Monday, June 23, 2014 4:48 pm
Over four decades after a devastating secession bid by the Igbo through a civil war, die-hard elements are vigorously pursuing the actualisation of the Biafran dream
On 5 June, the Biafra Zionist Movement, BZF, stormed the Enugu State Broadcasting Service, ESBS, in Enugu, the former capital of the defunct Eastern Region. Its mission: Make a broadcast reviving the defunct Republic of Biafra. The Enugu State police commissioner, Mr. Abubakar Mohammed, said members of the pro-Biafra group that invaded the radio station were on a mission to take over the government of Enugu State and cause crisis in the state.“When they went to the ESBS, they got entrance into the studio and wanted them to give them access to make a live broadcast to the people of Nigeria. In the broadcast, they have a CD where the details of what they wanted to tell members of the public were and in the CD rom, they made a summary of it on a sheet of paper and the highlights of it are: an appeal calling for all boys in Obiagu to come out, all boys from Ogui to come out, all boys in Enugu to come out. They also asked students to come out, those people with Keke NAPEP (tricycle) to come out. They wanted to order all businesses closed today, all schools to be closed, all markets to be closed and all government officials to surrender all property in their possession before midday. You can see these people were on a mission to overturn the government and it is something that we will never tolerate,” he said.
Onwuka and 12 other members of the group arrested on that day were arraigned before a court in Enugu before they were later transferred to Police Force Headquarters in Abuja for further investigation. The group’s attempt on the Enugu State-owned radio station, arguably the most daring move to revive the Biafran sentiment since the end of the Nigeria Civil War in 1970, was sequel to the group’s earlier failed attempt last March to invade the Enugu State Government House, Enugu. The group had noted that it was desirous of hoisting the Biafran flag atop the Enugu state Government House. The group’s leader, Onwuka, was declared wanted after last year’s incident before they struck again at the radio station.
They police stated that the group carried lots of arms, machetes, 25 litres of petrol, 46 empty beer bottles, one Biafran Zionist flag and some CDs in its assault on the radio station.
“The purpose of going there with petrol and bottles… you know when you put petrol inside a bottle and shake it and throw it into a building, it will ignite. They went there also with guns because when the policemen confronted them, they shot a sergeant and killed him and in the process of trying to prevent them from setting the place ablaze, they also had a casualty; one of them was shot dead. About 13 of them were arrested, including the leader, Benjamin Onwuka,” the police boss said.
Despite the clashes with security forces in the course of their operation and the arrest of its leader and members, BZM has vowed to continue with its push for the actualisation of the Biafran state. According one of its national leaders, Mr. Edeson Samuel, “No amount of threats or arrests will stop us from pursuing our freedom and self-determination for Biafrans. We were forced into this unholy marriage called Nigeria, but we don’t have the same culture as the northerners. Our religion and culture are quite different from the northerners.”Onwuka, shortly after the attack on the Enugu Government House, had detailed how the group intended to go about its activities. He made it clear that unlike MASSOB which has pursued a non-violent approach, BZF was ready to go all-out against the security operatives, adopting violence just like other militia groups existing in other parts of the country. He threatened that what Boko Haram was doing in the northern part of the country would be child’s play compared to what his group would do in the South-East, unless their agitation for a new republic was granted.
He added: “It wasn’t an armed attack on the Government House, it was Biafran people and the Biafra Zionist Movement led it and I, Benjamin Onwuka, was the man that pioneered it. It wasn’t an attack on any one but for the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Biafra. I want the Biafra people to know and the entire world, that Biafra has been resurrected and no force of arms could hinder this aspiration for Biafran independence.”
On its Facebook page, the Biafran Zionist Federation states its mission as, “To unite and liberate the good people of Biafra from the injustice, terrorist attack, marginalisation and all other evil happenings in Nigeria…
“Biafra Zionist Movement is an ally of Israel because Israel is behind the Movement. God bless the Jewish people, keep and protect the state of Israel.”
Efforts geared at resuscitating the Biafra dream is on. At the vanguard of these efforts are the BZM and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. Activities of these groups in recent times have left no one in doubt of their intention. They are pushing for the revival of the Biafran nation in south-eastern Nigeria.
Claim of marginalisation has been the driving force of the new efforts at pursuing the actualisation of Biafra. Most Nigerians of Igbo extraction believe that the Igbo are marginalised in the scheme of things. The central message of the Igbo marginalisation cries has been that the Igbo are deliberately being kept out of key roles in Nigeria’s central government. Nigerians from other ethnic groups are however pointing out that Igbo marginalisation exists only in the minds of the Igbo; and are quick to point to personalities of Igbo extraction who have held consequential posts recently in Nigeria’s central government.
