VANGUARD——– THE business community of Onitsha, Anambra State has started recovering from the effect of last week’s pro-Biafra violent protests that left nine people dead and property worth millions of naira destroyed. After the Wednesday’s mayhem in the city and the subsequent dismantling of the barricade used by the protesters to block the Bridge Head and other entry points in Onitsha,indication emerged that members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, were regrouping on Thursday to begin another round of violent demonstration.
This was, however, aborted following the beefing up of security in the area. For instance, several truck loads of soldiers, from the 82 Division of the Nigerian Army, Enugu, were seen heading to Onitsha on Thursday and this, perhaps, scared the organizers of the protests. Hundreds of the IPOB agitators, who gathered at one location in Onitsha, had to hurriedly disperse for fear of arrests.
The suspension of the protest, however, does not mean the agitation is over.
For now, the agitators have resorted to the use of the social media to whip up sentiments and gather more support for what they described as impending referendum on Biafra. One of the messages that have hit the media is entitled, ‘The Biafra question: A case for self-determination referendum.’
Many traders in Onitsha were, at the weekend, still counting their losses since the protests began following the arrest and detention of Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the Director of Radio Biafra, by security operatives. Mr. Maximus Okafor, a trader at the popular Bridge Head drug market, Onitsha, said his customers, who were coming to make purchases that Wednesday, could not enter Onitsha because of the activities of the pro-Biafra group. Okafor, who resides in Asaba, Delta State, and has had to cross the River Niger everyday to reach his shop, said he too could not enter Onitsha on the said day.
According to him, though people were trekking to Onitsha from Asaba, he saw no need to do so since the markets were closed. He added that his customer, who had already transferred money to his account, had to stay in a hotel outside Onitsha until the following day.
Travellers to other parts of the country could not make their journey and were trapped between Upper Iweka Road and the Bridge Head as the IPOB activists controlled the highway for the better part of the day. Most of the boys that organized the protest came from Aba, Abia State after embarking on a similar protest in Enyimba the previous day. They were joined by their colleagues in Onitsha who provided logistics. Some of the protesters said they were looking forward to when their leaders would lead them to march on the streets of Abuja to make “the impact concerning Biafra Republic”. One of them, who gave his name as Uche and who claimed to be 26 years old, said he became interested in the Biafra project after listening to Radio Biafra for several months.
“Listening to Radio Biafra opened one’s eyes to what Igbo people are passing through in Nigeria and the best thing that can happen to us is to have our own country. If it happened in Southern Sudan, why can’t it happen here?”, Uche said. Incidentally, there appears to be no peace among some of the agitators as the various groups, which claim to be working towards the actualization of the Biafra Republic, are trading blames over the outcome of the happenings in Onitsha. Even Igbo groups and many highly- placed individuals have dissociated themselves from the activities of the groups. For instance, two factions of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, are accusing each other of being responsible for the loss of lives and destruction of property as a result of the violent nature of the agitation. MASSOB leader, Chief Ralph Uwazurike, is accusing
IPOB and the Uchenna Madu-led faction of MASSOB of being responsible for the violent protests. He recalled that Kanu, the detained Director of Radio Biafra, who is the leader of IPOB, and Madu, the leader of the break away MASSOB, had earlier been expelled from MASSOB because of their alleged disposition to violence, which, according to him, is against the non-violence posture of MASSOB. To him, Kanu and Madu were being sponsored by politicians to destabilise MASSOB and so they had to be expelled. But Madu countered, saying Uwazurike had lost the confidence of Ndigbo who once believed in him.
“Uwazurike should cover his face in shame because no Igbo man wants to hear his voice on issues concerning Biafra any longer as he and his followers have been tagged Biafra saboteurs”, the MASSOB factional leader stated. “In this current agitation for Biafra, which has drawn international attention, Uwazurike is completely lost as he is no longer agitating for Biafra actualization, but pursuing personal interests. Biafrans know who their leaders are and Uwazurike is not among them.”
Pro-Biafra protesters mount road blocks and bonfires at Onitsha Head Bridge in Anambra State, yesterday. Photos: Vincent Ujumadu.
