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Like Biafra Like Catalan

By Richard Murphy
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I was taken aback by images screening on BBC News of riot police smashing a glass door to gain access into one of the venues being used for the referendum by Catalan separatists in Spain. The harsh clamp down on the exercise is no doubt a reaction to the Spanish government describing the referendum, which Catalonians hope to use to declare independence, as illegal.

If video clips of the riot police smashing doors were jolting, the scenes on the streets were even more shocking. Security forces deployed maximum force in repressing protesters in a manner that made the combined approach of Nigeria’s military and security forces appear like the disposition of crèche staffers. Those that opposed the police efforts to stop the referendum were clobbered, hurled to the ground and peppered with rubber bullets.

To achieve the ultimate objective of these actions, the police were reported to have carted the ballot away, effectively raising questions about the integrity of any outcome announced for the referendum. This tallies with Spain’s desire to stick to the current arrangement where its constitution does not recognise secession rights for Catalonia, a wealthy region of 7.5 million people in north-eastern Spain.

The clamp down on the “illegal” referendum came at a time when a vocal minority from south-east Nigeria are, like broken records, chanting “referendum or death” or “no referendum no election” in their misplaced quest to revive a defunct republic of Biafra, the cause of a civil war five decades ago. In recent months the rabble agitating for the breakup of Nigeria has fallen under the control of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPoB, now officially designated as a terror group.

IPoB of course hinges its ridiculous for a referendum, not recognized by any Nigerian law, on some nebulous international instruments, the relevant sections or specific documents have never been cited. Its propaganda includes inviting the European Union, United Kingdom and United States to meddle in Nigeria’s internal affairs.

Interestingly, Spain is a visible member nation of the EU. The EU has maintained a stoic silence even when Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has repeatedly appealed to the EU to intervene. The bloc’s position is that Catalan’s breakaway bid and Spain’s tough stance against it are internal affairs of that country, in which it would not interfere. United Kingdom has also been decadently silent while US President Donald Trump was categorical in declaring that his country is opposed to Catalan’s independence bid, which he described as “foolish”.

One is therefore at a loss as to why even those who lay claim to a sophisticated level of education from the south-east of Nigeria are counting on these same countries and the EU to help achieve in Nigeria what they are opposed to in Spain. It is confounding that Nigeria’s pro-separatist rabble does not see themselves as willingly handing their country over for re-colonization by their very demand for intervention from people who are loathe accepting what is being requested for their own selves.

More instructive is that the Catalonians have not threatened war crime charges at the International Criminal Court against the riot police that have violently disrupted their referendum the same way IPoB and other Biafra separatist groups always threaten the Nigerian Army and the police. The Catalonians definitely know the remit and limits of international organizations.

Even though Catalan has its distinct language, culture and economy within its geographical space in Spain it has not misled its pro-independence followers with lies that they are “indigenous people” with special rights that make attacking troops commonplace.

Nigerian military and security agencies should catch up with what has happened and continues to happen in Spain over the Catalan issue and take cue on how not to be intimidated by the blackmail of international bodies. It is to the credit of the military that on the day Catalonians are getting beaten and shot at for holding a referendum, Nigerians that truly believe in the country proudly decked themselves in the green-white-green national colours to celebrate Nigeria’s 57th independence anniversary. The military should help keep it so by dealing with any threat – internal or external – that seeks to undermine the integrity of Nigeria. This is still our country.

Murphy, a security expert writes from Calabar, Cross River State.