One had thought that with the end of the Nigerian-Biafra civil war since 1970, the issue of Biafran sovereignty would have been laid to rest, but recent events have shown that things are no longer at ease as far as the issue is concerned.
Speaking in an interview with Friday Magazine recently, foremost politician and factional Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, Barrister Maxi Okwu, said the word, ‘B’, Biafra is an anathema in Nigeria. He said it is a word so many people for so many reasons dread to mention. In short, he said some people would prefer that Biafra is confined to the dustbin of history, but unfortunately it cannot be wished away. There was Biafra and to wish it away is self-defeatist.
Okwu said he was not making case for Biafra or for its agitators but that good governance devoid of marginalisation of any kind should be provided in Nigeria. He posited that as free citizens of Nigeria, under the 1999 amended constitution, they are empowered to participate in lawful assembly and have freedom of movement and expression. He said security agencies have no right to interrupt peaceful protests as embarked upon by a splinter group of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, and the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
It is common knowledge that some people have been fanning the embers of the agitation for the realisation of Biafra. Today, Barrister Ben Owuka and 10 others are languishing in prison custody for daring to make a case for Biafra.
Before Onwuka came into the picture, Chief Ralph Uwazurike had taken up the gauntlet, insisting that the Biafran dream should not die and that the committee of nations should grant it self-autonomy.
While Uwazurike seemed to be taking it easy, having suffered incarceration because of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu came into the picture with the odious Radio Biafra that lambasted Nigeria and the people that make the country thick.
Piqued by his style of advocacy for the actualisation of the new republic, he was arrested when he flew into Nigeria and has remained in prison custody even when his bail conditions have been met.
Irked by his continued incarceration, two pro-Biafra groups, MASSOB and IPOB mobilised and embarked on peaceful protests in the five eastern and the South-South states that make up the former Eastern Region. Their grouse is that they want Kanu released, as well as ensure that the state of Biafra is recognised globally.
While the protests lasted, individuals and groups were making comments, some complimentary while others were acrid and sour, as well as emotional and sentimental. For instance, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was quoted as describing the agitators as jobless miscreants fighting over spilt milk and should be disregarded.
Some said Obasanjo’s comment is understandable, his pathological hatred for the Igbos is legendary and he breathes hate for them as was evident by his cruel acts against the Igbo nation during his eight years oppressive rule from 1999-2007. So, his warped comments about the people, who are agitating for self-rule, is not a surprise.
Two South-East Governors, Rochas Okorocha of Imo and Willie Obiano of Anambra State had condemned the actions of the protesters which they said was capable of causing breach of law and order and should be discontinued.
However, when the governors of the region seemed to have weighed the raison d’ tre for organising the wild protest albeit peacefully, on Tuesday, November 17, they held a hasty meeting being the first of its kind since May 29 when most of them were sworn in apart from Obiano who had been in power before then.
At the meeting, which was held at Lion Building, Government House, Enugu, the governors apart from Umahi of Ebonyi State who was absent, deliberated on the issue of Biafra, the agitation and how to ensure unending peace in the region which in the long run would bring about economic prosperity.
Okorocha, who read a communiqué at the end of the about four hours meeting, stated that “on security, the issue of MASSOB/IPOB was discussed and we resolved to consult widely with Ohanaeze Ndigbo, traditional rulers, development unions, clergy and other stakeholders on how to ensure lasting peace in the zone. In furtherance to this, the South-East governors scheduled an emergency meeting of stakeholders on Sunday, November 22 in Enugu.”
The communiqué indicated that attendance for the emergency meeting will include all National Assembly members, ministers and other invited stakeholders from the geo-political zone. To maintain peace in the interim, the governors advised the agitators to continue to tow the line of peace, as this is the only way to ensure economic development in the zone.
While the governors were planning to convene a stakeholders meeting on the knotty issue, the Nigerian Army, with no stomach for plea, threatened to deal decisively with the agitators if they continue with the madness in the name of agitating for Biafra.
The 82 division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, under whose jurisdiction the South-East and South-South states fall into, in a release made available to journalists on November 16 and signed by its spokesman, Col. Hamza Gamba, pointed out that in the interest of the agitators, they should not court the ire of the army so that they would not invoke the ‘rules of engagement’ to deal with them.
“It is pertinent to note that the same constitution vide Section 212(2) mandates the Armed Forces of Nigeria to suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authority to restore order when called upon to do so. To this end, if and when the Nigerian Army is called upon to play its legally mandated role, it shall do so with utmost sense of duty and responsibility to the nation. In such instance, the army shall act within the rules of engagement accordingly,” the release warned.
As if the terse warning was not enough, the General Officer Commanding, 82 Division, General Ibrahim Attahiru, on November 17, held a press briefing at which he made it clear that the army would brook no nonsense if the agitators continue with their peaceful protest.
With venom, Attahiru like the army image maker, Gambo, reiterated that pro-Biafran agitation was no longer welcome.
“The recent increase in pro-Biafra agitations in some parts of the South-South and South- East of Nigeria by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, the Indigenous People of Biafra and other affiliated groups is becoming worrisome. In cities like Aba, Port Harcourt, Onitsha and Abakaliki there have been cases of outright lawlessness, threat to lives and property during demonstrations and protests by these groups.
“When crisis situations, which obviously constitute threat to lives and property arise, it becomes necessary for the Nigerian Army to apply the rules of engagement and code of conduct to ensure that normalcy is restored,” Attahiru intimated.
From the foregoing, it is clear that some people are developing goose pimple over Biafra which Okwu said many would like that the word is expunged from the annals of Nigerian history if it is possible to do so. Although the army has come out with a terse warning, it can be deduced that some people are using it to suppress a supposed genuine aspiration. So, who is afraid of Biafra?