How did the agitation for Biafra begin and how does your group intend to see it through to a logical end?
It started as Igbo National Movement (INM) to deal with Igbo general issues and not necessarily to agitate for Biafra. That was how Nnamdi Kanu and I met for the first time in London. From there, we started nursing the idea of having a full-fledged Biafra organisation. So, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is a recent one. The idea of IPOB originated from human rights activists agitating against the current case in the High Court trying Kanu. Kanu and I do not have separate Biafra organisations.
The idea of Biafra began when we started thinking of how we could lay the economic foundation for Biafra and it was not until 2008/2009 that we established Radio Biafra, which formation actively started our agitation for Biafra. Until then, we were supporting Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the only existing Biafra organisation, where everyone supporting Biafra was. We were all supporting Biafra actively until we set up Radio Biafra to provide needed support for the Biafra movement.
This is not to say that our support for MASSOB stopped, as it helped in the setting up, as well as contribute to meeting the initial cost of setting up Radio Biafra, which operated from February to September 2009. Initially, it was on short wave and we were popular because people received Radio Biafra in almost every part of the world. We also popularised it through word of mouth and the social media platforms. It actually caught on.
Why exactly do you want a separate Biafra country? What is your dissatisfaction with Nigeria as currently constituted?
This is the million naira question. But it’s a simple one. It’s a combination of reasons and it’s because of the failure of the Nigerian government to implement agreements reached at the end of the Nigerian Civil war in January 1970. The Federal Government declared the three Rs – Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation! But the Federal Government did not implement these three programmes. If you remember the recent statement of former Akwa Ibom governor, Mr. Godswill Akpabio, when he said ‘Reconstruction was not carried out in war-ravaged parts of Biafra but in Lagos,’ which did not experience war.
You must also remember how the Federal Government used hunger as a war weapon during the war, which was a war crime— the blockade that was used to starve Biafra people to death. Then after the war, FG confiscated money in the bank accounts of Igbo people from eastern Nigeria and only gave them 20 pounds out of all they had! You must remember how hardworking Igbo people are, how they were in every field of human endeavour during the colonial era before independence and how they dominated in the civil service and business. There were billionaires among them. And then you gave them only 20 pounds out of all they had. It did not only destroy people’s lives, it destroyed their economies. It was a great injustice done to them.
So, the three Rs were not carried out. Then the FG carried out the Indigenisation and Nationalisation Decree, which was the privatisation that nationalised foreign companies and gave them to Nigerian ownership. It enabled Nigerians to buy shares of foreign companies. It happened shortly after the war, and Igbo people did not have money to buy, as it denied us the opportunity to participate in being part owners of nationalised companies in Nigeria.
Another reason is the Land Use and Allocation Decree. These are foundations that made people to start thinking of having their own republic. The decree said whatever you have, even in your own backyard or territory, belongs to the FG. In other words, you cannot use the resources you have to generate wealth because of the Land Use and Allocation Decree that makes it impossible for people to develop their own resources. It makes us think that when you turn left, right, up or down, there’s limitation to your abilities, talent and what you can possibly do or achieve in the place you call your country. It’s like voluntarily submitting to enslavement in your own country.
And so, if you travel round the East, there is no meaningful development and federal presence. So, you can see that the civil war continues through another mean. It’s that injustice you see everywhere in Igbo land. That is why the agitation continues in Igbo land and not just there. That is why there’s no going back on the agitation. I’m sure we’re all following what is happening since October when Kanu was arrested. We’ve been boiling ever since, but it was the arrest of Kanu that made it boil over.
So, it’s the hatred, the marginalisation that has boiled over and made our people to continue agitate. And no amount of force by the Federal Government can stop the agitation.
But how much is the Igbo elite involved in the struggle? Or are you going to carry on without them?
A lot of Igbo elites— the top politicians, businessmen and women— are not identifying with the struggle because they are not feeling the pains or injustice we are talking about. But they are less than 10 per cent of the Igbo population. They are the politicians, the businessmen and women and the wealthy that do not feel or suffer what the people are feeling or suffering. They are the ones benefitting from the government and are being used by the latter to oppress the people. The Federal Government is using divide and rule tactics to oppress the Igbo people. It handpicks these people although it’s not so clear how this is being done, but if you scratch the surface you will see it. These people have access to government’s largesse in terms of contracts. Hence, they are not struggling to see the change they need to come about.
