Neglect, injustice, poverty drive new Biafra protests in Nigeria
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