Seventeen years after the relaunch of the secessionist agenda by Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra (MASSOB), the struggle for an independent state of Biafra has sparked ethnic tension.
It was in 1999. A young Igbo chief, Ralph Uwazuruike, suddenly appeared on the scene. He is not a politician. Neither is he a businessman. He is not a retired soldier. His antecedent was unknown. He is not a national figure. But, the strange crusade by the Indian-trained lawyer generated fear, which reverberated across the land.
Twenty-nine years after, the ghost of Biafra was exhumed. Uwazuruike said he was ready to raise an army for the realisation of a separatist agenda, which the late warlord Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu failed to achieve at the height of his illustrious military career.
Anxiety was about to envelop the polity. The new champion of a dead agenda is a man of speed. To the consternation of a shocked country, he hoisted the Biafran flags in different locations in the region. To demonstrate his seriousness, he also launched a nationalist organisation, the Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra (MASSOB).
As other Nigerians dismissed the new movement as a huge joke, many of his Igbo kinsmen saluted his patriotic sagacity.
Soon, MASSOB held series of rallies to draw home its point. It launched what it described as the Biafran International Passport. Later, they attempted to launch a separate currency.
The group also unfolded plans to form the Biafra Government in Exile and the Biafran Shadow Government.
Uwazuruike believed he could achieve where Ikemba Odimegwu-Ojukwu failed in 1970.
Following the 1966 coup and counter-coup, which led to the massacre of Igbos in the North, the military governor of the defunct Eastern State declared a state of Biafra.
Thus, the East, under his leadership, embarked on a disastrous secessionist war. Amid the war, the embattled Commander-in-Chief abandoned the troops on the war front and left the ill-fated country of his dream.
Many Igbo have continued to nurse the pains of the war. Although the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, embarked on a programme of reconstruction, rehabilitation and political reconciliation, it did not lead to the psychological reintegration of the ethnic group into Nigeria.
Before and after independence, Igbo dominated many sectors of the country. But, they believe that, since the war, they have been marginalised by successive administrations. Ironically, key Igbo leaders were allies of the successive governments.
In the current dispensation, Igbo has alleged neglect. This has underscored the resurgence of the clamour for a sovereign state, unlike Yoruba, who following their tribulations after the annulment of the ‘June 12’ election, intensified their clamour for a sovereign national conference. Issues that have provoked disaffection in the East are not entirely absent in the North, West and South-South.
These include: poor state of infrastructural facilities, especially roads and lopsided distribution of federal appointments to the disadvantage of the East. There is always competition for ‘federal resources.’
At stake in Nigeria is the core national question; the crisis of distribution; which successive regimes have failed to resolve.
Besides, Igbo is bitter that it has not produced a president for Nigeria. It has expressed disgust at its marginalisation during state creation. While the Northwest has seven states and other zones have six each, the East has five.
In the views of its leaders, only a return to true federalism through restructuring could keep the East under the banner of Nigeria.
However, the strategies employed by MASSOB infuriated the government. Despite the fact that MASSOB leaders described the group as a peaceful organisation on a legitimate mission, government has branded it as a violent group on a mission to undermine the country. During the group’s peaceful protests, the East stood still. Commercial activities were disrupted. Also, motorists suffered on the roads.
To the government, national sovereignty was being subverted. In the course of MASSOB/police confrontation, scores of lives have been lost. MASSOB alleged that no fewer than 1,000 agitators have been killed by the police.
Many members of the group also languish in detention. The group’s leaders have been arraigned in courts for charges ranging from subversion and treason.
The struggle is an expensive venture. The agitators required money to pursue the decorative regional goal. Although MASSOB was previously at the fore front of the struggle, other groups also sprang up to agitate for the same cause.
They include the Biafra Zionist Movement, led by Benjamin Igwe, a lawyer. Along the line, there were allegations that the agitation has been converted to a business venture. Curiously, there was a split in the group, when a crisis of confidence broke out in its leadership ranks.
Uwazuruike started to take a back seat. MASSOB was factionalised and up came the Director of the MASSOB Radio, Nnamdi Kanu, who instantly filled the void. His group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), became a pain in the neck for the Federal Government.
He was charged and remanded in prison. Recently, he was granted bail on terms and conditions, his kinsmen described as stringent. One of such conditions is that he must not be seen in a crowd of more than 10 people.
Last week, there were speculations that the Federal Government may appeal for the review of his bail conditions.
But, will he succeed in his struggle? Time will tell.