From Magnus Eze, Abuja
A United Kingdom-based dyed-in-the-wool Biafra campaigner, Dr. Chukwuma Egemba, is a close confidant of Nnamdi Kanu, the incarcerated leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). This co-founder of Radio Biafra who was in Abuja recently on solidarity visit to Kanu in Kuje prison, thereafter granted exclusive interview to Daily Sun on their meeting, the future of Biafra struggle, strategy and why there’s no going back on Biafra.
May we know why you are in Abuja?
I was in Abuja to pay solidarity visit to my friend, Nnamdi Kanu who has been held against his wish since October 2015. I have not had the opportunity to visit him until now and I am happy that I have had this opportunity to see him; to catch up, know how he is, and discuss a lot of things about our struggle; about IPOB, about his freedom, about the future of the Biafran resurrection efforts.
What did you see and hear from Kanu?
I can say that I was relatively okay with his physical appearance; that’s what was giving me concern, although I do see him occasionally on photographs during court appearance, but photograph is one thing and seeing face to face is another thing entirely. So, I saw him; asked him about his health, and he confirmed to me that he’s is in good health, that he doesn’t have any health issue or any major challenge at all. And his physical appearance confirmed to me and looking at him showed me that he’s almost the person that I know. I am happy that he’s relatively in good health.
With the pressure from different quarters for IPOB to negotiate with government, what did he tell you as his position on that?
His position hasn’t changed. You can’t negotiate when somebody is under lock and key. We can only negotiate effectively, productively and constructively if he is out and when he is out. As a free person and leader of IPOB; he can then stand firmly without being under prison influence or confinement and be able to negotiate freely for and on behalf of the Biafran people toward the actualisation of Biafra and restoration of Biafra efforts.
What has been your involvement in the IPOB or Biafra struggle?
Before IPOB, I have known Nnamdi Kanu and we have worked together since the summer of 1996; since then we have been working together in various aspects of the Biafra restoration struggle including the setting up of Radio Biafra.
Looking back, can you say you’ve really achieved anything?
Absolutely, let us say that within this period I call the second phase of Biafra restoration struggle, the first phase being 1967-1970, which coincided with the declaration of the Republic of Biafra, the outbreak of the civil war, how it was prosecuted and the way it ended. Now the second phase, I can say started effectively from 1999 following the formation of MASSOB as an organisation which most Biafrans belonged to and identified with until misunderstanding; misdirection stepped in and we had to move on with the help of Radio Biafra and other events that led to the formation of IPOB, which catapulted the struggle to the height which it is today. We have achieved a lot in the sense that Biafra is no longer a project that one can sweep under the carpet. Biafra is not what someone will be talking and looking at his back, being afraid whether there will be a clamp down by the authorities. Today, anybody anywhere can talk freely about Biafra; engage in meaningful discussion about Biafra. That’s a tremendous achievement. Also, there are people around the world who proudly associate and identify themselves as indigenous people of Biafra both in demonstrations, meetings and representations to foreign governments to present the case of Biafra not minding the enormous repression that the Biafran people are suffering within Nigeria. That’s a tremendous achievement.
Talking about misunderstanding in MASSOB; what actually led you people to where we are now?
When people talk about misunderstanding within the Biafran movement, they think that it’s extraordinary; just take it as it is within a family. There’s no family that you will not see misunderstanding; even husband and wife, parents, children and siblings, there is always misunderstanding. And obviously, as a family issue, they will end up resolving it. Misunderstanding in terms of direction, showing result of action that is happening and making sure that our people are secured and not necessarily being killed on daily basis and strategy; making sure that the world is aware of what you are doing. As I said, IPOB catapulted the struggle to a higher level.
MASSOB preached non-violence approach; is it part of IPOB strategy?
IPOB is not a militant or violent organisation, but some people try to paint the picture that it’s a militant group. But I want anybody to show evidence of militancy in IPOB; if you understand militancy to mean carrying arms, shooting, killing people. Everybody within the Biafran movement is toeing the path of non-violence, peaceful and use of other means possible except the use of arms. Although I have always maintained that in revolutionary struggle, all means are allowed but we have chosen the path of peaceful means; combination of political, diplomatic and judicial means to restore Biafra. And that’s what IPOB and all others supporting Biafra have ascribed to; using non-violence for the actualisation and restoration of Biafra. That’s what everybody is in agreement with and that’s what we are doing. It’s unfortunate that in some cases, our people are being provoked but we apply discipline in pursuit of our quest for freedom.
How do you reconcile your peaceful and disciplined approach to the incessant killing of Biafra agitators?
Inasmuch as we are adopting peaceful means, that doesn’t mean that we will fold our arms endlessly when our people are being killed unnecessarily. So, there would be a point when the world would see that we have exhausted all peaceful means but we’ve not got to that point yet. We have been disciplined that we have not returned fire for fire; if you like; but we have proven to the world that we are disciplined and non-violent because regardless of all the provocations, killing of our people in Aba, Onitsha, Asaba and all other places without any iota of provocation, we managed to maintain peaceful approach to our restoration effort, because we know where we are going. What the Nigerian establishment is doing is to provoke us into action, so as to justify further use of force on our people or they want to term us as a violent group. But we are trying to resist that, we will continue to do so and we have successfully proven that we are disciplined in our approach to self-determination.
At what period would we say this agitation has got to a head?
