Listen to article
Anyone from the Southeastern part of Nigeria would probably be very aware of the two major secessionist groups, MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra) and IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra). Over the years, these two groups have gained prominence in the Nation-State of Nigeria for the fight for the secession and independence of the Republic of Biafra.
In recent times, there have been some squabbles between the two groups, each blaming the other for losing focus, corruption and personalising the fight for the secession and independence of the Republic of Biafra, but in all, they both have one particular thing in common: The Fight for Biafra.
Twenty-nine years after the devastating Civil war ended, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, an Indian trained lawyer reignited the spirit of Biafra with the formation of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB in 1999. But provoked by the growing acceptance for a new state of Biafra, the Nigerian government led by President Olusegun Obasanjo began a clampdown on the group. Chief Ralph Uwazurike and his followers were arrested on different occasions on charges of unlawful gathering and disruption of public peace. He has eventually booted out of the group for corruption charges levelled against him, to form a new group called the Biafra Independence Movement (BIM).
The attempts by the Federal Government to subjugate this group claimed many lives of its members. Also, the Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) was founded in 2010 by a United Kingdom-based lawyer, Benjamin Onwuka who said the group was on the verge to actualise a ‘Biafran State’. This group submitted an application to the then United Nations Secretary-General, Ban-ki Moon in 2012. This application dated August 6, 2012, with reference BZM/os. Part of the petition read:
‘It’s now abundantly clear that the security of lives and property of the Biafran people are no longer guaranteed in the entity called Nigeria’
‘It is also very clear that the Right of the Biafran peoples to peacefully practice their religion and freedom of association under the United Nations Charter of Freedom of Association is no longer safe and guaranteed in the entity called Nigeria.’
‘Therefore, the people of Biafra have resolved that on 5th November 2012, we shall be re-declaring our independence and opt of Nigeria in order to guarantee and protect the Biafran Peoples’ Right to practice their religion without being killed and bombed.’
But with the spate of time, the Biafra Zionist Movement and all its effort to actualise a Biafran state became a relic of history.
The agitation for Biafra took a new dimension, a few months of President Muhammadu Buhari ascension to the seat of presidency. It was an agitation spearheaded by a faction of MASSOB, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) formed by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu with the claim that MASSOB has lost its fundamental focus.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was a director of London-based Radio Biafra, which transmits via the internet and shortwave to southeastern Nigeria. A skilled propagandist, his message was simple: for their future survival, Igbos must leave the ‘zoo’ that is Nigeria, which he claims is dominated by an Islamic Hausa-Fulani oligarchy. It’s not hard to find inflammatory statements linked to Kanu. He has described President Muhammadu Buhari as ‘terrorist-in-chief’; threatened ‘if they fail to give us Biafra, Somalia will look like a paradise’; and at the World Igbo Congress in 2015, told the audience: ‘we need guns and we need bullets.’
In Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s words, he elucidated that IPOB was on the mission ‘to settle the issue of Biafra in a civilised and democratic manner.’ The Federal Government was dissatisfied with IPOB activities. In order to silence the IPOB agenda and to demoralise its members, the Federal Government masterminded Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest by the officers of the Department of State Security (DSS), Nigeria’s secret police.
Ironically, the calculated attempt went wrong as IPOB working force was invigorated. The group commenced a relentless global and local campaign for a Biafran state and staged numerous protests against Nnamdi Kanu’s detention. During this agitation, many IPOB members paid the ultimate price and were killed, others were incarcerated some eventually released while others are still in detention to this day. Eventually, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was granted bail under stringent conditions after almost two-years in incarceration.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to relate and compare the visibility of Biafra in this contemporary time with the 1967 and present struggle. In 1967, the struggle was lost despite the unity among the old Easterners. However, there was a conflict but it was well managed.
But today, the same cannot be said about the new age Easterners who are disunited politically and ideologically. Many sentiments posit that there is no need for Nigeria to be divided while others have it that the dissolution of Nigeria is already near. Furthermore, the International Community, particularly the Super Powers failed to recognise Biafra as a sovereign state and without a strong international ally, secession seems impossible. Nothing is unjust where the Super Powers play their political game even if million perish.
There are many reasons for this, but one of the major reasons sticking out like a lone nail is the fact that the spearheads of the agitation are people who lack strategy and the diplomatic skills but have selfishly brainwashed who have selfishly brainwashed a lot of Southeastern indigenes to believe that it is only through violence and death that Biafra can be realised. Chief Ralph Uwazurike and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu have in the past exchanged serious accusations about bribery, self-centeredness and betrayal of the cause. No matter how sordid these accusations sound, one cannot help but notice a bit of truth in them.
The Nigerian Government has been terribly impartial to the Southeastern region. The Igbo ethnic group, which is one of the largest in Nigeria, with over forty million people, is the most marginalised and politically disadvantaged. The resurrection of the spirit of Biafra through IPOB is as a consequence of the heightened marginalisation of the Igbo ethnic group under the current administration. President Buhari has not in any way hidden his resentment for Igbos and the Southeast region. The Biafran question is beyond Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB agitation, which is only a symbolic expression of deep dissatisfaction brought about by a systematic injustice to the Southeastern Region. The erstwhile ruling military elite ensured that the Southeast geo-political zone, which is the homeland of the Igbo has the least number of states (five) and local governments (95), which translates to less revenue from the Federation Account, fewer representation at the National Assembly, fewer executive positions in all political parties, with the collective consequence of political irrelevance in the national power equation of the Nigerian state. This situation is further compounded by the fact that Nigeria exists more for political rather than economic reasons which have been sorely detrimental to the Igbos. These largely explain the high level of legitimacy that Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, MASSOB and Chief Ralph Uwazurike’s BIM enjoys among the Igbo today.
