Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance: No Eulogies, Please.

1.0 Introduction: Defining the Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance

In 2021, two separatist groups in Cameroon and Nigeria, the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), established the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance. Until now, the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance has remained largely symbolic, bounded only by secessionist inclinations. However, the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance 2.0, signed in Helsinki earlier this year, seeks to renew the ADF and IPOB’s commitment to developing a sophisticated weapons arsenal by accumulating combat experience and bolstering depleted ranks.

Cameroon’s French-speaking and English-speaking communities have long been at odds over forced internal colonialism and institutional assimilation of Anglophones. In 2017, tensions culminated in the attempted Anglophone secession and led to a protracted and devastating conflict. Ambazonia’s strategic location and natural resources further add economic and political dimensions to the struggle, exacerbating resource and power politics. Across the border, in Nigeria, similar groups advocate for Biafran separatism on the basis that the Igbo and other ethnic groups are politically marginalised.

Lucas Cho Ayaba (ADF leader) and Simon Ekpa (Prime Minister of the Biafra Republic) sign the Ambazonia-Biafra declaration in Helsinki.
Fig.1 Signing of the Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance in Helsinki in October 2023 [source].

2.0 Separatism in Nigeria and Cameroon: The Historical Roots of the Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance.

2.1 A Federal Crisis

The modern state of Nigeria was created by the British Colonial Administration. As it gained independence, Nigeria inherited a colonial arrangement that divided into three administrative regions along ethnic lines. In so doing, Igbo people predominately lived in the East, Hausa-Fulani in the North, and Yoruba in the West. On this score, the adopted federal system was a weak federal government with a fair deal of political and financial autonomy for the respective regions. However, Nigerian politics soon devolved into a convergence of domestic mistrust and a tripartite struggle for control of the federal government.

2.12 Did Colonial Machinations Pave the Way to the Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance?

The British Colonial Administration sowed the seed of separatism by ensuring the economic marginalisation of the South for fear that they may dominate the North whose centralised political structure sustained the economic interest of the colonial masters. To illustrate this, the British introduced the Native Authority system which led to the classification of resident non-members of the local tribe in an an area as ‘settlers’. The British further ensured that the colonial subjects from the South referred to as ‘native foreigners’ who had arrived in the north to serve in administrative posts were separated into officially established sabon gari [source]. In so doing, this measure ensured that the existing political elite in the North on which the British depended for taxation remained in control of the economic and political opportunities in the North.

In turn, this led to the rise of ‘majority group’ ethnic nationalism. It meant that the North had, by virtue, disproportionate influence over the federal system. As a result, the other ethnic minorities vehemently opposed the Northern system which was based on Hausa-Fulani hegemony [source].

Of note, the period from 1960-66 was buffeted by fraudulent and increasingly violent struggles between region-based elites:

  • The 1962 Imposition of Emergency Rule
  • The 1962-3 Census Crisis
  • The 1964 Federal Elections
  • The 1965 Rigged Elections by the Northern-backed ruling Government.

2.2 Coups, Counter Coups, and Collapse

In January 1966, Nigeria’s military overthrew civil rule. Many postulate that the coup was motivated by ethnic chauvinism since officers were overwhelmingly of Igbo ethnic origin. By contrast, non-Igbo military and civilian causalities were disproportionately targeted by the new regime [source]. Not least, the coup also secured the political ascension of the Igbo General Aguiyi-Ironsi who abrogated federalism under the 1966 Unification Decree. Nigerians broadly interpreted his actions as an attempt to replace northern domination and assert Igbo hegemony. In response, the Northern region rejected the proposed unitary governance, demanding a return to regional federalism. As it transpired, in July (dubbed the ‘July Re-match’), an anti-Igbo counter-coup killed Ironsi and restored the Northern-dominated status quo. Subsequent pogroms against Igbo populations killed over 80,000 and displaced over 1.8 million Igbo people [source].

