Updated: Nov 15
Introduction & Overview
The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a separatist/secessionist organization operating in Nigeria that aims to restore the Republic of Biafra, which was an independent state in Eastern Nigeria primarily made up of members of the Igbo ethnic group. The Republic of Biafra seceded from Nigeria prior to the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970 before rejoining the nation after being defeated by the Nigerian military (Britannica, 2023). The IPOB was founded in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu, a British-Nigerian political activist and radio host, to further the cause of contemporary Biafran independence. In 2017 the Nigerian government deemed IPOB a terrorist organization under the Nigerian Terrorism Act. Since 2021, IPOB, along with other Biafra separatist groups, have been fighting a guerilla conflict in the southeastern part of the country against the Nigerian government (Nwonwu, 2023).
History & Foundations
Nigeria was first established as a colony of the United Kingdom in 1912 and declared independence in 1960. The country has consistently experienced internal division and fragmentation throughout its independent history. It is home to more than 500 languages and about 250 ethnic groups, though the country is mainly composed of four primary groups: the Hausa, the Fulani, the Yoruba, and the Igbo. The most significant historical conflict centered on Biafran independence was the Nigerian Civil War, which lasted from 1967 through 1970 and was caused by an attempt at secession from the primarily Igbo southeastern provinces of the country, known as the Biafra Republic. During this conflict, France, South Africa, and Portugal supplied arms and support to the rebel groups while the USSR, Great Britain, and most African governments supported the Nigerian state. It is reported that somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million people died during this conflict, mostly due to starvation. While the Nigerian state emerged as the winner of the conflict, the struggle weakened the government, and a succession of military coups followed -- two in 1966 and 1975, then again in 1983, 1985, 1993, and 1996--. In 1999, however, the country transitioned into democracy (Unesco).
There has been division and resistance to the Nigerian state as a whole since its inception, but contemporary resistance groups can be traced back to the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which was founded in 1999 (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2005). Nnamdi Kanu, the founder, and leader of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, was a part of this group until 2009, when a conflict with MASSOB’s former leader led to him leave the group. Kanu then emerged as the leader of the newly formed IPOB in 2012 (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016).
The group then rose to prominence in the mid-2010s and has become a powerful player in the Biafra independence movement (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016). Though exact membership numbers are unavailable, the group has gained and maintained significant popularity, especially among Igbo youth. The group has received more media attention in recent years for experiencing frequent political crackdowns and violent engagements with state forces (Johnson, 2023).
Objectives & Ideology
As previously stated, the objective of IPOB is to restore the defunct Republic of Biafra, establishing “a separate homeland for the Igbo people.”, as said by MASSOB when discussing the objectives of pro-Biafran organizations, including MASSOB and IPOB. This desire stems from the feeling of political, social, and cultural marginalization by the Nigerian state (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016). IPOB has criticized the government of Nigeria for political alienation, inequitable resource distribution, ethnic marginalization, heavy military presence, and extrajudicial killings in the South-Eastern and South-Central regions of the country (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016).
IPOB has purported itself to be a nationalist movement, trying to restore Biafran independence and identity. There have been no direct claims that Biafra is synonymous with the Igbo ethnic identity, though in some statements, such as the one in the previous paragraph, the separatist groups seem to conflate the two quite easily. The group has also expressed anti-Fulani and anti-Muslim sentiments (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016).
Military & Political Abilities
Kanu, the leader of IPOB, is also the director of Radio Biafra, which is an unlicensed radio station that claims to promote “Biafran awareness, culture, and identity” (RadioBiafra). The station has been described by different sources as a pirate station and it has been reported broadcasting content ranging from hate speech and misinformation to seditious messages urging violent struggle against Nigeria (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016).
The Nigerian state has claimed that IPOB are responsible for several attacks in recent years. In April of 2021, there was an armed assault on the Imo State Police Headquarters and a correctional facility, where several inmates were released. The police claimed the IPOB was responsible. IPOB however denied this attack and has accused the Nigerian state of staging attacks to blame IPOB or the Eastern Security Network (ESN), which is the paramilitary organization of IPOB (Sahara, 2021). That same April, Emma Powerful, the media and publicity secretary of IPOB stated that the group “produces their own arms locally.” This was part of a statement given by Powerful in response to claims that IPOB was planning to attack a series of banks to acquire money to purchase arms. Emma Powerful rejected this claim, denouncing it as propaganda, and stated that members of IPOB were peaceful and the group did not wish to inflict pain on the people whose freedom they were fighting for. Powerful also urged banks in the Biafran region to be careful of the Department of State Services, as they may have been planning to sponsor attacks and blame them on the IPOB (Samuel, 2021). No evidence exists to back up his claims.