But this does not give these leaders room to selfishly exploit Southeastern indigenes at the benefits of their own ego and pockets. The Biafran agitation is undoubtedly now based on economic exploitation to seek funds and personal avenues to massage egos. Since the formation of these groups, many have given their lives to them, a lot of funds have been donated all to no succour. Since 2015 there have been various clashes between these secessionist groups and the Nigerian Law enforcement such as the Okigwe Massacre, the Onitsha Massacre, the Nkpor Massacre, the Igweocha Massacre, the Asaba Massacre, the Aba Massacre, the Umuahia Massacre and recently the Emene Massacre at Enugu State.
Journalists are ready to report; columnists are ready to write, analysts are ready to analyse, mourners are standby to mourn, the police is ready to make a press release, the group massacred are on standby to release a press statement but in all that, the tide has always been against the agitators because the sole aim of the whole purpose has been commercialised thus ridiculing the spirit of Biafra.
Each massacre comes with different mourners; Ohaneze Ndigbo, BIM, IPOB and MASSOB with their own wailings. Amnesty International would spice it up; the next day, they would all go home and eat, drink and enjoy the warmth of their various wives and husbands. While the families of the deceased are left to carry their cross, another massacre on the line and they are ever ready to mourn and release a press statement.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is obviously benefiting from this bloody propaganda. With this massacre, he is in the spotlight again, people are talking about his IPOB because nobody knows that poor boy that was killed. He is regularly writing snippets of his propaganda on social media especially Facebook and attention fixed on his radio rant the next day. The more the massacre is the attention Mazi Nnamdi Kanu gets; he had begun to tell the people that he wanted to react, he needed guns, bullets. Of course, more money would come and he would pocket as usual. Many people are charged; it’s a new avenue to appeal to them, money for burials and self-defence, in the end, another massacre is on the way.
This is utterly terrible of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. To deliberately keep pushing Igbo youths to their early graves, under this terrible economy while he enjoys and makes merry in a the civilised United Kingdom says a lot about his method of agitation. To also add salt to the injury, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is well aware of the fact that this sort of agitation would not in any way give way to a Referendum by the Nigerian Government because it is not embedded in the Nigerian constitution.
Under the amended 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, seeking secession through Referendum is a treasonable offence. Under the Nigerian Constitution, no part of Nigeria has the power to form its own independent government or secede from the country. In fact, the word ‘secede’ does not appear in the Constitution. This is shown in Article 2 of the constitution, which states that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state to be known by the name of the ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria’. This means the only way to legally grant such an option is through an amendment to the law which the Nigerian Government is obviously not ready to do given the method of provocations, the IPOB, BIM and MASSOB have resorted to.
If truly Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, MASSOB and Chief Ralph Uwazurike have the Igbos at heart, they should take the battle to other foremost Igbo political leaders under the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo to seek Restructuring from the Nigerian Government. No doubt that IPOB takes a very different approach to that of the traditional Igbo establishment, led by Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, a political/cultural group representing Igboland’s political and business elite – an elite whose corruption has also played a part in the southeast’s infrastructural neglect. Igbo nationalism, as expressed by Ohanaeze, seeks to play the ‘politics of the centre’ and re-integrate the Igbo into mainstream politics, with the ultimate goal of delivering an Igbo president for Nigeria. In contrast, the ‘youth’-led IPOB and its predecessor MASSOB, ostensibly reject the idea of the Nigerian state and instead dream of a ‘New Biafra’. Nevertheless, with a renewed fight for Regionalism and Restructuring each would have a fair shot at being heard. Because under a Government that practises regionalism, there can be room to seek a review to the National Constitution which would pave a path to the restoration of the Biafran state or the review of Zoning in Presidency.
Till now, the International Community and other world powers have not declared their support for the Biafran secessionists. Even President Donald Trump of the United States, whom Kanu and his followers have been hoping to intervene, has made it clear in his nonchalant attitude towards IPOB that he has no business with the proposed Republic. Also, it would amount to a suicidal mission for a section of the country to fight the integral components at time when the hatred for the ‘Biafra idea’ is obviously at a peak in the Country. Likewise, the sophistication, vibrancy, courage and experience of the Biafra warlord, Lieutenant Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu by far superseded the contemporary Biafran leaders, in funding, tactics and propaganda yet the war was lost. Nnamdi Kanu, MASSOB and Chief Ralph Uwazurike must borrow a leaf of wisdom from this and apply wisdom in this fight. Biafra can only be actualized with a formidable force because the Nigerian government would always resist any attempt to disintegrate the country.
The only formidable way to seek self-determination by Ndi Igbo is to first push for Restructuring of Nigeria which invariably will bring about the review of the country’s constitution thus the addition of Referendum and based on that premise, Biafrans can now ask for Referendum to be conducted which they can negotiate their exit from Nigeria. Apart from this, those preaching the current style of agitation are only deceiving their gullible followers who unfortunately haven’t even realised that they are committing a serious criminal offence by seeking secession.
However, another way which shouldn’t even be considered is to declare the sovereign state of Biafra again and then get ready to go to war with the Nigerian government but in reality, both Kanu and Uwazuruike lack the wherewithal to go into full military combat with the well funded Nigerian military.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK