U.S. ignores small African terrorist group IPOB at its peril – Washington Times Op-ed

In the following Washington Times op-ed, Ivan Sascha Sheehan argues why the U.S. State Department should designate the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

An illustration of IPOB as a terrorist Group by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

“An African terrorist organization is suing U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in U.S. federal court. It beggars belief.

“So how did it happen?

“The answer is frustratingly simple. The violent secessionist group in question – the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – is yet to be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the US Department of State. This is despite repeated pleas to do so by longstanding U.S. ally Nigeria, where IPOB is based and carries out its murderous activities.

“It is difficult to explain how U.S. interests are served by inaction and complacency on IPOB. The listing costs nothing. But the designation would have significant implications for the group’s continuance.

“Let’s start with the obvious: Tagging the group with a terror label would hit IPOB’s wallet hard.

“As soon as the designation is applied, no organization that utilizes U.S. currency would be able to legally conduct transactions with the organization. By cutting off IPOB’s funding, the U.S. would weaken the 50,000 strong paramilitary outfit and provide Nigeria’s security forces room to train their sights squarely on ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram in the Northeast of the country. Counterterrorism operations against Boko Haram have long been assisted by U.S. agencies working in close coordination with the West African government.

“Though IPOB may appear to be Abuja’s problem alone, the militants have served as a distraction and bled precious resources. Over the past eighteen months, Boko Haram has regrettably been able to regroup and rejuvenate. The same is true of Al Qaeda-affiliated groups across the volatile Sahel region. That the African continent is rapidly becoming a staging ground for global terror operations should concern U.S. officials.

“But Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB’s leader, is clearly unconcerned. That he feels no need to even disguise his support of terrorism is worrisome. Though IPOB’s principal aim is to restore a breakaway state of Biafra in the Southeastern parts of Nigeria, Mr. Kanu’s rhetoric has become increasingly strident. “I don’t want peaceful actualization (of Biafra),” Mr. Kanu has said through 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.”

“Neither does Mr. Kanu make idle threats. The December revelation of IPOB’s 50,000 strong-armed paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), complete with a Swastika-style flag, marked the end to all pretenses of being a peaceful movement. What had been largely unspoken was publicly declared. Since then, violent IPOB attacks on both security personnel and civilians have surged by a terrifying 59%; deaths by 344%.

“More than 20 attacks were carried out in the first three months of this year alone, including the retribution-style bombing of a local state governor’s home where four were killed, and an attack on a prison that freed some 2,000 dangerous criminals. Even neighboring states were forced to impose curfews to protect their citizens from marauders.

“There is also a nasty racial element to the IPOB attacks. In addition to attacks on the state, much of their violence is directed towards the Fulani people, a nomadic tribe of herders that roam across West Africa. Through Biafra Radio, IPOB regularly calls on its supporters to not only kill the Fulani, but to kill “any landlord that gives accommodation or rents his house or her house to a Fulani person.” In one recent attack on a Fulani community, six young children were butchered with machetes – one, a baby, was burned alive. Their bodies were discarded in mass graves.

“Whether with threats made on Biafra Radio or repeated acts of violence, IPOB coerces politicians and civilians to acquiesce to its radical political demands. One example saw all the governors of Southeast Nigeria bow to 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. Similarly, it enforces a sit-at-home day every Monday, intended to economically cripple the region, through acts like the torching of passenger buses.

“The U.S. has correctly prescribed terror labels to other secessionist groups that employ these tactics – the ETA in Spain, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, and the PKK in Turkey. Now the people IPOB claims to represent, the Igbo, are even seeking to distance themselves from the group.

“So why hasn’t the U.S.?

“One reason may be the group’s million-dollar contracts with prominent American lobbying firms paid to whitewash the group’s reputation and lobby on Capitol Hill. It is impossible to believe that IPOB and Kanu’s deep pockets are not being lined by external organizations.

“A terror designation would put a stop to this influence peddling. It would also mean the group could not use the US or its Western allies, like London-based Radio Biafra, to further their cause. The group’s outsized influence – a function of its radio station, paid hands, and US lawyers – would be severely curtailed. Law enforcement in the US, the U.K., and elsewhere would be obligated to act by shutting down these activities.

“That a small terrorist organization can bully senior U.S. officials in American courts and leverage the influence of foreign agents to challenge an ally’s security would be laughable were it not so alarming.

“Washington must not ignore Nigeria’s terrorists any longer.”

• Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the executive director of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Opinions expressed are his own and they were originally published by the Washington Times.

1 reply »

  1. The Fulanis are killing all Nigerians regardless of tribe. The President of Nigerian is enabling the Fulanis to kill, maimed and kidnap all tribes in the south with the intention of grabbing their lands and turn the country to Fulani State. How come the writer didn’t mention Gumi who constantly negotiate ransoms between the fulanis and the kidnapped families.
    The country is broken by the President’s own terrorist group who also created the munster in the east. Why blame Kanu for all the atrocities and not addressing the egregious state that the Northerners has left the south. They openly boast of their killings of the southerners without being reprimand. Farmers are beheaded cos they want to feed their cows. School children kidnapped and tortured for ransom and are posted on the internet.
    This is 21st century and they still want open grazing in an attempt to grab lands that belong to the southerners. Christians are being killed daily without the President saying anything.
    Was it Kanu that invaded NDA in the North and killed the Major and other officers? The President has lost it due to his tribalism and religious ambitions.
    The whole country is in shamble and we need to be broken down and let all go their separate ways. Was it Kanu who killed poor youths doing peaceful endsars protest in Lagos? Please let us look at the whole country before labeling people as terrorist. The government has stated in open interviews that it will deal with the people of Nigeria mainly southerners in the language they understand. Why did Twitter suspend the President’s account?
    People are being arrested and kept in the bunkers without any charges being brought up against them. The federal agents bursted into people’s home without warrants, killed people and destroyed properties without any repercussions. They refused to release people even when the court ordered their release. But they ignore the mayhem being perpetrated by the Fulani herdsmen and the bandits that the President imported from Mali, Niger and other Muslim countries.
    It is a shame that the writer didn’t see beyond the issues of the east. Truckloads of Fulani from the north are being deposited in the south to butcher and take the southerners properties. The writer is working with the federal government of Nigeria to enable them start a preplanned civil war in order to kill innocent southerners so as to turn the country to Islamic, Fulanized country.
    I will advise that New paper do an independent review of the authoritarian government of Nigeria and unbiasedly report the truth on the state of Nigeria on insecurity and oppression going on.