According to Dr. M. R. Bello of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, the Igbo are being adequately represented in Nigeria’s central government since the return of democracy in 1999. He pointed out that an Igbo man from Rivers State, Ogbonnaya Onovo, had been the Inspector-General of Police, Charles Soludo had been the Central Bank Governor, Engr Ebele Okeke had been the Head of the Federal Civil Service, Mrs. Rose Uzoma retired as the Head of Immigration Service recently, while Mr. Osita Chidoka is currently serving as the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Commission.
Bello also pointed out that late Prof Dora Akunyili headed NAFDAC, while Mr. Chukwuemeka Ezeh heads the Bureau for Public Enterprises. He stated that over the years, the Igbo have held the following weighty posts: Governor-General/President, Military Head of State, elected Vice-President, Speaker, House of Representatives in the 2nd Republic, Chief of General Staff (No. 2 to President Babangida) and Senate President for eight years under Obasanjo’s two terms in office.
“So why are there all the cries of marginalisation from the Igbo?
“Well, I think I know the answer: there hasn’t been an Igbo Head of State or President since 1966. But is this due to marginalisation or it just happened? There are two ways through which Nigeria has produced its leaders in the past 41 years. These are, coups d’etat and democratic elections. Let me begin with military coups. Any military officer who is able to organise troops and put his life at risk can, theoretically, overthrow a government and make himself Head of State.”
That Igbo military officers did not try to do that since 1966 is nobody’s fault and it is not suggestive of marginalisation, he said. Igbo officers were free to undertake coups and become Heads of State but they, according to Bello, decided not to do so. Generals Murtala Muhammed, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha did so and they became heads of state. He said he could not see any marginalisation here; anyone can plot a coup any day.
Bello argued further that the second means of becoming Nigeria’s leader is through democratic elections. In all the presidential elections held in the past 41 years, there were Igbo candidates on the ballot except the June 12 election which, in his words, was annulled anyway. “There was no presidential election in Nigeria where Igbo candidates were specifically barred from contesting. In all the elections, they contested and lost. I can’t see any marginalisation here; Igbos were free to contest, they did so, and they lost.” An elder statesman and First Republic minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaech, however pointed out that there is a systematic policy of undermining the presence and place of the Igbo in the Nigerian polity
“For example, look at the case of Nigeria, Igbos, because they fought a civil war, have been mapped out for marginalisation and reduction to a second or third class status in a country they were part of the founders.”
He argued further that there is no ethnic group in Nigeria that produced more nationalists and founding fathers than the Igbo. “No other section of Nigeria contributed more than the Igbo to the founding of this country, yet since after the civil war, since after the First Republic, the Igbos have been relegated to the status of sub citizenship in their own country.
“They are neglected in development plans. Look at our roads, look at the second Niger Bridge that we have been talking about. The old bridge that the Balewa government built in 1965 to 1966 is aging and being overloaded. We have been crying and they said the contract has been awarded and it is contractor-financed, in which they say the contractor should organise a toll and collect the money. It is only here they are doing it… If we say, let every Igbo man close his shop, let every Igbo transporter take his vehicles off the road, let every Igbo teacher withdraw from the classroom, this country will come to a halt,” he asserted.
Similarly, scores of Igbo leaders contend that the agitation for the rebirth of Biafra by these groups would not have been this strident if the South-East geopolitical zone were given its fair share in the distribution of amenities by successive administrations in the country, positing that the various issues affecting the Igbo nation that forced Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu to declare the Biafra Republic in 1967 have not been addressed. For example, the South-East zone is made up of only five states, but others zones in Nigeria are made up of six each.
For these reasons and more, various groups have sprung up to keep the Biafra dream alive.
The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, as a secessionist movement has for about a decade been pushing for the actualisation of the Biafran dream. Its leader, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, an India-trained lawyer, has had series of battles with the Nigerian authorities, from 2005 when he was arrested and detained on treason charges before his eventual release in 2007. The group’s headquarters located in Okwe, in the Okigwe district of Imo State, has been providing the base from where the group launches its events and programmes aimed at keeping the Biafra dream alive.
Some of the programmes launched by MASSOB in pursuit of its agenda include the 2009 launch of the Biafran International Passport, which the group said was in response to persistent demands by “Biafrans in Diaspora”.
