Biafra agitation: Worries over Military presence, crisis in Southeast
Myths, Realities Of The Biafra Struggle And Survival Chances
The activities of the pro-Biafra groups have gained momentum in recent times across the five states of the Southeast and beyond. During former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Ralph Uwazuruike started the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) that was geared towards the realisation of Biafra Republic.
Uwazurike was arrested and incarcerated for almost two years before he was granted conditional bail. The rest is history following Uwazuruike’s change of strategy and approach to the Biafra struggle.
After the 2015 presidential election, which was won by President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nnamdi Kanu, an estranged ally of Uwazuruike, formed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The movement came to limelight following the operation of its guerrilla radio on 102.1 FM. The programmes broadcast on the station were as insulting and provocative as they were inciting and laced with several lies and fallacies. Not even prominent Igbo people were spared the diatribes on the radio station, which is still in operation.
Since Kanu’s arrest and subsequent release, the consciousness of the struggle has spread like wild fire with many, especially the uninformed and unemployed Igbo youths buying into the project, which its proponents described as the march towards self-determination.
Those in the struggle argue that it was the continuation of the effort to achieve a Biafra Republic, which was declared in 1967, but shortly aborted, after the rest of the country rejected and reneged on the Aburi accord in Ghana of the same year.
This point of disagreement most Igbo believed accentuated the Nigeria/Biafran civil war of 1967-1970. Although, the war ended with casualties on both sides, it was believed that the “no victor, no vanquished” and the “Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Reconciliation (3Rs) declaration of Gen Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) were never implemented.
Successive governments were said to have toed the same path to the extent that while other parts of the country have continued to benefit from the Federal Government’s infrastructure development projects, appointments among others, the Southeast zone has continued to be marginalised. The zone has relied mainly on individual efforts to develop the area.
Many believe that the continuation of the injustice has given rise to agitations for a sovereign state of Biafra. The Uwazurike-led MASSOB had consistently kept the post-civil war struggle in the front burner. But with his detention and release from prison, the potency in the struggle was badly affected.
A leadership crisis had erupted that gave rise to the formation of other pro-Biafra groups including the Biafra Zionist Federation (BZF) led by Onwuka Benjamin and Kanu’s IPOB that came into being in 2014, among other splinter groups. Uchenna Madu had succeeded Uwazurike as leader of MASSOB.
Indeed, the emergence of these groups has intensified the clamour for Biafra Republic. But IPOB appears to be leading in the struggle due mainly to the multitude at the epicenter of the struggle. The BZF has mainly old men and women, while the MASSOB is still struggling to recover from the crisis that claimed Uwazuruike’s leadership.
It is also being speculated that the Biafra Radio, being promoted by Kanu was used to attract followership into the group as its adherents took the information from the radio station hook, line and sinker.
Activities Of Biafra Agitators And Military’s Python Dance
OVER the years, the agitation had been sustained with calls for civil disobedience, which included several sit-at-home orders, disruption of public functions, peaceful protests and boycott of government activities, among others.
The Southeast zone still holds MASSOB responsible for the paltry figure allocated to it during the 2008 population census exercise in the country and other benefits including investments that had eluded it following the way the agitations had been pursued.
Although its political and intellectual leaders agreed that the zone is seriously neglected, they way and manner they have pursued the course is miles away from those of its youths.
When the Python Dance 1 took off last year, the Federal Government using the Nigeria Army had reasoned that it was part of the effort to ensure sanity in the region. The exercise, which lasted for three months with a major base in Onitsha, Anambra State, according to the Army was to check kidnappings, armed robberies and the violent demonstrations by pro-Biafra groups, especially during the ember months.
Indeed, the people of the zone welcomed the exercise basically because of the level of crimes in Anambra, especially with the increased kidnapping cases. For the three months in which the exercise lasted, agitations by pro-Biafra groups were suspended and crimes reduced.
Part two of the exercise has started and Umuahia, Abia State has been chosen as the operation base for the soldiers. Those who have followed the activities in the zone would believe that the present exercise was conceived following the increasing activities of the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB.
The Guardian learnt that the one month exercise was being hosted in Umuahia because the IPOB recently formed the Biafra Security Service (BSS), which is allegedly being trained by some retired soldiers at Afaraukwu–Ibeku, Kanu’s country home.
