SINCE the arrest of the Director of Radio Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, by the Department of State Security (DSS) on October 14 in his hotel room in Lagos, and later moved to Abuja, hundreds of pro- Biafra activists in the South East and some parts of the South –South, particularly Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital and Asaba, Delta State, have engaged in protests.
Those embarking on the protests are mostly youths born after the civil war (Nigeria – Biafra war) which ended in 1970 and claimed the lives of over one million people.
While demanding the release of Kanu, the youths also brought the issue of their dream Biafra Republic to the front burner. However, the question agitating the minds of many people in the South-East is whether the activities of the youths could lead to the breaking away of their envisioned republic from Nigeria.
Despite the massive participation of youths in the protests, it is difficult to find any prominent Igbo supporting the cause. Rather, what the youths have is condemnation by Igbo elders. Most prominent Igbo people are also not prepared to discuss the issue of Biafra.
However, what baffles people is the expertise adopted in the mobilization of the group for any protests as,. often times, they take security operatives unawares.
There are at least three major pro-Biafra group. They are the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, led by Chief Ralph Uwazurike, the Biafra Zionist Movement, BZM, led by Mr. Onwuka and the newest, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, which has Nnamdi Kanu as its leader.
Uwazurike had hoisted the Biafra flag and declared the republic at the Ariaria area of Aba, Abia State in the early 90s after which he went underground. Hundreds of his followers were to be arrested by security operatives and some of them allegedly died in detention.
Some members of the movement later accused Uwazurike of compromising the Biafra dream. This led to the emergence of factions in MASSOB. Besides, many of the activists felt that the death of Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the leader of the defunct Biafra, was the end of the republic and so, they quit the agitation.
Onwuka of BZM seized the opportunity of the crisis in MASSOB to bring his group to prominence. However, the way he was alleged to have gone about it led to his arrest and detention by security operatives. For instance, he was accused of leading a group of his followers to invade the Enugu State Government House when he and some members of his group were apprehended and taken to Abuja. Their case is still in court.
Then came the IPOB, led by the Abia State-born Kanu, whose Radio Biafra took the Nigerian airwaves by storm. With the radio, Kanu was able to win the hearts of many Igbo people, especially the youths. It was common to hear many people say their radios were permanently tuned to Radio Biafra which was giving the people the hope that Biafra was just a matter of time.
A public relations practitioner, Chief Jude Emecheta, however, believes those championing the cause of Biafra actually do not know what they want. He said: “These youths say they are looking for freedom and I don’t know how they intend to achieve that. I think the whole issue of Biafra Republic is because many people are not happy with the way things are going on in the country and they seize the opportunity of their dislike of what is happening in the polity to express their anger.
“Nobody even knows who the leaders of Biafra are and how they intend to present their case for consideration.”
Dr. Ephraim Odinaka, 68, who claimed he fought during the Biafra war, said it is difficult for anybody who witnessed the war to be part of what he described as the “ongoing madness” by Igbo youths.
According to him, if the republic is handed over to them as they wish, they will not know what to do with it. He said: “It is not enough for any group to say that it wants to make trouble because the Niger Delta militants were settled when they made trouble, or to assume that they will be called to a round table if they continue to carry Biafra flags on the streets. “
Odinaka, however suggested that the best way to keep the Igbo youths off the streets was for government to apply equitability in the distribution of appointments and social amenities to all parts of the country, adding that a situation where Igbos were not considered fit for sensitive positions in the country makes the people to shout that their people were being marginalized.
‘Nobody can stop us’
Meanwhile, signalling it would defy the Army, IPOB has vowed to continue the protests calling for the release of its detained leader and host of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, as well as the actualization of an independent state of Biafra.
The Rules of Engagement
The Nigerian Army had,on Monday, warned MASSOB and IPOB members agitating for secession to desist from such threat to national security as the Army was ready to flush out every element that threatens peace in the country.
While announcing the reviewed Army Rules of Engagement (ROE) for Internal Security Operations a, the General Officer Commanding 81 Division, Nigerian Army, Maj Gen Isidore Edet said it became very important to remind Nigerians that the NA would continue to defend its citizens but will not compromise any action that impedes on national peace.
Edet explained that Nigeria had fought civil war and is yet to overcome the consequences of the war and as such will not tolerate any person or group of persons that are talking about the dismemberment of the country.
He said Nigerian Army would apply the ROE to the letter on anybody, “specifically those threatening and agitating for the dismemberment of the country, committing treasonable felony and arson’’, adding that “anybody that makes any mistake, within the ambit of the law”, will not be spared.
He averred that the Army will not hesitate to apply the ROE against any person who threatens the peace of the nation stressing: “Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to a peaceful protest but should be within the ambits of the law. When such protest lead to bringing down law and order, we are obligated by the Constitution to protect lives and properties of Nigerians and foreigners.”
