Twitter has deleted a tweet by Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari in which he threatened to punish pro-Biafra groups blamed for escalating attacks on government and security authorities.
The social media firm said Buhari’s tweet violated its “abusive behaviour” policy, leading to a 12-hour suspension of his account.
The tweet promised a response to waves of attacks blamed on the Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed group which emerged from the main pro-Biafran secessionist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob).
In recent months, attacks targeting police stations, government buildings and electoral offices in south-east Nigeria, as well as the killing of a number of government and civil service officials, have been blamed on the ESN.
Buhari referenced his role as a brigade major during the bitter 1967 Biafra war, when an attempted secession for an independent state sparked one of the darkest chapters in Nigerian history. Nigeria’s military was widely accused of potential war crimes and abuses, and millions of people died from hunger and malnourishment after a government-backed blockade was imposed by the army.
“Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Biafra war,” Buhari wrote. “Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.”
Several Twitter users said they reported the tweet for inciting violence in the predominantly ethnically Igbo region.
The comments in the tweet were taken from a speech the president had made earlier, in response to a wave of arson attacks against several electoral offices.
“I think we have given them enough latitude. They have made their case, they just wanted to destroy the country,” he said, appearing to reference secessionist agitators. “Whoever wanted diversion or destruction of the system at this point, I think will soon have the shock of their lives,” he also warned.
Nigeria’s information minister, Lai Mohammed, dismissed Twitter’s action. “Twitter may have its own rules, it’s not the universal rule,” he told reporters. “If Mr President anywhere in the world feels very bad and concerned about a situation, he is free to express such views.”
The president’s comments, among the harshest yet on the crisis in the south-east, come amid escalating attacks against security forces and government authorities across the region, blamed on pro-Biafra militants.
In 2015, after the former military general won a historic election, secessionist agitation erupted across the south-east, in the most marked resurgence in secessionist sentiment since the Biafra war. Protests and mass boycotts since then have been brutally cracked down by Nigerian police.
Nigerian security forces have gradually launched military operations, after proscribing Ipob as a terrorist group in 2017. This year, attacks blamed on the ESN have sharply risen. The group has denied responsibility for many of the attacks yet admitted to organising in response to armed threats.
The painful legacy of the Biafra war runs deep in Nigeria, Those who died are not officially commemorated and the claims of atrocities levelled at the military have never been acknowledged. The war is not taught in schools and cultural depictions of the conflict are tightly censored.
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