Many who hear about Biafra today often associate it with the late Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, who led the Biafrans in the civil war from 1967 to 1970. Actually, the name has its own origin.
That notwithstanding, after the civil war, Ojukwu had continued in his quest to defend the cause of the Igbo man always. However, he did not embrace the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) when the movement made its debut in 1999.
At that time, the late Biafran warlord was skeptical about the survival of MASSOB, having seen blood during the civil war. Reason? Ojukwu did not want to get involved in anything that would lead to bloodletting.
It was when the leader of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike assured him that the new movement would be non-violent that Ojukwu threw his weight behind the group.
But following the death of Ojukwu in 2011, MASSOB began to have serious problems as Ojukwu who used to intervene in times of crisis was no more. Many of the members therefore, pulled out to form splinter groups.
Meanwhile, leaders of the groups who spoke to Saturday Sun recently still believe they can achieve the sovereign state of Biafra despite their differences.
In the beginning
Prior to 1967 when the civil war broke out, what sparingly became known as Biafra was an area in the South Hemisphere, within the Gulf of Guinea, known as the Bight of Biafra.
The name became more pronounced when the then military Governor of Eastern Nigeria, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, declared the area a sovereign state and called it the Republic of Biafra.
The fratricidal civil war which followed later ended that initial struggle, but like the beetle, the name did not die. In 1999, a not-too-well known lawyer, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, from Okwe in Onuimo Local Government Area of Imo State, appeared on the horizon to begin what could be tagged the second phase of the struggle with the formation of MASSOB.
Uwazuruike who began the new struggle from his remote Agunlejika, Lagos residence took the country by storm even as many people wrote him off initially. But the MASSOB founder went into the struggle, applying the doctrine of non-violence.
Genesis of the MASSOB struggle
Leading Saturday Sun into how MASSOB began the struggle, its new leader, Mr Solomon Chukwu said the struggle, which he says was an offshoot of the one started by Ojukwu, was on account of the alleged marginalisation of the Igbo people in the polity which Ojukwu took up as a challenge.
According to Chukwu, what Ojukwu began at the time culminated in the peace accord in Aburi, Ghana. Among the agreements reached at the meeting according to him, was that the area known as Biafra should be allowed to control her resources and pay little to the centre.
He regretted that after signing the accord, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), based on the advice from Britain, reneged on the agreement which led to the civil war.
“After the civil war ended in 1970, in 1999, we started the struggle again but on a different plane. It was non-violence. We are not carrying guns or knives, but we are telling Nigeria and the whole world that we want our freedom; we need to be on our own,” he said.
Successes so far
The new MASSOB leader was quick in admitting that his group has pulled the string of successes since it started the struggle. “Yes, I can say that we have recorded successes so far. If not for any other thing, from 1999 till now, Biafra has once again become a household name. Before this time, whenever you mentioned Biafra, you could be stoned to death, butit is not so again. This success of a thing is a gradual process when taking into cognisance our non-violent approach. We want to follow Mahatma Ghandi’s way of actualising the dream so that we will achieve it at the end. At least, Biafra, for now is being heard all over the world and we will get there in no distant time,” he said.
Chukwu expressed the view that what made the successes recorded so far possible were the commitment of the leadership and all the other members of MASSOB who he said have sacrificed a lot for the struggle.
He also mentioned the organization’s non-violent approach as another milestone in its success story.
How dissension crept into MASSOB
Chukwu said it was the selfish desire of some of the prime actors to deviate from the non-violent posture of the struggle but go violent was the major reason that led to the splinter groups.
Hear him: “From my own personal investigation, those people that left MASSOB did so because they believe that we cannot achieve our aim without violence, they want ed to use violence in getting it. Chief Ralph Uwazuruike is still saying no, MASSOB is still saying no.The Bill of Right that we signed with the world body was based on non-violence and there is no way we can change that for now, we will continue with the non-violence until we get there.
“Many people like the Zionists which is being headed by a lawyer. What about Captain Jumbo’s group and others who broke away, trying to actualize the Biafran state through violence? It has not been possible. By our approach which involves dialogue, peaceful protests and round-table discussions, I think we are getting to the end of it.
“Some of the persons who believe they can achieve the state of Biafra through violence are Uchenna Madu and his group, the Zionists, Ekwenche and others. They broke away from MASSOB thinking they will get it through violence, but I don’t think it is possible. MASSOB does not believe in that, we still remain non-violent, we are not going to carry knives, we are not going to carry guns, but we will get to the end of our struggle”.
MASSOB not threatened by splinter groups
MASSOB, according to Chukwu, is not in any way threatened by the splinters’ followership which is not even enough and which to him informed why they are failing.