2.3 Nigerian Civil War and Biafran Separatism

 In 1967, the Igbo attempted to secede from the Nigerian state by unilaterally declaring the Biafra Republic. The Nigerian military prosecuted a three-year civil war against the breakaway republic.  The fighting and economic blockade of Biafra led to population displacement and severe food insecurity [source]. Death-toll estimates range between 500,000 to 2 million [source]. Biafra’s declaration of independence still reverberates and inspires separatism in the Igbo population and beyond. IPOB is the most current ensemble and manifestation of neo-Biafran separatism in Nigeria, founded in 2012 by activist Nnamdi Kanu. Exponents in the field routinely attribute its recent resurgence to several factors:

  • The imbalance of Nigerian federalism against the Igbo [source]
  • The feeling of collective victimhood amongst the Igbo [source]
  • Ineffective post-war initiatives to unite the nation  [source]

2.4 A Mirrored Image: Ambazonia

Unlike Nigeria, Ambazonia’s genesis traces back to 1961 when political elites of two territories with two different colonial legacies (one French and the other British) formed a federal state. As with Nigeria, federal governance failed to provide for the equal partnership of both parties or for the preservation of the identity and cultural heritage of each. Instead, federalism became merely a transitory phase to the total integration of the Anglophone region into a strongly centralised state under Francophone control. As one might anticipate, Francophone dominance led to a collective Anglophone resentment over their perceived marginalisation. Following Cameroon’s political liberalisation process of the 1990s, Anglophone elites openly protested and demanded a return to the federal state. [See: Amba Boys – Transforming Pacifists into Warmongers for an in-depth historical overview].

 However, the persistent refusal of President Paul Biya’s government to discuss any related constitutional reforms forced some to call for independence. Anglophone elites first attempted to gain international recognition for their demands through a diplomatic offensive. They portrayed themselves to the international community as an oppressed minority whose territory had been annexed by the French-dominated state. In so doing, the Cameroonian Government deployed various strategies to safeguard the unitary state, namely by:

  • Downplaying Anglophone separatism in diplomatic engagements
  • Rewarding Anglophone allies of the regime with prestigious government jobs (previously reserved for Francophones)
  • Repressing dissent

2.5 Reaching Buea

Anglophone grievances turned into demands in 2017. Instead of negotiating, Biya’s intransigence provoked general elections, school boycotts, and intermittent protests. On 22 September 2017, 80,000 people marched through Anglophone communities and towns demanding the liberation of Anglophone political prisoners and Biya’s resignation [source]. The size of the protests surprised Francophone elites, who previously underestimated Anglophone discontent and the strength of the Ambazonian cause.

However, some nonviolent protest marches quickly devolved into brutality. In Santa, Bamenda, Ekona, and Limbe, overractions from the security forces killed four demonstrators [source]. The Government deployed over 1,000 troops, declared a de facto state of emergency, and enacted martial law. Civilians were detained, tried in military courts, and sentenced under terrorism law [source].  At present, the Government of Cameroon continues to engage in violent conflict across its North-West and South-West regions against several non-state armed groups. Locally known as ‘Amba Boys’, these violent non-state actors (VNSAs) seek to excise a state called ‘Ambazonia’ out of Cameroon’s Anglophone regions and ‘reach Buea’ (independence). Out of these Amba boys, a formalised alliance of the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) emerged.

3.0 Mottos, Symbols, and Patches

3.1 Mottos

  • The ADF motto Unum Populum-Unam Pata Deus translates to One Nation One Destiny Under God. 
  • The motto accorded to the IPOB’s emancipation mission is: ‘Peace Unity Freedom.

3.2 Symbols

The ADF’s Coat of Arms [see Fig.1] is a circular medallion on which depicted in bas-relief is a golden Dove adorning the Ambazonia Flag. It consists of a green circle, with gold edges, enclosed with a laurel wreath – potentially signifying the victory and honour of fallen Amba boys. It is further encircled in the upper edge by the lettering ‘Ambazonia’ and beneath the lower edge lettering ‘Defense Forces’. Twelve golden stars punctuate the lettering, with an additional one atop, which may symbolise the thirteen federated states of Ambazonia.

