• Biafra agitation unacceptable

By Alex Enumah in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

The federal government has formally declared the Shiite Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) a security threat, saying it is not substantially different from the Boko Haram terrorist group that has killed about 100,000 people since 2009.

The government spoke through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the weekend in a response to the annual report of Amnesty International (AI) for 2015/2016, which accused Nigeria’s security forces of “extreme” human rights violations and brutal response to security concerns, such as the Biafra agitation, Boko Haram insurgency and Shiites’ movement incessant processions.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to point out that the case of El-Zakzaky, which Amnesty International pronounced on, is a high and national security issue,” Premium Times, an online news portal, quoted a statement from the foreign ministry as saying, adding: “The activities of the IMN and the El-Zakzaky movement in particular are reminiscent of Boko Haram, which has become a menace and security concern not only to the Nigeria, but also the Lake Chad Basin region and the entire world.”

The foreign ministry stated firmly that “the activities of the El-Zakzaky movement is one that cannot be tolerated by any progressive democratic government”.
The allegations had earlier been refuted by the Nigerian Army.

Specifically, the AI report that was released in February, accused the security forces of unlawful killings, detention and inhumane treatment of pro-Biafra campaigners, civilians in the North-east and members of the IMN, including its leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.
It also alleged a general clampdown on freedom of speech.

The federal government, however, controverted the AI’s claims and questioned the credibility of its report, insisting that both IMN and pro-Biafra activists were national security threats.
It also noted that it had appealed the December 2016 court ruling that ordered the unconditional release of El-Zakzaky.

The IMN leader and his wife have been in detention without trial since December 2015 when the military killed hundreds of his followers for blocking the right of way of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai, in Zaria, Kaduna State.

While no soldier is being prosecuted for the killings or ordering the killing of hundreds of Shiites, the Kaduna State government has since proscribed the IMN.

President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government have always claimed their inaction on the Shiite killings was because the Kaduna State government was investigating the matter.

While the Kaduna and the federal governments have accused the Shiite group of carrying out violent actions and being an ‘insurgent’ group, the IMN has accused top Kaduna and federal government officials of pursuing a Sunni-led clampdown on them.

On the Amnesty report on the Biafran agitation, the federal government said: “The agitation for a sovereign State of Biafra is unacceptable and detrimental to the peace, unity, stability and development of the Nigerian state.

“The scenario captured and the report itself lacked conformity to both local and international best standards on evidence gathering.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council on Sunday promised to place the Boko Haram crisis on the front burner of world discussion and intervention, promising that never again would the humanitarian crisis in the area be described as either neglected or forgotten.

Speaking in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, the epicentre of the crisis during an assessment visit to the affected region, the President of UN Security Council and Permanent Representative of United Kingdom, Matthew Rycroft, said it was unfortunate that though the magnitude of the crisis was large, intervention was minimal.

Rycroft, who led the delegation of UN Security Council members with representatives from Senegal, United States, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, France, China, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Sweden and Japan to the troubled Lake Chad Basin, told Governor Kashim Shettima that the UN Security Council was worried about the crisis in the North-east of the country.

“We stand with the people of Borno, with the governor and with the government of Nigeria and with the neighbouring countries in battling the crisis,” he said.

Speaking on the humanitarian crisis, he said: “We have had a moving experience in one of the camps of displaced people, meeting women and men who have been victims of Boko Haram and are now victims of humanitarian crisis.”

He said the visiting team was shocked by the number of people displaced as well as the numbers of children suffering from malnutrition. “We have determined that as an international organisation and aids agencies we need to step up before it is too late.”

Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Geoffrey Onyeama, who received the delegation in Maiduguri, said enormous financial and human resources had gone into addressing this crisis.
He said that over $4 billion had been invested by the federal and the state governments on the very dire humanitarian challenge.

He thanked the delegation for showing interest in the crisis, stressing that “we look forward to many more assistance going forward in addressing this crisis”.

Addressing the delegation, Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, said if the crisis was not addressed with an eye to solving the developmental crisis in the area, it could escalate to a bigger crisis in not too distant future.

He said: “We better invest in education or forget the future,” stressing that “education is the greatest game changer.”
He insisted that: “Boko Haram has created numerous orphans and widows and if we fail to take care of them, they might take care of us.”