By Olisemeka Obeche, Francis Ekpone, Okey Onuegbu, Gabriel Alonta, Sunday Agbo & Uzoh Ugwueze
The supremacy battle between two frontline pro-Biafra groups, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and its forerunner, the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), also known as the Biafra Independent Movement (BIM), took a new twist following a disagreement over sit-at-home call by the former as a sign of honour to the heroes of the struggle for a sovereign Biafra nation.
Orient Weekend observed that shortly after IPOB leadership ordered called for their members, mainly the Igbo – to abstain from work and stay indoors on September 14 to commemorate one-year anniversary of the invasion of the Afaraukwu home of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, as well as honour their [Biafra] fallen heroes, the Chief Ralph Uwazuruike-led MASSOB-BIM asked Ndigbo to ignore the sit-at-home order.
Chris Anierobi Mocha, Director of Information, BIM-MASSOB, told Orient Weekend that the Uwazurike-led group was not part of the sit-at-home order because the order would not contribute positively to the struggle nor the lives of the agitating Biafra people.
“The sit-at-home by IPOB has been bastardised and abused. It is unwise to declare a sit-at-home in the month of May this year and declare another one on September 14. It is not reasonable at all and not contributing anything good to the people.
On the MASSOB’s September 13, 2018 Remembrance Day, Mocha explained that “we are marking our 19 years in the entire South East and South South. So, anything that happens in the past, we know about that. We know that there is a time to remember the fallen heroes.
Mocha dismissed IPOB as a group without any agenda for the emancipation of the Igbo nation. “We have an agenda which Chief Ralph Uwazuruike packaged in 75 pages to actualise Biafra. If IPOB had an agenda for the emancipation of the Igbo, they would be following it one by one. But they have no agenda and that is lack of purposeful leadership. If they had an agenda, they would not continue to ask for sit-at-home, asking our people to close shops every time.
The MASSOB spokesman also dismissed claims that Uwazuruike and Kanu were at loggerheads. “Do you know that Nnamdi Kanu was appointed by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike to head the Radio Biafra? He cannot be at loggerheads with his boy”, he said. On Kanu’s disappearance over a year ago, following military crackdown at his country home in Umuahia, Mocha said he was reaping what he sowed. “He is not fighting genuinely for Biafra emancipation but rather trying to destroy what we are doing”, he adds.
Similarly, Chief Benjamin Ekwenugo, a member of the MASSOB-BIM Elders Council in Enugu state, argued that the sit-at-home order call was misplaced and not what Biafrans needed at the moment. “What will IPOB achieve with all these their sit-at-home order? I call on Ndigbo to ignore them and go about their businesses, except those who have nothing to do”, he said, stressing that MASSOB-BIM members “are rejoicing because we already have success in our Biafra struggle; we are only waiting for the official announcement”.
Ekwenugo also argued that the call for restructuring of Nigeria being championed by Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other political leaders/stakeholders was a waste of time and energy. “They can’t restructure Biafra for us; we are not Nigerians. Even if they do it tomorrow, it is an exercise in futility”.
Fears over rivalry
Rev. Fr. Christian Umeojilinnaka, parish priest of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Nanka in Anambra state, observed that the rivalry between the two pro-Biafra groups had impacted negatively on the agitation for a sovereign Biafra nation. According to the priest, the rivalry between the frontline groups had the potential to cause civil unrest, if not nipped in the bud.
“We should be worried about this unhealthy rivalry. If tomorrow the, federal government suddenly grants their request for Biafra autonomy, we shall be in the worst situation of something close to civil war between MASSOB and IPOB. That will turn us to a replica of the war-torn state of the South Sudan.
He stressed that the two groups should move forward with their various ways of agitation since both are aimed towards the emancipation of the Biafrans. “They should focus on what they have in common and not allow their modus operandi to bring about divisions.
Samuel Nnaji, a Jewish leader in Ebonyi state, told this paper that the sit-at-home order by IPOB was in order since it was a time for the members to pay respects to their fallen heroes. He said: “People who want to show solidarity to their brothers who lost their lives and want to sit at home should be allowed to do so because that is what they have to do to the deceased. The sit-at-home action will galvanise their support for the struggle.
“It will also show that they are still on the course of the Biafra struggle. And, for me, it will create awareness that the struggle for Biafra still exists”, he adds.
Nnaji, however, lamented that the exit of Nnamdi Kanu had impacted negatively on the Biafra struggle. “The absence of Nnamdi Kanu has really affected the struggle. He has been the spokesman of IPOB. The missing of Nnamdi Kanu has psychologically affected the struggle but it has not really done much because there are people who are still on the course and they are steering the ship. It has not really stopped the struggle.
