BIAFRA: In The Throes Of Dreams, Daredevilry And Deaths
IT is just a question of expectations ahead of the November 17 scheduled meeting in Enugu State of South East governors, Igbo leaders and stakeholders, to discuss the continued pro-Biafra protests across the geopolitical zone, and some neighbouring states. The protesters expect government to release from detention, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, while the security agencies expect the protesters not to break the law. Meanwhile, the watching citizenry, not knowing what to expect anymore, simply expect that both government and protesters should jaw-jaw so as to have peace in the land.
A factional leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Comrade Uchenna Madu, said that MASSOB would continue to protest and fight till Kanu is released. He equally warned the Federal Government to release Kanu or face civil disobedience.
He said: “MASSOB and other genuine pro-Biafra groups have vowed that our children will never suffer the subjection to slavery meted to their parents by the Nigerian State. The clamp down, incessant arrest, detention, prosecution of unarmed and non-violent agitators for the state of Biafra should end. The future and survival of Ndigbo in Nigeria is very slim because of Nigerian government’s harsh economic and political policies against Ndigbo.”
On the ongoing arrests and detentions, Madu said, “we remain unfazed by the risks of arrests because we have accepted the fact that it is part of the non-violence struggle; no agitation is complete without arrest, detention and prosecution.”
But according to him, “this singular arrest will cause more diplomatic harm on Nigeria’s image than good because before Kanu’s arrest, he had succeeded in rooting the Biafra struggle in about 78 countries. This arrest will contribute in no small measure in reviving and sustaining the consciousness and sympathy for Biafra raised through Radio Biafra and secret diplomatic support for MASSOB. This will endanger the already battered image of Nigeria before the international community.
“Whether they like it or not, Radio Biafra and the arrest of Kanu has become a factor of reckoning on Biafra. It is shaping the minds of the people, drawing sympathy from internal and external observers.”
The raison d’etre behind the expression of wild sentiments for Biafra can be summed thus: First, is the exuberance of youths who were not yet born during the Nigeria Civil War. The stories of the war might have excited them to believe that creating Biafra would usher them into a new world of luxury like USA or Britain etc.
Secondly, is the drive for the Igbo to have a strong militant force similar to those in the Niger Delta, the Boko Haram and the O’dua Peoples Congress (OPC) that will rise up and act militantly for their people when the need arises.
Thirdly, is the disaffection raised by the recent arrest and continued detention of the Director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, whose offence is considered insignificant, compared with the violent activities of Boko Haram and other violent tribal groups that government overlooked and rather invited for dialogue and or appeasement.
Fourthly, is the believed marginalisation of “Biafrans” in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
Fifthly, is the belief that Ndigbo have the natural right to exercise their political aspiration and seek a country of their own as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
An elder statesman and member of the defunct Zikist Movement, Rev. Moses Iloh, has, however, decried the resurrection of the Biafra spirit, for whatever reasons.
Iloh said the current agitation for Biafra is wrong and that the agitators were not even ready. According to him, “this is not the time to ask for Biafra, the timing is wrong. The agitators, especially, the young people, should not do so without seeking the support of the elders. Igbo leaders are not backing them. I am urging the agitators not to cause confusion or shed blood. When it is the time for Biafra to be actualised, it will come.”
Monsignor Theophilus Okere also said the agitation for Biafra is a “dead issue”, because of geography and present day realities. According to him, “I don’t think the agitation for Biafra is still relevant. This is, because Biafra was predicated on that map that was Eastern Nigeria, comprising Calabar, Ogoja in the North East and then Rivers to the South West and Izuogu in the Midwest. This does not include, the Ika Igbo, whose fate was identified with us.” According to him, a wedge was put “between the minorities of Biafra and the Igbo,” long before the disintegration of Biafra.
