Over seven thousands members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, yesterday, shut down markets and all commercial activities in Nnewi, Anambra State in solidarity protest for the release of the Director of Radio Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, who has been incarcerated by the Directorate of State Services, DSS, for over one month.
Members of the IPOB mobilized from Onitsha, Asaba, Awka, Ekwulobia, Awka-Etiti, Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi and Abia states, converged at Nnewi from where they marched to the house of the late Ikemba Nnewi, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to ask for his blessing even in death.
This came as constitutional lawyer and leader of eminent group of Nigerians, The Patriots, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), admonished the groups to have a re-think over their renewed calls for the state of Biafra.
According to one of the commanders, of IPOB, Mr. Emeka Onwane, the protest was a warning signal to the Federal Government to make sure that Kanu, who he said, would appear in court today is released without further delay.
Onwane said they decided to shut down Nnewi and made sure there were no commercial and business activities to further press home their demand for Kanu’s release without which he said there would be no peace in Nigeria.
He said the protest would last for three days, and they chose Nnewi for the mother of all rallies as it is the home-town of the former Biafra war lord, late Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu.
“IPOB is looking up to the international community including the United States, Russia, France and every other countries excluding Britain which is the enemy of Biafra. We are not talking about Igbo presidency; we are talking about an independent nation of Biafra. So, we are looking up to world leaders to help us actualize Biafra,” he said.
The protesters moved from St. Mary Junction to Nkwo Nnewi market, down to the express way leading to Nnewi Area Command, through Odumegwu Ojukwu’s residence to Owerri Road, Nkwo Nnewi Triangle and later headed for Awka-Etiti through Nnobi.
Onwane said their journey was an endless one but assured that it would all be peaceful as they displayed placards with inscriptions as ‘Free Nnamdi Kanu,’ ‘Free Biafra,’ ‘No Biafra, no peace,’ ‘We want Biafra now,’ ‘Biafra now or never.’
In Aba, Abia State, members of the group warned traders across markets not to open for business today.
Vanguard gathered that IPOB members visited Ariaria International, Ngwa Road, Cemetery and Ekeoha markets with public address system announcing to the traders to shut their shops.
A cross section of traders, who spoke to Vanguard, condemned the order and appealed to the IPOB members to allow the markets open.
According to them: ”They should allow the markets open. Any trader, who wants to join the protest is free, but a total closure of the market will hurt us severely.”
A trader, Mrs. Nwamaka Nnadi, who also faulted the ‘order,’ said the announcement warning traders to steer clear of the markets started on Sunday, as some pro Biafra agitators were observed in some areas, ‘spreading the message.’
Pledging their loyalty
But traders under the aegis of South-East Amalgamated Markets Traders Association, SEAMATA, yesterday, stated that they were in total support of the pro-Biafra groups but condemned the invasion of markets by the agitators.
The traders said that contrary to media reports that they were against Biafra agitation, they were indeed in support of the efforts to restore Biafra through non-violence and not through violent agitation as obtained in the recent protests embarked upon by the agitators during which they forcefully entered into the markets and harassed the traders for opening their shops.
President-General of SEAMATA, Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo in a press statement he jointly signed with the Secretary-General, Mr. Temple Udeh, noted that in as much as the traders support the movement for the state of Biafra, they were in total condemnation of a situation where the pro-Biafra agitators/protesters allowed themselves to be infiltrated by some miscreants who cashed in on the protest to loot and do all sorts of things in the markets.
SEAMATA further stated that the invasion of the markets by Biafra supporters in the name of protest which led to vandalization and destruction of shops, vehicles and other valuables belonging to their fellow Igbo was not only condemnable but unacceptable.
He added: “To set the record straight and for the purpose of clarity, the traders are not challenging the constitutional right of peaceful assembly of any one. We only condemn the attitude of the protesters (or miscreants that infiltrated them) that went into markets, chased the traders out and closed the entrances to the market”.