While reeling out the 11-point reviewed ROE,the GOC said under Section 217 (2) (c) of the 1999 Constitution, which empowers the Army to suppress any insurrection, and based on observed short comings especially negligence and outright ignorance by troops deployed for Operation MESA and other Internal Security (IS) operations, necessitated the need to remind Nigerians about the ROE and Code of Conduct.
Edet added that the ROE and Code of Conduct set out the circumstances and limitations under which force may be applied to achieve military objectives.
Quoting the ROE in part,the Army chief said, “The use of lethal force shall only be resorted to if other means to control the situation have failed or in case of unexpected attack or suspected Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack during which a delay could lead to loss of life or serious injury to personnel.
‘’The decision to open fire shall be made only on orders and under the control of on-scene commander, unless there is insufficient time to obtain such order. Fire may be opened to forcefully stop any vehicle that fails to stop at a check point or road block when ordered to stop for search’’.
Polifce remove Kanu’s portraits, Biafra emblems
Last week, the police in Aba, Abia State removed Biafra emblems and portraits of Kanu, mounted on billboards and high-rise structures in the city. The operation, led by the Aba Area Commander, ACP Peter Wagbara, saw policemen climbing the structures to take down the Biafra flags and emblems.
But a top member of IPOB, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the condition of anonymity, said they were not intimidated by the threat from the Nigerian Army.
According to him, IPOB is a non-violent organization campaigning for the release of its leader and the actualization of an independent of Biafra. “Nobody can stop us because we are fighting for freedom. It is our right to protest and we will continue to do that until we achieve our objectives”, he said definitely.
He added that IPOB was determined to liberate Ndigbo from what he described as the Nigerian government bondage. “Ndigbo is in bondage in Nigeria; we want a country of our own. Struggle is part of life. All over the world, struggle for freedom has never been easy. We have been steadfast and will achieve it soon. I want to assure Ndigbo that we will never allow anybody to distract us.”
Also reacting to the Army’s warning, MASSOB’s Assistant National Director of Information, Sunny Okereafor, said the group will not be cowed in its bid to liberate Igbo land. “I want to place it on record that MASSOB is a product of over 40 years of wicked marginalization of Ndigbo in the Nigerian federation”, Okereafor said.
“MASSOB means reaction against injustice being perpetrated against Ndigbo in Nigeria. We are agitating for Biafra. You can remember that since MASSOB was founded, many groups fighting for Biafra have gone under, but MASSOB keeps going, growing from strength to strength. It is clear that what distinguishes MASSOB from the other groups is its non-violent approach to the realization of its set objectives. No MASSOB member is a criminal, we don’t bear arms. So, why should we be afraid of security agents? We have been going about our protests in a non-violent way which has been our strategy. There is no going back; it is a struggle for freedom. MASSOB cannot be deterred.”
The MASSOB spokesman called on the Army to direct its strength to fighting Boko Haram terrorists who have killed and maimed millions of people, than engaging pro- Biafra agitators who have been non-violent in their protests.
Separately, a factional National Director of Information of MASSOB, Mr. Uche Madu, took President Muhammadu Buhari up on his statement that Nigeria’s unity could not be compromised. Madu said: “Buhari’s statement that Nigeria is indivisible is diplomatic hypocrisy. President Buhari voted for and supported Islamic Palestine’s independence against Jewish state of Israel. It has dawned on him that he is presiding over a divided Nigeria.
“The major parasites that have eaten up and collapsed Nigeria to nothingness are ethnic, religious and tribal pathological hatred/sentiment against some nationalities in the country. The political and regional imbalances against Ndigbo, lack of Federal Government’s presence in the eastern region, except the prison yard, corrupt police/military personnel from Hausa Fulani whose pathological hatred against Ndigbo has no bound, are the factors that fuel Biafra consciousness.
“Nigeria Army should know that a government that tries to suppress or is suppressing peaceful and non-violent dissent or clamour for change is not showing strength but weakness and fear. Nothing will stop the peaceful agitation for Biafra”.
Imo: Peaceful protest amid call for modification of strategy
In the meantime, reports said government and economic activities in Owerri, Imo State capital, ground to a halt for two straight days, following the peaceful procession of thousands of pro-Buafra agitators in the municipality. The protest peaked last weekend. The protesters, acting under the aegis of MASSOB and IPOB, started the four-kilometer protest march from Naze Roundabout in Owerri North local government area
Sunday Vanguard gathered that most of the protesters came in hired vehicles from the neighbouring states of Abia, Rivers, Anambra, Akwa Ibom, Ebonyi and Enugu. The crowd was unprecedented.
The long but slow march into Owerri municipality engineered traffic gridlock along the ever busy Owerri-Aba federal highway, while security operatives kept a close watch as they processed into town.