There are other Igbo statesmen like former governor of old Anambra, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who insists that the present agitation is rooted in the way the South East is treated, even by the present administration that is swelling the ranks of MASSOB. He had told an interviewer that, the actions and appointments of the Buhari government have led to people subscribing to the ideology of MASSOB.
A former senatorial aspirant in Anambra, who doesn’t want to be mentioned, disclosed, “the Igbo definitely are the most resilient tribe in the country. No tribe will experience what we have gone through and are going through and survive. Some of us politicians will mot openly support the agitations because we are hoping to win elections tomorrow or probably be the president one day.
“The large number of young people agitating shows just how much people believe in Biafra. For many of them, Biafra is just their rejection of every injustice they suffer, unemployment, marginalisation in high places, bad roads, lack of infrastructure, etc. Not only are we poorly represented in government, we are treated beggarly. When Gen. Ihejirika was made Chief of Army Staff, the entire tribe had to stand up to salute former president, Goodluck Jonathan. It was as if we have been finally accepted into Nigeria. When next will a South Easterner get such a position. Certainly, without a Jonathan we would never have got to that position. What of the South East really taking a shot at the position of Inspector General of Police? The population of the South East is kept low through an unwritten state policy, yet we remain the only tribe that can boast of having a presence in all the towns in the country, we have five states, the only zone so favoured. The question is what is the Igbo man being punished for? We are loathed, perceived in the worst light, lied to so easily and dared to complain. What is happening to our Second Niger Bridge, which was promised us by Obasanjo in 1999? The Enugu-Onitsha Expressway is so bad that no vehicle plies it. Something has to change. It is uncertain if the protest is the harbinger of that change, but there is no denying that many people including the elite are thinking. People are angry and the detention of Kanu has just released the genie.
The Southeast governors, Ohanaeze leadership and others are gathering on the behest of the governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, to discuss how the pro-Biafra protests had gained momentum. In Ebonyi State, where the protests didn’t hold, most of the residents opted to stay indoors for security reasons, while others said they would stay at home to show solidarity with MASSOB.
Although, MASSOB members in Ebonyi joined their counterparts in Enugu to protest, Mobile policemen, including those with Armored Personnel Carriers (APC), were stationed in strategic locations like the Government House, while policemen subjected vehicles to intensive search.
The Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Chief Ali Odefa said that the government was very conscious about the safety of the citizens and was “not ready to take chances and we urged the people to go about their normal business, while we assured them of maximum protection from the government.”
Explaining the no protests in Ebonyi, Madu said, “we see Enugu and Ebonyi as the same axis and the protest in Enugu has covered Ebonyi.”
On The Trail Of A Besieged People
THE siege of protests had raised a fresh consciousness, as the protesters looked very regimented and coordinated. Few instances can be cited the last time any protests were so organised and synchronised. The Biafra question has suddenly become the subject for discussions at homes, beer parlours, Internet discussion forums, and in buses, taxies and about any gathering in the South East. The eternal question remains: “Can Biafra be realised? Should the Federal Government not engage the agitators before this thing gets out of hand? Said a civil servant in Awka, Mr. Uzukwo Nwosu, “perhaps, it is time the government started correcting the alleged anomalies in the South East and South-South geopolitical zones.”
A MASSOB member in Owerri, known as Okey White, said: “The issue of Republic of Biafra is already decided. It is not a joke. It is evident that this country should not be one. See the level of marginalisation against Igbo people and people in the South South zone. We need division. We believe that one day it would be realised. We want our leader Kanu, who is the Director of Radio Biafra Radio, freed. We need freedom.”
The President of Imo Youth Movement (IYM), Ambrose Amadi, considered any “question on MASSOB too controversial to comment on.”
An activist in Awka, who simply identified himself as Mr. Emeka, said, “the Biafra agitation is a local issue, it involves grassroots people, and they were expressing their mind. The leadership controlled the protests, and therefore, there is no violence. The people don’t feel integrated in the Nigeria nation, and see themselves as still defeated in the Civil War because of what they are seeing on the ground. It is the struggle of the common man even though some of the protesters were ignorant of the situation. In most cases, they rely on ‘bush radio, which is at work, and this radio tell people many things (lies).”
