ANALYSIS / OPINION:
So how did it go?
The answer is frustratingly simple. The violent secessionist group in question – the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) – has yet to be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US State Department.
It is difficult to explain how American interests are served by inaction and complacency towards IPOB. Registration costs nothing. But the designation would have important implications for the group’s sustainability.
Let’s start with the obvious: tagging the group with a terrorist tag would hit IPOB’s wallet hard.
Once the designation is applied, no organization that uses US currency would be able to legally transact with the organization.
By cutting funding to the IPOB, the United States would weaken the 50,000 paramilitaries and give Nigerian security forces the ability to focus directly on ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram in the northeast of the country.
Counterterrorism operations against Boko Haram have long been supported by US agencies working in close coordination with the West African government.
While the IPOB may seem like Abuja’s only problem, activists have served as a distraction and drained precious resources.
Over the past eighteen months, Boko Haram has unfortunately been able to regroup and rejuvenate.
The same goes for groups affiliated with Al Qaeda in the volatile Sahel region. The fact that the African continent is rapidly becoming a platform for global terrorist operations should worry US officials.
But Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the IPOB, is clearly indifferent. That he doesn’t even feel the need to disguise his support for terrorism is worrying.
Although the main goal of the IPOB is to restore a breakaway Biafran state in southeastern Nigeria, Mr. Kanu’s rhetoric has grown increasingly vehement.
“I don’t want a peaceful update (of Biafra),” Kanu said via his Radio Biafra channel, used to project threats, instructions and propaganda into Nigeria from the safety of London.
“If they don’t (give us Biafra), they will die. “
Mr. Kanu does not make empty threats either.
The revelation in December of IPOB’s heavily armed paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), with a swastika-style flag, marked the end of all claims to be a peaceful movement.
What had been largely unspoken has been declared publicly. Since then, IPOB’s violent attacks on security personnel and civilians have increased by 59%; 344% death.
More than 20 attacks were carried out in the first three months of this year alone, including the retaliatory bombing of the home of a local state governor where four were killed, and an attack on a prison that freed some 2,000 dangerous criminals.
Even neighboring states have been forced to impose curfews to protect their citizens from marauders.
There is also an unpleasant racial element in IPOB attacks. In addition to attacks on the state, much of their violence is directed against the Fulani people, a nomadic herding tribe who roam across West Africa.
Through the Biafra radio, the IPOB regularly calls on its supporters not only to kill the Peuls, but to kill “any owner who gives accommodation or rents his house or his house to a Peul”.
In a recent attack on a Fulani community, six young children were massacred with a machete – one, a baby, was burnt alive. Their bodies were thrown into mass graves.
Whether it is threats on Biafra radio or repeated acts of violence, the IPOB is forcing politicians and civilians to acquiesce to its radical political demands.
One example saw all governors in southeast Nigeria comply with a 14-day ultimatum to ban open grazing in their districts – a move targeting the livelihoods of the Fulani – rather than face the wrath of the ‘ESN.
Likewise, it enforces a day of rest at home every Monday, intended to economically cripple the region, through acts such as the burning of passenger buses.
The United States has correctly prescribed terrorist labels on other secessionist groups that employ these tactics – ETA in Spain, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and the PKK in Turkey.
Now, the people that the IPOB claims to represent, the Igbo, even seek to distance themselves from the group.
So why not the United States?
One reason could be the group’s $ 1 million contracts with major US lobbying firms paid to whitewash the group’s reputation and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
It is impossible to believe that the deep pockets of IPOB and Kanu are not filled by external organizations.
A terrorist designation would put an end to this influence peddling.
It would also mean that the group could not use the United States or its Western allies, like London-based Radio Biafra, to advance their cause.
The disproportionate influence of the group – according to its radio station, its employees and its American lawyers – would be severely reduced.
Law enforcement agencies in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere would be forced to act by shutting down these activities.
That a small terrorist organization could intimidate senior U.S. officials in U.S. courts and leverage the influence of foreign agents to challenge the security of an ally would be laughable if it weren’t so alarming.
Washington must no longer ignore the Nigerian terrorists.
• Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the Executive Director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. The opinions expressed are his own.
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