The arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, might have sparked off the protests that had engulfed the South-east and South-south parts of the country in recent times, but beyond the facade of street occupation by the pro-Biafrans is a deep-rooted animosity of one of the third largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, Igbo, against the Federal Republic of Nigeria. it is all hinged on protracted injustice and lack of fairness in its place in the federation called Nigeria.
This was encapsulated by a youth leader from the South-east, Elliot Uko, founder of Igbo Youth Movement. Speaking with reporters, Mr. Uko said that the eastern region has been completely forgotten by the Nigerian government. He lamented the absence of infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity, medical care and education are lacking in the region.
“These people who want Biafra do not have faith in Nigeria anymore. The idea of re-enacting (the) Biafra Republic has always been in the hearts and minds of young people, especially those who seem not to believe that the Igbo will ever get justice in Nigeria.
“They believe Nigeria is pulling the Igbo backward, they believe the Igbo are better off in a separate state. I have been organising seminars and workshops for Igbo youths for decades, I know their mindset.” The region, he said, has not be given any sense of belonging.
A coordinator of IPOB, Mr. Chidiebre Aguodu said that “The reason for this protest is that our able chairman, the father and founder of IPOB worldwide has been held by President Muhammadu Buhari. We need him to be released to us unconditionally. The protest for now is peaceful, but we need Biafra and we need freedom.
“We are armless, we have not harmed anybody and we owe nobody any apology for what we are doing, as Biafrans we stand for justice and justice will reign. Now our director has been held by the federal government and we want him out and we want freedom in Biafra land.
“I advice the country to allow Biafrans go because the marriage has lasted for 101 years and there was no demonstration and the battle lasted for 40 years and we have won three times, all we want now is freedom because we are tired of the marriage. Let Nigerians be Nigerians and Biafrans want to be Biafrans.
Similarly, Mr. Harrison Onyema said, “We want secession or we are ready to burn down the whole country. We will continue this disturb in all the Biafran States until justice is made to our demand for secession. Harrison claimed, “Here is not called Port Harcourt it is called Igwuocha, a city in Biafran Nation. No Biafra, No peace.” He said.
A pro-Biafra Nigerian, Rotimi, observed that “I served as a youth cooper in Imo state and fell in love with the spirit of the Igbo nation which isn’t a violent one but a very organised as well as friendly one but which in no way should be taken for weakness as Buhari started doing with his appointments.
“The only thing which still binds this nation together is the federal character arrangement and like I have always maintained, Buhari is toying with this arrangement which in the process is fuelling disunity, unpatriotism, ethnic tensions and unimaginable hatred in the nation all of which were nearly unheard of during the days of GEJ simply because he headed an all inclusive government which gave every region in the country a place in the scheme of things”, he said.
Rotimi further blamed the president fir the arrest and detention of Kanu “President Buhari is the president and commander in chief who has the sole power to order the immediate release of anyone who he feels his/her arrest was wrong! Have you ever read or heard of any press release from the presidency condemning the arrest of Nnamdi? The simple answer is no and the simple reason is because the presidency ordered his arrest”.
Supporters of Biafrans have also argued that the Nigerian police are violent against them. Reports indicated that Amnesty International corroborated the allegation that said there was “credible evidence” that pro-Biafran separatists in Nigeria were targeted by police and that they were tortured and arbitrarily jailed in the past.
According to Oleehkukyu Ali, spokesperson for the police in Anambra, the authorities were responding to public nuisance constituted by the pro-Biafrans. “Recently, in Anambra and other states in the country, there has been a kind of excitement from members of pro-Biafran groups, and this excitement has led to their processions to become chaotic. Pro-Biafrans are not considered as a threat, but inciting people to [participate] in violent processions is against the law and no government watches any group operates under such conditions”.
But the protesters are adamant: “We won’t give up until our director Nnamdi Kanu is released,” one protester told our reporter during a protest in Enugu. An IPOB leader, Uchemna Madu, told the BBC that the group was fighting against the “injustice and inequality” ethnic Igbos faced in Nigeria.
“We believe in Nigeria, we have businesses everywhere in the country but we are getting nothing apart from political and social marginalisation,” he said. “Our lives and properties are not secured, we want to live on our own.”
However, there has been reactions from across Nigeria since the protest erupted in the South-east and South-south. For instance, a group in Enugu known as Concerned Citizens of Enugu State (CCES) has condemned the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) over the continued detention of their leader and Director of Radio Biafra, Mr. Nnadi Kanu, who was arrested at the Lagos Airport.
A report quoted the group describing the recent protest by the pro-Biafra group in Enugu as “illegal, unacceptable, anti-democratic and an adventure that was capable of undermining the unity of the country and the existing peace and tranquility in the state”.
The group went forth to say that “We Concerned Citizens of Enugu State (CCES), condemn in its entirety, the unlawful approach of violent protests adopted by the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in promoting its cause. “We do not, and will not encourage any unlawful act that will be inimical to the peace and unity of the country and the tireless efforts of present administration in Enugu State to advance development in the state”, a statement by the group’s leader, Chief Jeremiah Udeh said.
Such violent protests, it said, in the name of Biafra, “at this point in time the nation is facing perennial economic challenges are not only insensitive but, also, a big distraction to governors of the South-East geo political zone whose priorities at the moment centre on how to proffer solutions to tackle current economic challenges in their states”.
It is not clear how long this protest will last. So far the federal government has officially responded to the development by saying that it would not succumb to any pressure on a vaguely defined agitation. It is therefore not yet certain how this whole drama will end.