Dede Uzor A. Uzor, president general of Ndigbo Unity Assembly, sees the sit-at-home issue differently. According to him, sit-at-home should not be made compulsory; rather, it should be optional. “It is something that needs to go by freewill. If I decide not to go out, nobody can force me to go out. IPOB should not force people to sit at home.
Uzor stressed that the rivalry between MASSOB-BIM and IPOB was needless as both “are … groups fighting for Biafra sovereignty and should not have any clash. If they continue to fight each other, it will give us room to believe that they have ulterior motives which is not to emancipate Biafrans. What they should do is to set aside sentiments and fight for the interest of the ordinary Biafran.”
According to him, the face-off was impacting negatively on the Biafra struggle. “When there are two captains piloting a ship, the tendency is that there will be no orderliness. The two leaders or groups should come to the round table and discuss their differences because when two elephants fight, the grass will certainly suffer. The implication now is that the ordinary man is suffering because of their interest which no one can analyse.
Unaddressed killings, persecution
While there is a growing confusion over the direction the Biafra struggle is heading in the wake of unresolved face-off between the two pro-Biafra groups, the unresolved issues of thousands of Biafra agitators that were either murdered, vanished and or held in detention has continued to generate ripples.
An Anambra-based human rights watchdog, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety), recently drew attention to what it termed an attempt by the federal government to wipe out the Igbo race.
Intersociety, in a report co-signed by its board chairman, Emeka Umeagbalasi and head, civil liberties & rule of law programme, Obianuju Joy Igboeli, alleged that the Muhammadu Buhari administration had implemented policies of physical violence, structural violence and cultural violence targeted at innocent and law-abiding people of the south east geopolitical zone over the Biafra struggle.
The report, released on August 22, 2018, cited the incarceration and torture of over 112 Igbo women in the Owerri Prison and whose case collapsed during their magistrate court arraignment. The report read in parts: “Analysis done by Intersociety on their social and family backgrounds clearly shows that most of them are mothers of young children. Those under this category are between the ages of 22 and 45, numbering 80. Yet their incarceration and torture has attracted little or no attention locally and internationally.
“This is in spite of the fact that they did not commit any felony during their street protest, with no gun or rifle of any kind or IEDs found in their possession or from any of them; except flags and insignia and other faith objects such as bangles, chaplets, bibles, necklaces, sachets of water, etc. Still they were arrested, detained, tortured and labelled ‘terrorists’ and ‘treasonable felons’; with the world maintaining inexplicable silence of congregated and aggregated proportion till date.
It went further: “If it is in the west that these Mothers of the Igbo Nation numbering 114 were arrested and treated in such draconian manner, including being cramped in a prison guardroom under such frivolous circumstances, hell would have been let loose. But, right inside there in Owerri Prisons, unspeakable global silence greeted their arrest, torture and detention since 17th August 2018.
“Their family members, especially children and husbands, were turned back and chased away by police and prison officials citing ‘orders from Aso Rock’. The incarcerated mothers were also denied access to food and medicine brought by their children and husbands.
“Not minding the atrocities trailing the federal government’s ‘Army Python Dance 11’ of 2017, including the slaughtering, in less than one week, of over 170 unarmed and defenseless citizens in the respective prime ages, as well as terminal maiming of over 130 others, all in Abia state, the present central government has, again, concluded plans to storm the Igbo land in another obvious genocidal operation code-named ‘Army Python Dance III’,” it adds.
The organisation also accused the federal government of creating graveyards in Anambra, Abia and Delta states through what it termed military and other forms of violent crackdowns targeted at unnamed and defenceless pro-Biafra activists and other members of civilian populations. It gave dates of the crackdowns on Biafrans and other civilians to include, August 30, 2015; December 2 and 17, 2015; January 29 and February 9, 2016; May 29 and 30, 2016; January 30, 2017 and September 11, 12, 13 and 14, 2017.
“The most atrocious and horrific part of the violent crackdowns were the massacre of 29th and 30th May 2016 during which over 140 defencless citizens were slaughtered, and the Python Dance II of September 2017 in Abia state (Asa, Aba, Isiala Ngwa and Umuahia) resulting in the death of no fewer than 180 defenceless citizens of Igbo extraction. A total of not less than 150 were shot and terminally injured in Anambra and Delta States on 29th and 30th May, 2016 while no fewer than 140 others got same terminal fate in Abia state in September 2017,” it added.
The intersociety said the graveyards were dug at the Asaba airport/ swamp, Onitsha military cantonment cemetery, Nkpor-Umuoji road environment, Umuahia forest/ Afara-Ukwu palace, Ogwe Ukwa forest and Aba National High School.