- 49 years of struggle and deaths
By Chidi Obineche
The smouldering agitation for self-determination by some groups and individuals in the South-east geo-political zone of Nigeria as expressed in the rebirth of Biafra has of recent assumed varying definitions and stakes. From a shrill level of stillness after a rejuvenated crescendo some 16 odd years ago, the recent arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, an arrowhead in the struggle and director of the pirate Radio Biafra on October 19, 2015, has given more impetus to the struggle.
The upsurge in the restiveness since May 29 this year when the new regime of President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in was ignited by perceived lopsidedness in the initial key appointments he made, and declarations he made in faraway United States of America that those who did not vote for him in the elections should not expect to profit where they did not sow. The statement took the heartlands of the South-east by storm and was interpreted as a veiled reference to them who through their votes thumbed a resounding no to his presidential quest over the years. In the new offensive, about 71 deaths have been recorded and scores detained by agents of the government.
Indeed, the National Director of Information of The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, Mr. Uchenna Madu recently alleged extra judicial killings of some of their detained members in Ebonyi State. The high casualty figures of the agitators who adopted passive resistance over the years have implanted a consciousness of recklessness and deeper significance of their struggle and its meaning to them. They are telling the rest of the world in parables and acts that their lives are less important than the meaning of their lives. They are so seized with this symbolic fervor, and intoxicated with their xenophobic dream that they are willing to view themselves as a sacrifice to history. Canadian writer Betty Nickerson, in her work “Letters from Biafra”, aptly captures this propelling force this way: “Biafra is more than a government, or place; it is an idea about freedom. To fight for it, perhaps to live for it, if one is lucky, is our consuming passion”.
For 49 years, blood has been spilled over this. An estimated three million people perished in the fratricidal, civil war that lasted 30 months between May 30, 1967 and January 12, 1970. Since then, more than 2,338 people have lost their lives in various Biafran related uprisings. In 2014, in what clearly looked like a suicide mission, some activists of the Biafran Zionist Movement, BZM attempted to seize a government owned radio station in Enugu and the Government House Enugu, killing a policeman in the process. They were rounded up and put in detention since then. As the orgy of bloodletting and clampdown continues, there is nothing yet to suggest a cessation of hostilities.
The frontiers of protest are expanding, the fault lines are deepening. From a campaign spearheaded mainly by semi-literate youths with mob hysteria often described as “misguided”, it is spreading like wild fire embracing the intelligentsia, the new rich, and de crème de la crème of the Igbo society. The political class, who in deference to their political interests within the Nigerian context has always donned indifference and kept the struggle and their moving spirits at arm’s length, is gradually beginning to capitulate. With blood in their eyes, and as the agents of government bay for their blood, the power of their resolve and clarity of intent resonate and rankle in their souls. Fresh campaign thrusts are unfolding by the day, while more groups are sprouting. From just MASSOB in 1999, it has expanded to include Indigenous People of Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu, Biafran Actualization Forum, BAF, Biafran Zionist Movement, BZM, Biafra National Congress, BNC, and a splinter faction of MASSOB.
Interestingly, the Igbos in the Diaspora have shown more than a passing interest in the struggle. Sunday Sun learnt that they form the nucleus of the struggle, providing a huge chunk of the funds and other logistics. They are also actively involved in external propaganda and diplomatic engagements. The sophistication has also twined to other areas. On July 17, Kanu launched another radio station in London, promising to bring on 50 others in two phases in the next 18 months. According to Sunday Sun checks, another station called ‘Biafra 24 Radio’ has hit the air waves pushing the same message of ‘Freedom of Biafraland’. Plans are also afoot to float a satellite television station abroad. The location could not be ascertained as at press time.
On July 14 this year, the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Information, Dr Sade Yemi Esan declared that Radio Biafra had been successfully jammed and the technical masterminds arrested. The station, however, is still broadcasting on the World Wide Web making it impossible to block its broadcasts. The arrest of Kanu on October 19, 2015 has accentuated the frenzy and acidity of the broadcasts. They have also stepped up diplomatic offensives on all fronts which have led to some western governments issuing statements to demand his release. An Embassy of Biafra has been opened in Victoria, Spain. “It is another milestone in our drive towards Biafra’s restoration” said a radio broadcast from London monitored in Lagos by Sunday Sun. The Embassy set up by IPOB was opened on Saturday, February 28. In a prayer at the event, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu said: “We, your children are gathered here in Victoria Basque country O Lord of Hosts, to do that which you have divinely mandated us to do. Today here in Northern Spain we open yet another chapter in this relentless effort to restore your kingdom upon the face of this earth. For the journey mercies you have granted us from all over the world here gathered, we remain eternally grateful. From all over the world we have come to establish a firm base in this land from where your will must be done. This year belongs to us Biafrans because in the end, all glory and honour will be yours and yours alone. Iseee!”
