Nigerian army kills Biafra campaigners

Five pro-Biafra supporters killed celebrating leader's release.

Nigerian security forces killed five pro-Biafra campaigners as they celebrated the release of their leader Nnamdi Kanu in the southern city of Onitsha on 17 December, according to reports by Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The killings occurred in Onitsha, some 460km east of Lagos, after a high court in the capital Abuja ordered Kanu's release. As leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) Kanu has spearheaded a renewed campaign for a separate state for the Igbo people in the southeast, 45 years after the end of a brutal civil war in the region.

Kanu's arrest on 18 October for operating pirate Radio Biafra and belonging to an unlawful organisation has triggered protests across Nigeria, including Lagos, where the IPOB postponed a mass rally on 17 December, pending Kanu's release.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party had warned that Nigerian authorities would crack down on the "politically sponsored hoodlums" over their call for independence from Nigeria. The APC is the party of president Muhammadu Buhari, the former military head of state, who as a young officer played a significant role in the Nigerian army's campaign in Biafra.

Biafrans accuse Buhari of war crimes, including ordering the destruction of villages in the Enugu region. The civil war, fought from 1967 to 1970, left some one million dead, mainly from starvation and disease.

buhari far leftMuhammadu Buhari far left

The army's violent reaction to the Biafra campaign comes as Washington seeks answers over what has been defined as a “substantial loss of life” among Shiite Muslims in a separate attack by the Nigerian military in the northern Kaduna state