it, as we can see happening right now. What is called for, is a strategic plan to weaken the base of IPOB, dissuade others from going the Biafra path, remind all dissidents why Biafra failed, neutralise the various pro-Biafra organisations, political supporters of the Biafran cause who are eating from Nigeria but fuelling Biafra, and also undermine the entire cause of Igbo supremacy. Such a strategy would call for a really big stick applied judiciously, along with an equally judicious distribution of carrots, and of course flags to distract the masses in the region from focusing on Biafra too much. Nigeria must first of all solidify its resolve to keep its territories united, and its rule sacrosanct all across the country, without any compromise to Biafran independence or an autonomous Biafran region.
Then it must sort out the current leadership crisis which is creating the vacuum, certain traitors serving as political office holders or aspiring political office holders from the Southeast are exploiting to publicly hold brief for IPOB and co.
There must be a swift resolution to the vacuum left by the absence of the President due to his ill health (May Allah Heal him), and the inability of the Vice-President who has unfortunately not been able to impose his rule over the competing political factions in the current administration. This vacuum is making it unable for the national security establishment and the military to receive effective guidance on what strategy should be adopted to deal with the IPOB/MASSOB threat, rather it has left the security and defence services playing a reactive game instead of taking control of the situation.
Nigeria must fully resolve to not give in to blackmail to a group of people who should be regular guests of the hangman’s noose for treason rather than be political office holders. Rather, once the leadership vacuum is filled and the national resolve solidified, Nigeria must brutally go after any current or former political office holder from the Southeast who expresses any sort of solidarity with IPOB/MASSOB, stripping them of office and jailing them.
I propose that a state of emergency be declared and martial law imposed over four of the five Southeast states, namely Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Imo, plus Rivers State in the Niger-Delta. The governors of these states will be deposed and replaced by sole administrators of Igbo (in the case of Rivers, of Ijaw or Ikwerre) origin. This state of emergency should be accompanied with the creation of a Counter-Biafra Strategic Operations Organisation (CBSOO), on a two-year temporary mandate to design and implement strategic operations which will weaken and neutralise the various pro-Biafra organisations, by disrupting their funding, eliminating their leadership, weakening the cohesion of their target regional support base, while emasculating the ability of the part of the Igbo diaspora which they are trying to mobilise to their cause, to aid them, influence global public opinion and policy by international actors, etc.
This temporary organisation would work in the grey and black zones of operational stratification, but would also work closely in support of the white zone operations of the Joint Counter-Biafra Operational Task Force (JCBOTF), which I propose will be the joint task force level organisation exercising command and control over white-zone operations run by the Armed Forces, Police, NSCDC and SSS. Unlike the JCBOTF which may be placed under the National Security Adviser or the Minister of Interior, the CBSOO will be directly responsible to the President. The CBSOO once formed should create, train and run a non-uniformed civilian organisation recruited from across the Southeast and South-South states, particularly Ebonyi State, which will be used to break up IPOB/MASSOB demonstrations whenever they occur. This organisation should have no public name, as its aim is to infiltrate IPOB/MASSOB demonstrations and protests and break them up or turn them violent as a means of discrediting such protests, and creating plausible cause for more heavy measures by the government.
I would also suggest that the CBSOO should also create and run a pro-government armed regional security militia which will operate in the four southeastern states of Abia, Anambra, Enugu and Imo, and which will be the active fist of the Nigerian state in the downing of the pro-Biafran militants, and which will prevent accusations of human rights abuses that will be problematic for the Nigerian Army and Police, from being levelled at those two organisations.
Another big stick tactic the Nigerian government has to utilise in neutralising the pro-Biafran campaigns, is to build very high concrete isolation walls, with controlled access points manned by a combination of the Nigerian Police and the around areas in the cities of the region that are particularly notorious strongholds of IPOB/MASSOB. Controlling access in and out of such areas through a limited number of gates where Police and pro-government militiamen will carry out strict searches of pedestrians and vehicles, combined with regular raids by the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps and State Security Service assisted by the CBSOO-controlled regional security militia on homes within such isolated areas suspected of harbouring wanted pro-Biafran militants or weapons, will greatly aid to neutralise the presence of IPOB/MASSOB in urban areas in the four states region of the Southeast. The CBSOO as part of its mandate, must also aggressively engage in information influence operations against the Biafran cause, in order to shape the narrative and general perception surrounding the inevitable conflict to the advantage of the Nigerian state.
