Southeast governors, Biafra struggles and way forward
The ban on the activities of secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) following clashes with the army, by the governors of the Southeastern states, has raised further questions about how Igbo political leadership wishes to bottle anger that has assumed a massive dimension with little preferences for other solutions.
Last Friday, what looked like a resolve to contain the growing agitation in the southeast zone by pro-Biafra secessionist groups was unveiled as governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other levels of leadership in the zone, announced the proscription of the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
At an emergency meeting, which took place at Enugu Government House, the governors also asked the agitating groups to submit their requests to them for onward delivery to the Federal Government. The meeting was the first time Southeast leaders would speak in unison against the actions of agitators, which have spread like wild fire in the zone.
Several reactions have trailed the resolutions of the meeting. Apart from IPOB, other pro-Biafra groups in the Southeast who have adopted non-violent approach to the struggle include the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Biafra Independent Movement (BIM) and Biafra Zionist Federation (BZF).
The clamour for restoration of the defunct Biafra was resurrected by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, ex-leader of the MASSOB around 1999 and has since metamorphosed into a mass movement.
Uwazuruike was later rejected as the leader soon after he was released from prison few years ago, after a fraction of the members accused of him of sabotage and loss of focus, alleging that he used the struggle to enrich himself. In his stead then spokesperson, Uchenna Madu was enthroned. That development factionalized the group.
While those loyal to Uwazuruike encouraged him to set up the Biafra Independent Movement (BIM), Madu’s struggle to reorganize and bring MASSOB back to track has not yielded the desired dividends.
On the other hand, Uwazuruike’s removal from MASSOB dwarfed seriously his voice and the potency in the Biafra struggle as interests of many began to depreciate.
The Biafra Zionist Federation (BZF), led by Chief Benjamin Onwuka had tried to fill the void created by the crisis in MASSOB when the members in 2013 attempted to use facilities of the Enugu State Broadcasting Service (ESBS) to announce the Biafra republic. Their mission was foiled by security operatives, who engaged them in a fight that caused the death of a policeman and the arrest of the agitators.
The incident took place few days after members of the group hoisted Biafra flags at the entrances of Enugu Government House, a development they believed was part of the process to actualize Biafra republic.
It could be recalled that while the confusion continued, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, a former promoter of Radio Biafra under Uwazuruike, four years ago started the IPOB. With the help of the Radio Biafra, IPOB gained vibrancy with the whole narrative about Biafra agitation taking an entirely different shape.
In 2015, Kanu was imprisoned for 18 months but his incarceration did not dampen the spirit of his growing supporters and his ordeal elicited the sympathy of Nigerians and international organizations, who called for his unconditional release after several courts granted him bail.
Regaining freedom under a stringent bail condition on April this year appears to be the tonic the IPOB was waiting for to explode, as Kanu’s presence increased the momentum in the agitation. The first successful outing of the group was on May 30, when they caused the Igbo in the Southeast and other parts of the country to sit at home in honour of the fallen Biafra heroes.
With the success of the outing and others that have taken place since his return from prison, Kanu’s IPOB moved to stop the November 18 governorship election in Anambra State when he (Kanu) declared that there won’t be any “election in Anambra in 2017 or any part of Southeast in 2019 unless the Federal Government gives a date for Biafra referendum.”
It was perhaps this threat that jolted the nation as the group secretly began to build its security outfit, described as “Biafra Secret Services (BSS) at Afaraukwu –Ibeku country home of Kanu who admitted the existence of the Service as no arms-bearing but existing to “give us intelligence regarding the October 1 quit notice to Ndigbo living in the north.”
He argued that it was to “prevent the menace of Fulani herdsmen and avoid the recurrence of the 1966 genocidal massacre of innocent Igbo men, women and children in the north where Sharia and Hisbah police exist.”
However, fears that the Secret Service could metamorphose into something else began to unfold when Kanu allegedly began to inspect guard of honour mounted by members of the outfit as well as provide military training for them. Not even the declaration of “Biafra republic,” some days earlier by Benjamin Onwuka, who announced himself “president” and assigning portfolios to some eminent Igbos and non-Igbos in his cabinet, received the level of attention and worry the development in the Service received.
On August 30, worried governors of the zone initiated a meeting, which Kanu attended at Enugu. The over four hours meeting was to seek ways of containing rising agitation from IPOB, following what was feared to be its security implication on Igbos, especially those residing in the north and the collective interest of the southeast zone.