The group has also imposed stay-at-home protests at different times, urging residents to stay at home every Monday to draw attention to their struggle for independence. Local residents have reported that this protest has led to personal difficulties for some residents who live in poverty and have to work. There have also been reports from locals of residents being attacked and killed for going out on stay-at-home protest days (Asadu, 2022). As recently as September of 2023, 8 security personnel were killed in a gunfight in the country’s southeast. This was just one of what has become a string of attacks over the past years, many of which are blamed on IPOB (Asadu, 2023).
Some arrests and seizures have been made by Nigerian state forces. In July of 2023, troops raided an enclave in Asaba, the Delta State capitol. The troops reportedly exchanged gunfire with the gunmen before they fled. The troops captured one of the fleeing members and recovered some small weaponry including AK47 rifles, semi-automatic rifles, and a G3 rifle (Oyero, 2023). Then, in October 2023, the Nigerian state forces reportedly recovered several locally made artillery projectile launchers as well as 48 rounds of 7.62 mm NATO ammunition (David, 2023).
Approach to Resistance
While IPOB has regularly claimed to be a peaceful, non-violent organization, many doubt this claim. Numerous attacks and violent incidents over recent years have been blamed on IPOB, though they are difficult to prove. They have engaged in protests in attempts to bring media attention to the Biafran independence struggle and disrupt local economies as a way of resisting the Nigerian state.
There was an incident In 2021, where IPOB threatened deployment of the ESN if the governors of southeast Nigeria did not ban open grazing (Njoku, 2021). The ESN however, did not wait 14 days, but instead attacked a Fulani camp in Isuikwuato, Abia State, where the operatives killed livestock and burned down local houses (Sahara, 2021). Shortly before this incident, in January 2021, a conflict arose between the ESN and the Nigerian army. The government deployed the army to destroy ESN bases, as they were perceived to be a threat to the state's authority. Fighting erupted in the town of Orlu, in Imo State, and lasted for a week until the Kanu declared a ceasefire, stating that he was redirecting ESN efforts against “Fulani raiders” and noting that the forces had withdrawn from the city (Campbell, 2021).
While IPOB has not claimed responsibility for any violent attacks there are clear incidents of conflict between the ESN and the Nigerian State forces, even if IPOB tends to frame these as defensive engagements. The Institute for Economics and Peace ranked IPOB as the 10th deadliest terror organization of 2023 according to the Global Terrorism Index, though this ranking was based on attacks attributed to the group, and not ones they have claimed (Johnson, 2023). 2022 was the purportedly deadliest year in history for IPOB with 40 attacks and 57 deaths recorded, an increase from 26 attacks and 34 deaths in 2021, though again, all unclaimed or denied (Institute, 2023).
International Relations and Alliances
There are no clear ties or connections between IPOB and any other international groups or governments. They appear to be closely aligned and perhaps allied to the previously mentioned Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which was the group Kanu split from before forming IPOB a couple of years later (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 2016). Another active separatist group in the area is the Biafra Nations League, though direct connections between them and IPOB could not be found (Sahara, 2023). The source(s) of funding for IPOB remains unclear. There have been different allegations from members of the Nigerian state in regard to where the group receives its funding from, but none have been proven. In 2021 Emma Powerful, the media and publicity secretary, stated that the group was funded by IPOB members in 120 different countries, though this claim has also not been verified (Okafor, 2021).
Works Cited (MLA-style)
“Biafra.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 12 Oct. 2023, www.britannica.com/place/Biafra.
Nwonwu, Chiagozie. “Biafra Quest Fuels Nigeria Conflict: Too Scared to Marry and Bury Bodies.” BBC News, BBC, 9 Jan. 2023, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-64110852?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA.