“The same people who said they were Zionists some years ago are the same people who have turned into the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). By the next two or three years, you will see they will change their name into another thing in the name of achieving Biafra through violence, but it is not possible,” Chukwu said.
Possibility of coming together again
Notwithstanding the gulf that appears to stand between Uchenna Madu-led faction of MASSOB on one hand and MASSOB led by Uwazuruike’s Chukwu on the other hand, the new MASSOB leader still believes that they can overcome their differences and come together to work for the common goal of achieving the state of Biafra.
However, one thing must be done; the returnees so to say, must remove the toga of violence in them. “Despite what these people are doing, MASSOB is still one and will remain one entity. If you want to know whether what I’m telling you is the truth, we have our days of meeting, I can invite you, and you come and see things for yourself. We have structures all over the country, even abroad. MASSOB is still strong as it was at the initial time; we are even getting stronger and stronger.
Our population has increased. Without sounding immodest, within the South-East and South-South, we have a population that if I tell you, you will marvel, we are really not moving back, we are forging ahead. But that notwithstanding, we are ready to accept our brothers in the struggle back and work with them if they are ready to change from their violent posture,” Chukwu said.
The new Biafran leader strongly believed that the little crack in the walls of MASSOB could not have been if the Nigeria blood was not still running riot in some of the characters.
“Anybody who wants to overthrow his father will give all sorts of reasons. Any bad son who wants to sleep with his father’s wife will always tell you he did that because the woman walked in front of him naked. If not that, Chief Uwazuruike is open to everybody; the bank accounts of MASSOB were not opened in Uwazuruike’s name.
“Let me tell you something, Uchenna Madu was our Director of Information. Before that, he was a regional administrator. Every regional administrator has his own account which he controls. The little paid to the centre is managed by a committee which is using it to build our central secretariat at Owerri. So, if he is accusing Uwazuruike of embezzlement, go to Okwe his home town and see what the struggle has done to his father’s compound. All the buildings were destroyed, the one he has in Owerri was destroyed. All his vehicles, most of them are now in police stations all in the name of the struggle. I wouldn’t know how he should be accused of embezzlement when where he is staying in Owerri now is MASSOB building, the secretariat we are building is MASSOB’s. The vehicles you see him use were given by some people who believe in the struggle and they are MASSOB’s, not Uwazurike’s.
Uchenna Madu as the then Director of Information, had right over the vehicles as Uwazuruike as he was always allowed to carry one and use as he liked. Uwazuruike is not a greedy man. The only thing as I said earlier is that he abhorred violence and many of his traducers did not like that,” he said.
Despite all these, Chukwu said MASSOB leadership holds nothing against Uchenna Madu and others who broke away, stating that they are still regarded as MASSOB members, but insisted they should retrieve their steps and key into the non-violence stance which he said MASSOB is known for.
MASSOB has all it takes to actualise Biafra
Not minding the olive branch Chukwu extended to the leadership of other splinter groups so that they can work together for the common goal, he however, said that MASSOB has all it takes to carry on with the journey alone.
“Why not? Everybody from the former Eastern Region is a Biafran man, but all of them are not MASSOB members. If you believe you have grown and can go on with the struggle on your own, fine, stay on your own. MASSOB has grown past the level some people are thinking, we have offices in all the parts of the former Eastern Region and even beyond. Where are the offices of the so-called splinter groups, where are they coming from? So, we are firmly on ground and have all it takes to actualize the state of Biafra without looking the direction of the splinter groups,” he said.
Ateke Tom’s claim that MASSOB does not exist in the Niger Delta
On the statement by Ateke Tom that MASSOB does not exist in the Niger Delta, Chukwu said that Ateke Tom never made such a statement. “He did not say so because I’m a true son of Ikwerre, I came from the heart of Rivers State. If you come to Rivers State and ask about MASSOB, nobody will tell you it does not exist, MASSOB is all over, go to Ikoku, the heart of Port Harcourt, all the traders there are members of MASSOB, go to Bayelsa, Delta and other states in the Niger Delta, MASSOB is firmly rooted. Our enlightened brothers like Asari Dokubo people like Captain Jumbo, other big boys in this area know that MASSOB exists,” Chukwu pointed out.
The groups reunite
For Chukwu, it will take good spirit for that to be done. He was of the view that those who had left should come back to say they were sorry. He stressed that when that was done, the splinter groups should drop their violent posture and straight away they would accept them back and they would have nothing to lose and they would work together to actualize Biafra.
Our grouse with Uwazuruike – Uchenna Madu
But Uchenna Madu, the former National Director of Information and a founding member of MASSOB and now the leader of a splinter group has a different opinion as he said that they revolted when Uwazuruike deviated from the original cause of the struggle.