Another is the fact that midnight meetings increased when Kanu declared that the Anambra governorship election scheduled for November 18 would not hold and the increased tempo in his rallies across the Southeast and beyond. It is argued that some of his utterances were over heating the polity.
While the night meetings holding almost on daily basis, young men and women gather around newspaper stands daily in the zone to discuss issues around Biafra struggle. In Enugu for instance, Edinburgh Roundabout, Achina Street in Achara Layout and several other spots play host to young men who abandon their daily routine to discuss the
Motorists often have a hectic time attempting to avoid collision with tricycle riders, who park indiscriminately along major roads. One thing that has always played out in these gatherings is the kind of information and half –truths they extend to each other, especially with publications in some Biafra tabloids.
A university teacher, Christian Uchenna, a lecturer, said the Biafra struggle has suffered due to deceit, stressing that, “certain individuals who do not have a fixed address or boast of means of survival are busy deceiving the gullible in the name of Biafra.”
“Have you tried to call the phone numbers of those tabloids they carry about? You will discover that the phone numbers and addresses on them do not exist. They churn out lies and propaganda to sell the papers, yet our people believe and patronise them.
“I have sat to ask some of these people who talk about Biafra, why their leader has not cared to bring his family back to Nigeria so that they will join in the struggle. It is rather sad that people have decided to play with their lives in the guise of Biafra with a few individuals smiling to the banks,” he added.
Citing the BSS as an instance, he queried the rationale behind it, especially when those who make up the group are not allowed to bear arms, stressing that there was the need for reorientation of those involved in the agitations.
Nonetheless, there is a mixed grill over the ongoing Operation Python Dance 11 in the region. While some said it was a welcome development, others insist that there was no basis for it, especially with the declaration by the police recently that Southeast was the least in crime rate.
A public analyst based in Anambra State, Aloy Ejimakor, has declared it unconstitutional, saying there was no reason for President Muhammadu Buhari to invade the zone with heavy military presence.
Ejimakor argued that although the Army claimed the president acted pursuant to Section 218 of the Constitution, which gives him powers to determine the use of the armed forces of the federation, it was not enough to send troops to the zone.
He said that such power was not absolute as unarguably qualified by Section 217, which clearly stated the situations/conditions for the exercise of that power, including the country’s defense against external aggression.
Others are for the maintenance of the territorial integrity and securing Nigeria’s borders from violation on land, sea and air, as well as for suppressing insurrection and acting in aid of civil authorities to restore order when the need arises.
He further argued that the powers to deploy troops to suppress an insurrection were not to fight kidnappings, armed robberies, the killing of priests and certainly not in suppressing ‘unarmed’ agitators.
In the interim, there is no such thing as active bearing of arms and actual levying of war against the Federal Government in the Southeast, insisting that all the reasons adduced for ‘Operation Python Dance or Egwu Eke 2’ were also prevalent in other parts of the country.
To be clear, ‘agitation is garden variety expression of political opinion and peaceful assembly expressly protected under Chapter IV of the Constitution’.
It is easily distinguishable from ‘internal insurrection’, which bears two elements- active bearing of arms and actual levying of war against the Federal Government.
Citing three recent and related judicial pronouncements from Federal High Court and Court of Appeal, he noted that in January 2015, Justice R.M. Aikawa of the Federal High Court, Sokoto invalidated President Goodluck Jonathan’s unilateral deployment of soldiers for the June 2014 Ekiti State governorship election.
“The Court of Appeal, presided by Justice Abdul Aboki, in February 2015, held that “the President of Nigeria has no powers to unleash the Nigeria Armed Forces on peaceful citizens, that Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution makes the maintenance of internal security, including law and order the exclusive responsibility of the police.
“The Court of Appeal in Yussuf v. Obasanjo (2005) 18 NWLR (PT 956) 96, held that “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarised,” he added.
He further cautioned that should President Buhari find cause to deploy soldiers to suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order, he must first seek the permission of the National Assembly, warning that a flurry of lawsuits will be filed against the Python Dance in the next few days.
Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) Emeka Umeagbalasi, has described the exercise as nothing short of radicalisation and bastardisation of civil security in the Southeast, particularly the Igbo heartland of Nigeria, insisting that it is a deliberate act of traumatising of the law abiding and peaceful Igbo people.
