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The Biafra Crackdown
- TheNews(admin posting)
(Sunday, February 13, 2005)
The Federal Government rolls out its arsenal in a renewed clampdown on Biafra agitators Uba Aham Clement Egbuche, Chairman of Vendors Association in Enugu, reported for work on 20 January at his 4 Obiagu Road, Enugu office, unaware that trouble lurked in the corner. Egbuche had hardly settled down for the day’s work when men of the State Security Services, SSS, in a commando-like manner, stormed his office, and handcuffed him. The thoroughly harassed Egbuche was later, alongside two of his members, Chidinma Nnamani and Tony Amechi, whisked to the Enugu office of the SSS where they were interrogated and later released. Angela, Egbuche’s employee, who wanted to find out the offence of his boss, escaped arrest but received slaps on her cheeks. To secure their release, the trio were compelled to enter into a bond not to distribute or sell pro-Biafra publications again.
The offence of Egbuche and his two colleagues was that they were selling a newspaper which published stories on the emergence of a new Biafra. That was the day the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, planned to declare independence for the Republic of Biafra. The SSS, in effect, sent out its operatives to halt the planned event anywhere it held, and clamp down on the Biafra agitators. Egbuche, Chidinma and Tony were victims of the clamp-down mission in Enugu state. The SSS claimed that the vendors were arrested because the publication they were selling was subversive and capable of leading to the break-up of the country.
In fact, the security operatives went berserk in Igboland on that day. In Imo State alone, they reportedly arrested over 113 MASSOB members. Also, amongst those arrested were newspaper vendors who had the publications they were selling confiscated. Recently, the operatives were reported to have similarly arrested over 89 MASSOB members in a raid during a meeting of the organization in Okwe, Onuimo council area of the State. The clamp-down, equally, reportedly led to the arrest and detention of 25 activists in Abia State; 17 in Ebonyi and 32 in Anambra. The planned Biafra independence declaration and hoisting of Biafra flags by the MASSOB unsettled the nation’s security agencies, a situation which led to the harassment. Last week in Owerri, reprieve came the way of some of the detainees as 23 of them were granted bail by a magistrate court presided over by Mrs. Dorothy C. Denwigwe.
The security alert on the activities of Biafra agitators began last year following the success of the sit-at-home directive on Ndigbo by MASSOB. Total compliance to that directive had paralyzed business activities in Igboland and other major cities of the country where Ndigbo reside. The Olusegun Obasanjo government would, therefore, not condone a recurrence of the civil disobedience which it considers a threat to the oneness of Nigeria. Consequently, on 20 January when MASSOB was to declare the Republic of Biafra, a joint team of the SSS and the police, beefed up security nation-wide with a view to aborting the programme. The security beef-up in Imo State, however, assumed an unusual dimension. That was because the state is the headquarterers of MASSOB, where it carries out its programmes and policies. Moreover, the leader of the organization, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, is from the Okwe community in the state which, also, serves as the national headquarters of MASSOB. The combined team of fully armed SSS and the police patrolled the streets of Owerri, the state capital, in search of the Biafra agitators. It was like a scene in the Gulf war. Security men paraded the streets, chanting war songs, and threatening to deal decisively with any attempt to declare Biafra by any group.
Uchenna Madu, MASSOB Director of Information, in an interview, said that members of the organization arrested in the on-going clamp-down were being dehumanized and detained in unknown destinations. Madu expressed fears that some of those arrested would have been tortured to death. MASSOB, this magazine gathered, is poised to bring Obasanjo government to its knees this year if the on slaught against its members continues. The organization which has attained the fifth out of its 25- point programme, amongst other things, intends to accomplish the task of mobilizing all the Easterners this year towards the Biafra project. It added that it would work towards the fortification of its branches in the country, especially, in Igboland for the great battle ahead.