Similarly, last February, MASSOB launched a new Biafra motorcycle plate number in Enugu. Chief Uwazuruike, who was represented by Chief Larry Odimma, the Aba Regional Administrator of MASSOB, at the official launching of the plate number in Nsukka, called on Ndigbo to see the new Biafra plate number as their identity and as one of the criteria for the realisation of freedom. He enjoined members not to be afraid of purchasing the plate number.
“I am here on the mandate of our leader, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, to launch this plate number, which is aimed at identifying Biafrans and forestalling criminal activities among people who hide under our name to perpetrate evil,” he told the gathering and applauded the freedom being enjoyed by the group in Enugu State, which he said was unlike what they were experiencing at Aba, Ontisha and Umuahia, where their members are constantly harassed by security agents. He urged members of the group to continue in their vision of non-violence and non-arms-carrying as they march towards the take-off of Biafra government.
In his remark at the event, the group’s Regional Administrator in Nsukka, Mr. Kenneth Okwudili, expressed the group’s expectation for every true and honest Igbo man with motorcycle to come forward and buy the plate number, which he said is the identity of the Igbosas Biafrans, noting that the launch of the plate number was part of their contribution to the sustenance and struggle for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra.
Chief Uwazuruike regards his group as peaceful and even advertised a 25-stage plan through which the group hoped to achieve its goal peacefully. According to him, the group’s philosophy is hinged on the principle of non-violence as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi. But the federal government believed otherwise, and accused the group of violence. Uwazuruike’s arrest and detention alongside 103 members of the group in 2005, was based on this allegation of violence.
MASSOB had claimed that despite its non-violence posture, its members have been secretly executed by government forces. The group’s Sanitation Grassroots Information spokesman, Mr. Kelechi Chukwu, alleged that the government forces carries out secret executions of their members in detention centres and prisons nationwide. In May 2008, the group released a list of 2,020 members alleged to have been killed by security agents since 1999. In February 2013, the group claimed that several corpses found floating in the Ezu River, on the boundary of Enugu and Anambra states, were those of its members previously arrested by the police.
MASSOB’s War Threats
In the wake of the recent violence unleashed on Nigerians by members of the Islamic fundamentalist group, Boko Haram, MASSOB vowed to unleash unprecedented mayhem if any bomb explodes to kill Igbo in any of the south-eastern states. Uwazuruike issued the threat at Owerri, the Imo State capital, following the discovery of two bombs planted at the Living Faith Ministry (Winners’ Chapel) in Owerri. Earlier, during the maiden Biafra Day celebration in Owerri on 30 May, the group had warned that it would shelve its non-violence posture to defend the Igbo, if they were killed in Igbo land.
While lamenting that the Igbo have been killed in their hundreds in the northern part of the country for no justifiable reason, Uwazuruike stated that those who planted the bombs had in mind to kill Igbo who worshiped in the church en-masse. He warned that if the Igbo are pursued to their own land and killed, MASSOB would retaliate such killings.Urged President Goodluck Jonathan to provide adequate security in the south-eastern states to forestall any bombing of the Igbo, he said: “We will bring down Nigeria if our people are killed here with bombs.”
He disclosed the group had already mobilised its surveillance arm to help the police in detecting miscreants who wanted to bring bombs into the south-eastern states with the purpose of exterminating the Igbo.
“They were targeting our people in the North to kill them and we sent buses to bring our people back. Now, they have come to our domain to kill our people with bombs. It is most unreasonable to kill innocent people with bombs. Therefore, if this attempt to exterminate our people with bombs in any part of Igboland succeeds, what we will do will be unimaginable; the level of our reaction will be catastrophic. In this regard, nobody will ascertain the level of our unreasonableness,” he said.
He urged the Nigerian authorities to fish out those who planted the Owerri bombs and to mete out appropriate punishments to them while beefing up security to protect the lives and property of the people in the south-eastern states, vowing that his group would defend the Igbo to the last drop of their blood.
Berating the ongoing National Conference, Uwazuruike noted that the only solution to problems of Nigeria was to grant independence to the six geo-political zones of the country. “National Conference cannot solve the problems of Nigeria because there is deep-rooted hatred among the different nationalities. The hatred is so deep and cannot be wished away. We only pretend to love ourselves. The hatred is natural. It is in our blood. No amount of preaching on nationalism can change Nigeria. The only solution is to divide Nigeria into six geo-political zones: namely, South-East (Biafra); South-West; South-South; North-East; North-West; and North Central.” He pointed out that it was what Ojukwu tried to achieve in 1967 but was misunderstood.
