By Tony Edike, Enugu
Their activities came to a climax recently when a splinter group in the struggle for the actualisation of Biafra republic, the Biafra Zionist Federation, made attempts to seize power in Enugu to stamp its authority and commence the administration of new Biafra. Their action was viewed as suicidal and they are now cooling off their feet in detention. But some Igbo leaders and stakeholders believe that they have genuine ambitions though pursued in a very wrong manner.
Many pro-Biafra groups had been formed by this class of people whose desire is to revive the defunct Biafra Republic. But in spite of their activities which gained more ground in the ‘90s, few years after Ojukwu’s return from exile, many Igbos believe that it is a worthless agitation that can never yield any dividend for Ndigbo.
These skeptics believe that at best, the campaigners could get fame that may attract some economic benefits to them and members of their immediate families.
Birth of MASSOB and its modus operandi: Although some believers in the Biafran cause are optimistic that the secession bid by Ndigbo could still be realised in future, given the fear that Nigeria might disintegrate, majority view the agitation as one of the greatest deceptions of some gullible Ndigbo.
The protagonists of the return of Ndigbo to Biafra have over the years, carried out their campaigns in a very peaceful manner without carrying arms against the Nigerian government. They executed their campaigns through the media and sometimes stage processions that are devoid of violence. Sometimes they print posters and adorn T-shirts bearing the Biafran flag and insignia while some go the extent of circulating old Biafra currency, all in attempt to give their supporters a false hope that Ndigbo would soon reawaken the defunct Biafra Republic.
The campaign was principally orchestrated by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, led by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike. But along the line, the group which commanded respect among the ardent believers in the Biafra cause, was factionalised with some of Uwazuruike’s close associates like the London-trained lawyer, Benjamin Igwe Onwuka forming splinter groups. Onwuka formed the Biafra Zionist Movement, BZM, which later became Biafra Zionist Federation, BZF. His objective was to fast-track the re-secession of Ndigbo and their former allies in the Eastern region from Nigeria.
Uwazurike’s alleged compromise: The splinter groups alleged that the MASSOB leader had begun to fraternise with the Federal Government. Unconfirmed reports had it that President Goodluck Jonathan through the widow of the late Biafra leader, Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu, who was a presidential aide and now Nigeria’s Ambassador to Spain, dialogued with Uwazuruike and pacified him to eschew violence and support his administration.
Uwazuruike was said to have accepted the President’s offer and advice as he directed his members to embrace peace. He then told his members that Biafra’s agitation is a thing of the mind and not by armed struggle. Benjamin Onwuka, leader of the Biafra Zionist Federation, in particular, alleged that Uwazuruike was “highly settled” by the Federal government to drop the Biafra campaign which was why there was a lull in the tempo of MASSOB’s activities.
BZF’s declaration of Republic of Biafra: However, the distrust and crisis of confidence among the leaders of the group led to the emergence of splinter groups like the Biafra Zionist Federation led by Onwuka which vowed to continue with the struggle for the rebirth of Biafra.
There are other groups like the Radio Biafra led by one Nnamdi Kanu, Biafra National Youth League, among several other groups both in Nigeria and in the Diaspora, all claiming to be working for the re-declaration of Biafra Republic.
But the leader of the BZF, Benjamin Onwuka, who returned to Nigeria from the United Kingdom where he studied law, pushed his group’s campaign to a dangerous level in the last three years. He launched the Biafra Zionist Movement in 2012 and changed the name to Biafra Zionist Federation after re-declaring a new Independent Biafra Republic at a hideout in Enugu on November 6, 2012.
Onwuka had said while re-declaring Biafra Republic that it had become clear that the security of life and property of the Biafra people were no longer safe and guaranteed in the entity called Nigeria. “Therefore, we the Biafra people have resolved to re-declare our independence today November 5th, 2012 based on the mandate given to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu on May 30th, 1967 in order that we the Biafra people can provide our people with security according to international law,” he stated in his address at the that declaration.
