Kanu’s, Uwazuruike’s travails and tempo of Biafra struggle
When Chief Ralph Uwazuruike founded the Movement for Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to push for the independence of Biafra in 1999, many people, especially those of the Southeast region who have been complaining of marginalization, saw it as a welcome development. Other parts of the country and the Federal Government however saw it as an affront.
Perturbed by MASSOB’s rising profile and struggle for independence of the Biafra Republic, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration began a clampdown on the group and its leader. Many times, Uwazuruike and supporters were arrested, charged for unlawful gathering and later released. He was once arrested in Lome, Togo, for storming the 36th Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Summit, which had in attendance several African leaders.
Despite all these, Uwazuruike and his supporters were undeterred by government’s harassment and arrests. In 2005, the MASSOB leader was arrested in his Okwe hometown by security agents and flown to Abuja, where he was remanded in Department of State Services (DSS) underground cell.
Just like the released leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader, Nnamdi Kanu, every effort to secure an unconditional release of Uwazuruike failed as government and the judiciary made it very difficult. After spending almost three years in prison without trial, coupled with some political interventions and high-wired intrigues in the Presidency, Uwazuruike was on October 26, 2007, granted three-month conditional bail by Justice Binta Murtala Nyako to enable him go and bury his late mother. Other conditions attached to the bail were that Uwazuruike would return to the prison and that he should regularly report to the nearest police station as well as ensure that peace reign during the three-month period.
Standing as sureties for Uwazuruike then were two serving senators from the Southeast-Uche Chukwumerije now late and Ikechukwu Obiora and two traditional rulers, Eze Christian Uchechukwu Nwachukwu (Eze Ndigbo Lagos) and Eze Nwosu Ibe (Eze Ndigbo of Abuja).
To the surprise of many, Uwazuruike didn’t go back to prison after the period or tried again by the government. He had since then made sure that peace and order reigned. This is even as many Igbo sons and daughters who were charged to court in connection with MASSOB activities were allowed to languish in the prisons, while security agents allegedly killed some during rallies.
Since then the tempo of activities of MASSOB and Uwazuruike slowed down drastically. Some have even accused him of politicising and personalising the pro-Biafra group. These were the concerns many expressed when Kanu, who was once a strong ally of Uwazuruike, started another Biafra struggle in 2015 with the formation of IPOB.
Like Uwazuruike, Kanu was arrested and jailed for almost two years. While Kanu was in jail and consistently denied bail, many of his followers were allegedly killed by security agents while others were arrested, maimed and incarcerated.
After many months of judicial gymnastics, legal fireworks and intrigues between the government and Kanu’s legal team, he was recently granted conditional bail. Having been in prison custody for almost two years, he quickly met the bail conditions to the surprise of many, including his traducers. Coincidentally or premeditatedly, it was the same judge, Justice Murtala Binta Nyako, who granted Uwazurike’s bail some years ago that granted same to Kanu with almost similar conditions.
While Kanu’s release was seen as a huge relief to him and his relations, the fate of the three pro-Biafra agitators-Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi- who are facing trial with him but were denied bail by Justice Binta Nyako, is still hanging.
With the stringent bail conditions given to Kanu, what happens to the Biafra struggle? Will the tempo be sustained or die down like that of MASSOB, after Uwazuruike was granted bail with stringent conditions? What next for Kanu’s supporters? Were these stringent bail conditions not a ploy by government to kill the Biafra struggle and cage its leaders? Was the agitation worth it in the first place, considering the structure of the country and government’s disposition to secession bids? What happens when the trial of Kanu and others commences in July?
Speaking to The Guardian on the future of Biafra struggle, Chief Chekwas Okorie said that the issue of agitation for political independence is a continuous struggle and that many people approach it from different angles.
Okorie said: “The most successful and sustainable means of achieving political liberty is anchored on the use of political party or movement. In South Africa, the ruling party, African National Congress (ANC) is a good example. The Biafra struggle is not a violent one, but attempts to avoid being violent sometimes lead to unavoidable violence. The Biafra struggle is no longer about the Igbos. It is now a national question. It has shown that the country needs urgent restructuring for easy development and co-habitation.”
