Thwart­ing ter­ror­ism in Nige­ria

The In­dige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra must be des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Lai Mo­hammed

“If they fail to give us Bi­afra, So­ma­lia will look like a par­adise com­pared to what will hap­pen to that ‘zoo’ (Nige­ria).” Th­ese are the words of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the so-called In­dige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra (IPOB).

On Septem­ber 20, the Fed­eral Govern­ment of Nige­ria pro­scribed IPOB as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. I, as min­is­ter of In­for­ma­tion and Cul­ture and the spokesman of the govern­ment, call on our in­ter­na­tional part­ners to do the same.

Whilst there is no in­ter­na­tion­ally agreed def­i­ni­tion of ter­ror­ism, many na­tions’ char­ac­ter­i­za­tions closely cor­re­late. Ba­sic to all of them is this: the cal­cu­lated threat or use of vi­o­lence to fur­ther a po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious or ide­o­log­i­cal cause.

Back to Nnamdi Kanu: “I don’t want peace­ful ac­tu­al­iza­tion (of Bi­afra)”; “We need guns and we need bul­lets”; “If they don’t (give us Bi­afra), they will die.” Pub­lic an­nounce­ment like th­ese puts IPOB’s des­ig­na­tion beyond doubt in most ju­ris­dic­tions: they are a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, as ETA was in Spain, the Tamil Tigers was in Sri Lanka, and the PKK is in Turkey (all of whom are pro­scribed by the U.S. State depart­ment).

But it is not for the sake of a la­bel we level this ap­peal. Cur­rently, streams of cash come from across the globe to swell the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s stock­pile of weapons. Yet fund­ing of ter­ror­ism is il­le­gal in in­ter­na­tional law. Only with the group’s cor­rect cat­e­go­riza­tion will our in­ter­na­tional part­ners be able to halt the fi­nanc­ing — and with it, IPOB’s fu­ture.

The threat posed by the or­ga­ni­za­tion may be low. IPOB com­mands lit­tle grass-root sup­port in the South East (the re­gion it calls Bi­afra). All South-East gov­er­nors have col­lec­tively con­demned IPOB’s calls for se­ces­sion. And lo­cal tra­di­tional and re­li­gious lead­ers have weighed into the de­bate, re­stat­ing that ab­so­lute in­tegrity of Nige­ria. Vi­o­lence, much less ter­ror­ism, never solves griev­ance. And for that rea­son, the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents in the South-East re­ject IPOB. They know the bal­lot box of­fers the best mech­a­nism for re­dress.

In spite of this, the la­tent threat is high. Boko Haram sim­i­larly had lit­tle sup­port in the North East in 2009. They didn’t need it. Armed with ter­ror and buoyed by govern­ment in­ac­tion, they seized large swathes of land. In­er­tia in Abuja lu­bri­cated the group’s ad­vance. But now due to this govern­ment’s ac­tions, Boko Haram hold no lo­cal dis­tricts. This ad­min­is­tra­tion shall not make the same mis­take as the last. We will take the rapid, pre­cise and nec­es­sary ac­tion re­quired to deal with IPOB now.

The govern­ment rec­og­nizes in IPOB’s lust for de­struc­tion a trait shared with Boko Haram. It also ap­pre­ci­ates a qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence in the threat. Un­like Boko Haram — a re­gional in­sur­gency — IPOB breeds in­se­cu­rity across the whole na­tion. In their di­vi­sive and in­cit­ing rhetoric, they jeop­ar­dise the very so­cial fab­ric that binds us.

Nige­ria is a mul­ti­cul­tural na­tion. Our strength lies in our di­ver­sity. The Igbo — the eth­nic group that IPOB claim to rep­re­sent — live in the South East, as they do in ev­ery zone across Nige­ria along­side Hausa, Ijaw, Fu­lani, Yoruba and more. Each district makes up its own rich ta­pes­try, with eth­nic­i­ties and re­li­gions in­ter­min­gling to form unique com­mu­ni­ties.

IPOB’s pub­lic an­nounce­ments en­dan­ger Ig­bos that re­side out­side the South East. In claim­ing to speak for the Igbo, they falsely rep­re­sent the group. But the pub­lic may some­times miss this dis­tinc­tion. And whilst the govern­ment has taken all mea­sures to soothe ten­sions, ru­mor still takes hold.

This is a ter­ror­ist tac­tic we have seen through his­tory across the world. IPOB in­tend to drive a wedge between the Igbo and the rest of Nige­ria. Griev­ance rooted in dis­crim­i­na­tion drives their re­cruit­ment — or so they think. They there­fore man­u­fac­ture it through stok­ing eth­nic ten­sion. This is the aim of IPOB’s rhetoric.

The vi­o­lence they have sown in the South East has the same in­ten­tion. The at­tacks on po­lice of­fi­cers, army sta­tions, lo­cal Hausa groups as well as the es­tab­lish­ment of a na­tional guard and se­cret ser­vice are all breed­ing un­cer­tainty in the re­gion. The tim­ing of the vi­o­lence is not co­in­ci­den­tal: the Nige­rian econ­omy has just bro­ken free of re­ces­sion. Yet IPOB must gen­er­ate griev­ance to fuel re­cruit­ment. Pros­per­ity threat­ens the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­is­tence.

And that is the heart of it: the ter­ror lays bare their op­por­tunism. They mas­quer­ade as a sep­a­ratist move­ment, yet they en­dan­ger the very peo­ple they claim to rep­re­sent. In re­al­ity, IPOB cares about IPOB and noth­ing more.

Ter­ror­ism is of­ten called the power of the weak. That IPOB in­deed are. But if the last decade has taught us any­thing, it is how quickly the weak can be­come strong. The govern­ment re­it­er­ates its ap­peal to its in­ter­na­tional part­ners to pro­scribe the or­ga­ni­za­tion, and in do­ing so, starve it of the funds which gives it sus­te­nance. Nige­ria has just de­feated one pre­ventable ter­ror­ist in­sur­gency. This one must not be given the chance to get a foothold.

The govern­ment rec­og­nizes in IPOB’s lust for de­struc­tion a trait shared with Boko Haram. It also ap­pre­ci­ates a qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence in the threat. Un­like Boko Haram — a re­gional in­sur­gency — IPOB breeds in­se­cu­rity across the whole na­tion.

Lai Mo­hammed is Nige­ria’s min­is­ter of in­for­ma­tion and cul­ture and chief govern­ment spokesper­son.


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