An elated Kanu also expressed gratitude to God for the success of the event on his Facebook page: “To the most gracious almighty Chukwu Abhiama do we owe all that we are for this journey mercy granted to all hard core Biafrans that attended IPOB mission opening ceremony in Victoria Basque Country in Spain. Magnificent and merciful creator of the universe, even if we worship you from now till eternity, we still will not be able to repay you for the grace you have shown us, Indigenous People of Biafra for guiding us back to our respective destinations. For those we left behind, please guide them to their families in safety that in the end as always, all honour and glory will be yours and yours alone, because only you is worthy of praise. Your children have asked me to come to Amsterdam Netherlands from where your redeeming gospel of restoration will be preached tonight to the hearing of humanity. Abide with us Heavenly Father as you have always done for we are nothing without you. This family here shall find peace as they all desire that indeed your kingdom, Biafra may come on this earth as it is in heaven…..Iseee!”
What is Biafra?
There are several postulations as to the origins of the word ‘bight’ as in Bight of Biafra. One account describes it as a cartographic indication for the word “exit”. It explains that it is a body of water that serves as a particular exit from the international shipping lanes to a brighter station – a long curve in a coastline. A bay is formed by this curve. Passenger voyages were the only means of international travel for most of human history, and they were done through one of these bights to international trans – Atlantic water lanes. Another meaning of Biafra relates to “Bia”, the Igbo word for “Come”. The word, according to Encyclopaedia Britannica likely derives from Biafar or Biafada of the Tenda ethnic group who reside mainly in Guinea Bissau. Manuel Alvares (1526- 1583) a Portuguese Jesuit educator in his work “Ethiopia minor and a geographical account of the province of Sierra Leone”, writes about the “Biafar Heathen” in chapter 13 of the same book. The word Biafar, an adaptation of Biafra appears to be a commonly used word in the Portuguese language in the 16th century. Early modern maps of Africa from the 15th to the 19th century drawn by European cartographers from accounts written by explorers and travelers also reveal this information. The original word used then was Biafara, and not Biafra. According to the maps, the European travelers used the word, “Biafara” to describe the entire region east of River Niger going down to the mount Camerouns. The word Biafara also appears on maps from the 18th century in the area around Gambia. On a closer linguistic level, Biafra is from the Igbo words “Bia”, meaning come and “Fara” meaning join.
Former president of the pan-Igbo socio cultural organization, Ohanaeze, late Chief Ralph Uwaechue in a very testy mood in 2009 raised the alarm that “Igbo marginalization can break up Nigeria”. He was speaking against the backdrop of the demand for redress in the imbalance in the federal setup which he said was skewed heavily against the Igbos. Successive governments since the end of the civil war have merely paid lip service to the slogan of “Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation” enunciated by the then military government, according to him. He viewed the development as a time bomb, and cautioned political leaders to tread with caution in their utterances. Before then, the late Senator Francis Ellah had observed that the oft-repeated “Nigerian question” is merely the inability of the Nigerian nation to accommodate the Igbo unconditionally. The late novelist, Chinua Achebe highlighted the brewing cauldron in his “The Trouble with Nigeria.” He postulated that so long as injustice continues to be the guiding principles in the co-existence of the different ethnic groups within the national framework, so long will there be unease in the land.
Apart from the clamour for full and unfettered accommodation, there is also the sinew of mistrust. Igbo elders who are opposed to secession have unsuccessfully been working quietly behind the lines to forge a mutually beneficial structure by pushing forward forcefully the Igbo agenda each time there was a National Conference. The agenda had on three different occasions been diffused and subtly rejected.
Faced with frustration and weighed down by the defeat in the civil war, the casual protest lane has been adopted with unprecedented bloodletting. The Reparation Committee of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in a 28-page document entitled: “Atrocities and Injustices against Ndigbo,” set out a list of demands and submitted them to President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
It reads in part: “The Federal Government should pay 400 billion naira each to the five states of the South East as compensation to those who lost loved ones, lost properties, and those still suffering dislocation today in Nigeria.
“Compensation would be made to those Igbos who escaped during the pogroms and war and returned to find their jobs taken, their properties and houses occupied and their Biafran money worthless.”
The group also asked the Federal Government to invest in a massive re-planning of Igbo cities with proper structures such as provision of urban water works, a sort of Marshall Plan often devised for war-ravaged area. The demand, just as many others before it never saw the light of the day. In the grip of the grim situation, the cry for Biafra has become the calming balm, which like in the scriptures is the Promised Land for them.. (The Sun)