He pointed out that Uwazuruike was expelled from the MASSOB for allegedly defrauding the members of the movement. He told Saturday Sun that in 1999 when MASSOB was formed that the founding members had unanimously chosen Chief Ralph Uwazuruike to be their leader because of his then passion for the cause of Ndigbo.
His words: “Actually the primary aim of establishing MASSOB was to salvage the Igbo nation from Nigeria’s political and economic slavery which has become an extant policy of successive Nigeria government since the end of the Nigeria/ Biafra civil war.
“So, the then MASSOB under Uwazuruike was designed, articulated and established to fight the genuine Igbo interest with self-determined spirit of Biafranism, that’s why Igbo youths, elders and women joined in their thousands hoping that Uwazuruike will take Biafrans to their Promised Land, but he openly, consciously, willingly and shamelessly derailed, and in the process setback the Biafran struggle which has now been revived and reformed by IPOB and the new MASSOB led by my humble self”.
MASSOB, IPOB join efforts
Madu pointed out that the current leadership of MASSOB led by him and IPOB, led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu who is being detained would continue the genuine struggle to actualize the Biafra state.
“IPOB with MASSOB have recorded tremendous successes in the last few years. IPOB has succeeded in internationalizing the Biafran struggle, and the arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu has further brought our struggle before the international community who are now discussing the issues,” he claimed.
Madu who was clamped into detention for over two years with Uwazuruike said that the cause of the dissension in the movement was as a result of Uwazuruike’s deviation from the Biafra struggle. He alleged that the former leader was openly romancing with the oppressors of Ndigbo for selfish reasons.
Hear him: “Uwazuruike was using the MASSOB platform for cheap political and monetary gains, and entering into an accord with the Hausa-Fulani-led by Alhaji Hamza Mustapha for unity of Nigeria which was contrary to the objectives of MASSOB and IPOB and that was a total deviation and that was the major reason that we had to expel him from the mainstream MASSOB. Again he introduced the Biafra International Passport, vehicle license/plate number, income tax which he used to dupe the members”.
He maintained that while Uwazuruike has ceased to be part of the struggle that led to the detention of the IPOB leader, Kanu, Tony Nnadi of Lower Niger Congress and himself are those who have remained in the struggle and have the support of the majority of the people, including those in the Diaspora.
“Every genuine Biafran group has regards and respect for each other. We are already working together as a team to actualise our dream.
“It’s quite open that IPOB and MASSOB are seriously, consistently working and relating together for the actualizatiion of Biafra with non-violence. Those in the genuine groups have no differences, suspicion, distrust unlike Ralph Uwazuruike, former leader of MASSOB now leader of BIM. BIM is a continuation of Uwazuruike’s alleged fraud,” Madu alleged.
IPOB not contending with any other group- Iroanya
Also the Coordinator of Coordinators of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Dr. Clifford Chukwuemeka Iroanya, told Saturday Sun that his group is not contending with any other group nor seeking any relevance from any quarters.
Iroanya claimed that there are no deviations or disharmony amongst Biafrans who have rallied around the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, saying that IPOB welcomes plurality of ideas and strategies.
He maintained that IPOB was not in any competition with any other organization that is interested in the restoration of the nation of Biafra in truth and honesty.
He said that the objective and mission of the restoration of the nation of Biafra is very much on course through the efforts of IPOB, noting that the IPOB is a mass movement of Biafrans with a single objective which is the restoration of a sovereign state of Biafra.
According to him, “the IPOB is not a local organization nor is it an Igbo-leaning entity, rather the movement is officially registered in over 88 countries and recognized by those governments with the only exception being that of Nigeria. Therefore, IPOB has a global outlook.
“In the history of freedom fighting, there has never been any mass movement with such footprints as the IPOB. The international uproar that has and continues to follow the illegal abduction and detention of the leader of IPOB is a clear example of the reach and popularity of IPOB and its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
“Up to this moment and well into the future, there will be regular peaceful protests against the illegal and unconstitutional detention of the leader of IPOB as well as the quest for the restoration of the nation of Biafra. This has never happened for any other person leading any agitation for the restoration of the nation of Biafra.
“The house of Biafra is not divided against itself, those that point to the divergent or different ideologies and methodologies of the various groups do not understand history. Even the brutal fight for the restoration of the State of Israel is no different to what we have today.
There was Haganah and Ergun, both groups rarely saw eye to eye. David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin seldom agreed on approach but both were pursuing the same thing. Biafra is a divine project and only the very pure at heart can last the distance.”
(Source: The Sun)