Nigeria separatists take hostages

Nigerian separatists continue to hold the crew of Leon Dias, a Greek vessel seized by the separatists on January 29th. According to Benin authorities, they leaved the vessel, but captured five hosteges and went to Nigeria. The main demand of the separatists holding the hostages is the release of Nnamdi Kanu from prison. He is one of the leaders of the movement for the restoration of independence of Biafra state.

Seizing the tanker

The tanker was seized in the territorial waters of Nigeria on Sunday, but the world's media reported the news only on Thursday. Among the crew members taken hostage - citizens of Russia, Georgia and the Philippines.

The conflict

Nigeria like most other countries in Africa is an artificial entity manufactured in the borders of a former British colony. The northern part of the country is inhabited by Muslim peoples and tribes and the south is inhabited by Christians and animists. Ethnic and sectarian conflicts are tearing the country apart since its independence in 1960.

An important factor in the conflict is the control of oil fields, located in the the south of the country, inhabited by Christians and animists

Biafra and separatism in southern Nigeria

In 1967, in the wake of conflict in the south-eastern part of the country populated by tribes subjected to Christianization, the Igbo Republic of Biafra was proclaimed. As a result of the ensuing civil war in 1967-1970,  Biafra was destroyed by the military regime, that was supported by the Muslims, and is attached to Nigeria. However, the separatist movement exists to this day. Militants of the Biafran separatist are supported by "Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta", representing the Ijaw people.

The Battle for Oil

The conflict in southern Nigeria is one of global significance - it is a conflict over oil. Now, most of Nigeria's oil is produced by multinational corporations, in fact 95% of the oil produced in Nigeria is by multinationals such as Royal Dutch Shell (UK, Netherlands), Chevron (US), Exxon Mobil (US), Agip (Italy), Total (France). Representatives of the separatist groups carry out attacks on foreigners involved in the production and transportation of oil every year.

Ultimatum of the separatists

On the eve of January 24th, representatives of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra and the “Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta” issued an ultimatum to the federal government, demanding the release of Nnamdi Kanu. If the demand is not met, the separatists have promised to escalate their activities, beginning with the capture of foreign nationals.

Separatism returns

The impetus for the recent increase in separatist activity in Nigeria was in Muslims coming to power in the country last year. On March 31st, 2015 the general elections in Nigeria were won by former general Muhammadu Buhari, who had previously held this post from 1983 to 1985. At the time, he had come to power in a coup. In 2015, Bukhari, a Sunni Muslim, defeated the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian. The elections have demonstrated the continuing division of the Nigerian nation on religious grounds, Muslim northern states  voted mainly for Bukhari and Christians in the south voted primarily for Jonathan.

In Nigeria, the Bukhari's cabinet consists of almost exclusively Sunni Muslims, people from the north of the country, causing hostility for the Christian population, who inhabit the most advanced, oil-producing southern states. The decrease in oil prices seriously hits the stability of Nigeria as the most powerful country of the region and the largest oil-producing African country. Coupled with falling revenues, much of which goes to the maintenance of security and the fight against Boko Haram, the redistribution of income from oil-producing areas towards the northern elite contributes to the revival of separatist tendencies.