■ Faces behind freedom movement
By Chika Abanobi
From Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Ezeigbo Gburugburu, and the legendary symbol of the Biafra quest and struggle for independence, to Uwazuruike’s BIM (Biafra Independent Movement), sometimes it can be difficult to know, in the flurry of activities and flowering of ideas, who is leading and who is following. No child will ever admit that her mother’s soup is not tasty, so goes an Igbo adage.
But from Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Justice Ozobu’s Supreme Council of Elders of Indigenous People of Biafra (SCIPOB), to Barrister Benjamin Onwuka’s Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM) and Comrade Uchenna Madu’s faction of Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), not to talk of host of other splinter groups, recognisable faces are beginning to emerge, as Biafra freedom fighters continue their march to the Promised Land. The dog said why he raises his leg up while urinating is to show people that he is not carrying hernia of the scrotum. Here then are faces that prove that the Biafra idea is not, after all, a fluke.
The founder of Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), he is, unarguably, the arrowhead of the movement, the one who started it all before others deemed it wise to sign up. But no matter how much a cock belongs to its owner, the sound of its crowing belongs to the neigbourhood. On account of what many of his ardent followers, including Nnamdi Kanu, Director of Radio Biafra and Comrade Uchenna Madu (former National Director of Information of MASSOB), and later, leader of the breakaway faction of MASSOB, perceived as his autocratic, and some add, corrupt leadership style, over the years, they came, not only to inwardly detest him but in many cases, to openly criticize and protest his actions.
When it appeared they were speaking to the deaf, they broke away to form their own factions, although Uwazuruike (whose name roughly translates as “Let the world rest”), has consistently maintained that he is all for it because the more the merrier. Wherever there is a cockrow, it is evidence that people live there. No matter how you view it, the different factions springing up here and here, he’s wont to argue, is a pointer to the mutative nature of the struggle. Following his public expulsion by the Madu-led faction of MASSOB, for allegedly ingratiating himself with politicians and accepting and executing contracts for Goodluck Jonathan’s government, Uwazuruike left to form the Biafra Independent Movement (BIM).
He is not the founder of the Biafra freedom movement, sans Nigerian Civil War. Uwazuruike is. But today, the man known as Nwannekaenyi (“a blood brother is better than a friend”), Nnamdi (“My Father lives or exists”), Kanu, appears to have succeeded in dwarfing him by ending up as the struggle’s most visible living face to the outside world, many thanks to the Federal Government paranoia over his alleged incendiary broadcasts and threat to shoot and bomb Nigeria out of existence and, which has seen him being incarcerated since after his arrest, October 2015, at Golden Tulip Essential Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, despite several court rulings ordering his release.
Through his resilience and determination to live for, and if possible, die for the Biafra cause, the former director of London-based Radio Biafra, has succeeded in drawing fresh attention to Stephen King’s famous words: “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that’s all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.”
Comrade Uchenna Madu
Before the birth of MASSOB, over which he now leads a faction, Nigerians did not know much about him. His name, Uchenna, translates as “Father’s Will.” But thanks to the Biafra freedom movement, he is now known, not only nationally but also internationally. Undoubtedly, a counterfoil to Uwazuruike, the former National Director of Information of MASSOB, seems to know the ‘in and out’ of his former boss as to openly challenge him without fear.
Widely seen as MASSOB’s answer to Paul Joseph Goebbels of the Third Reich (the German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945), he it was, who went to Okwe, Okigwe, the hometown of Uwazuruike, in Imo State, and the acclaimed headquarters of MASSOB, to publicly announce the expulsion of his boss. “We insist that Biafra is not negotiable and cannot be renounced,” he was quoted to have said in a press statement over the alleged report about the detained Kanu willing to renounce Biafra to regain his freedom. “It’s not a personal or religious belief, faith or human establishment. Biafra is the very existence and future of our people. Nigeria will soon experience another dimension of non-violence struggle that will marvel them. Soon the world will celebrate the downfall of the most corrupt country.”
Barrister Benjamin Onwuka
Like Madu, not much was known about him before the beginning of current struggle. But over the years, he and the Biafra Zionist Movement, the group he founded after breaking away from Uwazuruike-led original MASSOB, has succeeded in making themselves known in the scheme of things. Members of his group, it was, who once stormed Enugu State-run radio station, with the intention of taking over the place and declaring Enugu the capital of the sovereign state of Biafra. Believing that the announcement by the Kano government of sending 100 military trainees as pilots by the Royal Jordanian Air Force, was for the purpose of prosecuting war against Biafrans, as the 2015 election approached, the group, even if for the purpose of bluffing, also announced its intention to send 500 military trainees to Israel for training as pilots and engineers. It will be recalled that Onwuka and 10 other members of his group were tried and found guilty of supposed treason by the Federal High Court sitting in Enugu and sent to jail on November 23, 2014.
