Ne­glect, in­jus­tice, poverty drive new Bi­afra protests in Nige­ria

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ONIT­SHA: Forty-five years af­ter a bru­tal civil war, Nige­ria is fac­ing a new wave of protests for a sep­a­rate Bi­afran state, driven by long­stand­ing com­plaints about poverty, ne­glect and in­jus­tice. The im­pe­tus for the cur­rent ag­i­ta­tion is not much dif­fer­ent from that which led to Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion of a Repub­lic of Bi­afra in 1967. The then-mil­i­tary gov­er­nor of Nige­ria’s old east­ern re­gion ac­cused the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of marginal­iz­ing and killing thou­sands of eth­nic Ig­bos liv­ing in the north.

Some one mil­lion peo­ple died dur­ing the bru­tal 1967-70 con­flict that fol­lowed, mainly from dis­ease and star­va­tion. The past few weeks have seen protests across the south­east where the Ig­bos are in the ma­jor­ity, fol­low­ing the ar­rest last month of Ra­dio Bi­afra di­rec­tor Nnamdi Kanu. He is now fac­ing charges of crim­i­nal con­spir­acy and mem­ber­ship of an il­le­gal or­ga­ni­za­tion. Car­ry­ing Kanu’s por­trait, the Bi­afran flag and chant­ing free­dom songs, the pro­test­ers called for his release and a sep­a­rate state. One slo­gan read “Bi­afra or death”.

Splin­ter group Kanu, who heads the In­dige­nous Peo­ples of Bi­afra (IPOB) group, has emerged as the new face of the Bi­afra strug­gle. It was pre­vi­ously cham­pi­oned by the Move­ment for the Ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion of a Sov­er­eign State of Bi­afra (MASSOB), formed in 1999 by Ralph Uwazurike. But in­ter­nal wran­glings split MASSOB and a fac­tion led by Uchenna Madu, its for­mer spokesman, is now work­ing with Kanu’s IPOB group. Madu said the pro­test­ers had planned a sym­bolic block­ade of the Niger bridge in Onit­sha this week but the idea was shelved af­ter warn­ings from the se­cu­rity ser­vices.

The strate­gic bridge link­ing Ig­boland with the rest of Nige­ria was a key bat­tle­ground dur­ing the civil war and the de facto border. “There would have been no move­ment of ve­hi­cles on the bridge be­cause we had planned a seven-day vigil to force the gov­ern­ment to release Kanu and for Nige­ria to give us free­dom,” he said. Anay­ochukwu Ok­para, the IPOB co­or­di­na­tor in Abia state’s com­mer­cial hub, Aba, said in­tim­i­da­tion, ha­rass­ment, ar­rest and de­ten­tion would not stop the strug­gle. “We will step up non-vi­o­lent cam­paigns to de­mand free­dom from Nige­ria. We are Bi­afrans. This forced mar­riage should be dis­solved,” he said.

Op­pos­ing views The Nige­rian army has vowed to “sup­press in­sur­rec­tion and act in aid of civil author­ity to re­store or­der when called upon to do so”, stok­ing fears of a back­lash and un­rest. South­east gov­er­nors have con­demned the mass protests, ques­tion­ing why the pro-Bi­afra cam­paign has re-emerged with a new gov­ern­ment in place un­der Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari. — AFP

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