Letter shared online from Finnish PM to Simon Ekpa fabricated – AFP investigation


Self-proclaimed Nigerian separatist leader Simon Ekpa has threatened to block February elections in the country’s South East, which has been pushing for independence.

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Social media posts claim to show a letter from Finland’s Prime Minister warning Ekpa — who lives in Finland — that he has 48 hours to call off threats against Nigerians who violate his stay-at-home orders or risk being charged with international terrorism.

However, AFP fact check found that the document contains several discrepancies that point to it being fabricated.

Moreover, the Finnish Ambassador to Nigeria and Nigerian authorities have released statements rejecting the letter as fake.

“Simon Ekpa is on his way to (a) Nigerian prison. The Finnish authorities are after him. He’s now under global surveillance,” reads a tweet published on February 16, 2023.

The post contains a letter with “Finnish Government” written at the top and includes an alleged signature from Finnish leader, Sanna Marin.

The alleged letter has also circulated widely on other platforms, including Facebook and TikTok.

In the letter, Ekpa stands accused of “international terrorism” and is given 48 hours to rescind his stay-at-home orders to Nigerians or face arrest.

Ekpa is a self-declared leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, a separatist group pushing for independence in Nigeria’s South East.

He has repeatedly threatened “open war” and violence against those who come out to vote in South East Nigeria in violation of his stay-at-home orders, which call for a curfew and lockdowns.

However, other factions of the organisation have repeatedly tried to disown him for issuing stay-at-home orders.

At the top of the letter is the address of the Finnish Prime Minister’s office in Helsinki and the foreign ministry’s phone number.

Nigeria recently summoned the Finnish Ambassador to Nigeria, Leena Pylvanainen, to discuss Ekpa’s threats ahead of the February 25 elections.

Letter dismissed as fake

AFP fact check reached out to the Finnish Embassy in Abuja to verify the letter’s authenticity.

The letter “does not originate from the Finnish government,” embassy spokesman, Jussi Ala-Lahti said.

He added that Finland had asked Twitter to remove the message that first distributed the fake letter, but “regrettably copies continue circulating in social media and on various internet platforms.”

The official Twitter account for the Finnish Ambassador to Nigeria retweeted a post from the Nigerian Ministry of Information and Culture saying, “please note: this letter does not originate from the Government of Finland.”


Errors in the letter

AFP fact check found several indicators that the letter is not authentic.

Firstly, Raija Toiviainen, who is listed in the letter as Finland’s Attorney General, retired in January 2022.

Secondly, the signature at the bottom is tiny, nearly illegible and appears to be copy-pasted. It also features the name “Sanna Mirella Marin”. But the Finnish PM “does not use her second given name in official correspondence,” said Johanna Antila, the Finnish embassy’s head of mission in Abuja.

There are also some formatting errors. Ekpa’s name is incorrectly spelt as “Ikpa” in the fourth paragraph. The embassy called the size of the logo “ridiculous.”

“This kind of letter would never come from the PM (Prime Minister) of Finland,” Antila added.

Origins of the post

According to the Embassy, the first account to post the message appears to be a Twitter user named “zuccinelli” who shares content in support of Nigeria’s Labour Party and its presidential hopeful Peter Obi.

Obi is one of the three leading contenders in the race to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.

He is originally from the South East and has repeatedly fought accusations that he supports or is affiliated with IPOB.

IPOB’s history of disinformation

Calls for a separate state of Biafra remain a hot-button topic in Nigeria more than half a century after secessionist leader Chukwuemeka Ojukwu declared the independence of the country’s South East in 1967. This was followed by a brutal 30-month civil war.

Though the breakaway state has since rejoined the rest of the country, members of IPOB and those sympathetic to its cause still refer to themselves as Biafrans.

The organisation has a history of spreading disinformation and has been the subject of various debunks by AFP fact check.