Radio Biafra director Nnmadi Kanu has attained global
popularity. Read what the BBC wrote about him:
After spending more than a year-and-a-half
in a Nigerian jail without trial on treason
charges, Nnamdi Kanu is now free on bail.
The BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty explains who
Nwannekaenyi “Nnamdi” Kanu is and why
he attracts so much controversy
Nnamdi Kanu founded the Indigenous
People Of Biafra (Ipob) in 2014.
The movement wants a group of states in
south-east Nigeria, made up mainly of
people from the Igbo ethnic group, to break
away and form the independent nation of
The plan is not new. In 1967 Igbo leaders
declared a Biafran state, but after a brutal
civil war, which led to the deaths of up to a
million people, the secessionist rebellion
But the idea of separatism has bubbled
away since then and Mr Kanu is the latest
in a line of Biafran activists taking up the
Ipob activists held frequent demonstrations
over the detention of Mr Kanu
He was a relatively obscure figure until
2009 when he started Radio Biafra, a
station that called for an independent state
for the Igbo people and broadcast to Nigeria
Though he grew up in Nigeria’s south-east
and went to the University of Nsukka, Mr
Kanu moved to the UK before graduating.
Soon after setting up Ipob, he spoke to
gatherings of the large Igbo diaspora, calling
for Biafran independence. In some of his
comments, he urged Biafrans to take up
arms against the Nigerian state.
“We need guns and we need bullets,” he
said in one such address.
And that is what brought him to the
attention of Nigeria’s security services.
However Ipob spokeswoman Amarachi
Chimeremeze told the BBC this was not a
literal call to arms: “That was a metaphor,
to tell the people we are going to fight for
If his trial, currently due to begin in July,
does actually get underway, that is the
question the judge will have to rule on.
In October 2015, soon after arriving in
Nigeria for a visit, he was arrested in his
He was charged with “criminal conspiracy,
intimidation and membership of an illegal
organisation” – charges that could amount
His lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told the BBC that
the charges were “frivolous”.
“They were concocted to ensure his
detention in prison. These are smoke-screen
charges that will never see the light of
Biafra at a glance:
States claimed by Ipob for an independent
Ipob claims these existing states would
make up an independent Biafra
First republic of Biafra was declared by
Nigerian military officer Odumegwu-Ojukwu
He led his mainly ethnic Igbo forces into a
deadly three-year civil war that ended in
More than one million people lost their lives,
mostly because of hunger
Decades after Biafra uprising was quelled
by the military, secessionist groups have
attracted the support of many young people
They feel Nigeria’s central government is
not investing in the region
But the government says their complaints
are not particular to the south-east
Still dreaming of Biafra
Should new calls for Biafra worry Nigerians?
Why I stopped mispronouncing my Igbo
How I was banned from speaking Igbo
Since his arrest, groups of Ipob supporters
have gathered in protest around Nigeria
and the movement has gained momentum.
They believe that the British vote to leave
the European Union and Donald Trump’s
election in the US are evidence of growing
international support for the “right to self-
determination” which they espouse.
Some have said they are now seeking
Organised pro-Biafran protests have almost
always been broken up by police, with Ipob
saying their followers were injured or even
killed, something the authorities
But the violence has led to increased
publicity and Cheta Nwanze, a political
analyst who has done extensive research on
the pro-Biafra movement, says Mr Kanu’s
“arrest was a mistake because it played
into his hands”.
“When the 2015 election happened, there
was a slowdown in the popularity of his
radio station and that’s when he decided to
come to Nigeria to get arrested.”
Was it a mistake to arrest Nnamdi Kanu?
Mr Nwanze believes Mr Kanu is an
opportunist and points to a video of him
speaking at an anti-Boko Haram rally in
London just months before he set up Ipob,
where he spoke about the need to protect
Nigeria from breaking apart.
But the Ipob spokeswoman disputes this.
She says Mr Kanu simply went to Nigeria to
show his commitment to the struggle.
“He came to prove to them that he meant
everything that he said. The Nigerian
administration were acting as if according
to a script and arrested him,” Ms
Chimeremeze told the BBC.
‘Lost tribe of Israel’
Putting his separatist ambitions aside,
human rights groups and some senior
politicians have been calling for Mr Kanu’s
release, arguing that his many months of
detention without trial was unlawful.
As is common with the Nigerian legal
system, the case has been plagued by
delays. After a year-and-a-half, no
significant progress has been made.
The government ignored several court
orders calling for Mr Kanu’s bail before
bowing to a court order last week, and
granting it “on medical grounds”.
It is hard to judge the strength of pro-Biafra
But the bail conditions are harsh: The Ipob
leader is banned from public speaking,
granting interviews or being in a group of
more than 10 people.
As a condition of that bail Mr Kanu had to
bring a prominent Igbo leader, a wealthy
resident of Abuja and a senior Nigerian
Jewish leader to provide 100m naira
($260,000; £200,000) each as surety to the
The Ipob leader says he is an Igbo Jew, part
of a group who believe they are
descendants of the lost tribe of Israel who
settled in West Africa.
It is hard to judge the real strength of a
movement like Ipob and its leader.
While the misery of the Biafran war put an
end to the separatist ambitions of many
Biafrans, a lot of Igbo people still feel that
they are not fairly treated in Nigeria.
And some argue that President
Muhammadu Buhari is doing little to help
that. After all, he was a soldier in the army
that defeated the separatists in 1970.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on the other
hand, was recently celebrated for opening a
conversation on what happened during the
What happens to Mr Kanu and Ipob next is
The movement may go the way of Massob
(Movement for the Actualisation of the
Sovereign State of Biafra), an earlier
separatist movement. Massob lost some of
its influence after its leader was jailed in
2005 and released two years later.
This year marks 50 years since the Biafran
What the interest in Mr Kanu and his
movement shows more than anything else
is Nigeria’s 50-year failure to put the idea
of Igbo separatism to rest.