In a new twist, the crisis rocking the MASSOB which led to the factionalization of the group, with Chief Ralph Uwazuruike leading one group and his National Director of Information heading another group, yesterday, deepened and led to the alleged expulsion of Uwazuruike and installation of Uchenna Madu as the new national leader of MASSOB.
The installation of Madu took place after the national officers including the zonal and regional administrators of the group formally announced the expulsion of Chief Uwazuruike as MASSOB national leader in an event that was witnessed by even non-MASSOB members.
While Madu became the new leader in acting capacity for six months, Ugwuoke Ibem Ugwuoke, emerged the National Secretary.
MASSOB warned Uwazuruike “to stop parading himself as MASSOB leader or using Ojukwu’s name to dupe Ndigbo or garner personal fame to pursue his political ambition.”
The members also indicted the sacked MASSOB leader of allegedly defrauding the members through “the introduction of the Biafra international passport, a gross and dubious means through which he generated about N100 million for himself.
“The over N40 million realized from the dedication of the Biafran war veterans home in Okwe, built by MASSOB members, was diverted to Uwazuruike’s personal purse,” the group alleged.
No to secession
But speaking yesterday in Lagos at a press conference to announce the 4th Goddy Jidenma Foundation bi-annual Public Lecture, entitled: ‘Leadership, Responsibility & Good Governance,’ holding on Wednesday, December 3, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Victoria Island, Lagos, Professor Nwabueze, who blamed the nation’s leadership problem, for the renewed agitations for the state of Biafra, however, advised the protesting youths that the answer to their genuine grievances did not lie in secession.
According to Nwabueze, who was flanked by the Principal Solicitor, Zik Chuka Obi & Co and Dr. Ije Jidenma, Executive Secretary, GJF, and wife of the late Goddy Jidenma, clamping down on pro-Biafra protesters or sending them to prison is not the solution to the problem. This was a problem that led us to war. What did we achieve by that war? Did we achieve Biafra? We didn’t. Is there any basis to think that it can be realised this time? Are we more prepared for it now than we were in 1967. Certainly not, we aren’t prepared for it.”
Speaking further, he said: “However, we must not condemn the people that are agitating. The present administration must look at the root cause of their protests. These people protesting are all young people. Some of them have not been employed for over 10 years after graduating from the university.
“In my own time, graduate unemployment was unknown. There was nothing like that. The unrest we are witnessing today is caused by this anomaly.
“Tied to this, the recent actions of President Buhari contributes to this unrest. Buhari made 24 key appointments, not a single one came from the South-East. What do you expect the youths from that area to feel. They will feel that they have been deprived of that sense of belonging. They will feel that they don’t belong to Nigeria. If by the President’s actions, he’s saying they don’t belong to Nigeria, then, they will start agitation for Biafra, where they can belong.
“People may describe this feeling as an illusion, but I must say that the feeling is already there. You can’t say to a man who is aggrieved that he has no right to be aggrieved. Address the source of the grievances. Correct your own approach to leadership. Make them feel that they belong. That’s the answer. The answer is not clamping them to prisons.”
The former Nigerian Secretary of Education, however, advised the leadership of MASSOB and IPOB to change their names, noting that the names they currently bear act as a clog in the wheel of their causes.
“I have said it in the past that there is something wrong with the name that pro-Biafra groups are using for their cause. As the pioneer Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, a position I held for 25 years, I had meetings with the leader of MASSOB, Ralph Uwazurike, where I told him the honest truth, that look, you may have something up, but the name MASSOB, defeats your cause. Therefore, you must change the name. How can you be talking about actualisation of a sovereign state within a sovereign state. That’s treasonable. The name alone is treasonable.You can see that the authorities are charging the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu and others for treason. Although, I have called for his immediate release and have asked that he comes to see me when he’s released. I want to see him. The name should be changed. MASSOB is there, IPOB is also there. So, which is which? The name should be changed,” he insisted.