To the first civilian governor of Enugu State and former national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Dr Okwesileze Nwodo, Biafra struggle will always remain a fallback for the Igbos because they have suffered so much marginalisation since losing the civil war.
He said, “As far as Igbos are being marginalised and pushed to the wall, they would push for Biafra independence. The agitation will not fizzle out, unless the government does the needful by giving them their place and fair share of the country’s patrimony. What is happening to Igbos is unacceptable and inhuman.”
When asked if Kanu’s release with stringent bail condition will affect the tempo of the struggle, Nwodo said, “I cannot speak for Kanu. But even if he didn’t push further he has tried just like Ralph Uwazuruike. But as long as the marginalisation of Igbos continued unhindered, Biafra agitation will continue unabated. It may not be by Kanu, it will be by another person.”
In his remarks former president, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Dozie Ikedife told spoke in the same vein with Nwodo saying that Biafra struggle is not about Kanu or Uwazuruike but about the Igbos that are being oppressed.
“It is about the push for restructuring of the country for fair representation, equity and justice. It is about quest for self-determination that has not been achieved. So, there is no way Kanu’s release will be an end to the struggle. It cannot be. I don’t know who will be at the forefront of the struggle now, but there are many people talking about it and they will not stop until the independence is achieved.”
Speaking on the issue, Director-General Voice of Nigeria (VON) Osita Okechukwu told The Guardian that majority of Igbos are more disposed to having more states to level with other zones and the president of Igbo extraction in 2023 than Biafra struggle.
“Remember that Ebonyi and Enugu delegates voted against zoning during Abacha, Obasanjo and Jonathan’s constitutional conferences. The records are there.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Godson Onwuaso said the current will do everything possible, including applying crude and unconstitutional means, to frustrate the Biafra struggle.
“The government knows the implications of Biafra independence under its nose. That is why it is applying desperate approach in tackling it. Kanu’s long incarceration without bail is a government’s strategy to dampen his spirit.
“The stringent bail condition is to make sure that Kanu remains mute. It is quite unfortunate that we are living in a country where government has decided not to obey court orders. It is clear that Biafra struggle will suffer a setback, because as it is now, there is nobody to bell the cat.”
Meanwhile The Guardian investigation reveals that the Igbo social-cultural organisation Ohanaeze Ndigbo is not keeping quiet on the matter as the leadership has concluded arrangement to assemble senior lawyers of Igbo extraction to defend Kanu and others when the trial commences.
A source within the leadership of the organisation who pleaded anonymity, said that Biafra struggle has come to stay unless Igbos are given their rightful place in the affairs of the country.
“The present Ohanaeze leadership is putting everything in place to bring the Igbos together like never before to fight their common cause. Southeast has been marginalized and neglected for too long. It is time to do things. It was in line of this move that the Federal Government was recently sued for abandoning the region in the area of infrastructural development,” the source said.
A press statement issued at the end of the recent National Executive Committee (NEC) of the body in Enugu by its President-General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo (Jnr) read, “I am happy that recently Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB was granted bail. His bail conditions are unprecedented in the judicial history of Nigeria for their rigidity, unconstitutionality and stringency.
“We do not believe that anyone of those who contributed to the framing of those conditions expected them to be met. It is also clear that having met them the intention would now be to re arrest him. If he cannot be in the company of more than ten people, it means he cannot go to church; he cannot travel in a bus or plane carrying more than ten people. He cannot walk the street lest his presence attracts the attention of more than ten people. This bail condition is a celebrated example of judicial rascality.
“I have said consistently that the attitude of the Nigerian government to our children who have become completely fed up with Nigerian experiment makes Biafra increasingly inevitable. A stitch in time saves nine. We anxiously await for Kanu’s co-accused persons to be also released on bail.”
With Kanu’s release which has obviously become a cog in the wheel of Biafra struggle, what are other methods ethnic agitators in Nigeria should adopt to avoid taking off and ending the same way, making the whole thing looks like exercise in futility. This is especially as successive governments have adopted the same measure and approach in quelling such agitations.