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Monday 14 March 2016

Biafra: As the agitation festers, time for world leaders to intervene

Roving correspondent THEO RAYS writes that as the pro-Biafra agitations become seemingly unstop­pable, it is high time the world stepped in to protect the interest—and lives—of people fighting for their freedom from oppression, injustice and inequity.

Events so far have shown that contrary to insinuations in some quarters that the MASSOB/IPOB protests will fizzle out as soon as their leaders are ‘settled’ the Nigerian way, the protests do, in fact, appear unstoppable because the agitators have consistently shown that they are after nothing but the creation of the sovereign state of Biafra. Indeed, what seems to be the challenge is no longer the possibility of the authorities using money to entice the agitators out of the Biafra project but how to use the platform of the appropriately named ‘Indigenious Peoples of Biafra’ to get some parts of Niger Delta, Idoma land in Benue State and Igala land in Kogi to join the envisaged Republic of Biafra. In summary, the agitators are targeting the following tribes and lands as enclaves of Biafra: the Igbo, Annang, Effik. Kalabari, Ibibio, Idoma, Igala, Ijaw, Itshekiri, Ogoni, Ikwere and Urhobo. These tribes exist in the Southeast and South South states as well as Benue and Kogi States.

The Igbo, who inhabit the five states of the South East, namely Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, and some parts of Delta, Edo and Rivers State, are the main target of the agitators. Although the pro-Biafra groups command sizable followership in Rivers State in particular (Solomon Chukwu, one of the notable leaders of MASSOB hails from Obia/Akpor Local Council of Rivers State), political leaders in the South South have sporadically distanced themselves from the agitation, pledging instead their allegiance to the Nigeria state. But, it would appear that the groups are more popular in the South South areas than political leaders had hitherto thought possible. For instance, an unprecedented crowd of pro-Biafrans stormed the city of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, during the massive protests that followed the arrest and detention of the leader of IPOB and Director of Radio Biafra, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in October last year.

The truth is that the pro-Biafrans who are strongly rooted all over the place are not just interested in the struggle but are ready to do everything within their powers to see to the birth of the Republic of Biafra. Moving under the slogan “Biafra or nothing, Biafra or death”, it would appear that they have psychologically turned their back on Nigeria and there is no going back.
A frantic move by southeast governors led by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and Ohaneze Ndigbo led by the secretary general Chief Joe Nworgu to address the issues that presumably gave rise to pro-Biafra agitations, have failed to yield any meaningful result. A highlight of the steps by Okorocha and Ohaneze to address the issues that trigger agitations is getting President Muhammed Buhari to attend to the problems of Ndigbo such as bad conditions of federal roads in the South East and conceding more federal appointment to Ndigbo. While Okorocha and Ohaneze are working towards getting Buhari’s attention, IPOB media team in a series of press statements have made it clear the group is not interested in Buhari’s offer (if it is ever made) either to award road contracts or appoint more Igbo people into his cabinet.
Reacting to Okorocha and Ohaneze’s moves in one of its press statements, IPOB accused Ohaneze of working against the interest of Biafra, alleging that “Ohaneze is acting on a script issued by the opposition to Biafra.”

“We are aware of the meeting of Ohaneze leaders at Nike Lake Hotel in Enugu with some representatives of the American Consular General who were sent to review Igbo perception in Nigeria and nothing more; they didn’t go to other regions but Nworgu said they went to other regions,” IPOB noted. “We know what is going on but nothing is enough to appease Ndigbo except the actualization of Biafra. The leader of IPOB didn’t send anybody to negotiate conditions with Buhari; the acceptable condition is his (Kanu”s) freedom and Biafra. It is Biafra or nothing.”

The group added: “The attention of IPOB has been drawn to the ongoing plans by some Igbo leaders to negotiate the release of our leader, appointment of some Igbo into the federal government and award of few road contracts by President Muhamadu Buhari as measures for addressing Igbo marginalization. IPOP wants to unequivocally say that we are not part of that negotiation and nobody should negotiate on our behalf. All we are saying is that Buhari should release our leader Nnamdi Kanu. Our position is clear on the issue of Igbo marginalization: we want Biafra and Buhari, Okorocha and Ohaneze cannot use the so called appointment and road project to suppress the struggle for Biafra.”
Before now, some Igbo leaders, observers and analysts had thought that the marginalization of Ndigbo in federal appointments as well as neglect of federal roads in the South East and lack of enough federal presence generally in Igbo land were the principal triggers of the MASSOB/IPOB protests. But, it has now become obvious that the main reason for the agitation is that pro-Biafrans see Nigeria as a failed state that cannot meet the yearnings of its citizens, especially Ndigbo, for freedom, safety of lives and property, peace and progress. Two is that they appear more comfortable coexisting with people in some parts of Nigeria whose cultures, religious beliefs and worldview are not too different from those of Ndigbo.
Through Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu largely succeeded in convincing IPOB members and supporters that, as people immensely blessed and gifted by God, which he refers to as Chukwu Abiama, Ndigbo cannot continue to coexist in one country with people in the Northern part of Nigeria whose religion, culture and tradition are clearly antagonistic to Ndigbo’s. To Kanu and his followers, one Nigeria is a misnomer and blatant deceit because there is nothing on ground to show that the people are one.

