Leadership Confidential is a forthnightly confidential newsletter on Nigeria targetted at policy and decision makers in politics, business and statecraft around the world.
Volume 1 Number 24; July 26, 2004

 

THREAT ASSESSMENT

Biafra: The sun rises again?
What comes after six could be much more than seven

General Yakubu Gowon, the Nigerian leader who defeated and crushed Biafra, declared on January 15, 1970, “the so-called rising sun of Biafra is set forever”. But events since May 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo assumed office show that the Biafran snake had only been bruised, severly injured probably but far from being decapitated.
A melange of bad leadership, perceived injustice and marginalisation and the death of democracy has conspired to give some life to the Biafran agitation. But will the Biafran sun rise again?
Soon after the return of democracy in 1999, a ragtag group of people under the name of Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) announced that it had embarked on a non-violent exercise to re-enact the aborted secession of Biafra out of Nigeria. The self-acclaimed head of the group was the hitherto unknown Ralph Uwazuruike, an Indian-trained lawyer with no previous activism record. At first, his message which was that the Igbo nation had not fared any better since they were forcibly reunited with Nigeria following a bitter 30-month civil war, and should therefore return to Biafra – appeared unserious and incoherent, especially as the Igbos were participating fully in the new democratic experiment. The Nigerian government took only casual notice.
Before the emergence of MASSOB, the Oodu’a Peoples Congress (OPC) that espoused the same hope of pulling the Yoruba nation out of Nigeria into an Oduduwa Republic had emerged. As a result of what they called injustices some Yoruba had felt were being meted out to them under the various military governments, reaching a climax with the annulment of the presidential election won by MKO Abiola on June 12 1993, some Yoruba activists under the direction of Dr. Frederick Fasheun formed the OPC to achieve the goal of actualising the sovereign state of Oduduwa Republic. The OPC was to later fractionalise, giving rise to a more violent faction led by an illiterate carpenter, Ganiyu Adams. MASSOB equally claims to be non-violent – as it indeed originally was – in the hue of Fasheun’s OPC. However, investigations indicate that MASSOB can no longer sustain that claim, especially as it has started to arm itself after claiming incessant harassment by the police. Furthermore, to ensure what its leaders and promoters outside the shores of Nigeria say is the safety of its members in the hands of Nigerian authorities, MASSOB has signed operational agreements with other organisations which have never hidden their proclivity for violence to achieve their goals. These groups are mostly based in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria – a region that forms the integral part of the hoped-for new state of Biafra. The map of the new Biafra is displayed on the Internet and widely circulated by vendors everywhere in Nigeria, MASSOB claims that the area covered by the new republic is all the five core Igbo states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. Then, there are Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers as well as the Igbo speaking local government areas of Delta State. In MASSOB’s eye, Biafra is much more than an Igbo aspiration.
With the claims of deliberate marginalisation by the former Eastern Nigerians by the Obasanjo administration, the MASSOB message has begun to resonate with the people, especially amongst the traders, young unemployed youths and students in Igboland and also among Igbos in the other cities in the country, notably Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano and many other cities across the land. The government noticed the permeating influence of the group and commenced a belated clampdown, which involved the killing of its members at its headquarters at Okigwe (Imo State) in February 2001 and Onitsha the following month. MASSOB claims that hundreds of its leaders and members are languishing in police cells across the country. MASSOB complains of Obasanjo’s double standard in tacitly accepting the OPC while ruthlessly dealing with its own organisation. It was previously fashionable for the Igbo political elite to castigate MASSOB and the moves for the actualisation of Biafra in public, but with the passage of time, our sources tell us that “these days most Igbo families make it a duty to educate their children on Biafra, and some even make their children learn and memorise the Biafran anthem, downloaded from the more than 34 active Biafran websites on the Internet”. There are more than 160 other websites maintained by individuals and groups that espouse the Biafra principles. In effect, this means that the Biafra movement is waged more on the international arena than on the local scene in Nigeria.
According to the same source, the poorly produced Biafra actualisation literature, which used to be distributed clandestinely, has become one of the fastest selling commodities on the newsstands in the South East. MASSOB is said to have cells of hundreds of students in all the institutions of higher learning in Eastern Nigeria. We also hear that the market for short-wave radio sets has become enormous as the millions of Eastern Nigerians across Nigeria and the continent secure the instrument to listen to the weekly broadcast of the Voice of Biafra International (VOBI) that comes live every Saturday night from 10 pm Nigerian time. Families all over the country gather around their radio sets at that time for the regular ritual. We noted that Igbo supporters of the Biafra resurgence are happy that the elite from the other parts of the country do not take the Biafra issue seriously. It serves their purpose.
Since the massive rigging of the 2003 elections in the country, the Biafra movement has assumed a new vigour, principally because the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which had been emotionally adopted as the party of Igbo people was humiliated by Obasanjo’s government and party. The people claim that they did not vote for Obasanjo for the presidency. Most Igbos, who, in any case voted massively for APGA candidates, regard the rigging-out of the party as the waging of another Biafran war, programmed to humiliate the Igbo people. So, since April 2003, MASSOB seamlessly transmuted into a liberation army, supported with overt financial and logistic contributions from traders and other segments of the Igbo community. When the Obasanjo government recently conspired to withdraw police protection from Governor Chris Ngige, it was MASSOB that deployed “Biafran soldiers” to protect the state governors. MASSOB does not particularly accept Ngige, but it had to protect one of its own from the onslaught of the “enemy”.
