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Saturday 1 August 2015

Radio Biafra vs. Nigeria: the battle of wits

“First they ignore you; then they laugh at you; then they fight you; and then you win” – Mahatma Gandhi

The above statement captures the mood of Biafrans at the moment as they appear to be winning the war being waged against them by the Nigerian state. To many Biafrans it was becoming evident that Nigerian government was working extra hours to have their radio station, Radio Biafra, grounded.
On Wednesday, July 15, the Permanent Secretary of Nigeria’s Ministry of Information, Shade Yemi-Esan, was reported to have told journalists that Nigerian authorities had successfully jammed Radio Biafra (RBL), to keep its signals from getting to the people. Her declaration was somewhat a follow up to what was initiated by Nigeria Broadcast Commission (NBC) some few days back.
In an earlier statement from the NBC, it branded RBL as an “illegal” and “pirate” radio station; and an instrument of disunity. The commission’s Director of Public Relations, Awalu Salihu, had declared it in an interview where he claimed that Radio Biafra was “designed to create disunity among Nigerians and mislead young people in a deliberate act of subversion.” He went on to insist that RBL was out to foment trouble, arguing that Nigerians did not need another round of heartache and bloodshed.
So, as Yemi-Esan made her declaration, she revealed that the government’s next line of action, which she said would be to commence arrest of operators of the station and its supporters. In her words: “The commission is also working with security agencies to get those that are behind that radio because it is an illegal radio. It is not licensed by anybody to be on the airwaves in Nigeria.”
She made the statement while speaking with journalists at Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, after members of her ministry concluded a meeting with Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president.
The news was a hit for many, both for people of Biafran and Nigerian peoples. Among Nigerians, they were extremely happy with the development. But for Biafrans (especially those in Biafraland), it elicited sadness for many.  There were justifications and castigations on both sides for the actions of the other side. For Nigerians and a sprinkle of Biafrans, it was a good development; and their reason was loudly espoused. They insisted that RBL was preaching hate and violence rather than peace, unity and one-Nigeria.
On their part, Biafrans saw the station as the best thing that has happened to the people of Biafra since the end of Biafra/Nigeria war. They said the station was telling the truth without minding whose ox was gored, and that it was doing it unlike any other medium in Nigeria. They described Nigeria as an expired territory (which has completed 100 years of its existence), which must be dissolved to its natural parts. Many Biafrans abroad felt the same way. Being used to receiving the radio signals through cable network, they felt the Nigerian state had once again trampled on their rights, and this time, by wickedly tampering with the radio station they loved to listen to.
The Biafrans argued that for the first time, they had a voice that told their story and gave their perspective on issues to the world. They saw Radio Biafra as good because it exposed the huge exploitative tendencies of Nigeria and Nigerians over Biafraland and Biafrans. They also saw it as a definitive departure from the lies and the deceits of the past as promoted by Nigerian governments. In every part of Biafraland, people were seen clustered and glued to their transistor radio sets not wanting to miss any detail from what was being said in what had become additive listening.
In addition, the educated ones among the Biafrans argued that any plan to arrest and detain the operators of RBL would be an illegal action by the Nigeria state. Some even prayed that Nigerian authorities would go that far, so that they would use the opportunity to prove to the world that Nigeria was a terrorist state (See box). They said they loved the unique style of the radio which gained it popularity.

What took place?

What took place few hours before June 15 was that Nigerian government, through some of its faceless agents, bought over the satellite company, Satlink, which was in contract with RBL to carry its signals to listeners. Having succeeded, they went on to yank off the signals. The Nigerian government equally bought powerful transmitters with which it attempted to jam the straight-to-air FM transmission of the station in Biafraland.
Few days later, all the FM signals of the radio were off air in Biafraland with the exception of Aba, in Abia State; Warri, in Delta State; and occasionally Onitsha, in Anambra State. The people were disillusionment and anguish was seen on many faces across Biafraland. The people feared that Nigeria had succeeded with its threats. The station was still broadcasting online but was on and off in some of its platforms.
Few hours after Yemi-Esan’s declaration, some Nigerian newspapers announced that an RBL engineer had been arrested who was helping the security officials to identify other prominent members of the group for further arrests. But Radio Biafra refuted the news, claiming that Nigerian officials were lying. Few days later, Nigerian Police claimed ignorance of any such arrest.