By last week, both the SSS and the police cells were swarming with MASSOB members arrested in the 20 January joint operation. Alex Amaechina, the Imo State Director of the SSS who lamented the continued hoisting of Biafra flags in parts of the state by the activists stated that those arrested by his agency would soon be charged to court for treason. Similarly, the state Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Chike Nwabuwa, said the clamp-down on the MASSOB members by the command would continue until the organization put its activities in the state to a stop. MASSOB, however, appears undeterred. “It is Biafra or nothing. There is no going back”, Madu, the spokesman of the organization, vows. Last week, the major pre-occupation of security agencies involved the dismantling of the already flying Biafra flags in many areas of the proposed Biafra territory. Okosisi Ijoma, one of the leaders of MASSOB in Ebonyi State, however, told TheNEWS that the organization had begun to replace the dismantled flags. Many of the Biafra flags are still spotted in strategic areas considered Biafra territory by the agitators.
To demonstrate its determination over Biafra actualization, MASSOB tags the year 2005 as ‘the year of Biafra action’. In a ‘2005 Message for Biafrans” that it posted on its website, the organization states: “ We continue the process and struggle for the actualization of Biafra … Biafra is the only thing that keeps the hope of our people alive … However long it takes, whatever it takes, we shall stay the course until the Biafra flag is raised and flies among those of other sovereign independent nations in the United Nations headquarters”. Besides the historic stay-at-home order of 26 August last year, the antecedents of MASSOB are more than enough to rattle the Obasanjo government. The organization effectively networks with similar groups which are mainly based overseas: the Biafra Foundation; Biafra Actualisation Forum; Biafran Freedom Movement; UK Connection and Ekwenche, amongst others. Also, the organization, in league with other pro-Biafra organizations, has over 20 internet sites through which it interacts with its teaming members and supporters all over the world. Two years back, MASSOB commissioned the Biafra Freedom House in Washing DC, a building which serves as a link between the proposed Biafra and the rest of the world. Perhaps, the greatest feat of MASSOB is the globalisation of the Biafra project. The organization successfully held an ‘International Conference on Biafra’ on 18 October, 2003 in Green Belt, Maryland, US where it threatened to form a Biafran Government In Exile if the Nigerian government failed to hold a sovereign national conference in six months. The Obasanjo government ignored the threat, and six months after, on 17 April last year, the Voice of Biafra International (VOB) which broadcasts two days a week on 41 meter band short wave was founded.
With the existence of the Biafra map, currency, anthem, coat of arms, soldiers and police, amongst others, MASSOB claims to have gone half-way in the formation of Biafran Government In Exile. The harassment, arrest and detention of the Biafran crusaders has, however, not been restricted to MASSOB members alone. The organisation’s supporters also suffered similar fate. Uche Onyeaguocha, a member of the National Assembly and erstwhile counsel to MASSOB, was, on 13 January, quizzed for over six hours by the SSS in Abuja over his relationship with the organization amongst other things. Onyeaguocha’s problems started when he had an argument with an SSS official at a forum organized by journalists in Imo State. The SSS official had threatened that the agency would arrest and detain any traditional ruler in the state in whose domain a Biafran flag is hoisted. But Onyeaguocha who represents Owerri Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives, took exceptions to the threat, describing such an arrest as illegal. The law maker also argued that there is nothing criminal or illegal about flying or hoisting of the Biafra-flag in any area. He maintained further that MASSOB’s activities have been within the ambit of the law. For his pro-Biafra dispositions, Onyeaguocha had to be detained for some hours by the SSS.
The Ikemba Nnewi and the war-lord of the old Biafra, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, also, received a controversial invitation from the same security agency over a similar support for the Biafra cause. Ojukwu who, alongside Uwazurike, opened the Washington DC Biafran House in 2001, had to drag the agency to court over its plan to arrest him. The case is, however, still pending in court.
The high point in the on-slaught on Biafra activists is the on-going legal battle between the MASSOB leader, Uwazurike, and the SSS. Uwazurike, on 11January, dragged the agency and four others to an Owerri Federal High Court over the 15 October invasion of MASSOB’s headquarters in Okwe, his home town, as well as seizure of his property. He sought leave of the court to, amongst other things, enforce his fundamental human rights. The court, subsequently, restrained the SSS and the police from arresting, harassing or intimidating Uwazurike and other MASSOB leaders, pending the determination of the substantive suit. Hearing on the matter commences on 1 February, and Uwazurike is expected to appear in person in court. But, will he appear in court amidst the manhunt on him by security agencies? Members of the organization, however, express fears over Uwazurike’s safety if he appears in court on 1 February.