MASSOB used to be scorned (at least in the open) by Igbo governors and other political bigwigs, most notably Governor Achike Udenwa of Imo State in whose state the organisation’s headquarters, Okigwe, is located. During his first tenure, Udenwa called the bluff of the MASSOB. However, he has realised the growing influence of the group. Our sources reveal that a couple of months ago, Udenwa invited the MASSOB leadership to a meeting with key Ohanaeze leaders as witnesses to work out a way forward. At the meeting, Udenwa denied ever being against MASSOB or its goals, but counselled a change of tactics by the group. We also hear that MASSOB is now allied with and funded by the US-based Biafra Liberation Movement (BLM), formed in 2003, not only to lay the foundation for armed combat if the need arises, but also to defend the Igbo from attacks in other parts of Nigeria, especially from the OPC and Northern cities. Udenwa fears that BLM could spell doom for him if his perceived hostility to MASSOB and Biafra persists. In a sense, he also wanted to be politically correct.
At the meeting, Udenwa pointed out that the OPC had the same goals as MASSOB and in fact, indulges in open violent acts. But, according to him, nobody could touch them because their name gives an impression of a legal ethnic platform. He even pointed out that whenever OPC got into trouble, scores of Yoruba lawyers rally to its aid and when Ganiyu Adams wedded recently, the five Southwest governors attended and gave him a car each. Recently also, Ganiyu Adams, who is regarded by many countries as a terrorist both in Nigeria and overseas, was appointed to a peace committee by President Obasanjo where he sat with the likes of Shehu Malami and respected traditional rulers. He however reasoned that the same could not happen relative to MASSOB, as its adoption of the title of ‘sovereign’ and ‘Biafra’ renders it illegal, subversive and treasonable ab initio. Udenwa who was speaking in his capacity as the chairman of the South East governors forum then suggested to MASSOB to change its name to something less ‘offensive’, as that could open the floodgate to massive material, political and logistic support from every Igbo person in and out of Nigeria.
MASSOB leader, Uwazuruike, was said to have told him to go to hell, as he had no legitimacy to speak on behalf of ‘the Biafran people’, according to him, having rigged himself back to office in an election won by APGA. According to MASSOB, power belongs to the people and not Udenwa and his fellow Igbo governors who were rejected at the polls by the Igbo voters in April 2003. He told him that the Biafra movement did not lack funds, which he said were being made available from all across the world. “We have passed the stage of begging for anybody’s favour or understanding, because the only thing that would delay its actualisation is when Obasanjo kills every Biafran in this country today”, the MASSOB leader told the governor.
As a bait to get the minority element of the South South to join, Leadership Confidential also learnt that during one of the recent brainstorming sessions in the Netherlands, it was agreed that Igbos would never be allowed to monopolise power in the ‘new republic’, as a formula was being worked out to ensure that for the first 30 years only people from the ‘minority provinces of the Niger Delta’ would produce the president’. It was agreed that the first Igbo speaking president would come from the current Delta state area. Moreover, it was agreed that every part of the ‘new republic’ would control its resources and only pay tax to the centre. Again the new sovereign Biafran state was going to be built on the emotive foundation of religion, because according to our source, the area covered by the movement is 99.9 percent Christian, which further revealed that the new Biafra could be called ‘the Christian Republic of Biafra (CRB)’. This also might be a lure to receive Western support and sympathy. It then recalled that the Ahiara Declaration, which was the ideological document of the failed Biafra, stated unequivocally that the area covered by Biafra is the only area in Africa that is ‘free from Islamic contagion’. This failed in the 1960s as only France fell for the religion trap. There is little evidence that it will be different this time.
On the international scene the activities of the promoters of the new Biafran dream are even more daring. Apart from opening and operating the Voice of Biafra International radio in the United States, Biafra House has been opened in Washington DC. Over 300 people are working full time on the Biafra project abroad, while a wide network of over 100 experts in different fields, including reverend fathers and pastors, as well as such well known names as Philip Emeagwali (one of the world’s smartest scientists) are claimed to be involved in the massive information, mobilisation and diplomatic efforts currently going on worldwide for the actualisation of the Biafra dream. The diplomatic initiatives of the groups, which have been making the case for Biafra seem to have started getting attention, in spite of the great job Professor Jibril Aminu was said to have put in to dissuade those efforts, while serving as the Nigerian ambassador to the United States. It is difficult to predict the direction that Dr. George Obiozor, the new ambassador to the United States, who is Igbo, will go.
It was claimed that in April this year a powerful ‘new Biafra’ delegation, led by Uche Okwukwu (regarded as the arrowhead of the operations abroad) presented its case at the 60th session of the United Nations Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland. The initiative was followed by massive mobilisation efforts across European cities. The American/Canada group was said to be consulting with their counterparts in Europe over the proposal for the declaration of a government in exile, proposed for later in 2004. A certain Dr. Ahamefula Nnorom (a US-based Catholic priest who is said to be an expert in liberation theology) might, according to Biafra Foundation sources, lead the government in exile, to be assisted by a Rivers State born engineer, also based in the United States.
It is still not clear where the government in exile will be based. The Nigerian intelligence community appear to be napping in the face of such a serious threat to national security. Our source in one of the Nigerian intelligence arms dismissed the entire scheme saying, “to keep Nigeria one is a task that has been done”. But the difference between the 1960s agitation and the current one is that it is now much easier to procure arms. There are more arms currently in circulation outside the official armouries than in government hands. Any secessionist will get whatever arms he or she wants in the black market within Nigeria. No foreign exchange required.


 
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