Nigeria Matters

Who Really Wants Biafra?

In one of his recent articles, my brother and colleague, Oguwike Nwachuku, posited that based on the rabid anti-Igbo sentiment that seems to have become the all-consuming pastime of some Nigerians, there may well be a school where they are taught how to hate the Igbo.

Oguwike wrote in the wake of the Eze Ndigbo controversy in Akure, Ondo State and the resort to ethnic profiling by some Afenifere chieftains who derogatorily labelled Ndigbo “migrants” in their own country, even as they insist that the idea of one, indivisible, indissoluble Nigeria is non-negotiable.

Ojukwu image courtesy thisdaylive.com
Ojukwu image courtesy thisdaylive.com

In the last four weeks since some members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) mobilised supporters to take to the streets, I have come to feel the intensity of the hatred against Ndigbo.

Given the opportunity, some people would not bat an eyelid in chasing the Igbo into the Atlantic Ocean as they wished before the April elections.

But just as I noted in my reaction to the Eze Ndigbo saga, those who call Ndigbo names and stoke the embers of morbid hatred against them across the land have not bothered to ask how many Igbo support the agitation for secession.

How many Igbo actually want another civil war? How many Igbo want to abandon their property again for those who were busy sleeping while they were sweating under the bridges, in the scorching sun to inherit?

The military, perhaps reading the now famous body language of the President and Commander-in-Chief, Muhammadu Buhari, has warned pro-Biafra protesters to stop or face the consequences.

Last week, the acting General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Brig-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, told journalists in Enugu that the Army would not fold its hands while such persons destroy lives and property in the country.

“The Nigerian Army would like to send an unequivocal warning to all and sundry, more specifically to all those threatening and agitating for the dismemberment of the country, committing treasonable felony and arson.

“Once deployed, the Nigerian Army shall apply the rules of engagement to the letter in order for peace to prevail,” he bellowed.

But the military high command is being economical with the truth.

Agreed, the protests may well be disrupting economic activities in the South East and some parts of South South, but they have been essentially peaceful and non-violent. So, why would the military issue such ominous threat against non-violent protesters?

I have no iota of doubt that once ordered, soldiers will carry out their threat.

Will Buhari ever give such an order? Given the level of hatred against the Igbo in the country, I have no doubt whatsoever that he will, somewhere along the line, unless the Biafran agitators stop.

But will these young men and women stop protesting for Biafra? Even if the IPOB leader and founder of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, whose arrest sparked off this wave of protests, is released today, it may not stop the agitation.

But if Nigerian leaders decide to handle the delicate situation as it is being handled in other civilised climes by conducting a referendum, they will find out that 80 per cent of Ndigbo will vote against secession.

What those who are calling Ndigbo names know but refuse to admit openly is that neither MASSOB leader, Ralph Uwazuruike, nor Kanu represents the broad Igbo mandate.

Who is going to head the so-called Biafra Republic, Uwazuruike or Kanu? Will the lot of the average Igbo man be better under a Biafra headed by Uwazuruike than in a Nigeria governed by Buhari?

I don’t know much about Kanu. But I know Uwazuruike well and have had personal encounters with him.

Sometime in 2004 when MASSOB was at the peak of its power, I went to Uwazuruike’s village in Okigwe to interview him at his so-called Freedom House.

At a time the Nigerian military under the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidency was massacring Igbo youths whose only crime was that they were not discerning enough to know their leader for who he was, Uwazuruike was using money contributed by the folks to build his mansion in the village “on their behalf.”

Of course, Uwazuruike has moved on since then, using MASSOB to amass wealth. The man who says he does not believe in Nigeria goes about collecting money from Nigerian politicians on behalf of MASSOB. He goes about in a convoy of choice cars as the president of the Republic of Biafra, intimidating innocent Biafrans.

But that is not all. The “freedom fighter” uses MASSOB to intimidate people and steal their property. At least, that is what he did to Leo Echendu, former executive director of Hallmark Bank.

Echendu bought a plot of land in Owerri when he was still working in the bank, fenced it and erected a gate. Then one day, he went to the property, which is in the area called New Owerri, and found out that somebody had broken into it.

On enquiry, he was told that Uwazuruike was the culprit.

I went to Owerri to see Uwazuruike over the issue. We had a meeting with him in his Owerri mansion near the property he seized.

He told Echendu to come with his wife and a friend or brother he trusts. At the meeting, he asked Echendu to consider the land as his own contribution to the Biafran struggle, because he wanted to use it to build a library in honour of Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, leader of the first Biafra agitation.

But I told Uwazuruike that was absurd. If MASSOB wanted to build a library in Ojukwu’s honour, it should buy a plot of land to do so.

At the end of the meeting, Uwazuruike agreed to pay for the land. He requested another meeting which I couldn’t attend.

But rather than fulfill his promise, he threatened Echendu’s life. I went to Nnewi six months after Ojukwu’s death to see his widow, Bianca, over the matter because I was told she was about the only person Uwazuruike listens to.

Bianca promised to talk to him because I told her it was unfair to Ojukwu for a charlatan like Uwazururike to dispossess people of their property in the revered leader’s name. That, unfortunately, was the last time I met or spoke with her.

I don’t know if she spoke to Uwazuruike as she promised. I doubt she did. But if she did, nothing came of it.

Uwazuruike has built on the land, threatening and intimidating the rightful owner.

I am telling these stories to let the Igbo haters know who the characters masquerading as champions of the Biafra cause are.

They are not interested in the struggle. But they have seen in the deep attachment of the average Igbo man to the idea of what Ojukwu calls the “Biafra of the mind,” a honey pot. And they are making a kill.

But despite all these, the agitation is real. The thousands of people protesting against the incarceration of Kanu believe in the cause.

Though many of them weren’t born when the Civil War ended 45 years ago, the Biafra flame is burning again because they believe, going by the story told by their fathers, that nothing has changed since then.

The younger generation of Ndigbo, educated and urbane, is bitter about the structure of Nigeria, which is skewed against the race in politics, education and the provision of social infrastructure.

The sentiment is deep-seated. I am yet to see any Igbo who does not harbour this sentiment.

Does that mean the Igbo want to secede from Nigeria? No. But it means that they want equity and justice. They want a level playing field. They don’t want the system to put a glass ceiling over their head.

And they have both the constitutional and God-given right to so demand.

The protest does not call for the same massacres of the 1960s that led to the Civil War, which will be the consequence of the military’s rule of engagement threat.

It calls for sober reflection. It calls for dialogue because neither the threat of violence nor actual violence can deter a people fighting for a just cause.

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