Nigerian Separatist Group Hijacks Foreign Tanker
A group of Biafran separatists have hijacked an unnamed tanker off the coast of Nigeria, demanding the release of movement leader Nnamdi Kanu, the director of Radio Biafra and head of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The organizational affiliation of the hijackers was not explicitly reported by Nigerian media. A spokesman, known only as General Ben, said that the group would take drastic action if their demands were not met swiftly. “We cannot wait till the end of the 31 days [deadline] to tell the federal government that we are serious. The vessel and the crew are in our custody . . . Any noise, any delay from government, we will blow up everything. We will blow the vessel and everybody in the vessel will go down,” he said.
He added that the attack on the vessel was for purposes of furthering the movement only.
“We are not interested in the country that owns the vessel. What we know is that the vessel was coming to Nigeria to lift oil. We are not interested, once it is blown up, let the country and Nigeria resolve the matter,” he said. “[Kanu's arrest] is provocative; hence we did not waste time to go into action. We are in support of the Biafra struggle. We will not retreat or surrender. The federal government might have taken our ultimatum as an empty threat. But, we will surprise them,” he said.
International shipping security analysts would not speculate on the vessel's identity or crew, despite rumors. They suggested that it is possible that the vessel is no longer in the hijackers' possession - that General Ben's associates have taken the crew as hostages and abandoned the ship.
Nnamdi Kanu has been detained by Nigeria's security services since November and stands accused of “criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organisation.” He was recently denied bail; the judge cited a flight risk and described Mr. Kanu as a “threat to national security,” prompting protests by IPOB members and associates worldwide, including a large non-violent demonstration outside of the E.U. parliament building in Brussels.
Mr. Kanu's organization has claimed that the region of Biafra, in Nigeria's southeast, faces systematic discrimination from what it describes as a corrupt central government. Tension between the region and Nigerian authorities splits along ethnic lines and predates independence; it resulted in a civil war in the late 1960s.
Chief Sunny Okereafor, the national director of information for MASSOB, a self-described non-violent movement of Biafran separatists, said that Kanu's arrest “is all about politics. There is no doubt that the federal government is playing politics with his detention . . . Since they don’t have evidence to prosecute him, they should set him free.”