As secessionist movements gather momentum globally, countries without an institution to review the grievances of these groups are likely to experience economic crises.
ENUGU, Nigeria — Since August, Sunday Elom’s weekends have extended to Monday, leaving him to work four times a week.
He’s adhering to a sit-at-home protest, a form of civil disobedience administered by the Independent Peoples’ of Biafra (IPOB), a secessionist group in Nigeria’s Southeast region, demanding independence.
“They [IPOB] are claiming to use civil disobedience, but civil disobedience is never violent,” Elom, a public affairs analyst and journalist, told TRT World. “It’s more of discussion, dialogue, and peaceful resistance.”
As part of its efforts to secede from Nigeria, IPOB, in August, ordered people living across the five states in the region to sit-at-home once or twice a week to force the government into releasing Nnamdi Kanu, its supreme leader, and to organize a referendum afterwards.
Kanu, a dual citizen of Nigeria and the United Kingdom, led a resurgence of the Biafra movement that resulted in the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970. The Biafrans, mostly people from the Igbo tribe, were massacred in the northern region, treated as second class citizens and denied economic and political power.
The treatment of the Igbo tribe galvanized Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu to forcefully establish the Republic of Biafra state on May 30, 1967, triggering a civil war that killed about one million Biafrans.
Separatism: Popularized by social media
The Biafra movement is a microcosm of global separatism movements. In the last century, a wave of secessionist movements has pervaded different regions across the globe.
Since 1947, Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory administered by India in the Himalayan region, has been fighting to secede from India as an independent country or merge with its Muslim neighbour, Pakistan. The fight for freedom has also sparked a dispute between India, Pakistan and China, playing a third-party role.
Like Nigeria’s IPOB, Jammu and Kashmir has a separatist group. The Kashmiri rebels and the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) created an umbrella organization with different political and religious groups fighting for self-independence or a merger with Pakistan.
In Northeast Spain, a separatist movement has been present in the Catalonia region since 1922, when the first pro-independence political party was formed in Catalonia. However, an intense resurgence sparked in 2010 following the Spanish constitutional court’s rejection of the 2005 Catalan Statute, limiting the region’s autonomous reach and affecting immigration policies, rights, and taxes. In 2017, the parliament of Catalonia declared independence from Spain.
Separatism is a global issue, and almost every country globally has at least a separatist movement, says Dr Lionel Rawlins, an International Relations expert and founder of California-based security group, VonFrederick Global Security.
“It’s just that we never heard about them in the past, but because of the advent of social media, we are now hearing about them. Also, people believe that if you register grievances through social media, they will get a reaction, and if the world community listens to their cause, they believe something will happen,” he said.
“Political and economic consequences”
Globally, secessionist groups’ drive for emancipation has been met with resistance, and central governments from Nigeria to India have been accused of human rights abuses against these groups. In the last three-decade, human rights groups have accused the Indian Army of a different range of abuses against Kashmiri people, from mass killings, rape, torture, political repression, enforced disappearance, suppression of freedom of speech to impunity.
In September 2021, tensions simmered when the Jammu and Kashmir separatists movement leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, died, and Indian authorities hurriedly seized his corpse and buried it in a bid to stave off further violence and mass protest commemorating his death.
“As of 2018, over 100,000 [Kashmiri] people have been killed since the 1990s,” Ni’mah Arigbabu, a UK-based Foreign Policy Analyst familiar with the region, told TRT World.
“With the death of Geelani, there’s going to be more separatists related unrest that will heighten security concerns,” she said.
The reason for this violence, according to Rawlins, is because of the economic and political interests most central governments have in regions clamouring for self-determination. For instance, Catalonia is Spain’s second most populated autonomous area at 7.6 million. Also, in 2020, the region contributed 20 percent of the entire Spanish GDP. In 2019, Catalonia’s average GDP per capita was higher than other regions in Spain and closer to the eurozone average at 32.7 thousand euros.
“The political and economic consequences of these movements are varied,” said Joachim MacEbong, a senior analyst at Lagos-based political-risk analysis firm SBM intelligence. “In the case of Catalonia, it is one of the richest regions in Spain, so there’s a high economic cost if they break away.
“In Nigeria, the fixation on One Nigeria, the legacy of the Civil War, and the disposition of subsequent administrations to any challenge mean a referendum is unlikely to be granted any time soon,” he told TRT World.
As secessionist movements gather momentum globally, countries without an institution to review the grievances of these groups are likely to experience economic crises, especially among their agitators. Some developed countries like Spain and Scotland have chosen to work within an institution to submit complaints. However, in Nigeria, separatist groups like IPOB have become violent, sometimes due to the government’s aggression.
In 2021 Nigerian security forces killed at least 121 people in the Southeast in response to their calls for independence. But IPOB has responded with more violence through its paramilitary sect, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), clashing with the Nigerian military and killing unarmed citizens in the process.
“There’s an economic crisis and political fallout for them [IPOB],” said Dr Rawlins. “For example, when IPOB goes out and starts messing with people’s economic well being, they lose the support of those people, and when you lose the support of the people, things get bad for them.”
Most states in Nigeria’s Southeast are a flashpoint for secessionist violence, and this affects economic activities. Besides, deterrents to the sit-at-home order are punished for defaulting, creating a climate of fear and keeping more people indoors.
“The sit-at-home doesn’t give the green light to attaining independence (Biafra),” said Elom. “Rather, it is a means of creating more poverty in the east, especially for people whose survival depends on going out to work daily.”