Separatists kill at least 11 people in southeast Nigeria, army says

Main separatist group in restive southeast region denies responsibility and blames ‘criminals’ for the deadly attack.

Soldiers in truck
Nigerian army patrol in Kaduna State, March 9, 2024 [File: Sunday Alamba/AP Photo]

The Nigerian military has said that separatists killed at least 11 people in a “surprise” assault on a checkpoint in the country’s southeastern Abia State, the latest in a string of raids in the restive region.

The attack on Thursday, which the army blamed on the outlawed separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, claimed the lives of six civilians and five soldiers deployed at the Obikabia junction in the city of Aba, according to defence spokesperson Major-General Edward Buba.

“The military will be fierce in its response. We will bring overwhelming military pressure on the group to ensure their total defeat,” said Buba on Friday.

IPOB, which wants a separate state for the ethnic Igbo people in southeast Nigeria, denied it was behind attacks.

“We condemn the attack on military on duty in Aba,” spokesperson Emma Powerful said, blaming politically motivated “criminals”.

The attack took place as the region commemorated the people who died as a result of a three-year civil war, which broke out on May 30, 1967, after Igbo army officers declared an independent Biafra state. More than a million people died in the conflict, mostly from starvation.

IPOB said it had issued a strict order for people to remain indoors on so-called “Biafra Day”, adding that it had not struck at a “time of mourning”.

The Nigerian government has banned IPOB as a “terrorist” organisation and accused it of stoking ethnic tensions by claiming genocide against Igbos.

Gunmen have targeted police, soldiers and electoral offices in southeast Nigeria in recent years. Authorities have repeatedly blamed IPOB’s Eastern Security Network paramilitary wing.

The movement’s leader – Nnamdi Kanu, a British citizen arrested in Kenya in 2021 – is currently on trial in Nigeria on “terrorism” charges.

The unrest in the southeast has piled pressure on a government and military already struggling to contain attacks and kidnappings in the northwest as well as a 15-year rebellion in the northeast and sectarian and herder-farmer clashes in central regions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies