•Injustice fuels self-determination movement – Ikokwu, Ezeife
By Clifford Ndujihe
FOR 29 years after the 30-month Nigeria-Biafra war that ended in January 1970, after claiming about three million lives, nobody pushed for or agitated for the resurrection of the defunct Biafran Republic.
The best Igbo leaders could do was to complain about the marginalisation of the ethnic group inhabited areas of the country in terms of projects, state and local council creations, appointments, federal allocation, recruitments and promotions in the civil service and armed forces, among others.
However, the tide changed on September 13, 1999, less than four months of the country’s return to democratic rule. Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, an Indian-trained lawyer, appeared on the political horizon with the formation of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a secessionist movement with the aim of securing the resurgence of the defunct state of Biafra from Nigeria. MASSOB’s headquarters is in Okwe, Okigwe, Imo State.
To actualise Republic of Biafra, Uwazuruike and his lieutenants unveiled a 25-stage non-violent plan, they have been pursuing the agenda since then. The group’s philosophy is hinged on the principle of non-violence as propagated by Mahatma Gandhi, the reverred Indian founding father.
The plan includes peaceful protests and rallies, operating two governments -Biafran government in the Diaspora and a shadow government in Nigeria, hoisting of Biafran flags, release of Biafran currency and international passport, among others.
However, the Nigerian governments at the federal level and in the South-East geo-political zone, which is the defunct Biafran heartland, accused MASSOB of violence and have embarked on massive crackdown on the group and its activities leading to the loss of many lives, especially on the part of the separatist group.
Since its inception, MASSOB has continually alleged mass arrests and killing of its members by government forces. Its Sanitation Grassroots Information Spokesperson, Kelechi A Chukwu, alleged recently that government forces carry out secret executions of MASSOB 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. Uwazuruike, on his part, was arrested on several occasions and charged with treason. In 2011, Uwazuruike and 280 MASSOB members were arrested in Enugu while attending a function in honour of the late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu -Ojukwu and released a few days later.
In June 2012, the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria condemned the alleged killing of 16 members of MASSOB by security agencies in Anambra.
In February 2013, MASSOB 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.
The group claimed that the police routinely executed MASSOB members without trial. On September 13, 2015, the police in Anambra State arrested about 25 MASSOB members who were marking their 16th anniversary; one member was shot.
From MASSOB to BZM, IPOB
Following the crackdown on the group, claims and counter claims of sabotage and allegations that the group was imposing and collecting levies from ordinary people, especially in the South-East, it was not long before MASSOB became factionalised. Today, there are at least three groups fighting for the actualisation of Biafra. They are MASSOB; Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM), led by Barr Benjamin Onwuka, and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Nnamdi Kanu.
In spite of the factionalisation, the promoters continued their Biafran crusade, insisting that they have the right to self-determination.
A protagonist of the crusade said: ‘’The UN, on September 12/13 2007, passed a General Assembly Resolution (A/61/295) with overwhelming majority recognizing and supporting the rights of all ethnic nations to self-determination. ‘self-determination is the principle and practice whereby a nation, for example, an ethnic nation is in control of its own people, its own land, its own resources, and its own governance, independent of any other subtending political structure. The power of this resolution is evident from the fact that if it means that such an ethnic nation has to establish its own different and independent government from the government under which it currently finds itself, the right of the ethnic nation to do so is recognized and supported by UN. This means that we, the people of Biafra, have an internationally recognized right to establish Biafra Republic, independent and different from Nigeria. All other nations currently cobbled together into what is now called Nigeria each, as matter of fact, also have the right. For that matter, all over the world, such nations abound, and they have this same right to self-determination.’’
Riding on this crest, the promoters took the agitations to another level recently with the launch of Radio Biafra and aired anti-President Muhammadu Buhari’s programmes, which gave the Federal Government serious concerns with the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC) jamming the station.
However, after being temporarily jammed by the NBC, Radio Biafra, promoted by Nnamdi Kanu, has returned to the airwaves in the South East and some parts of the South-South. Speaking on the progress of the station, late August, Kanu boasted of its followership and promised that Biafra TV would be on air soon.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the IPOB leader was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Service (DSS) penultimate Monday on his arrival in Nigeria from London. He was arraigned secretly at the Magistrate Court,Wuse 11, sitting in Abuja and granted bail on conditions he was yet to meet at press time.
Kanu’s arrest and detention sparked off protests in Port Harcourt, Asaba by thousands of pro-Biafran people who did not only demand the immediate release of Kanu but also Biafra freedom from Nigeria.