A businessman, Victor Obioha, also feels that the Ndigbo have been marginalised and schemed out of Nigerian affairs. “Having lost the Civil War, they cannot start another war, but engage in open peaceful demonstrations. In this case, everything about the arrest and detention of Kanu is considered unfair and unjust and the people felt angry and started protesting.”
The National President of Anambra Redemption Movement, Amaechi Okeke, considers the protests a “welcome development and a project for all Igbo and their neighbours.”
Warning against violence, he said protesters should know that “with violence, not much can be achieved.” According to him, the late Biafra Leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, who led the civil war, later realised his mistakes and “MASSOB and the other groups are still following the same line out of youthful exuberance. They should channel the Biafra case to the UN and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Biafra is a divine project and the best way is by going spiritual and handing it over to God who will see it through.
“One day, Biafra will come to stay. Presently, Nigeria does not give hope of survival to the masses, where somebody already in a position will nominate his wife, son and daughter for a political office.”
Government Response Vs The Barrels Of The Gun
IT was gathered that the police in Anambra arrested about 43 members of MASSOB and IPOB during the protest, notably in Nnewi, Onitsha and Awka. One of the protesters Ikechukwu Okoye once said, “we were not protesting to cause any form of trouble but for the release of our leader, Nnamdi Kanu. We are freedom agitators; we obey the laws of the land, knowing that there is freedom of speech and freedom of movement,” he said.
In Imo, the State Commissioner of Police, Taiwo Frederick Lakanu, told The Guardian that the Command would not allow MASSOB or any such groups to thrive in the state, as they remain outlawed. According to him, “I have instructed my men to arrest anyone protesting, but tactically to ensure that no civilian and law abiding citizen was injured in the process.”
As the protests went viral, the Imo State Governor and Chairman of the APC Governors’ Forum, Rochas Okorocha, wearing the toga of the voice of the Southeast governors and political leader of the zone, in statement convoked a meeting to address the protests.
Okorocha said the governors and leaders in the zone could no longer watch the situation degenerate and noted that the Igbo could not afford to have its own brand of Boko Haram.
Sensing a deeper political impetus and motivation in the protests, he pondered why the pro-Biafra apologists, after keeping quiet all these years, only woke to resume their protests a few months after the new APC administration came on board at the centre. “We will act in the overall interest of Ndigbo in particular and Nigerians in general,” he stated.
In the unfolding quest for Biafra, Mr. Ephraim Adiele, an Online Publisher points out significant differences between IPOB and MASSOB. “When I met with members of IPOB, I detected their enthusiasm, but it was blind enthusiasm. More worrisome was the disdain they had for MASSOB members and any Igbo indigene that refuses to tow their train of thought.
“Many wanted Biafra, but a bloodless secession. Others wanted Biafra, and claimed to be ready for bloodshed too. The rest did not even want to hear of Biafra anymore. They did not know the consequences of such unplanned, violence based secession. How not-so-good-an-idea such a move would be from a diplomatic perspective..”
Mr. Norbert Kelechi said that IPOB activities have been peaceful and will remain so. According to him, IPOB does not support violence or disregard for the law. “Our posture is that those accused of crime or illegality in the North, West or South and East should be treated alike and not while treating some with kid gloves, others whose acts were non violent are incarcerated indefinitely,” he quipped.
For Kalu Uma, a member of MASSOB, there is clear policy of hatred for the Southeast. He asked: “How justified is the security agents in prosecuting some over 70-year-old rural based illiterate farmers for treason, just because they were seen wearing fading face caps and T-Shirts with Biafra logo, while known members of militant groups who confessed killing and bombing and destroying properties are being cuddled? We have every reason to be angry.”