The question remains, what would be the next move of the Biafra agitators in the face of the criticisms trailing their actions, and the clampdown by security operatives? Unfortunately, most of the agitators protesting on the streets do not know the detailed programme of their leaders, except that they have been told that by constantly protesting on the streets, the international community would one day tell Nigerian leaders to allow the Biafra Republic to be carved out of Nigeria. After the Onitsha protest, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State appealed to the people to give peace a chance.
The governor said:”The government of Anambra State has been monitoring developments and is greatly concerned about the security of lives and property of residents and visitors to the state. As your governor and Chief Security Officer of the state, I am compelled to act to avert any likely breakdown of law and order. In all situations, the preservation of human life comes first and I am determined to enforce that. “I therefore, sincerely appeal to members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), MASSOB and other aggrieved groups and individuals to maintain peace and resist any attempt by hoodlums to take advantage of the situation and destabilize any part of Anambra State.“
I am in constant touch with all the security agencies in the state to ensure that what has otherwise been a peaceful protest is not hijacked by trouble makers. All mischief makers are hereby warned to keep off as we will not tolerate any breach of peace under any guise or pretext. You are seriously warned!” The apex Igbo socio–cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which is also worried by the activities of the Biafra agitators, said no reasonable Igbo would associate with the demand of the youths. Chairman, Forum of State Presidents of Ohaneze in the seven Igbo–speaking states, Dr. Chris Eluomunoh, said that no right thinking person would support what he called the madness by some youths, who were being deceived to engage in something they cannot finish. He, however, identified the perceived marginalization of Igbo as the main cause of the Biafra agitation,urging President Muhammadu Buhari to address the issue.
Imo: Shock, grief, anger trail killings
Reports from Imo State said grief, anger and shock trailed the Wednesday’s killing of the MASSOB and IPOB activists by security agencies in Onitsha, Anambra State.
Many residents recounted what they called “the excesses of the Buhari administration to include the abandonment of the South-East and the assault on defenceless and unarmed protesters”.
They were of the view that some of the recent appointments made by President Buhari showed the disdain his administration has for Ndigbo.
The people recalled with grief, anger and defiance that only the South-East has five states, while others have six and above, with multiple local government areas that equally attract high revenue from the Federation Account.
During a recent pastoral outing, the Bishop of Egbu Anglican Diocese, Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Okorafor, had called for understanding and dialogue.
He predicted that if the growing agitation was not properly handled, it could lead to loss of lives. Today, he is vindicated!
One of the loyalists of IPOB, who simply identified himself as Geoffrey, appealed to the Federal Government to stop deceiving the country that it is running a democracy.
“In a democracy, people are free to express their misgivings openly. In a democracy, people are free to seek self-determination. If the country is united, our soldiers would find it difficult to direct the nozzles of their guns at unarmed members of MASSOB and IPOB, instead of members of Boko Haram that have been killing hundreds of innocent people for years”, he said.
Speaking also, a female member of IPOB, Mercy Chikodi Agams, said “the Indigenous People of Biafra have been going about their agitation peacefully and will continue to remain peaceful, despite provocations from security agencies.”
Continuing, Agams said “the group is not only resolute in our quest for freedom, but is also aware that in this legitimate struggle, many lives would be lost, not because we want to lose them, but because the Buhari government detests freedom of the oppressed people of Biafra”.
She added “The world is watching the terror unleashed on innocent people legitimately agitating for their right to independence”.
Agams was of the view that what increased the tempo of the agitation was the arrest, detention and prosecution of the Director of Radio Biafra, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, who is now branded a terror suspect by the Federal Government.
“This young Biafran, Kanu, lives in the United Kingdom. If he was the terrorist, which the Federal Government now brands him, the British police would not have allowed him to walk the streets of London unhindered”, the activist said.
To Kemdi Uzor, government has failed to critically ascertain the reasons behind the current agitation, with a view to coming out with the appropriate solution.
“If not that the Ndigbo are industrious, we would have been sentenced to untold hardship and penury. I recall with grief that only paltry 20 pounds was given to all bank depositors at the end of the 30-month old war, irrespective of the amount you left in the account”, Uzor said.
He recalled that the Federal Government took that decision because owners of such accounts either made withdrawals or deposits, while the war lasted.
“So, you can see that the Federal Government expected that the hungry and disease-infested people that were living in land-locked Biafra, should not have operated their accounts for 30 whole months”, Uzor stated.
