The Nigerian army has reportedly surrounded the home of Nnamdi Kanu, the self-proclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Afaraukwu, Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State. The standoff, which started on Sunday evening, is part of what the military has termed “Operation Python Dance”, which Kanu and his many supporters believe is an attempt to forcefully suppress their agitation for the secession of southeast Nigeria from the rest of the country.
The “little local difficulty” in a corner of southeast Nigeria may now have an international dimension as pictures have emerged of the army rolling into the area surrounding Kanu’s home with at least three mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles (MRAPs), that were part of 24 of those tanks that were donated to the Nigerians by the US government in January last year.
The US surely didn’t intend nor envisage those tanks were for use in quelling civilian dissent or for policing action. It was specifically given to the Nigerian army to help in its war against the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria – a long way from the southeast where the IPOB agitation is centred. Mine-resistant tanks built for a war theatre like the northeast serve no particular purpose, apart from intimidation and possible human rights abuses, in dealing with so-far peaceful protesters.
The Nigerian military’s shameful history of human rights violations was behind the appeal by US Senator Ben Cardin in February to President Donald Trump to cancel the planned sale of fighter aircraft to Nigeria – which the president ignored.
Cardin said: “Military impunity is why I remain leery of the proposed sale of Super Tucano fighter aircraft to Nigeria. Now is not the time for the United States to focus on the provision of aircraft and heavy munitions..”
That impunity has been in full effect in the past couple of days, including reports that the army attacked the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Centre in Umuahia, the Abia State capital, beating up journalists and destroying photographic equipment. This show of force may have been to prevent independent reporting of any atrocities the soldiers may commit in Kanu’s hometown.
It is entirely inconsistent for the US to talk about human rights and democracy while handing over military equipment to Nigeria to be used for internal repression. By providing arms and political support to the Muhammadu Buhari regime, the US has become a facilitator in human rights abuses. And the provision of such equipment to the Nigerian army is a likely breach of US law. The Leahy Law prohibits the US government from providing military assistance to foreign armies that violate human rights with impunity.
Very few militaries violate human rights with remarkable impunity more than the Nigerian military and they have now implicated the US government in their lawlessness.