The fear is, perhaps, heightened by the defiance of court orders pertaining to MASSOB members by security agencies in the country. For instance, a court in September last year, ordered the police to release 58 members arrested while participating in a MASSOB programme tagged, “Biafran Clean-up Exercise” in various parts of the east. They were detained in Abuja. But the police ignored the order, and continued to detain the activists. “So, who is sure that the security agencies will this time around comply with the court order not to arrest Uwazurike?” a MASSOB sympathiser wondered. In fact, many members of MASSOB suspect on-going plans to either arrest or kill Uwazurike at this stage of the Biafra agitation. To this effect, a group of women which called itself Women Wing of MASSOB, led by Mrs. Patricia Okwareke, MASSOB Director of Women Affairs, has raised an alarm that plans had been mapped out to murder the MASSOB leader. The women who rose from a national congress in Onitsha, Anambra state, called on the international community for intervention. The women, also, resolved to “continue with the agitation for the independent state of Biafra.” They lamented that over 2,000 MASSOB members are languishing in cells and prisons nation-wide.
The 20 January raid on MASSOB across the eastern states was a re-enactment of the many violent encounters between the various arms of law enforcement agencies and the self-determination group. Since early 2000 when the demand for the sovereign state of Biafra took a violent dimension five days to the 27 May 2000 declaration, a good number volunteers and supporters lost their lives despite Uwazuruike’s earlier promise of a voilent free agitation. In his pre-declaration speech, the founder of MASSOB had assured that no life would be lost. According to him, “by this process, no single life is expected to be lost in the realisation of our new Biafra State. This method has worked in various countries, including India. The process admits of negotiations, dialogue and consultation. It also admits of non-cooperation and passive resistance to oppressive and obnoxious laws of the government authorities. Having hoisted the flag of our new Biafra today, we wish to declare our resolve to demand and pursue the realisation of our sovereignty from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We therefore call on the Federal Republic of Nigeria to open up negotiation with MASSOB without any further delay for the realisation of the sovereignty of the new Biafran State.”
Nearly five years after, the federal government is yet to take seriously any of the points raised by MASSOB. In fact, Uwazuruike and his band of supporters are even considered renegades by the federal government and the authorities have demonstrated that at every occasion. Since March 2000 when the MASSOB leader was first sacked from his residence in Lagos, he has not known peace. Uwazuruike has been arrested countless times and has also been in and out of detention centres. As a group, MASSOB has also resisted overzealous security agents at different times, losing men and materials. For instance, the organisation suffered human and material losses when it was raided by a detachment of men of the Nigerian police from the Imo State Police Command on 7 February 2001. The attack left no fewer than 15 MASSOB members dead and many seriously wounded.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after the offensive, a survivor and the zonal coordinator of MASSOB in Okwe, Rev. Linus Ineanya recalled the ordeal of his men in the hands of their attackers. “It was heavy shooting. The sporadic gunshots lasted till 10am. Even after Uwazuruike was arrested, the police entered his room and broke all the chairs, tables and household items. They took away about N25,000. Many of us were wounded. Some were arrested while for others, we cannot tell their whereabouts.”
On 4 December 2000, Okwe had also witnessed another orgy of killings when soldiers from the 34 Field Artillery Brigade, Obinze, near Owerri stormed of the movement in search of MASSOB supporters. This time, the soldiers’ grouse was that MASSOB was illegally enforcing the sale of petroleum products in the defunct Biafran States at the official rates. In other parts of Igboland, the frosty relationship between the group and law enforcement agents has remained. The harassment, intimidation and killings have continued despite MASSOB’s claim of non-violence. This continued clash has remained a source of worry to the leadership of MASSOB. On 15 March 2002 at the Federal High Court, Lagos, Uwazuruike told journalists that 63 members had so far lost their lives. According to him, “about 1,000 members of MASSOB are being detained by the police in Eastern States. Those currently being detained were arrested since November 2001. If Nigerian authorities have any offence against them, they should be charged to court. Otherwise, they should be released,” he said.