This campaign must include supporting pro-Nigerian think-tanks and policy advisory institutes in the West, cultivating and supporting networks of pro-Nigerian international journalists, mobilising the Nigerian diaspora globally against the Biafran cause, firming up the national resolve at home through the use of subtle, covert and overt manipulation of information, identifying and shutting down pro-Biafran propaganda sources through any means necessary, setting up and operating barrages of pro-Nigeria/anti-Biafra social media accounts, blogs, websites etc. The Nigerian Police Force and the State Security Service must as part of the Joint Counter-Biafra Operational Task Force(JCBOTF) aggressively arrest, detain and prosecute Nigerian politicians and political office holders who express solidarity with IPOB/MASSOB/BZN and other pro-Biafran secessionist groups, or who are known to be covertly providing support to such organisations.
This will purge the ranks of the political leadership of traitors and conniving double-faced infiltrators whose loyalties are to the Biafran cause, instead of the Nigerian government whom they pledged to be loyal to. The State Security Service must also be empowered to identify, detain and prosecute those on cyberspace who express solidarity with Biafra or who are engaged in disseminating pro-Biafran propaganda. Also within the civil service and public service both at the Federal and State levels, the State Security Service must identify and arrest anyone who supports passive or actively any of the pro-Biafran organisations, or who adheres to the subversive Biafran ideology. This purge of the Civil/Public services combined with the purge of the political class of all pro-Biafran traitors, in addition to ridding the Nigerian governance establishment of enemy operatives, will also help to firm up the Nigerian resolve and remove all treacherous persons who may oppose and sabotage necessary measures to beat Biafran plots, from being implemented.
The Nigerian Army as part of the JCBOTF, should be tasked to jointly with the Police, maintain checkpoints on all main access roads leading into towns and cities across the four pro-Biafran Southeast states. The CBSOO-controlled regional security militia will in addition to such harsh but necessary measures, be a parallel strategy of feeding carrots to alleviate the effects of the stick on the people of the region, a sort of hearts and mind campaign if you will.
I would suggest that any viable counter-Biafra strategy must be linchpinned on manipulating the intense differences between the people of Ebonyi State and the rest of the Southeast. The Nigerian government must keep Ebonyi free of all harsh measures which will be visited on the other four Southeast states. Rather the approach should be to make Ebonyi people as complicit as the rest of Nigeria, even more so, in the application of necessary measures to put down the rabies of Biafran militancy and agitation.
The CBSOO must recruit the vast majority of the membership of its plaincloth, protest-scattering civilian organisation from Ebonyi State. This serves a double purpose by providing employment for young men and women of Ebonyi State, and by putting an Igbo-ish face on the people breaking up Pro-Biafran protests. The CBSOO’s human intelligence gathering operations should also employ many operatives from Ebonyi State. Plus the sole administrators to oversee the four Southeast states during the period of emergency rule, should be of Ebonyi origin. Also, as part of its stick strategy, the Nigerian government through the CBSOO should invest in developing infrastructure in Ebonyi State, along with the key industrial towns in the other Southeastern states. Through the CBSOO and other development support agencies of the government, grants and venture capital funds should be channelled to capitalise manufacturing operations across the region after such firms have been vetted and found to not harbour any links with the enemy.
An adequate investment in infrastructural development, plus support to industrial firms in the region will reduce the ranks of the unemployed who are vulnerable to recruitment by groups such as IPOB, while at the same time deepening the loyalty of the business and industrialist class in the region to the Nigerian state. Of course more measures in a proper strategy are needed by the Nigerian government to adequately defeat and destroy Biafran separatism, but I hope this, as a start, will create a foundation for a coherent and viable policy direction in this conflict.
Fulan Nasrullah is a Conflict Analyst and a National Security Strategist/Policy Adviser. He tweets at @fulannasrullah