LAGOS - Protesters in southeastern Nigeria are demanding the release of a jailed radio station chief who advocates restoration of the nation of Biafra and its independence from Nigeria.
Nnamdi Kanu, director of Radio Biafra, was arrested last month by Nigeria’s secret police. A spokesman for the agency could not be located prior to publication, but local media reports say Kanu was charged with offenses related to his station's broadcasts.
A civil war over the self-styled Republic of Biafra ended in 1970, but the cause, which has persisted for decades and remains a sensitive issue, has seen a recent resurgence.
A spokesman for the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra chapter in southeastern Anambra state, Ugochukwu Chinweuba, says their goal is independence.
“We don’t want to be in Nigeria anymore. We want to be on our own,” he said.
Forty-five years after the end of the civil war, Chinweuba says people in the southeast have not benefited from being part of Africa’s most populous country.
“Everyone knows that what Nigeria have, like crude oil and resources of anything, comes from Biafra land," he said. "And we do not benefit anything of [it].”
Sporadic pro-Biafra rallies over the past few years have occasionally led to arrests. The government banned Radio Biafra in July.
Laja Odukoya, a lecturer in political science at the University of Lagos, says the protests are a symptom of Nigeria’s economic problems. Like much of the rest of Nigeria, rates of unemployment and poverty are high in the southeast.
“Biafra, for me, is not necessarily a situation whereby you have a secessionism, but calling attention to the dysfunctionalism within the state and the need to address it,” Odukoya said.
The Biafran war remains a dark and controversial chapter of Nigeria’s history. The three-year conflict killed over a million people, many of them from starvation.