Justice Eze Ozobu (retd)
The man whose Igbo name, Eze, translates as “King” is said to be the original founder of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), before Nnamdi Kanu reportedly hijacked it and made it his own. A retired Chief Judge, highly revered traditional ruler and former President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo (under whose leadership and tenure the Igbo socio-cultural pressure group was said to have enjoyed its most prosperous and glorious days because of his integrity, impeccable character and fairness), he is reported to be vehemently opposed to what is perceived by some Igbo intelligentsia as the violent hue of Kanu’s faction.
Among the Igbo, an elder does not stand by and watch while a goat in labour is delivered of a baby while tethered to a stake. That, perhaps, explains why he and a group of Igbo elders comprising Dr. Dozie Ikedife (also former President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo), Chief Joe Achuzia (Nigerian-Biafran War hero), Chief Debe Ojukwu (late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu’s first son) and a few highly respected others broke away to form the Supreme Council of Elders of Indigenous People of Biafra.
Dr. Dozie Ikedife
He is so married to the Igbo cause that if you were to make a cut on any part of his body for a blood sample analysis you will probably find the Igbonness in him fully mixed up with the white and red blood corpuscles. He is so passionate about it that he is ready to send Amadioha (thunder) after you if he finds out that you are trying to say or do something that betrays that cause. The man whose name, Dozie, means “Do it well/Fix It/Make it good” was the first leader of the struggle to let the world know that Kanu was not the founder of IPOB, contrary to popular belief. He added that they were the people that founded IPOB as the Supreme Council of the Indigenous People of Biafra and has been used as the Bilie Human Rights Initiative.
But in a swift reaction to his claim, Emma Powerful, the media and publicity secretary of IPOB debunked the statement as untrue. “Bilie, meaning Biafra Liberation in Exile, now claiming to be a human rights organisation was formed abroad as freedom fighters in exile until IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu appointed Dr. Dozie Ikedife and other members of the elders forum of IPOB on advisory ground,” he said. “When the elders forum and Ikedife started campaigning for APC in 2014, Kanu dissolved the forum and told them to stop using Biafra’s name to campaign for any political party. Ikedife is talking from both sides of his mouth.”
No matter how highly the kolanut is celebrated, talked about and appreciated, it must terminate in the mouth. Despite this mild irritation from his supporters, and in spite of the fact that he does not agree with the violent streak of the ‘modernised’ IPOB, Ikedife has continued to call for the release of Kanu, his reason being that if a man recovers from his ill-health and loses his son, he has not recovered.
Chief Joe Achuzia
Asked in an interview with Sunday Sun if Biafra indeed surrendered as it has been widely reported after the Nigerian Civil War, Achuzia (known as “Air Raid” in the short-lived Republic of Biafra, and author of Requiem Biafra (his war memoirs), and today, General Secretary of Supreme Council of Indigenous People of Biafra, quickly retorted: “We didn’t surrender. If there was a surrender, there must be a surrender terms of agreement. There must be a paper to that effect. Let them publish the terms of surrender, so that the country will know.”
Like Justice Ozobu and Dr. Ikedife, the Delta Igbo man is in the thick of the current Biafra struggle for freedom. “The struggle for Biafra has been going on since the day the war stopped,” he said in the interview. “The Federal Government failed to do what the three “ R’s” suggested. We sent a lot of our children abroad during the war, for fear of extermination. These children went out wearing labels on their necks indicating their names and birthplaces and country; for example, Okafor, native of Biafra. Not Nigeria. We packaged them to different countries. They are now adults. Coming home, they find that they need to be engaged with work or business. They are now asked to state their state of origin, local government, etc. If he says he was born in Ohafia, they tell him to go and get a letter signed by his traditional ruler, and local government chairman. If he fails they say where were you all these years? He becomes an alien in his own country. That’s why we the elders insist that we need interpretation of the law so that these children will be treated as Biafrans in Nigeria.”
Chief Debe Ojukwu
The first son of the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, he, it was, who said in an interview with Sunday Sun sometime ago, “We can get Biafra in one week.” Asked how workable that idea is, he replied that all that is needed is for Biafrans to mark out a week or so and come together as one, return home from different parts of the world where they are and insist on not returning or doing anything anymore until they are given their freedom. “There are many Biafra agitators of which I am one. I am one, but I subscribe to the legal and diplomatic agitation; not the violent agitation,” he said.
When his interviewer argued that the general view among other agitators for the cause is that such pacifist approach may not work, in fact, may turn out to be like waiting for the fabled Godot, he replied: “As far as we are concerned, Nigeria is a child of peaceful negotiation. Nigeria was under colonial masters, and you cannot tell me that it was a stroll in the park for the independence agitators to wrest freedom from Britain. They did a lot of constitutional conferences; they went to London, argued, joked, used wits to get independence. I never read in history that Zik bore arms against the British government. It was a diplomatic warfare. We had a civil war which cost us about four million people. We don’t have to be myopic. Our group has succeeded in being given observer status at the UN (United Nations) and AU (African Union).”