ADF Coat of Arms. It is a circular medallion on which depicted in bas-relief is a golden Dove adorning the Ambazonia Flag. It consists of a green circle, with gold edges, enclosed with a laurel wreath – potentially signifying the victory and honour of fallen Amba boys. It is further encircled in the upper edge by the lettering ‘Ambazonia’ and beneath the lower edge lettering ‘Defense Forces’. Twelve golden stars punctuate the lettering, with an additional one atop, which may symbolise the thirteen federated states of Ambazonia.
Fig.1 Symbol of the ADF

In addition, IPOB uses the Biafra Coat of Arms [see Fig.2]. It features an escutcheon which depicts an Eagle atop of a cow horn, potentially reflecting the pride of Biafra as a sovereign nation. The Biafra flag is depicted on the shield below, with the rising sun’s eleven rays symbolising the eleven provinces of Biafra. The shield is positioned in-between two leopards, which symbolise the strength and perseverance of Biafra’s armed forces.

IPOB Coat of Arms. It features an escutcheon which depicts an Eagle atop of a cow horn, potentially reflecting the pride of Biafra as a sovereign nation. The Biafra flag is depicted on the shield below, with the rising sun’s eleven rays symbolising the eleven provinces of Biafra. The shield is positioned in-between two leopards, which symbolise the strength and perseverance of Biafra’s armed forces.
Fig.2 Symbol of the IPOB
The IPOB-ESN Coat of Arms. It features a shield. Within it, a eagle holds a skull by its claws. Interwoven within the skull, is a green snake.
Fig.3 Symbol of the Eastern Security Network [See below].

3.3 Patches

A review of the Ambazonia Governing Council’s (AGC) media channels [source] offers no additional commentary or images pertaining to ADF uniforms. The image below suggests that combatants wear the Ambazonia flag as either breast patches or epaulettes, with the official ADF emblem featured on patrol caps. It is perhaps worth recalling that these images feature on the AGC’s defence sub-section of its website, a conduit of propaganda. It is thus conceivable that these uniforms may be purely a status symbol than they are an accurate depiction of combat attire. However, photos obtained from the Ambazonian Communication Network’s social media channels indicate ADF combatants wear an additional patch [see Fig.4]. It appears to be either the Coat of Arms or the Ambazonia White Dove.

The Ambazonian flag. A blue and white flag, featuring a white dove in the top left corner and 13 yellow stars
Fig.4 Ambazonian Flag [source].
Fig.5 ADF combatants [source].
A piece of ADF propganda. ADF combatants are photographed holding weapons. They are wearing military-style uniforms with either breast patches or epaulettes  of the Ambazonian flag
Fig.6 ADF combatants [source].

A cursory glance at IPOB’s social media channels would similarly indicate that its sympathisers have no official uniform, inasmuch as it is the political wing of the movement. However, it is commonplace to see IPOB sympathisers wear red/ black berets with patches of either the Biafra Coat of Arms or the Biafran flag [see fig 6-7].

The Biafran flag. Three horizontal colours in order of red, black, and green. A yellow sun is depicted in the centre.
Fig.7 Biafran Flag [source].
IPOB supporters posing for a photo. They are seen wearing red or black berets emblazoned with either the Biafran Coat of Arms or Biafran flag.
Fig.8 IPOB supporters are rallying for Biafra’s independence [source].
IPOB supporters rallying for Biafran independence. They are seen brandishing Biafran and Ambazonian flags, with photos of Nmandi Kanu (IPOB's detained leader).
Fig.9 Biafra and Ambazonia supports rallying for independence [source].
The official Eastern Security Network flag. It features a three-headed red dragon on a black backdrop.
Fig.10 The Eastern Security Network’s Flag [source]

4.0 Organisation

The ADF is the official armed wing of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGovC). It is one of the very few formalised movements beyond the otherwise amorphous separatist factions and militias. As stated, the IPOB represents the political wing of post-war Igbo nationalism. In 2020, the IBOP created the Eastern Security Network (ESN) as its paramilitary wing. It is mandated to protect and defend against the perennial onslaught of state security repression and incursions by Fulani Herdsmen in the South-East.