The group’s President said that it was clear that the Biafra people’s right to freely worship according to their Christian faith is no longer safe and guaranteed: “Therefore, we the Biafra people have resolved to opt out of Nigeria to freely worship their God without being bombed or killed according to the United Nations Convention on the freedom of association”. Onwuka claimed that God had given them right to re-claim the lost sovereignty stolen from them in 1914, adding that Biafrans were determined to build a country that would be democratic and transparent.
Invasion of Enugu radio station and Onwuka’s arrest
Onwuka was declared wanted by the police. He could not be found by security agents until he walked into their hands on June 5, 2014 when his group attempted to seize the Enugu State Broadcasting Service, ESBS where they planned to make a broadcast about the rebirth of Biafra.
The State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, while parading the suspects alleged that they wanted to order the closure of businesses, schools and markets. He alleged further that they wanted to mobilise youths to destroy government property.
“You can see these people were in a mission of trying to overturn the government and it is something that we will never tolerate. They carried with them a lot of arms, machetes, 25 litres of petrol, 46 empty beer bottles and one Biafran Zionist flag and some CDs. The purpose of going there with petrol and bottles, you know when you put petrol inside a bottle and shake it and throw it into a building, it will inflame. They went there also with guns because when the policemen confronted them, they shot a sergeant and killed him and in the process of trying to prevent them from setting the place ablaze, they also had a casualty, one of them was shot dead. About 13 of them were arrested, including the leader, Benjamin Onwuka,” he said.
Onwuka had three days after the siege on the Government House given reasons why his group attacked the seat of government in the state. “This is to confirm the true report about what happened. You know very well that since January 12, 1970, the flag of Biafra has never rested on the Government House in Enugu which is the centre power of the Biafra people. What we did on the 8th is to reconfirm the independence of the Republic of Biafra which we successfully did.
We didn’t attack the Government House, but we captured it back for the Biafra people. We captured it for four hours and there was a battle between the Biafrans and the Nigerians and by 7a.m., we retreated because we didn’t have any weapons in our hand, to avoid any loss of life. “The reason we did it was to show the Biafra people that the hope for Biafra is still alive and that nothing shall quench the aspiration of the Biafra people to be independent,” he said.
Another group emerges
Following Onwuka’s recent arrest, another faction of the pro-Biafra movement known as Radio Biafra emerged under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu declared his readiness to continue with the struggle for the actualisation of Biafra, saying “Nigeria will cease to exist by December 2015”.
Kanu, who spoke at a gathering of members of defunct Biafra, including scores of its aged war veterans, vowed that he would not rest until the Biafra Republic is realised. The event, held at Ngwo, Enugu State, was the maiden commemoration of Biafran Day on May 30th, in remembrance of the events of 1967 when the late Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared the Republic of Biafra.
Kanu, the Director of Radio Biafra used the occasion to unveil a multi- million naira cenotaph built in memory of Biafran heroes killed during the civil war. He regretted that despite the declaration of the “no victor, no vanquished” after the Nigeria/Biafra civil war in 1970, successive governments, including the present Goodluck Jonathan-led administration had continued to deliberately marginalise and make life unbearable for the Igbo nation and its people. He, therefore, called on all genuine Igbo people across the globe to rise up and join the crusade of putting in place the Biafran Republic, adding that it was time for the Igbos, to pull out of Nigeria, which he described as a failed nation, where nothing works.
Some Igbo leaders argue that the agitations for the rebirth of Biafra by the several pro-Biafra groups would have been eliminated if the South East geopolitical zone was given its fair share in the distribution of amenities by successive administrations in the country.
They further argue that the various issues affecting the Igbo nation that forced Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to declare the Biafra Republic in 1967 have not been addressed, insisting that Ndigbo in Nigeria deserve a better deal than what they get presently. One of the major imbalances commonly cited is the shortfall in the number of states and local governments allocated to the South East. They want an additional state for the zone in addition to the upgrading and provision of adequate infrastructure that would improve the living condition of the people of the zone.