By Tony Adibe
After the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) broke into factions and groups of different names sprang up claiming the same objective, realizing the objective becomes doubtful despite tough talk to that effect.
Supporters of Biafra, under the banner of Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), last Tuesday literally paralysed activities in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital and in Awka, capital of Anambra State when they protested against the recent arrest of Director of Radio Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, and alleged marginalization of the Igbo in the current federal government.
Kanu, who reportedly came into the country on a three-day visit, was picked up by the Department of State Services (DSS) from his hotel in Lagos. The protesters in their hundreds, mostly women, marched from Rumuola Junction on Aba Road to Ikoku and Mile 3 market but as they moved towards the Government House, security men denied them access as armoured vehicles blocked the entrance.
The Coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in Anambra State, Mr. Ikechukwu Okoye, who spoke in an interview, said that they were not protesting to cause any kind of trouble but for the release of their leader, Kanu. Okoye said they were marching to the Government House to appeal to Governor Willie Obiano to prevail on President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the case.
The protesters carried placards with different pro-Biafra inscriptions: “Biafra for life,” “We need Biafra,” “Zoo must fall, Biafra will stand,” “Biafra or death,” among others.
The Anambra State Police Commissioner, Mr. Hosea Karma, who confirmed the arrest of some persons on the Onitsha-Enugu highway, emphasized that there is nothing like Indigenous People of Biafra, insisting that the group is quite unknown. “Those people constituted nuisance on the highway and they were picked up. We do not have any group that goes by such name; they were causing obstruction on the federal highway,” Karma stated.
An elder statesman who said he is a pro-Biafra advocate, Mr Longinus Woke, asserted that the protest was in good order, adding that Igbo people supported it. According to him, the huge turnout during the protest was a demonstration of the unity among Ndigbo on Biafra. He said no government would separate them and appealed to the federal government to tackle the alleged marginalization against the Igbo if indeed it desires peace in the country. He also asked that Kanu be freed unconditionally.
Not much is known about Nnamdi Kanu but he appears to be the new face of the leadership of the movement for the actualisation of the defunct Biafran Republic and is said to be from the Arochukwu area of Abia State. Ordinarily, Nnamdi looks quite harmless but he seems to have some elements of ‘poison’ and ‘burning fire’ in him.
Unlike Ralph Uwazuruike who has come to be seen in some quarters as ‘cold ash’, Kanu neither comes with peace, nor is he out for peaceful negotiations for the actualization of the Biafran Republic.
Despite the brutal crush of Biafra Republic by the Federal forces in 1970 in a civil war that started in 1967, Biafra lies passionately in the heart of many young Nigerians of Igbo origin.
On May 30 this year, Kanu reportedly gave a speech in Enugu State at the occasion marking the maiden commemoration of Biafran Day held at Ngwo, Enugu State, where he stated that there was no going back. He asserted, “By December 2015, Nigeria would have ceased to exist; we shall fight until we get Biafra, if they don’t give us Biafra, no human being will remain alive in Nigeria by that time; we shall turn everybody into corpses; you better go and buy your coffin.”
On that day, he was said to have been officially handed the mantle of leadership of the violent Biafran group for its actualization, and he promised not to disappoint. He announced at the event that Igbos will soon renew their fight for a separate Biafran Republic, where he and most Igbo youths believe they would find equity and justice. “We come in peace but we bring hell with us. If there is no Biafra, this place will be completely destroyed. Everything will die or they give us Biafra. So there is and will be no compromise. We have come here to fight for our country or we die fighting for our freedom,” Kalu was quoted to have said.
Forsythe’s Prophesy about Biafra: “Biafra will rise again with or without Ojukwu,” Fredrick Forsythe, the world-acclaimed British author and journalist who covered the Nigeria-Biafra war for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) once wrote in one of his books on the civil war.
The then BBC correspondent made the assertion based on what he observed as the ‘total mobilization and unflinching support the people of Biafra’ demonstrated during the war. Many years after the civil war, and without Emeka Ojukwu, the then leader of Biafra, the awareness on Biafra has been re-ignited by those who probably believed, and still believe, in what Ojukwu spearheaded.
The man that became widely identified with Biafra, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike reportedly belonged to the camp of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and was later recruited into Obasanjo’s presidential campaign train towards the 1999 election. Obasanjo was however to conclude his campaign and to win the February 1999 election under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) without Uwazuruike’s input as Uwazuruike was said to have had a face-off with Obasanjo while campaigns were on.
Thereupon in September 1999, he founded the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) apparently to give the people in his part of Nigeria a country of their own as Ojukwu set out to do but allegedly also to spite Obasanjo, one of the heroes of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war.