Neither the ADF nor IPOB-ESN is designated as a terrorist organisation by any country or international organisation without a vested interest in civil conflicts. The Government of Cameroon labels all Ambazonian separatists as terrorists [source]. In 2017, the Nigerian Government proscribed the IBOP as a terrorist organisation. However the Federal High Court later quashed the charge in October 2023 [source]. Not least, the Global Terrorism Index retracted the IPOB’s terrorist classification earlier this year [source]. 

4.1 Financing

The ADF does not enjoy any state sponsorship, but it is reported that members of the global Cameroonian diaspora community provide the ADF with funding, coordination, publicity and outreach via social media channels [source]. Ambe Simon, the ADF’s financial director, claims that the movement received $50,000 between 2017-18 from the Diaspora [source]. Amba Boys propagate funding channels via YouTube, TikTok, and various Facebook groups. A prime example is the Ambazonian Communication Network (ACN). The network regularly utilises live-streams across Facebook and Twitter to encourage sympathisers to pay the ADF liberation tax. [See Fig 5-6]. Of equal note, it is commonplace for ADF combatants to share GoFundMe and CoinBase links [source]. We further discovered that ADF sympathisers interact in Facebook comment sections to share CashApp codes in support of the ADF. Some even exchange graphic content of dead Cameroonian soldiers, barely concealed by typographic hyper-charged icons.

In contrast, the IPOB neither publicly advertises for funding nor shares details of its patrons. The movement did, however, reveal that no single individual can sponsor IPOB, insinuating that its funding operates on a macro-state level. Of note, Okoli’s study alluded to Nigerian politicians who allegedly provide financial support to the leadership of IPOB [source], and in October, Gov Alex Otti of Abia State denied allegations of sponsoring IPOB [source], but these are largely unsubstantiated.

A piece of ADF propaganda encouraging supporters to pay their liberation tax
Fig.11 ADF’s financing campaign (1/2).
A piece of ADF propaganda encouraging supporters to pay their 'liberation tax'.
Fig.12 ADF’s financing campaign (2/2)

4.2 Key Figures

IPOB

Nnamdi Kanu, Leader of the IPOB and Director of the London-based Radio Biafra.

Mazi Alphonsus Uche Okafor-Mefor (Uche Mefor), Deputy leader.

Mazi Chika Edoziem, Head of the Directorate of State of the IPOB

Emma Powerful, Media and Publicity Secretary and Lead Host of Radio Biafra.

ADF

Lucas Cho Ayaba, Leader of the ADF’s parent organisation, the Ambazonia Governing Council. He is the highest Commander-in-Chief.

Benedict Kuah, Leader of the ADF under the title of Chairman of the Ambazonia Defence Council

General Ivo, Battlefield Commander, led the ADF’s ground forces until his death following a raid by the Cameroonian Government’s Batalion d’Intervention Rapide in 2018.

General Efang, formerly a Brigadier General. He later replaced General Ivo as Battlefield Commander

Ambe Simon, Financial Director of the ADF

Tanku Ivo Tapang, Spokesman of the ADF

4.3 Recruitment

Both movements use social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube) in addition to web blogging to spread sensational and polemical information. They focus especially on widening their international reach. Their posts allow patrons to directly invest in the movement or raise awareness by either sharing or re-posting content. For instance, IPOB routinely deploys its online-based broadcaster, Radio Biafra, as well as Nnamdi Kanu’s official Facebook/Twitter accounts to tarnish the image of the Fulani-Hausa-dominated Government.

