In a demonstration of a stance that differs with their age-long marginalisation refrain, Igbo leaders have refused to subscribe to the pro-Biafra movements, whose idea is a better deal for the people, under an independent sovereign state. Tony Egbulefu writes
Saturday, December 5 at the Leopold Sedar Senghor Stadium, Dakar, the Senegal, a section of Nigerian fans, who had come to the stadium to see the crucial match between Nigeria’s Under-23 Team and their Algerian counterparts were expelled from the stadium, for flying the defunct Biafran flag. Amadou Kane, vice president of the Senegalese Football Federation, FSF, who also ordered that the offensive Biafran flag be shredded, said his country’s football federation, considered the display of the Biafran flag by the fans, an act of militancy.
Back home in Nigeria’s South-east, the matrix of the Biafran ideology, and the most likely space, where the pro-Biafra agitation ought to hold attraction, Igbo leaders who are well known with their claim of marginalisation of the Igbo tribe in the affairs of the Nigerian state, rather elected to treat the new pro-Biafra movement and its promoters with scorn.
The position of South-east leaders, was without ambiguity. The Igbos they say, are not prepared for another secession attempt, and must not be railroaded into an ill-conceived and wrong-headed civil war with the Nigerian state, yet again. Despite the oomph, with which Nnamdi Kanu’ s Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB and its Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB, affiliate have championed the a renewed Igbo secession drive, the anti position of Igbo leaders hobbled and orphaned the agitation.
In dealing a deathly bodily blow to the agitation and its promoters, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, the Igbo apex socio-cultural organisation, led by Chief Nnachi Enwo Igariwey described the pro- Biafran protests as madness, saying “Biafra died 45 years ago when General Philip Effiong surrendered to the Nigerian troops.” The chairman, Forum of State Presidents of Ohaneze in the seven Igbo-speaking states, Dr. Chris Eluomunoh, told journalists in Awka, the Anambra State that, “Ohaneze, as the Igbo cultural group, cannot support Biafra and we dissociate ourselves from it totally. Igbo people have contributed so much in the development of Nigeria and we cannot allow some people to jeopardize the lives and efforts of millions of Igbo people residing in all parts of Nigeria. The group stated that anyone who has grouse with the federal government should employ dialogue.”
The youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, in denouncing the secession call, told the press in Umuahia that secession at this point in history would not serve the interest of Igbos. “It is better we remain in Nigeria and fight for our rights than secede,” national president of OhanaezeNdigbo youth wing, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said.
Even South-east monarchs rubbished the agitation and its promoters. Eze Cletus Ilomuanya, chairman, South-east Council of Traditional Rulers said heads of traditional institutions in Igboland are not in support of the secession. “This country will never break up. We are so much inter-woven. We are not in support of this agitation.”
In lending his voice, Igwe Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, told both MASSOB and IPOB members to shelve the idea of a Biafran State, and warned the promoters of the dire consequences of their action, both in the eye of the law and well-being of the Igbo race.
In distancing the leaders of South-east from the pro-Biafran agitations, Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha said agitation does not have the support and blessing of the governors and leaders of the South-east geo-political zone by any stretch of imagination.
Okorocha said the development was ugly and highly regrettable. If a section of the people in the South-east or even the whole people in the geo-political zone protest over the bad shape of the federal roads in the area or protest over the total neglect of the geo-political zone, every governor and leader in the area would support that but not to protest over an issue that is neither here nor there.”
Okorocha noted that the region remained an integral part of Nigeria and the agitation, diversionary. “As far as the governors and leaders of the South-east are concerned, those behind the campaign for Biafra have their ulterior motive, which has nothing to do with corporate interest of Ndi-Igbo in Nigeria of our collective dream”, Okorocha said.
Pince Chukwuani, former national chairman of National Democratic Party, NDP, dismissed the agitation for Biafra as moonshine. “The clamour for the Sovereign State of Biafra is meaningless and makes no sense, this time around people are coming together. Scotland tried it to pull out of England and it failed. It is useless, we are one Nigeria and brothers, there is nothing like Biafra.”
Joe Igbokwe, a strong voice in national discourse, and the Lagos State, All Progressive Congress, APC, publicity secretary, also weighed in with condemnation: “With the so-called Radio Biafra, this boy, (Nnamdi Kanu), whose age I do not know, has unleashed an unimaginable trailer-load of lies and potentially dangerous propaganda that has put the Igbo nation in danger. It is now 45 years after the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and I think that Igbos must rise up to stop this small boy who never saw the 1967-1970 civil war and who may not know the implications of what he is doing. He has been speaking to the gullible and not too educated people in Igboland, and very soon these uneducated people will take a dangerous decision that may decimate and destroy Igboland. To be fore-warned is to be fore-armed.”