The MASSOB leader also alledged that his wife, sister and other members of his family had also suffered arrests and detention for a cause that they knew nothing about. Despite the challenge of the new Biafra, Uwazuruike and his group have recorded remarkable achievement in wining new friends and sympathizers outside the Igbo ethnic group. Last year, the President of United Self Determination Groups of Oodua, Mr. Rotimi Obadofin, told TheNEWS that his organization supports the Biafran struggle. “We sympathise with MASSOB. And I think it is a very serious signal. The idea of Biafra should not be swept under the carpet. I can tell you that 99 percent of Yoruba youths also want our autonomy. All the self determination groups in the country have the same position. They want justice and freedom for their people. For these, I think we have something in common though we have not been able to meet or do things together”
Like MASSOB, United Self Determination Groups of Oodua is also insisting on a conference where the future of Nigeria would be discussed. According to Obadofin, “We want Yoruba people to be liberated from Lord Lugard’s amalgamation and we have been saying there was no constitution that produced Nigeria as a nation/state. There was nowhere we sat down and discussed the Nigerian project. There was no constitutional conference. That is why the Nigerian project has been having problems” As MASSOB also has an ally in a group known as the Great Commonwealth of Niger Delta, GCND. The agreement, according to a MASSOB source, stems from their common heritage of many decades of marginalisation and resource exploitation by the Nigerian state. In a statement signed on 8 May 2004 by GCND and MASSOB, the two groups agreed to work together for the good of their people “Having come to terms with glaring realities of unmitigated internal colonization in the present day Nigeria, we must look the bull in the eye, and take our destiny in our hands”
Outside Nigeria, Uwazuruike has recorded some achievements in trying to internationalize MASSOB even though he failed in his bid to secure the Biafran Bill of Rights at the United Nations. At the moment, MASSOB’s self-determination campaign and activities are well known in African countries such as Gabon, Mali, Ghana, Cameroun, Cote ‘d’Ivoire and Congo Democratic Republic where there are large concentrations of Igbo. In Europe and America, there is also a growing consciousness especially among the youth. The Biafran Foundation in the U.S is one of the Biafran groups in the Diaspora that continues to support MASSOB in its foreign activities. In 2000, the foundation played a prominent role during the opening of Biafra House in Washington DC, an event that attracted. Chief Chukwumeka Odumeguni-Ojukwu, Uwazuruike and other Biafran top shots.
However, despite what a good member of Igbos consider a remarkable achievement, Uwazuruike continues to battle opponents from home who see him as a publicity crazy upstart. During MASSOB’s successful stay-at-home order last August, Orji Uzor Kalu, governor of Abia State, like other governors from the East, condemned the action of Uwazuruike and his group. A few days to the sit-at-home order, Kalu had warned MASSOB to ‘refrain from carrying out activities that would portray the South-East geo-political zone as working against the unity and oneness of the country.” In his view, “agitation for the realization of the defunct Biafra Republic is illogical and capable of derailing the demand for Igbo presidency in 2007, and the purported declaration was not only illegal but uncalled for as it lacks constitutional backing.”
Even other Igbo groups like the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, a pan socio-cultural organization of the Igbo and many other cultural groups, continue to condemn the violent activities of the leaders and followers of the self-determination group. Yet, Uwazuruike feels he is on a mission to free the Igbo people. “It does not make sense to belong to a nation that does not recognize your right to live. There is a lot of injustice against the Igbo man in private and public life. Yet we are expected to pretend that all is well” he once said. But will Uwazuruike from his activities so far, achieve the Republic of Biafra dream that collapsed after a 30- month bloody war?
Will the Biafra agitation ever yield positive results? Can the National Confab douse the fire of MASSOB agitation? These are the general questions..
Additional reports by Sylvester Asoya
MASSOB turns Nigerian police into town criers
How MASSOB shut down South-East
Igbo traders close shops for MASSOB
MASSOB Calls for Stay At Home August 26
Biafra: The sun rises again?
Biafra: Police On Red Alert
International Conference on Biafra held
MASSOB a threat to Nigerian security
Police raid MASSOB men in church
Nigeria on verge of war?
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