Both groups spawned several ‘hashtag movements’. In Nigeria, IPOB invokes the #chukwuokikeabima movement to invoke politico-religious fundamentalism, particularly in the North. The movement demonstrates the Nigerian Government’s unwillingness or incapacity to protect non-Muslim populations, of which the Igbo constitute a large proportion. Comparatively, the ADF utilises #FreeAmbazonia to bemoan Biya’s continued mistreatment of the English-speaking regions.

The ADF routinely utilises computer software to distort images/audio clips and superimposes content to depict the message they want to wish to convey [source]. Nounkeu’s qualitative analysis of Bareta News (a blog relaying ADF propaganda) also found that articles are unreliable and often difficult to verify [source].

4.4 Equipment

4.4.1 ADF Equipment

Neither movement is well-armed. ADF fighters generally rely on guerrilla warfare with hunting rifles, single-shot pistols (often locally produced), knives, and machetes [source]. Available images from the AGovC indicate that there is no standardised footwear, nor any web-gear ammunition. Although the ACN’s images, freely accessible on Facebook, indicate that some ADF combatants do possess both. It seems that the AGovC official website is more prudent in what it chooses to share publicly, so as not to show its hand to the Cameroonian military. Not least, the dispersal of superior equipment is likely to be disproportionate, given that most is seized from Cameroonian soldiers.

In this video, ADF combatants pose with a consignment of helmets, solar panels, vehicles, weaponry, and body gear seized from a military outpost in Cameroon.

From the photos obtained during SOCMINT, we subsequently found that ADF equipment includes:

  • Hunting rifles
  • RPG-2
  • Single-shot pistols
  • Knives
  • Machetes
  • AK-pattern rifles
  • Bolt-action rifles
  • H&K G3A3 rifles
  • Pump action or semi-automatic shotguns
  • Zastava M21s
  • IEDs
  • Ex-owned military armoured vehicles 
  • Motorbikes
  • Unidentified plastic grenades
Uniformed ADF combatants posing with their weapons. They are holding the Ambazonian flag and the official ADF Coat of Arms
Fig.13 ADF combatants [source].
ADF combatants with seized military body gear
Fig.14 ADF combatants
An ADF solider posing with seized military gear and weapons
Fig.15 An ADF combatant
Uniformed ADF combatants posing with their weapons
Fig.16 ADF combatants with military-seized weaponry [source].

4.4.2 IPOB Equipment

In a similar vein, the IPOB-ESN claims it does not depend on external sources for its arms and ammunition as all its weaponry is locally manufactured [source]. Upon reviewing the Nigerian Army’s Facebook page, we found that its 34th Brigade uncovered the following IPOB equipment during a raid [source]:

  • Long and short-barrelled guns
  • Crafted pistols designed for cartridges known as shot-shells.
  • Black Toyota Camry
  • Pump action and semi-automatic rifles
  • Live Cartridges 
  • Gun Powder
  • IEDs
A consignment of IPOB weapons
Fig.17 IPOB-ESN weaponry seized by the Nigerian Armed Forces [source].

It is hardly subversive to suggest that documented IPOB weaponry is not exhaustive. A cursory glance of TikTok accounts and Facebook groups belonging to the IPOB-ESN indicates the circulation of additional equipment:

  • General Purpose machine guns
  • Sub-machine guns
  • AK-pattern rifles
  • Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers
  • IEDs
  • Dane guns
  • Multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs)
  • Projectiles
  • Bottle bombs
Uniformed IPOB-ESN soldiers holding guns
Fig.18 ESN soldiers [source].
A group of IPOB-ESN soldiers standing on top of each other.
Fig.19 ESN soldiers [source].

