Militants claiming to support the Biafran cause have hijacked a merchant ship off the Nigerian coast. They are demanding the release of pro-Biafran leader Nnamdi Kanu as a ransom for the safe return of the ship and its crew.
The ship was allegedly hijacked on Friday in the Bakassi Peninsula, a disputed region between Nigeria and Cameroon off the southeastern coast of Nigeria, according to domestic media outlet NewsDay reported on Sunday.
A spokesperson for the militants, named only as General Ben, said on Saturday in Nigeria’s southern oil hub of Port Harcourt that a 31-day ultimatum had been issued to the Nigerian government within which Kanu—who was arrested in October 2015 and is awaiting trial on charges of treason—should be released. The spokesperson threatened to blow up the ship with the crew onboard if the government failed to comply.
A group of ex-Niger Delta militants—who were allegedly involved in the destruction of oil pipelines in Nigeria’s oil-producing heartland during an insurgency in the mid-2000s—reportedly issued the deadline earlier in January, though it is not clear if the same group is responsible for the hijacking.
Bridgadier General Rabe Abubakar, the Nigerian military’s director of defense information, tells Newsweek that the incident has taken place and that the Nigerian authorities are pursuing the hijackers, but was unable to provide further information about the ship or the condition of the crew. “This is an act of criminality, an act of sabotage,” says Abubakar.
When asked whether the militants were demanding Kanu’s release, Abubakar tells Newsweek: “We don’t care about personality. What we care about is the nation, the safety of our ex-patriates, the safety of our citizens and the safety of everybody who is [in Nigeria] on legitimate contentions or business.”
Kanu is the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a secessionist movement that advocates the creation of an independent state of Biafra in southeastern Nigeria. Biafra existed as a republic separate from Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. Its creation by Nigerian military officer Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu sparked a three-year civil war in which more than one million people were killed.