LAGOS, Nigeria — A Nigerian leading a movement calling for the secession of part of southeast Nigeria has been arrested and is to stand trial in the capital, Abuja, authorities said.
Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, was arrested and brought back to Nigeria from an undisclosed country to face trial, said Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami. Kanu is due to appear in court next month.
Malami told journalists that Kanu is to face trial for “terrorism, treasonable felony, managing an unlawful society, publication of defamatory matter, illegal possession of firearms and improper importation of goods, among others.” Kanu fled Nigeria in 2017.
Kanu’s movement calls for an independent state of Biafra to be carved out of southeast Nigeria, a region inhabited by the Igbo people who are Nigeria’s third-largest ethnic group.
A similar movement for a state of Biafra to secede from Nigeria that was headed by another Igbo leader, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, led to Nigeria’s civil war in the late 1960s, during which more than 1 million ethnic Igbos were killed, many of them through starvation.
The Igbos, who are mainly Christians, say they are marginalized by Nigeria’s federal government, especially when mainly Muslim Fulani candidates are elected. Nigeria’s more than 200 million people are almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.
In May, a large contingent of troops and police were deployed to eastern Nigeria to quell growing renewed agitation for a state of Biafra.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani, caused outrage earlier this month when he posted a tweet that seemed to threaten violence against the Igbos. The Nigerian president referred to the loss of lives and destruction that resulted from the Biafra civil war and threatened to treat the current agitators for an independent state in “the language they will understand.”
Twitter deleted the president’s post saying it violated its rules against language promoting violence. The Nigerian government responded by banning Twitter in the country. The government is also accusing Twitter of allowing Kanu to use its platform to engage in subversive activities.
The lawyer for the Biafra movement, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, confirmed Kanu’s arrest and his extradition. Ejiofor has asked authorities to give Kanu a fair trial in line with “his constitutionally protected right.”