Before the “Jamming” episode

Before news of the jamming, many Nigerians and their officials (known to be monumentally corrupt) have been agonising over the content of the broadcasts. They were also not comfortable with the unique presentation of the radio, which pick up news items and tried to look at the hidden meanings to them. Indeed, many of them had on occasions expressed the desire to have the station grounded by any means possible.
The Biafra Times learnt that it was in response to them that the Nigerian government commenced search for ways to ground the station. It was therefore not a surprise to many people when Salihu granted his interview assuring Nigerians that their government was doing all within its powers to stop the station, which he dubiously branded “illegal” and “pirate”.
Perhaps as a veil and attempt to introduce the element of surprise for the Biafran Radio operators, he also told the people that it was not possible to stop the radio station.

Biafrans react

Indigenous Peoiple of Biafra (IPOB), owners of Radio Biafra, stood firm on their chosen part, insisting that Nigeria was an expired territory. With this understanding they engaged Nigerians in the media war that ensued and have continued to rage in several other quarters.
IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is also the Director of Radio Biafra, taunted the Nigerian authorities as incorrigible liars. To start with, he countered them by insisting that RBL was neither a pirate radio nor an illegal one.
He informed his listeners that RBL was duly registered in the United Kingdom (UK) as a business concern, and was duly paying its taxes to her Majesty’s government. He informed further that no IPOB and RBL member was hiding, but that their addresses and phone numbers were public knowledge. He wanted to know why Nigeria has not stopped all Hausa services in major international radio stations. He also wanted to know why the new Northern cable television, Arewa 24. He told the Nigerian government which of the international medium like Voice of America (VOA); British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); and several others that Nigeria has jammed their signals because they were not “licensed by anybody to be on the airwaves in Nigeria”.
He said Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), owners of Radio Biafra, was ready to engage Nigeria in any form of media war it wished to provoke. He then boasted that Biafra engineers were set to jam Nigerian government radio signals in retaliation of any attempt to jam Radio Biafra. Kanu equally refuted the news that an engineer of Radio Biafra was arrested. He claimed the intention was to scare Biafrans from identifying with the struggle, but went on to assure them that those engaged in the struggle were hardcore Biafrans who would not be scared by such petty lies and propaganda.
Online, Biafran activists took it from there and began to portray Nigeria as a country of liars. They created Facebook graphics and videos where they made a mockery of Nigeria. One of them specifically stated that “in an empire of lies (Nigeria), truth is treason”.
Anchoring the programme the next day, Kanu, boasted that Nigeria did not have the technology to jam the radio because according to him: “the technology being used by Radio Biafra was light-years ahead of whatever Nigeria could ever muster.”
Kanu assured the people that RBL was taking the bull by the horns by upping its technology to the level where the jamming would no longer have any effects at all. He told his listeners that IPOB and RBL has always been winners and would also overcome the new Nigerian threat within days. “Let them try; they will always try. But we will always win. In the end we win – we always win” he declared.
He informed Nigeria that Satlink would be taken to court for breach of contract.

Previous attacks on RBL

It is instructive to note that what happened on July 25 was not the first time RBL have suffered persecution and attacks believed to be commissioned by the Nigerian government. After it first started broadcast on shortwave in 2009, the Nigerian government struck by using a certain Ralph Uwazuruike to sabotage the funding of the station, forcing it to go bankrupt.
Then the Board of Directors chose to restart by taking their attention to the Internet broadcasting. Broadcasting on the Internet, several cyber-attacks were directed at its website and listening portals. The attacks came from such countries as Germany, Netherlands, Brazil, and several others. Again, the attacks were believed to be sponsored by the Nigerian government.
It was based on this that IPOB/RBL informed Biafrans all over the world to continue to remain resolute. They promised that just as they overcame past plots, conspiracies and attacks; they will also overcome anything Nigeria will throw their way.

Nigeria, sad over failed mission

Right now, information gathered from some quarters show that Nigerian authorities are not happy because they failed woefully in their latest plots. They believed that rather than stop the station, they only succeeded in pushing it to trend above world established media houses like the BBC and VOA.
However, new schemes are being concocted. Buhari’s recent visit to Cameroun is seen as one of such plots. Biafrans were convinced that he went to threaten Paul Biya, the Camerounian head of state, to desist from supporting Biafra. They also claimed of plans to have Kanu killed, either through poisoning, sniper-shot, or even arranged road accident.

Facts about Radio Biafra:

They quote the Nigerian so-called constitution of 1999; the fundamental human rights of freedom, association and free speech; as well as the right of indigenous peoples enacted by the United Nations Organisation in 2006, as veritable laws that support them. 

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