Unesco. “Biafran War Memories - CIPDH - UNESCO.” CIPDH, CIPDH, www.cipdh.gob.ar/memorias-situadas/en/lugar-de-memoria/biafran-war-memories/. Accessed 30 Oct. 2023.
“Responses to Information Requests (Rirs) .” Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 9 June 2005, www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/eoir/legacy/2013/12/18/NGA100170.E.pdf.
Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Nigeria: The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), including objectives, structure, activities, relations with other Biafran independence groups, and treatment by authorities (2014-October 2016), 10 November 2016, NGA105658.E, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/5844003b4.html [accessed 31 October 2023]
Radio Biafra, Radio Birafra, 24 Oct. 2023, radiobiafra.co/.
“Breaking: Attack on IMO Police Headquarters, Prison Facility Carried out by IPOB’s Security Operatives – Police Inspector-General, Adamu.” Sahara Reporters, Sahara Reporters, 5 Apr. 2021, saharareporters.com/2021/04/05/breaking-attack-imo-police-headquarters-prison-facility-carried-out-ipob%E2%80%99s-security#:~:text=The%20Inspector%2DGeneral%20of%20Police,proscribed%20Indigenous%20Peoples%20of%20Biafra.
Akpan, Samuel. “IPOB: We Don’t Buy Arms -- We Produce Them Locally.” TheCable, The Cable, 16 Apr. 2021, www.thecable.ng/ipob-we-dont-buy-arms-we-produce-them-locally.
Asadu, Chinedu. “Nigeria’s Separatist Protests Are Reminders of Biafran War.” AP News, AP News, 1 Apr. 2022, apnews.com/article/africa-nigeria-a7f1e918e1f647ff92dae7a4dd0459e5.
Asadu, Chinedu. “Several Security Forces Killed in an Ambush by Gunmen in Nigeria’s Southeast.” AP News, AP News, 19 Sept. 2023, apnews.com/article/imo-ipob-biafra-attack-a90b931bbd837358974f566b288a3fa8.
Oyero, Kayode. “Troops Raid ‘IPOB’ Hideout, Arrest Suspect, Recover AK 47 Rifles.” Channels Television, Channels Television, 22 July 2023, www.channelstv.com/2023/07/22/troops-raid-ipob-hideout-arrest-suspect-recover-ak-47-rifles/.
David, Tarkaa. “Troops Seize Artillery Projectile Launchers, Others from IPOB.” Leadership News, Leadership News, 17 Oct. 2023, leadership.ng/troops-seize-artillery-projectile-launchers-others-from-ipob/.
Chris, Njoku. “IPOB Gives Southeast Governors 14 Days Ultimatum to Ban Open Grazing.” The Nation Newspaper, The Nation, 30 Jan. 2021, thenationonlineng.net/ipob-gives-southeast-governors-14-days-ultimatum-to-ban-open-grazing/
“Herdsmen Flee as IPOB’s Eastern Security Network Invades Fulani Camp in Abia, Kills Many Cows.” Sahara Reporters, Sahara Reporters, 31 Jan. 2021, saharareporters.com/2021/01/31/herdsmen-flee-ipob%E2%80%99s-eastern-security-network-invades-fulani-camp-abia-kills-many-cows.
Campbell, John. “Security Deteriorating in Nigeria’s Former ‘Biafra.’” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, 9 Feb. 2021, www.cfr.org/blog/security-deteriorating-nigerias-former-biafra.
Johnson, Hannah. “Global Terrorism Index: Body Clarifies Position on IPOB Listing.” Punch Newspapers, Punch Newspapers, 27 Mar. 2023, punchng.com/global-terrorism-index-body-clarifies-position-on-ipob-listing/
“Biafra Nations League Threatens Invasion of Lagos over Attacks on Igbo People, Arrest of Igbo Chief Who Vowed to Invite Ipob.” Sahara Reporters, Sahara Reporters, 2 Apr. 2023, saharareporters.com/2023/04/02/biafra-nations-league-threatens-invasion-lagos-over-attacks-igbo-people-arrest-igbo
Oyero, Kayode. “Troops Raid ‘IPOB’ Hideout, Arrest Suspect, Recover AK 47 Rifles.” Channels Television, Channels Television, 22 July 2023, www.channelstv.com/2023/07/22/troops-raid-ipob-hideout-arrest-suspect-recover-ak-47-rifles/