He argued that by citing cases of mindless assassinations (even in religious places), attacks on security personnel and stealing of weapons, kidnappings, cultism, armed robbery/banditry and violent agitations by secessionist groups, among others, as reasons for its latest killer-mission in the Southeast, the Nigerian Army has not only lied to Nigerians, but has also mindlessly usurped and taken over the civil and traditional functions of the Nigeria Police.
While condemning the exercise, he further faulted the Nigerian Army on tagging Biafra rallies as ‘violent agitations’, which they said sounded odd, and declared that ‘there is no armed rebellion in zone’, arguing that the army command has created this one as basis to raze the fast developing Southeast to rubbles.
He said the Army and Federal Government action amounted to a clear case of declaration of unprovoked and unwarranted war on the Igbo population, as well as mindless militarisation and militarism in a supposedly democratic dispensation, which will cause a lot of intractable consequences.
Speaking, Rommy Ezeonwuka noted that Nnamdi Kanu was a mental case that needs investigation. “How can he say that there will be no election in Anambra State? He has no right to say that, because by that statement, he is not working in the interest of Anambra State or the Igbo in general. The Army, however, are not supposed to invade Abia State or Kanu’s residence as if there is a war.
Igbo leaders should call Kanu to order and also resist the move by the army to intimidate either Kanu or the Igbo. Kanu should be advised that Anambra State election is imperative and there is no going back on it.
On the Biafra struggle, Ezonwuka said that Kanu should use non-violent strategy used by Uwazuruike’s MASSOB.
On the other hand, the momentum gained in the agitation appears to be sustained in Imo State as demonstrated last month when Kanu visited Owerri, the state capital. Economic and social activities stagnated that day. The venue where Kanu addressed people (at popular Warehouse by Orlu Road Junction and Freedom Square) recorded massive turn out for of people for several hours.
Despite the inroads they have made so far, Governor Rochas Okorocha has refused to buy into the project. “Let me also mention, whatever reason for this agitation by different groups, whether right or wrong, it is an ill-wind that has done this nation no good. But if you recall, I had made a request for Kanu’s release from the prison, making excuses for him and his group, as youthful exuberance. I stated that keeping him longer in prison would command unwarranted ownership and popularity for him. Shortly after that, following comments by the Southeast Governors Forum, he was released only again to hear about this very controversial statement, which was made last by IPOB’s sit-at-home order.
“Most people believe that the Southeast supported the sit-at-home order. But it is not true. The order came shortly after the democracy day. Some people in their natural characteristics want to enjoy holiday that can be extended. It looked like everybody enjoyed the sit-at-home order.
“Secondly, traders feared that hoodlums would take advantage of the order to destroy their goods and property. So it is not true that the sit-at-home order was purposely obeyed as a mark of support for IPOB,” Okorocha had said.
An IPOB loyalist, Patrick Eze, told The Guardian that the Biafra state would be realised. He hinged his optimism on the fact that people from the Southeast had been
Continuously marginalised since 1967 and after the civil war. He called for peaceful division of the country.
“We need Biafra. We are armless and I want us to achieve it non-violently. We need only Biro, spreading the news about it to achieve Biafra nation. We have been suffering since 1967. Things are getting worse by the day. No Igbo man has become president. Why? I saw only Alex Ekwueme as Vice President and what did we get then-only the prison yard in Aguata and the expressway. One Nigeria now is not necessary. This country should be divided because we don’t have strength for war. If they want to divide us let them do it peacefully,” he said.
Questions are being asked in Abia State about the Operation Python Dance 11, which the Nigeria Army declared in the Southeast states.
They called for caution in the handling the agitation for Biafra by IPOB and expressed fears that if not done properly, the agitations could worsen the fragile peace, unity and development of the country, especially along the north and south divide.
Director of Army Public Relations of the 82 Division of the Nigeria Army, Col. Sagir Musa told journalists at the Umuahia Office of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Tuesday that the operation Python Dance 11 was motivated by the need to address identified challenges of insecurity, including violent agitations, armed robberies, kidnappings and assassinations, among other crimes in the south east region.
He stressed that the exercise was not targeted at the IPOB leader whose country home at Afara Ukwu in Umuahia was invaded on Tuesday when the soldiers carried out what they called Operation Show of Strength in the town.