I can’t give you a specific period but circumstances will determine that. But we are focused that we will use all means possible to achieve our quest for freedom and self-determination. Arms struggle is not ruled out. In some of my previous speeches and write ups, I have always maintained that no national liberation struggle worth its salt will exclude arms; it will be stupid to say that at no point shall we carry arms. It will be foolhardy to say that, but at what point will that be, chain of events will determine that. But before that, all the necessary conditions will be in place so that when it happens, both local and international community will justify and even support us in that stage.
Since you talked about diplomatic means; what have you done and what is the future of Biafra?
We have representations and doing representations to various governments of the world; to major governmental centres, to main governments and political organisations that matter. We have been doing inroad to AU, UN; there is hardly any foreign government that does not know that Biafra exists; that Biafran people through IPOB and other organisations are fighting for their freedom. They are seeing what we are doing so far; the result of what we are doing is filtering into the mainstream international media regardless of the efforts of the Federal Government to ensure a blackout of news about Biafran struggle. They are doing that consistently, persistently and continuously but the news is filtering because 2016-2017 is not 1966-1967, when it will take days, weeks or months for information to filter into the outside world. So, in this age of social media, information spreads like wildfire. I can assure you that many governments, if not all governments of the world know what is happening and at the right time, they will come out to prove that they know what is happening.
Does IPOB actually have a relationship with Donald Trump?
Having taken office as American President, as he settles down, I am quite sure that the issue of Biafra will be one of the things that will be handed to him; that he will inherit or will come to find out. Of course, Biafran people will present their case to him directly. I will not say that we have relationship with him directly until he settles down as the US president. We will have relationship with him just as we have with other governments of the world.
But what are you doing in the political angle?
Because of the way the Nigerian political system is structured, IPOB is not comfortable with it. You know that we are not allowed to form any Biafra-centric organisation and it will not be registered. At the moment, we don’t have a clear political platform where we can freely and safely express ourselves politically. And at the same time, through the efforts of IPOB and other Biafra organisations, when the time comes, we will meet and agree on how we are going to engage in the political process.
Nnamdi Kanu is being incarcerated, and the judicial process has been sluggish; don’t you people consider political solution to his release?
A lot of political horse trading, consideration but I will not say negotiation is going on. As I said, we can only negotiate with a free man; as of now, there’s no negotiation going on with the Federal Government for his release. May be privately, some individuals are doing that, I don’t rule that out because it’s still part of the political process, but what I am saying is that IPOB or the entire Biafra movement are not engaged in any direct political negotiation or discussion with the Federal Government.
So, how do you see the visit of former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, to Nnamdi Kanu in Kuje prison and the negotiation going on?
I take it to be a private visit; it is not for a negotiation for the Biafra family. His visit was a private one to somebody he regards as a brother who is in prison; it’s not part of the Biafra agitators’ political negotiation.
Don’t you think that the disagreement between IPOB and MASSOB will further whittle down the impact of the Biafra struggle?
I don’t think so. Having said that; let me say that we even discussed the need for a united front for the Biafra struggle as part of the issues during my visit. We agreed that MASSOB has accepted that IPOB has played and is playing a very decisive role and that all of us should come under one umbrella of IPOB; that’s where everybody is heading to, since we have an organisation that is widely known locally, nationally and internationally. Everybody will eventually come under IPOB, that’s where it’s heading to; where everybody will work together as a family. There have been moves to achieve this oneness. Members of MASSOB are involved in IPOB too. Remember that what we are all talking about is Biafra; IPOB, MASSOB or any other Biafra organisations, all of them are aiming at one thing; restoration of Biafran sovereignty, restoration of our independence. As I said earlier, it’s caused by misunderstanding which is inevitable in any social organisation or family, but we are closing ranks to make sure that we achieve our set goal.
What’s your take on possible referendum in the course of this agitation?
Referendum is part of the process that will be involved in our quest for independence. The issue was raised even before Nnamdi was arrested; it’s a process that will be followed. But when you visit the social media, you have people talking about referendum here and there. When the time comes, Biafran people will decide how and when to conduct referendum for our self-determination and independence. It will come and the rules and regulations for holding referendum would be followed; when the time comes, the international community would all be involved.
What kind of leadership are you expecting from the new President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo?
I discussed this with Nnamdi too. I can say that we are cautiously happy with the new leadership. As they begin to function, we will know exactly the direction of the leadership and know how to work with them or not work with them. We are going to see how they are going to relate to the Biafran movement or IPOB, and their general attitude to the Biafran struggle. We’ll watch their public utterances; all these will determine how we are going to relate with Ohanaeze Ndigbo. But I must say that the new Secretary General, Uche Okwukwu is one person many people have regard for. Personally, I don’t know much about Nnia Nwodo but people say he’s a strong believer in Igbo cause.
How soon will Nnamdi Kanu become a free man?
Seeing him today and bearing in mind what happened at the last court appearance, we have won a significant victory in the sense that we managed to make the court or judge to accept that secret trial is not acceptable, not to us; not to anybody because it has never happened in Nigeria’s judicial history. Not even during the military era, even those who were court marshalled, it was not secret, so why should it be secret this time around. I am happy that common sense has prevailed and that when the next appearance takes place, then bail application and other significant moves towards his release will be made. It is highly hopeful that from that day, we will know how soon he will be released.