Barrister Monday Ubani, a former chairman of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, and leader of The Igbo Conscience, TIC, led the group that comprised Clever Opara and Barrister Mrs.Nkechi Chukwueke to renounce the renewed pro-Biafra agitations.
In dismissing the clamour in a press conference in Lagos, TIC declared that the Igbos will be better off with Nigeria. “It is selfish and does not command the support of most Igbo. It is a non-event, inconsequential, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. For, it is proven that the Ndigbo are better off and will do better in a united and prosperous Nigeria.”
The Igbo Conscience added that the late Odimegwu Ojukwu himself, declared while he was alive that his kind of Biafra, would no longer obtain. “The late Chief OdimegwuOjukwu, Ikemba Nnewi once described the Biafran struggle as no longer a physical thing (fight) but a struggle of the mind (a mind thing). The Ikemba never paid any attention to them (Uwazuruike’s MASSOB), but admonished that it was no longer by physical combat but with a mindset that yearns for equity and justice.”
The group dismissed the new agitation as politically-driven and premeditated test of will of the Buhari government and urged all those behind the agitation and protests to note that “The election of 2015 has been won and lost. The losers and winners are history. The youngsters calling for Biafra appear to be tools in the hands of failed politicians. One of the most prominent of the politicians did tell journalists on January 15, 2015, that Nigeria would break up if Dr Goodluck Jonathan was not re-elected as Nigeria’s president in the last March 29 general elections, adding for the effect that the legal instrument which brought the country into existence had expired.
“Why is it that immediately after the defeat of the past regime in March, the cries of Igbo marginalisation rose to high heavens, with slanderous allegations made against a president that was yet to be sworn in?”
Before the protests were called off last week, the pro-Biafra protests swept through the cities of the South-east and South-south like a hurricane at a worrisome frequency. The latest in Onitsha, a South-east commercial hub, left wreckages and blood stains of non Igbo residents of the city in its trail.
The violent approach towards the actualisation of the defunct state of Biafra, conflicts with the well known non-violent tactics of the propagators of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB-notably Ralf Uwazuruike, an Indian-trained lawyer and admirer of the Mahatma Ghandi, the father of modern day India, and progenitor of non-violent resistance.
Uwazuruike, began championing the cause of Biafra actualisation in 1999, from his Surulere, Temple of Peace law chamber, preaching non- violent resistance. But for all his peaceful approach was worth, he was taken behind bars by the agents of the federal government 16 times.
Curious is that Nnamdi Kanu, the fire-belching new face of MASSOB, by some curious twists was foisted onto the movement’s leadership by Uwazuruike, who flaunts his own means as that of a dove. “I recruited Nnamdi Kanu in 1989, when I established Radio Biafra and appointed him the director of the establishment. He started preaching hatred and brainwashing the youths. MASSOB sacked him,” Uwazuruike told the press few days ago in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Uwazuruike, who is bothered by the frankenstein monster he created, sought a redemption last week by changing the movement’s identity from MASSOB to Biafra Independent Movement, BIM. “The change in name became absolutely necessary because of the sad introduction of violence by the disgruntled dissidents and this is at variance with the non-violence stance of MASSOB over the years,” Uwazuruike said.
Biafra Independent Movement, BIM, however, may just end up as a faction that Uwazuruike would lead. A swift response from Kanu’s MASSOB and its sister-in-arm- Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB-characterised Uwazuruike as a “drowning man,” and a dire warning to keep silent and keep off from anything MASSOB.
In calling off the pervasive protests, which peaked with the arrest and detention of Kanu by the federal government, MASSOB and IPOB, said it was to allow a roundtable thrive between the groups and the federal government over the release of the director of Radio Biafra. “We have decided to halt our demonstration, protest to pave way for the much-published dialogue on Nnamdi Kanu’s release. Our withdrawal from the major cities of Biafraland is not out of cowardice but to prove maturity, professionalism as a decent self-determined group.
“We hereby issue an ultimatum to the federal government to prove their seriousness and sincerity on the much-published dialogue on the release of Nnamdi Kanu,” Ugwuoke Ibem, national secretary, MASSOB, and Emma Powerful, spokesman of IPOB said in a joint press statement,
Kanu’s arrest gave the pro-Biafra agitators a shot-in-the-arm, that saw a declaration that the protests would not abate until the Radio Biafra boss was released. A belated reaction to the declaration was a meeting of South-east governors, under the aegis of South-east Governors Forum, SEGF, to push for a dialogue with the federal government for the release of Kanu and to address the issues of neglect and marginalisation of the people of the zone in Enugu State Government House.
Though the Igbo Information Network, led by Chuks Ibegbu says neither MASSOB nor IPOB has the mandate to speak for the Igbos, the group notes that the issue of marginalisation of the South-east is real. The group among others, is pained that the entire Igbo race, a major ethnic nationality, has only five states and 95 local governments against 44 local governments Kano State alone boasts. (Leadership)