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Nigeria Separatists Shut Down Southeast Over Leader’s Arrest

Nnamdi Kanu at his house in Umuahia, southeast Nigeria, in 2017. Photographer: Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images

 IPOB held first of many planned protests to get Kanu released

 Unrest in southeast is adding to Nigeria’s security challenges

A separatist group called for a sit-at-home protest in southeastern Nigerian cities, paralyzing business to pressurize the government to release its leader.

Banks, shops and markets were shut Monday in the Indigenous People of Biafra’s stronghold for the first of a series of planned protests in the southeast, Lagos-based Channels Television reported. IPOB, which wants to establish an independent state for the Igbo ethnic group, has called for everybody in the region’s commercial centers to stay home every Monday until Nnamdi Kanu is freed by the authorities.

Kanu, who fled Nigeria in 2017, was forcefully returned to the country in June to face treason charges. President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which has outlawed IPOB and declared it a terrorist group, blamed the organization for attacks targeting the police this year. IPOB maintains its movement to create a breakaway nation is non-violent.

Read more: Nigerian Authorities Arrest Leader of Separatist Movement

Kanu’s followers aspire to carve out a territory that would stretch beyond the southeast, encompassing the country’s oil-producing Niger Delta region, even though they have only marginal support there. That goal would make their project more viable, and directly threaten the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.

Information Minister Lai Mohammed declined to comment on Monday’s protests when reached by phone.

The social unrest is adding to Nigeria’s security challenges, which include a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast and an uptick of kidnappings for ransom. Critics have accused Buhari, a former military ruler, of cracking down too hard on southeastern secessionists, while allowing northern groups to perpetuate violence. Buhari won the 2015 election on a promise to tackle rising insecurity in Africa’s most populous nation.

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