His assertion, going by the reports of the alleged manhandling of IPOB members and supporters along Aba-Umuahia expressway could not be said to be in line with Musa’s stance.
According to reports, several people died during the exercise while military vehicles and equipment including Armoured Persennel Carriers (APC) were stationed at strategic points in the state and along Port Harcourt- Enugu expressway.
The outgoing State Police Commissioner, Leye Oyebade, while speaking on the three days curfew declared on Tuesday in Aba, which was extended to yesterday by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, urged the residents to comply fully or face the punishment it they fail saying “the Operation Python Dance II is to complement the Police efforts.
However, residents have expressed concerns that the military operation, irrespective of what the army claimed was their motivation, could lead to undesired consequences, especially in the midst of rising agitations by IPOB members and quest for Biafra as the October 1 deadline given by Arewa Youths to Igbo residents in the northern states to vacate the north approaches.
A public analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity queried the army for embarking on such exercise without sensitising members of public through public education using local languages and allowing them ask relevant questions.
Others feared that if the operation was not part of government’s resolve to cripple the Southeast. At least, a community leader who gave his name as Okereke Ogbonnaya, a retired public servant who fought during the Nigeria civil war thought so.
According to the Abia Elite Group led by Ken Gwamuokwu, it would amount to using the IPOB agitation to jeopardise the lives and properties of the Southeast people, which may possibly result in another civil war.
His words: The IPOB agitation is far less than the havoc done by the violent Boko Haram terrorists, yet it took the Federal government years to attack them even as pleas were being made to them to come for dialogue with the government.
Residents do not however agree that the ‘Python Dance’ was the best alternative to addressing the insecurity and non-violent agitation of IPOB. They called for immediate cessation of the ‘Dance’ and recall the soldiers from the state and peacefully address the remote causes of the agitations, especially the marginalization of the Southeast.
While declaring a dusk to dawn curfew in Aba, Ikpeazu had stated that Abia was a state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria and subscribes to the supremacy of the Constitution and other extant laws.
“The government recognises the right of the Nigeria Army and other security agencies to perform their statutory duty of protection of lives and property, but such duties must be carried out within acclaimed Nigerian and international standards of engagement with the civil populace, with due respect to the human rights of citizens and sanctity of human lives, he said.
Reacting to the development, a lab technician in Awka, Regy Opara, said the deployment of the military was not the best option in the region.
He pointed out that this was the second time the army has launched this operation. Kanu has already opened talks with Southeast governors, prominent leaders and groups including Prof. Ben Nwabueze and Evangelist Elliott Ugochukwu-Ukoh in a meeting held on August 30, 2017 at Government House Enugu aimed at finding a lasting solution to agitators’ grievances.
Even though the meeting was to continue last Friday, Kanu has backed out because of the military invasion of his ancestral home in Umuahia. Furthermore, there are calls for his arrest and this is somebody is not engaged in armed struggle.
“Government and the army must tell Nigerians why solders stormed Kanu’s home. Does the government want to cause another civil war? This is an attempt to create unnecessary tension. I believe Federal Government wants to cause anarchy in Igboland,” Opara said.
Already, scores of unarmed civilians have been killed and several injured from gunshots fired by soldiers. Is it a declaration of war in Igboland? Right now, Kanu is not safe and his whereabouts is not known now. Can’t a Nigerian express his opinion, talk on issues or move about freely?
“I am appealing to Buhari to withdraw soldiers and suspend this so called Egwu eke dance now, because it is an attempt to wipe out the entire Igbo race from Nigeria. Ndigbo should be very careful, trade with caution and apply wisdom in their dealing with the situation,” Opara added.
Also, Victoria Sebastian, a student of the Abia State University, Uturu, said the Biafra war would bring catastrophe to the people and as such they are not in support of it.
All we want is peace, love and oneness among all Nigerians. Students are asking the state government, especially Governor Ikpeazu, to arise and take a decision to protect the people.
David Okeke from the Federal University Of Technology Owerri (FUTO), told The Guardian that the Igbo depend on the North for food and how will they survive if there is war or Nigeria breaks up?
Okeke said no matter what the people do, Nigeria would never break up because that is not the will of God, adding that the Christian students in FUTO are praying for God’s intervention to avert further crisis in the country.