Biafra Zionist Movement/Federation
BZM, which broke away from the mainstream MASSOB in the year 2000, is led by another legal practitioner, Mr. Benjamin Onwuka. The group has exhibited a much higher tendency to violence than MASSOB in its Biafra actualisation efforts.
The breakaway faction accused Uwazuruike of having compromised the Biafran cause by allegedly fraternsing with the Nigerian government. BZF alleged that President Jonathan had reached Uwazuruike through Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu, the widow of the late Biafra leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Mrs. Ojukwu, who was a presidential aide and is now Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain, is said to have pacified the MASSOB leader to eschew violence and support Jonathan’s administration.
Other Biafra Agitation Groups
Apart from MASOB and the NZF, the Radio Biafra, led by Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, a UK-based Nigerian and Biafra National Youth League, are among several other groups both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora pushing for the actualisation of the Biafran nation.
Mr. Kanu is said to enjoy support from international separatist groups that have never been friends of Nigeria. The radio station’s mission statement reads: “To champion the liberation of Biafra through peaceful/non-violence and legal means in accordance with the UN Resolution regarding the Self-Determination Rights of indigenous nations in the document, A/RES/61/295, adopted in September 2007, and also in accordance with Article 20.1 of African (Banjul) Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted in June, 1981.” Radio Biafra transmits from several locations including Accra, Ghana.
Kanu, while declaring his readiness to continue with the struggle for the actualisation of Biafra, noted that Nigeria will cease to exist by December 2015. Speaking at a recent gathering which included scores of Biafra war veterans, he reiterated his commitment to the realisation of the Biafran nation and vowed not to rest until the Biafra Republic is realised.
He also used the occasion of the maiden Biafra Day commemoration last May in Enugu State to unveil a multi-million naira cenotaph built in memory of Biafran heroes killed during the civil war and regretted that despite the declaration of the “no victor, no vanquished” after the civil war in 1970, successive governments, including the present Goodluck Jonathan-led administration, had continued to deliberately marginalise and make life unbearable for the Igbo nation and its people. He, therefore, called on all genuine Igbo people across the globe to rise up and join the crusade of putting in place the Biafran Republic, adding that it was time for the Igbo to pull out of Nigeria, which he described as a failed nation where nothing works.
How It All Started
Following independence, Nigeria was divided primarily along ethnic lines, with the Hausa and Fulani in the North, Yoruba in the South-West, Ijaw in the South and Igbo in the South-East. In January 1966, a group consisting mainly of Igbo officers led a military coup during which 30 political leaders, including Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and the North’s premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, were killed. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo indigene who was then President, and the premier of the Eastern Region were not killed.
In July 1966 northern officers and army units staged a counter-coup. Muslim officers named a Christian from a small ethnic group in central Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, as the head of the Federal Military Government. The two coups deepened Nigeria’s ethnic tensions. In September 1966, approximately 30,000 Igbo indigenes were killed in the North, and some northerners were also killed in backlashes in eastern cities.
The war resulted mainly as a result of economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions mainly between the Hausa-dominated northern Nigeria and the Igbo of the eastern region of the country. The period of the war was notorious for the starvation of the besieged south-eastern region that led to more deaths than the actual fighting.
The Nigeria Civil War lasted for nearly hree years – from 6 July 1967 to 15 January 1970 – with an estimated two million civilian casualties on the part of Biafra.
The Odumegwu-Ojukwu-led administration of the then Eastern Region, citing the northern massacres and electoral fraud, had proclaimed the secession of the Eastern Region from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra, an independent nation, on 30 May 1967. The creation of Biafra and the push for recognition was among the causes of the Nigerian civil war, also known as Nigerian-Biafran war.
Biafra was formally recognised by Gabon, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Zambia. Other nations which did not give official recognition but which did provide support and assistance to Biafra included Israel, France, Portugal, Rhodesia, South Africa and Vatican City. Biafra also received aid from non-state actors, including Joint Church Aid, Holy Ghost Fathers of Ireland, Caritas International, MarkPress and U.S. Catholic Relief Services.
The Biafran dream was temporarily suspended following the defeat of Biafran soldiers by their Nigerian counterparts. However, activities of MASSOB and the Biafra Zionist Movement are no doubt rekindling the memories of a lost dream and stoking different chords in galvanising a new symphony for the actualisation of the Biafran dream.
The Biafra agitation groups’ secession threat is real,though how they hope to execute the break is however unclear for now. Part of the strategy apparently adopted by these groups may not be unrelated to the use of law courts both within and outside Nigeria, to challenge the essence of the Nigerian nationhood in respect of the controversial colonial treaty making up the Nigerian state and seeking its break-up. A suit filed by a group called Incorporated Trustees of Bilie Human Rights Initiative, representing indigenous people of Biafra against the Federal Government of Nigeria before a federal high court in Owerri in 2013, bears the mark of a secessionist agenda.
Bilie Human Rights Initiative, BHRI, often called by its first name, Bilie, was registered to oversee and control the affairs of the Biafrans who are in court with the Federal Government of Nigeria to ensure orderliness, decorum and obedience to the rule of law so that they do not take laws into their hands. Operated under the Supreme Council of Elders, with the Hon. Justice Eze Ozobu (rtd), Dr. Dozie Ikedife, Col Joe Achuzia (rtd) as members of the Council, the organisation claims to be representing the indigenous people of Biafra and is registered both by the Nigerian Corporate Affairs Commission and by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ECOSOC, to advocate the rights of indigenous people of Biafra.
Grave security challenges lie ahead of Nigeria’s continued corporate existence as an indivisible entity if the activities and determination of these groups are taken into consideration, especially in the wake of the discovery of improvised explosive devices planted at the Living Faith Ministry (Winners’ Chapel) in Owerri.
Also, the recent arrest by soldiers attached to the 144 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Asa in the Ukwa West Local Government Area, Abia state, of 486 suspected Boko Haram members aged between 16 and 24, who were traveling at about 3am in a convoy of 33 buses along the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, has heightened fears in the south-eastern part of Nigeria and has continued to fuel the agitation for the actualisation of a Biafran state for the Igbo.
The Abia State government officials have been expressing concern as to how a large number of vehicles conveying the suspects was not intercepted by security personnel until it reached Abia State. It becomes more baffling that none of the suspects was able to identify the location they were headed.
Security experts believe that the emergence of BZF and its mode of operation is an addition to the country’s security challenge and called on the federal and south-eastern state governments to do everything within their powers to stop the BZF campaign now before it matures, noting that it has the potential of creating problems that would be difficult to solve. The growing incidence of unemployment in the south-eastern part of Nigeria is also a growing security concern as many young men are easily lured into rebellious acts because they are jobless; thereby providing available “raw material” for the growing Biafra sentiment.
Condemnation Of Separatist Groups:
Series of condemnations have been trailing the actions of Biafra actualisation groups. Prominent groups and individuals in the South-east have been condemning the actions of these groups and dismissing them as nothing more than a bunch of hoodlums whose activities must be checked before they get out of hand.
Governors of the south-eastern states recently in Enugu, came down hard on the Biafra agitators, especially the BZF, whose actions in the invasion of the Enugu State government-owned radio station and the state Government House, the governors regarded as an insult on the collective psyche of Ndigbo.
Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum and Abia State governor, Theodore Orji, who briefed newsmen at the end of their meeting, condemned the attempt by the Biafra Zionist Federation, led by Benjamin Igwe Onwuka, to gain entry into Government House for the purpose of hoisting their flag, and for invading the ESBS on 5 June 2014 in an attempt to take over the media house and declare the State of Biafra.
In a similar vein, Igbo leaders under the umbrella of Igbo Leaders of Thought, in a statement signed by its deputy secretary and founder of the Igbo Youths Movement, Elliot Uko, noted that the infantile act of seizing a broadcasting house in order to announce a new republic is not the proper way to express anger and frustration with Nigeria. According to him, such actions, if anything, only result tin overheating the polity, which is the last thing any well-meaning Nigerian would pray for at this time. He pleaded with those who felt aggrieved over the Nigerian situation to channel their grievances through proper and legal routes, which includes the ongoing national conference.
“Actions that are capable of leading to breakdown of law and order must be discouraged as it not only paints us in bad light but also don’t solve the problems at hand. We warn Igbo youths who are said to be preparing for or planning whatever demonstrations, to shelve the idea of such ill-advised actions as it would only be encouraging our already misguided folks who erroneously believe that secession or disintegration would help the situation.”
The Igbo Leaders Of Thought advised those indoctrinating Igbo youths along violent lines to retrace their steps and reiterated that Ndigbo believe in one united Nigeria where equity and justice reign, where no man is oppressed and expressed Ndigbo’s belief in a restructured federal Nigeria where every section is treated fairly.
National Vice-Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, South-East zone, Col Austin Akobundu (rtd), also condemned the group’s invasion of the Enugu radio station. In a statement issued in Enugu, the PDP zonal leader alleged that the sole intention of the group was to paint the south-east in bad light in view of the security challenges facing the country at the moment and described the actions of BZF as suicidal and embarrassing to Ndigbo at home and in the Diaspora.