Some business men in Owerri were, at the weekend, counting their losses, following the closure of markets in Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of Anambra State.
“Our livelihood and the sustenance of members of our families are dependent on our ability to record reasonable turnover at the end of the day, but the events in Onitsha have definitely slowed things down.
“It is not in doubt that Onitsha and Aba are the major commercial nerve centres in the South-East. These are also the major operational zones of MASSOB and IPOB. The economic environment sadly shrinks each time the groups order their loyalists to the streets”.
Apart from traders, another group of business men that have suffered huge losses, since the uprising started, are commercial vehicle operators.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that some of the commercial drivers heading to Benin, Lagos and the other western states, made use of the Owerri-Elele-Efurun-Warri-Benin axis, while those heading to the North, used the Enugu route and avoided Onitsha.
A driver, who simply identified himself as Uko, complained that the stress occasioned by the diversion, was great and the man hours spent on the trip, longer.
Enugu: MASSOB factional leader to Igbo leaders: Don’t meet FG
Meanwhile, factional MASSOB leader, Madu, says any Igbo leader who represents the group in any meeting with the Federal Government without its consent will be disgraced. The factional leader, who spoke in Enugu State, said: “Every struggle has its methodology to achieve its desired goal and aspiration for the people. The two-days blockage of River Niger is part of the ongoing peaceful,non-violent demonstration against the continued detention of our Nnamdi Kanu by the Nigeria government. Civil disobedience, non-cooperation and peaceful demonstrations are tools of non-violent agitation worldwide. Our actions so far portray IPOB,MASSOB, led by me, as well organized, focused, determined uncompromising, dedicated, fearless and unsabotage organizations bent on Biafra actualization.
“Today,Nigeria is jittery,shaken and disorganised because of one month peaceful demonstration and protests of genuine Biafra agitators. There are tens of other programmes and actions we can unleash under our clothes of non-violence which will ultimately uproot Nigeria from her already dislocated foundation, but we are watching the Nigeria government to ascertain,verify their seriousness on the much published dialogue,meeting of Ndigbo and the Federal Government over our demands.
“We still maintain that any Igbo representatives on the dialogue or meeting with Federal Government without our consent shall be disgraced. We shall never relent or retire until our Biafra is actualized. Non-violence shall also remain our cardinal point and motivational force.”
In a related development, a leading transport company, Peace Mass Transit, PMT, told Sunday Vanguard that the blockage of the Niger Bridge by the Onitsha protesters had increased the man hours spent on the route even as it occasioned increased fuel consumption as the drivers made a detour to avoid the Head Bridge.
The PMT Managing Director, Mr. Amaechi Ezegwu, said: “Most of our drivers had to sleep on that route. They spent over 12 hours on the 2nd Niger Bridge as a result of the blockage. Manhours were spent and most of the drivers made a detour to avoid the bridge. Fuel will be consumed in the process. We might be forced to increase fares if the situation persists.”
Ebonyi: Police arrest four
In Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, four members of MASSOB were in the early hours of Friday arrested by policemen.
The members, who engaged in a peaceful protest along some streets in Abakaliki, were seen carrying placards, the flag of the pro-Biafra group and chanting songs of solidarity.
This development caused pandemonium as tricycle operators and motorists made a detour to avoid troubled areas.
Ebonyi State Police Public Relations Officer, ASP George Okafor, who confirmed the arrest of the MASSOB members, threatened that the police would not allow MASSOB to gain grounds in the state as the command was prepared for any showdown with the activists. Peace has since returned to the state capital as security operatives have been positioned at strategic points to stop the pro-Biafra agitators.
Activists threaten national security— DHQ
Separately, military authorities, at the weekend, explained that security agencies intervened in the MASSOB and IPOB protests because the protesters turned violent and attacked innocent citizens and property. Consequently, the authorities warned that the military will not sit and watch molestation and violent destruction of property or harassment of innocent citizens in the guise of agitating for the sovereign state of Biafra, noting that ‘everybody’s right must be respected’.
Acting Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar, told Sunday Vanguard, in a telephone interview, that government and security agencies had to come in especially when the protesters began to carry dangerous weapons and taking the law into their hands. Disclosing that the police, as the lead agency in internal security issues, were doing very well tackling the challenges brought about by the protests in the South-East, the DDI said the military could only be called in if the situation got out of hand.