Three, they believe that in Biafra, life would get better for Ndigbo since, according to them, with the blessings of Chukwu Abiama upon them, Ndigbo have all it takes in talents, skills, vision, enterprise and resources to build a powerful country called Biafra that can favorably compete with the developed countries in a short period after gaining independence from Nigeria,
Members of IPOB use the ability of their leader Kanu in establishing Radio Biafra, arguably the most powerful radio station in the world, as evidence of what Ndigbo can do in freedom in their own nation state. People rate the wave and frequency of Radio Biafra as more powerful and higher than those of Voice of America (VoA) Radio and British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) Radio respectively.

IPOB members also trace the ingenuity of Ndigbo in trade and commerce to the endowment of Chukwu Abiama. They believe that with Chukwu Abiama on the side of Biafra as a country, it is going to do well in all facets of human endeavour, including science and technology. They refer to the ability of the people to manufacture powerful weapons of war during the civil war as a proof that Ndigbo would do well as a country.

To them, Nigeria can no longer do Ndigbo any good and so, the best option is to leave. To them, the issue of Ndigbo having huge investments outside Igboland doesn’t matter. In one of his broadcasts on Radio Biafra, Kanu said those huge investments of Ndigbo outside Igboland in places like Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Kaduna, Jos and other cities across Nigeria, are not enough reason for the Biafrans to continue to live like slaves under the leadership of people from other tribes in Nigeria.

It would appear that the pro-Biafrans have gone too far in their psychological disavowal of Nigeria to go back on their words and plans. In fact, many of them have expressed their readiness to die in pursuit of their dream. And many, to be sure, have died already.
If the horrendous travails of Ndigbo during the Civil War when over 3million people died, down to the hundreds of MASSOB members who were killed in Onitsha in 2006 when the government ordered soldiers to shoot them at and the recent death of IPOB members in Onitsha and Aba in the hands of soldiers who brutally murdered unarmed protesters, are anything to go by, then there is no gainsaying that Biafra is deeply rooted in the consciousness of the agitators and they may not easily be convinced otherwise. It may just not be possible to stop the move to actualize Biafra at this point in time when IPOB commands large followers around the world.

The question now is: in the face of the obvious unstoppable progress of the pro-Biafra agitations, what should world leaders do? Would they fold their hands and watch as unarmed people who are merely protesting against oppression, injustice, inequity and prejudice in their own country are so callously killed by soldiers ostensibly fighting to keep Nigeria one? Given the series of protests by pro-Biafrans in virtually all parts of the world, including the Vatican and Brussels, headquarters of the European Union, and the death of protesters in Nigeria, it is expected that world leaders would wade into the Biafran case.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a bid to deceive the world said that those agitating for Biafra are hoodlums and miscreants who are hungry and are looking for money. While Obasanjo is entitled to his eternal mischief, the questions remain: Are those who went to the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels to protest hoodlums and miscreants? Are those who went to the Vatican and were greeted by Pope Francis, hoodlums and miscreants? Of course they are not. And even if they are, are they supposed to be murdered in cold blood by agents of their own government? Should the world ignore their cries and protests simply because Obasanjo labeled them miscreants? If the answers are in the negative as they should be, then, it is expected that world leaders under the aegis of the United Nations should wade into the Biafran matter and address it expeditiously to avoid further bloodshed.

The United Nations as a global watchdog and peace builder should not fold its hands and watch the issue of Biafra generate into further loss of lives. The world is enlightened enough to understand that war is not the best option to fight for freedom. Mahatma Ghandi proved beyond doubt that freedom can be achieved through non-violence. Using Ghandi as a role model, the pro-Biafrans have consistently demonstrated their penchant for non-violence. America and Britain as global freedom fighters should not keep silent on Biafra.
Addressing American Congress in his days as British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blaire stated that America and Britain are not always fighting for Americans or Britons or for Christianity but for freedom of people from oppression globally; that as citizens of the world, people are entitled to freedom of speech and association, freedom to have roof over their heads, to go to school and be educated and freedom to participate in socio, political, economic and religious decisions that affect their lives.

This is a universal principle for which America and Britain stand, irrespective of whether those who are fighting for their freedom are ‘Jews’ or ‘Gentiles. So, let that principle be held dear by the world even as it affects the pro-Biafra agitators. The United Nations, the European Union, the Pope and all other lovers of peace and freedom all over the world must stand up for those who are denied freedom, justice and equity in Nigeria for the simple reason that they are Ndigbo.

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