Biafra: The thin line between being a terrorist group and a non-violent separatist group

The Nigerian military, on Tuesday announced that “Pro-Biafra” militants hijacked a Greek-owned sea vessel, Leon Dias, just off the coast line of the Bakassi Peninsula, Nigeria. The militants gave the Nigerian government a 31-day ultimatum to release the jailed IPOB (Indigenous People Of Biafra) leader, Nnamdi Kanu, or they would blow up the ship with its five foreign crew members. However, the main Biafra movements, IPOB and MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of a Sovereign State of Biafra), yesterday, have claimed non-complicity in the hijacking, a claim that was confirmed by the Nigerian military. This morning, reports say the militants released the ship but still held the crew members hostage, with the same threats of death. The reports also go on to say the group might not wait the span of the 31-day ultimatum before they kill the hostages. Though the Nigerian military says it would treat the rogue group as simple criminals, it is possible that they are more than that.

Now that the presidency has slashed the 2016 amnesty budget granted to former Niger Delta militants yearly, it seems that decision may have done more harm than good as former militants are suspected to be involved in the recent bombing of oil pipelines in the South of Nigeria. However, this latest hijacking suggests that perhaps Boko Haram is inspiring elements of the returnee militants. This ‘rogue group’ seems to have some of the traits of a terror group, as defined by Section 3-25 of Nigeria’s Terrorism prevention Amendment Act 2013, addressing indiscriminate acts against internationally protected persons, in this case, the Greek nationalities. Three key features in this terrorism act are violence, fear and intimidation, features that are also similar to the threat of the “pro-biafra” rogue group.

This hijacking adds another twist to the Biafra movement and its recent fight for secession. A MASSOB leader, Uchenna Madu, claimed that the leader of the hijackers, a certain “General Ben”, approached them, offering his help. However, MASSOB distanced itself from the kidnapping of the foreigners. The possible assimilation of former Niger Delta militants seems to be putting the movement in a bad light, though Nnamdi Kanu’s alleged treason could also do same. The hijacking of international expatriates is the modus-operandi of former Niger Delta militants. However, does the rogue militant group’s threat of death (a new low even for them) that hangs over these expatriates border on terrorism?

Acts of terrorism would seemingly be a problem for Biafra’s agitation for secession. Therefore, the acceptance of a former militant general, like “General Ben,” into the fold of MASSOB will raise questions about the objectives of the group regardless of whether it distances itself from the hijack. Do they really want to be labelled a terror organization or would the group like to remain a non-violent separatist group? The answer may depend on their affiliations.

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