Twitter deleted a tweet from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari threatening to punish pro-Biafra groups accused of escalating attacks against government and security authorities.
The social media company said Buhari’s tweet violated its “abusive behavior” policy, leading to its account being suspended for 12 hours.
The tweet promised a response to the waves of attacks attributed to the Eastern Security Network (ESN), an armed group that emerged from the main pro-Biafra secessionist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob).
In recent months, attacks on police stations, government buildings and electoral offices in southeastern Nigeria, as well as the murder of several government and civil service officials, have been attributed to the ESN.
Buhari referenced his role as a brigade major during the bitter 1967 Biafra war, when an attempted secession by an independent state sparked one of the darkest chapters in Nigerian history. Nigeria’s military was widely accused of possible crimes and abuses, and millions of people died of hunger and malnutrition after the military imposed a government-backed blockade.
“Many of those who misbehave today are too young to realize the destruction and loss of life that occurred during the Biafra war,” Buhari wrote. “Those of us in the field for 30 months, who went through the war, we will treat them in the language they understand.”
Several Twitter users said they denounced the tweet for inciting violence in the predominantly ethnic 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 on various electoral offices.
“I think we have given them enough latitude. They have presented their case, they just wanted to destroy the country, ”he said, seeming to refer to the secessionist agitators. “Whoever wants to divert or destroy the system at this time, I think it will soon have the impact of his life,” he also warned.
Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed dismissed Twitter’s action. “Twitter may have its own rules, it is not the universal rule,” he told reporters. “If the president in any part of the world feels very bad and worried about a situation, he is free to express his opinions.”
The president’s comments, among the harshest yet on the crisis in the southeast, come amid escalating attacks on security forces and government authorities across the region, attributed to pro-Biafra militants.
In 2015, after the former military general won a historic election, secessionist agitation erupted in the southeast, in the sharpest resurgence of secessionist sentiment since the Biafran war. The protests and massive boycotts since then have been brutally suppressed by the Nigerian police.
Nigerian security forces have gradually launched military operations, after outlawing Ipob as a terrorist group in 2017. This year, attacks attributed to the ESN have increased dramatically. The group has denied responsibility for many of the attacks, but admitted to organizing in response to armed threats.
The painful legacy of the Biafra war runs deep in Nigeria. Those who died are not officially commemorated and allegations of atrocities committed against the military have never been acknowledged. War is not taught in schools and cultural descriptions of the conflict are strictly censored.