A source in the meeting revealed to The Guardian that the governors pleaded with Kanu to drop his agitation and threats against further conduct of elections in the Southeast, stressing however that “Kanu refused to yield on the guise that such decision could not be taken by him alone and that something concrete must be extracted to indicate government’s readiness to address cause of the agitations before anything could be reviewed.”
The development, The Guardian gathered, was said to have set the motion for the request of federal coercive forces that Kanu return to prison or they quell the agitations.
Implications of the proscription
Although many have argued that the governors lacked constitutional powers to proscribe the activities of IPOB, moreso when the group was not registered and the fact that they had not fouled any law by the way they have carried out their agitation among others, investigations revealed that the decision was needed to avoid a looming danger.
According to a source, although they (governors) had endorsed the military Operation Python Dance 11 for the zone to be hosted in Abia being the headquarters of IPOB, as a way to check further rise in their activities, they did not bargain for the number of casualties that was left on its trail, last week.
Southeast has always complained since the end of the civil war in 1970, that the “no victor, no vanquished mantra,” of then General Yakubu Gowon administration as well as the Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (3Rs) promised were never implemented.
Many have suggested that the zone be declared a disaster zone following the spate of dilapidation in infrastructures, particularly roads and lack of federal presence. The other has been the contention that the zone was the least when compared with others in terms of existence of states and local governments, adding that time had come for it to have a taste at the Presidency of the country.
Former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Joe Nworgu, in an interview with The Guardian accused the Buhari administration of further marginalization of Igbo.
According to him, “Under this lopsided structure of the Nigerian State, the commonwealth of the country continues to be distributed using states and local governments as parameters whist any talk about restructuring of the federation is clearly not on the agenda.”
He referred to several appointments made by the administration without a single Igbo person, stressing that such fuel the call for creation of Biafra republic. Addressing journalists after the maiden meeting of Ohanaeze Ndigbo in Enugu, its President-General, Chief Nnia Nwodo took the case of Igbo marginalization and struggle for Biafra further, especially during the Buhari regime.
“Under the current Federal Government, Igbo representation is abysmal and fall extremely short of the constitutional provisions for the reflection of federal character in the appointment into important government positions. No arm of government namely executive, judiciary or legislature, is headed by an Igbo. What is very disturbing is the public declaration by Mr. President that his appointments must favour the states that voted overwhelmingly for him and those he trusts even against the provisions of our constitution.”
Nwodo, who added that the precarious situation of the southeast zone had given rise to the activities of MASSOB and IPOB, stressed that though he did not believe in their method of agitation, “They are my children, I shall never desert them. Their struggle is my struggle.”
However, those who reacted to the proscription of activities of IPOB by the governors including former Abia governor, Orji Uzo Kalu, former National Chairman of the Justice Party (JP), Chief Ralph Obioha, former President, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, said the action though belated, was not an end to the struggle.
Kalu however took the narrative further when he told journalists at his residence in Igbere, Bende council, Abia State that he had since called for the stop of the activities of the group, “but the governors ignored me, believing that IPOB will help them win elections.”
Kalu’s allegations lent credence to growing suspicion that the struggle has become a channel to enrich those in it and never intended to achieve overall benefits of Ndigbo. Those who hold this opinion refer to the rivalry among leaders of the groups and their level of lifestyle, which seriously betray those of freedom fighters.
It is also linked to the suspicion that bulk of the finances of the organization may have come from politicians who wanted to rally their support in future elections in the zone. Although it is believed that the majority of the members contribute to sustain the activities of the group, doubts are rife that these members contribute barely enough to sustain the group’s activities since the majority of them have no stable means of income.
Obioha accentuated to this when he said, “Taking a wider overview of the recent happenings in Nigeria, I as an incurable democrat, will stand on the side of protection of all human freedoms of others and the primary role of government is not the display of its might but the level of its compassion and its constant display of that compassion.
“Until recently I had regarded both Ralph and Nnamdi as conscience bearers to alert the government of certain societal ills, be them marginalization, inequality, bad governance etc but as all human experiment, it soon got into their heads and they turned it into money making activities.”
Uwazuruike however said, “Biafra exists in the heart of every Igbo man because of the inequality and crude system of administration against Ndigbo,” adding that Kanu, by his activities, has provoked a narrative that must be addressed in the interest of peace, unity and progress of the country.
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