5.0 Tactical-Operational Information

5.1 Core Purpose

  • The ADF aims to erode the ability of the Cameroonian Government to exercise authority in Northwest and Southwest Anglophone regions. In an interview with the Guardian, Lucas Cho Ayaba declared that the movement’s aim was to render Ambazonia ungovernable [source].
  • IPOB advocates to reinstate the now-defunct Biafra. Its members proselytise secession as a panacea to a lopsided federal structure tilting in favour of the North, seeking to challenge the repressive disposition of the Nigerian state towards the Igbo ethnic group.

5.2 Tactics

  • ADF combatants use kidnappings, forced closures of Francophone schools, and hit-and-run attacks on Cameroonian soldiers to fight the Biya regime. Not least, West Cameroon’s rural districts allow the ADF to operate in villages and remote territories, where soldiers are fewer and poor road infrastructure limits the state’s reach.
  • IPOB aims to provoke overreaction by the Nigerian Government. Nigeria uses force to silence any form of peaceful agitation. Up until his arrest, Nnamdi Kanu incited statements against the Nigerian government through Radio Biafra. For instance, in addition to referring to President Buhari as the ‘Hitler of Nigeria’, in one of his speeches in March 2014, Nnamdi Kanu threatened: ‘Our promise is simple. If they fail to give us Biafra, Somalia will look like a paradise, compared to what happened here. It is a promise, it is a threat, and also a pledge… we have had enough of this nonsense” [source].
  • Another strategy adopted by the IPOB is to draw attention to the 1914 Amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates, not least the subsequent independence granted to the Nigerian state in 1960. Both of these served the interest of the British and the favour of the North by subjugating the Igbo to the Northern elite.
  • IPOB also calls for sit-ins, boycotts, and protests.
  • Both the ADF and IPOB appeal to diaspora sympathisers whose support comes in the form of funding and strategic advice.

5.3 Personnel Size

The International Crisis Group estimates that 2,000-4,000 combatants support the Ambazonian cause [source], but the percentage of those who affiliate with the ADF is not yet known. However, estimates range between 100-200 [source].

In addition, there are no accurate reports indicating IPOB-ESN membership [source], but estimates suggest that ESN deploys around 50,000 foot soldiers [source]. It is also worth mentioning that not all those who subscribe to IPOB’s political message necessarily endorse ESN. Likewise, it is exceedingly difficult to quantify IPOB supporters because it is, fundamentally, a political ideal whose message transcends national boundaries. Given Israel’s historic support for Biafra during the Nigerian Civil War, Nnamdi Kanu’s connections to the Jewish community, and Radio Biafra’s international reach, it is obvious that international audiences are receptive to the plight of the Igbo, not least their right to self-determination.

However, these estimates are likely subject to change under the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance since it would allow both groups to bolster their numbers.

6.0 The Future of the Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance: An Emerging Brotherhood or Ill-Fated Experiment?

Although the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance was formed in 2021, there were no indications, up until now, that any armed collaboration had taken place, hinting at a purely symbolic partnership. In October, however, the ADF and IPOB announced the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance 2.0 in Helsinki, renewing the commitment of each country to come to the other’s aid in defence of their territorial integrity both from internal and external aggression [source], [source].

Of particular significance, Nnamdi Kanu’s court hearing is due to be held on 15 Dec 2023. The Nigerian Supreme Court will either honour the appellate court’s judgement to release Nmadi Kanu or succumb to the Federal Government’s demands to prolong his detention. Following which, we could expect to see joint ADF-IPOB operations increase – particularly if it were an unfavourable outcome to both Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB.

7.0 Conclusion: A Violent Ambazonia-Biafra Alliance?

Given both IPOB-ESN and ADF operations show no sign of reprieve, we are confident that the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance will materialise beyond loosely shared goals to a tightly secured partnership with increased operations. Although the joint military aspirations of the Ambazonia-Biafra alliance are classified, the ADF and IPOB will likely continue to pose an existential threat to Nigeria and Cameroon’s unity.

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