Nigeria Cracks Down On Separatists As Security Issues Mount in the North

Nnamdi Kanu (file photo).

The arrest of another separatist activist wanted by Nigeria sends a clear message that President Buhari won't tolerate secessionist aspirations. But critics say there's much more at play than just arresting figureheads.

Activist Sunday Adeyemo, known popularly in Nigeria as Sunday Igboho, was arrested in neighboring Benin on Monday evening, according to media reports. He was about to take a flight to Germany at the time. A senior Benin police official confirmed the arrest, saying Igboho "will be extradited to Nigeria as soon as the two countries have agreed on conditions." It is unclear whether the extradition has taken place.

Nigeria's Department of State Services (DSS) has accused the activist of plotting "to wage a violent insurrection against the Nigerian state." A DSS spokesman said earlier that the agency had found a stockpile of weapons during a raid on Igboho's residence in the southwestern city of Ibadan on July 1.

Igboho's appeal to ethnic Yorubas to break away from Nigeria has made him yet another public enemy in the eyes of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, according to DW's Fred Muvunyi.

"He has a (potential) following of more than 40 million people. ... And his calling for the total separation of the north and southern region makes him a target of the government," Muvunyi reported from Lagos.

Giving in to 'big brother'

Umar Ardo, a politician for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) called the arrest of Igboho "a success" that showed that "laws that are defined both in Nigeria as well as in the international community will be respected if Nigeria uses recognized platforms for its diplomatic interactions.

"It also shows that that security agreements of either bilateral or multilateral nature have benefits for all parties involved," Ardo told DW.

Security risk management specialist Kabir Adamu told DW that the government of Benin hardly had any other choice, with Nigeria flexing its regional muscle as Benin's "big brother."

"Benin cannot oppose Nigeria because Benin depends on Nigeria heavily, economically," he said, adding that the Nigerian government was using similar tactics elsewhere on the African continent as well.

Nigerian dissidents under threat

Igboho's arrest is seen as part of a trend in Nigeria, which is intensifying its efforts to pursue dissident voices, especially those who are classed as threats to national security. The government has repeated shown that it does not shy away from going beyond Nigeria's borders in its endeavors to fight separatist sentiments:

Nnamdi Kanu, the 53-year-old leader of the outlawed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group, which has been campaigning for the southeast of the country to secede, had been arrested in an undisclosed location outside of Nigeria last month and returned to the country to face trial -- having spent four years on the run.

His wife claimed that the arrest happened during a business trip to Kenya, though this has not independently been confirmed. Several governments have, however, since challenged Kanu's arrest:

The UK has asked Nigeria to explain why and under what exact circumstances the separatist leader -- who holds British citizenship -- was arrested. Protests against the arrest were staged in Nigeria. Europe and beyond.

"I even saw one in Israel," security analyst Adamu told DW about Kanu, who is a convert to Judaism.

"This arrest is further agitating their supporters to further oppose the Nigerian state," he said, highlighting that Yoruba and Biafran secessionist movements weren't going anywhere. Adamu added that the "arrests of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday (Igboho) cannot be said to bring about the end of the agitation or secession ... in Nigeria."

Buhari's message of zero tolerance

Not everyone shares that view. Political scientist Abubakar Umar Kari told DW that the arrests amount to a "great setback for the two separatists groups." He said that, in addition to the demoralizing aspect, the arrests also provide an opportunity for more moderate voices among Yoruba and Biafran activists to distance themselves from their fallen leaders.

The arrests and the impending trials, however, will also further cement Buhari's uncompromising approach to dissidence, he said: "The fact that these men were arrested is the clearest testament that indeed Buhari and his government will go to any length to ensure that this kind of dissidence, this kind of secessionist activities are not going to be tolerated."

Claims of 'genocide' lodged with ICC

Some Yoruba voices claim that the clampdown is about much more than just political dissidents, and that there is a genocide against their people underway in Nigeria.

A group of 22 international organizations led by the Yoruba Strategy Alliance have filed claims to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against leading members of the Nigerian government, including Buhari. The complaint accuses multiple members of the Nigerian government of genocide, torture and crimes against humanity, among other charges.

"The state-sponsored terrorism against the Yoruba people has to stop," attorney Aderemilekun Omojola, who filed the claim at the ICC, said in a statement. He supported his submission at the ICC with extremely graphic video images alleging the use of rape as a weapon of war and arbitrary beheadings of Yorubas.

The ICC confirmed that it has received the complaint. The Office of the Prosecutor will now make a decision as to whether an official investigation will be opened into these grave allegations.

No safe place left in Nigeria

While the outcome of that claim at the ICC might take weeks if not months to be processed, Nigeria continues to face violent dissidence practically in all four corners of the country:

In addition to Yoruba and Biafran separatist aspiration, the country has been rocked in recent weeks by banditry in the northwestern Zamfara State, where locals were kidnapped for ransom and held for weeks. The criminal groups also shot down a military plane just days ago.

Zamfara's neighboring Katsuna and Kadina states have also been affected by similar acts of criminal violence, not to mention the activities of the Islamist Boko Haram group in the northern Kano state and beyond. The so-called Islamic State of West Africa group is also now present in various parts of Nigeria, most notably the northeast.

Political scientist Kari said that "the larger issue of insecurity, particularly in the northern half of the country, is still going on almost unabated" while the government focuses on its fight against separatist movements.

"On a daily basis, kidnappers and bandits have been unleashing violence, killing people, causing serious fright and tension," Kari said. "The government appears to be more concerned, appears to be deploying more resources and more energy on secessionists than on these bandits and kidnappers," he added.

Ubale Musa and Shehu Salmanu contributed to this article.

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