The pro-Biafra groups, spotting uniforms and carrying the Biafran flag and other branded insignia, chanted songs and danced to the rhythm of their music.
Expectedly, some traders who were not too sure of the intentions of the protesters, quickly closed shop and scampered into safety, while some others stood their ground and hoped that the protest would end peacefully.
A trader, who simply identified himself as Ikechukwu and spoke on strict grounds of anonymity from his Douglas Road store, wondered why the group have suddenly decided to disrupt the peaceful business climate in Owerri.
“Owerri has been very peaceful since the current protest started sweeping across the South- East and South-South states. Although they have been very peaceful about the protest, my fear is that hoodlums may hijack it and cause unimaginable harm in the society”, Ikechukwu said.
Although he appealed to the government to find a way of assuaging the feelings of the demonstrators, Ikechukwu pointed out that “the military training and instinct in President Muhammadu Buhari, may scuttle this plea.
Some other demonstrators told Sunday Vanguard that the protest was part of their urging of the Federal Government to unconditionally release their colleague and Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, as well as conduct a referendum on the quest for an independent Biafra.
They faulted the Federal Government and it’s security agents for arresting, detaining and prosecuting Kanu for his belief and support for an independent Biafra.
The protesters were equally unhappy about the way Governor Rochas Okorocha had been castigating the group for seeking self determination.
“It is sad that Governor Okorocha takes delight in giving us varying derogatory names. He has deliberately decided to ignore the plight of Ndigbo in Nigeria. If Okorocha is anti- Biafra, he should peacefully leave this place for those of us that want Biafra”, Mazi Ekene C. Uko fumed.
While saying that they were not really shocked at Okoroch’s utterances, Mazi Uko also said that they did not expect anything less, but quickly added that the groups moved the peaceful protest to Owerri, to prove to Governor Okorocha that “he can have his say but cannot sustain any fight against the wish of the majority of Ndigbo.
Uko explained that the groups had carried out the demonstration in Enugu, Aba and Port Harcourt, stressing that they were in Owerri in continuation of the crusade for a free Biafra.
“We will hopefully extend this exercise to other towns within the Biafran territory, until we achieve our dreams”, Uko said.
For Comrade Uche Mefor, IPOB Deputy Director, “the Nigerian government made the greatest mistake of the century by the arrest of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra and Director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu”.
Continuing, Mefor also said that Nigeria equally goofed when it erroneously that with the arrest and detention of Kanu, the quest for a free Biafra would end.
“General Muhammadu Buhari may have been I’ll-advised to the effect that arresting and unlawfully detaining Nnamdi Kanu, will quench the fire for a free Biafra, which is currently raging across the world”, Mefor said.
In a piece titled “Biafra: Time to change strategies”, the Imo State Publicity Secretary of All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Dr. George Nkworji, reasoned that the renewed agitation through mass protests should be viewed with trepidation because it is a warped step, an uphill task no matter how peaceful.
“These fears are derived from the penchant of Ngerian authorities in dealing cruelly with complaints from Ndigbo. Having fought a war for the actualization of Biafra and lost at the cost of millions of precious lives, it is high time to modify the strategy”, Nkworji said.
While insisting that “what Ndigbo needs in today’s Nigeria is an insistence, like the Yorubas, for the operation of a true federalism, which will allow us, as Biafrans, to live and develop at our own pace”, Nkworji also reasoned that “the issue at stake in Nigeria currently had to do with the oppression of other ethnic nationalities by the ruling Hausa-Fulanis, hiding under the cover of a federal government”.
Nkworji also reasoned that it might be most appropriate to look back at the background of Nigeria’s independence, the distortion of Nigeria’s political structures by military rules and ow Nigeria has been operating a distorted federalism to the exclusive advantage of the North.
All the respondents, who are loyalists of MASSOB and IPOB, said that they are not afraid of the threat issued recently by the Federal Government and authorities of the Nigerian Army.
They were unanimous in their belief that government had killed so many unarmed loyalists of MASSOB and IPOB in the past, adding that the groups would remain the peaceful, unarmed pressure group that had been in the past. Although they vowed to sustain the pressure until they achieve their heart’s desire, they did not however, disclose what their next line of action would be after the current protest marches.
“We will continue our current protest march across the land, but I cannot tell you what we will after now. It is no use disclosing all our strategies on the pages of the newspapers. This does not a sound operational tactic for anybody or group engaged in a struggle for survival. Nobody exposes his plans to his enemies”, Ukoha said.
Some of the security personnel drafted to watch over the protesters were on high alert, while others were busy taking pictures with their mobile phones, as the agitators processed peacefully into Owerri.
It was also not clear a press time if any of the protesters was arrested at the end of the day as all efforts to reach the mobile line of Imo State Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Mr. Andrew Enwerem, failed.