Biafra is widely regarded as the opium of Igbo youths, considering how a good number of them, particularly the unlettered ones, usually seen as willing tools for ‘revolution,’ quickly joined the Uwazuruike-led MASSOB. But the going has not been too smooth for Uwazurike. In December 2014, members of a faction of the energetic youths were said to have sacked Uwazuruike from his mansion, The Biafra House, at his hometown, Okwe near Okigwe in Imo State.
The going remains rough for him as right now, he cannot visit the place. Our correspondent was reliably informed that the faction took over the mansion and threatened to deal with him should he come near it.
Uwazuruike probably didn’t realize that those he referred to as ‘my men’ would eventually become too radical for him to control. Uwazuruike now resides in his house at New Owerri, Imo State capital and hardly visits Okwe.
It would be noted that under Uwazuruike’s leadership, the pro-Biafra group printed Biafra currency, postage stamps, driver’s license, flag, coat-of-arms, and so on. But it is not clear whether these items have been put into use anywhere in the Igbo-speaking areas that MASSOB regards as Biafra land. Uwazuruike’s leadership of MASSOB equally built a house at Okigwe for wounded ex-Biafran soldiers to get rehabilitated. He subsequently relocated the war veterans from their settlement at Orji River to Okigwe. The development was seen as a relief to the ex-Biafran soldiers, although things later fell apart and some of the veterans had to move back to their Orji River camp after they claimed that they were grossly neglected by Uwazuruike.
Clashes with security agents: Besides the internal conflict, some members of the movement have had several bloody clashes with security forces, sometimes leading to loss of lives and valuable properties. Some years ago, MASSOB members had a bloody clash with security men at Onitsha, leading to loss of lives and razing of one of the buildings inside Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s country home at Onitsha. During the administration of former Governor Achike Udenwa in Imo State, MASSOB had a clash with security men who reportedly shot and killed many of the freedom fighters. The killing was said to have attracted a lot of condemnation from well-meaning Igbo people against Udenwa’s government and the security men that did the killings.
Many MASSOB members have languished in various prisons and police cells across the country, and nobody, not even Uwazuruike, knows when such detainees would regain their freedom, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered.
Uwazuruike under fire as baby organisations spring up. Since the formation of MASSOB, other pro-Biafra organizations have emerged: There is the Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) headed by Benjamin Onwuka, who also said that he studied law in Britain. Onwuka and some of his men are now suffering in Enugu prison. They reportedly attempted to take over the Enugu State Broadcasting TV House in order to make a broadcast on Biafra Republic. Security men were drafted to the place and there was a clash which led to loss of lives. The BZM men have been charged to the Federal High Court sitting in Enugu with treasonable felony.
BZM broke away from MASSOB when Onwuka and some others suspected that Uwazuruike had derailed from the Biafra ideal, according to Onwuka.
There is also the ‘rave’ of the moment known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) with a radio station operating from London, the station run by Nnamdi Kanu who uses his Radio Biafra to dish out all manner of information – the good, the bad and the ugly.
For about 16 years MASSOB and Uwazuruike have been singing the song of actualizing the sovereign state of Biafra but many wonder how far the movement can go especially now that its leadership under Uwazuruike has been accused of having abandoned the struggle to chase the mundane things of life and has actually been gravely challenged by some of the young men that he initiated.
Comrade Uchenna Madu, former National Director of Information, MASSOB, said in a recent statement that they left Uwazuruike’s group and formed their own faction of MASSOB because Uwazuruike had betrayed ‘the struggle’. Madu added that very soon, their faction would present to the public their own factional leader and settle down to work.
Madu also accused Uwazuruike of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Asari Dokubo, Fredrick Fasehun, founder of O’odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) and Mohammed Abacha to abstain from any activities that would affect the oneness of Nigeria. Madu insisted that Uwazuruike has abandoned the struggle for Biafra and is only deceiving the people.
Some years ago, apparently realizing some flaws in the manner Uwazuruike was handling MASSOB, Chief Chekwas Okorie, former top shot of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and founder of United Progressives Party (UPP), described Uwazuruike as ‘a big fraud’ and he has so far maintained the same position.
“Go and read history. Nowhere in the world does a freedom fighter build a mansion with a helicopter landing pad. Uwazuruike is a big fraud,” said Chief Okorie, who said he was the one that introduced Uwazuruike to Ojukwu thinking that he was genuine.
A former member of Uwazuruike-led MASSOB, Mr. Ndubuisi Igwekala, alias Agu Biafra, said that for the past 16 years, Uwazuruike and his MASSOB had achieved nothing more than media noise and self-enrichment, including the misguiding and killing of Igbo youths who follow him sheepishly and eventually end up in the hands of security agents.
“Hoisting of flag cannot give you Biafra. Jumping into buses and running about town singing freedom songs and intimidating people cannot give you Biafra. Many Igbo young men have died because they followed Uwazuruike foolishly,” said Igwekala, who added that he was involved in the sacking of Uwazuruike from the Biafra House at Okwe. “It’s our money he used in building that house. I know how much I contributed to the building of that house. When the time comes, we will mobilize to retrieve from Uwazuruike all the things he has used Biafra’s name to acquire illegally and fraudulently,” said Igwekala.
He said that owing to Uwazuruike’s acquisition tendencies, those who fought gallantly in Biafra army, for instance, top Biafran war commanders, don’t have regard for Uwazuruike, hence they see him as dishonest as far as the agitation for Biafra is concerned.
Woes of ex-Biafra warriors: The wounded Biafra veterans camped at the Orji River settlement recently cried out to the governors, politicians, and good-spirited people of the southeast states to come to their aid before hunger, sickness and abject poverty wipe them out of the surface of the earth.
Considering the manner the veterans said they had been abandoned since 1975, the then administrator of Eastern Nigeria, Chief Ukpabi Asika relocated them from JTI Enugu to their present camp at Orji River. The wounded ex-Biafran soldiers confessed, “Our struggle, suffering and fighting for Biafra was in vain.”
They said although government was taking care of them after their relocation in 1975, things became worse in the 1980s when they were abandoned to their fate. When our correspondent visited the Orji River settlement of the wounded veterans, their three bungalows were in very bad condition and needed urgent renovation just like the occupants themselves who also need quick and total rehabilitation.
The room inhabited by the chairman, Association of Ex-Biafran Wounded Veterans, Mr. Felix O. Okeke (alias Water has no enemy), is simply squalid. The roof leaks like a basket each time it rains, hence there is a big basin kept permanently on the floor to collect the leaking water. It is not easy to give a matching description of the state of the room with the combined stench of ammonic acid from urine and faeces, and the semi-darkness in the room owing to poor ventilation. The place is something of an apparent hell. Mr. Okeke said he had lost his sight staying in that condition over the years without good medical attention.
At the Okigwe camp built by Uwazuruike, not only is the house sited inside a huge jungle where snakes and scorpions are their regular visitors, the veterans said there is no food, medicine, water, light and other essential things of life, a development that has caused the death of many of the veterans at Okigwe and forced some of them back to Orji River settlement.
In an interview with our correspondent, Mr. Okeke, 75, from Nnewi South Local Government Area, said during the war he was shot at by the enemy and the bullet hit his waist and affected his spinal cord, leading to his paralysis over the years. If not for his wife, a petty trader, his life would have been worse, he said.
Also, an amputee veteran Sylvester Egbuna who hails from Nnewi in Anambra State told Daily Trust on Sunday: “Yes, truly, our suffering and fighting for Biafra was in vain. Except Arthur Eze and few others, nobody among the ruling class of governors and senators in southeast has asked us how we have been coping all these years. Because if they have been helping us, at least, our lives would not have been so miserable today; because the struggle we went into, the hardship we encountered was for the good of all Igbo people. It is so painful and unbelievable but there is nothing we can do.”
Yet another wounded veteran, Mr. Njoku,65, who said he is from Ikeduru local council area in Imo State, and had a knee-cap injury, said: “We will beg them to please come quickly and rescue us from the pitiful condition life has put us into. We are their brothers. We entered into the old Biafra struggle for the good of all Biafrans, the Ndigbo. We are their brothers and they should please help us; we are Ndigbo. Let them help us to enable us survive with our families. If they help us, we will pray God to further bless them and their families.”
A prominent Igbo man who was in charge of the Biafra refugees during the civil war, Dr. Moses Kingsley Illoh said that although there is nothing wrong in any group of people agitating for self-rule, there is doubt as to how prepared the Igbo are to be on their own.
Dr. Iloh, who is also the shepherd of Soul Winning Chapel, Lagos emphasised: “It is not a matter of sentiment or boiling emotion. Are the Igbo people prepared to be on their own as a people? If you ask me, the answer is no. They are not well prepared. So why go into an adventure when you know that you are not well prepared? It is not enough to say we want to go our own way; we want to have our own Biafra but what are you going to do with Biafra if you have it? Are you going to use it to destroy yourselves or to build yourselves? Why do they really want Biafra?” (Daily Trust)