But this is a very tiny minority. However, this type of thing is also happening in other parts of Nigeria. But I must tell you that Igbo people are quite different from people in other parts of Nigeria. Their value system is different. The Igbo are predominantly Christians and their ways of thinking and reasoning are different. They are a free people who rule themselves without bowing to kings like the Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani do to their obas and emirs and their feudal systems. The Igbo have never been a conquered people. In Igbo land, we have the rule of the people. We knew what the Trial Jury was long before the white man even practised it; yes, before it was incorporated into the British legal system.
However, there’s a lot of affinity between the different peoples of the Eastern Region. For instance, Ibibio means ‘little Igbo’ although it’s in Akwa Ibom State. A lot of the practices in Igbo land originated in Ibibio. When an Igbo woman dresses, it’s exactly the same in some areas of Delta, Rivers and Benue, which cannot be differentiated. They have the same market system and dressing with Igbo people; these are what make us unique. So, it’s not just the core Igbo area, but areas where Igbo have affinity that will be part of Biafra, when the time for it comes.
What efforts is your group making to see that Nnamdi Kanu regains his freedom?
We are all concerned about Kanu because of his detention. We set goals and we are in agreement. Kanu has been my friend for 17 years, though we have misunderstanding about methods and tactics. But we are all working for the same purpose of realising Biafra.
President Buhari has repeatedly said he would not allow any part of the country to be taken away under his watch. How do you respond to that in view of your demands that run counter to his assertions?
I’m not surprised. Will chicken be invited when Christmas dinner is being discussed? I do not expect Buhari or anybody else in his position to allow Biafra to happen. He took an oath of office to defend Nigeria. If I were the president, I would also say the same thing. The issue of Biafra is out of the hands of the political establishment or authority in Abuja. When a woman is pregnant, she is expected to deliver after nine months. When it’s time, Buhari will be forced to stand and watch, and even participate and be a signatory to it. So, no president will willingly say they can stand for it. But it will be a peaceful method and we will achieve it.
But even without the issue of Biafra, Nigeria is in disintegration already. Nigeria is not one in the remotest sense of nationhood. At the right time, Biafra will emerge.
Some point at the impracticality of your mission for Biafra, when they look at the bulk of Igbo businesses outside of the zone you refer to as Biafra, which doesn’t seem favourable to Igbo business people. Are you saying these people will abandon their businesses and move over to Biafra?
Their decision to locate their businesses outside of Biafra is purely an economic one underpinned by political power. Without political power, there will not be economic power. All economic decisions are derived from political policies. So, there is no economic power without political power. Persons with political power will decide your economic wealth even if they are imbeciles or know nothing about business. Their decisions will be anti-business.
People of Eastern zone that make up Biafra include part of Ijaw, Delta, in fact, a large part of the South-south and Benue State. They are all suffering because of wrong political power holders in Nigeria. Take a look at the ports in Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar; why is it that all the ships land in Lagos? This is political maneuvering. Business people decide where to locate their businesses if politics makes it profitable. Why are those ports not functioning? Why is it that only the airports in Lagos and Abuja are functional and not the ones in Port Harcourt and Enugu that also have international status?
I’m not justifying it, but in Biafra we will make these possible. In any case, who said business people are not supporting Biafra? This is far from the truth. If I locate my business in Lagos, it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t agitate for Biafra. Biafra’s political regime will be more favourable for business. In Nigeria, a person who doesn’t know anything about business is making economic policy. What kind of outcome will that be? It’s purely to continue the punishment that started in 1967. The economic war continues against Igbo people.
How do you intend to realise this quest for Biafra? Will it be through a referendum or through the use of force of arms?
There are procedures for everything, when indigenous people want independence from oppression and these procedures are recognised by world bodies. If you cast your mind back to the 1950s and 1960s, liberation movements were rife and sometimes there were armed struggles before independence could be attained. But these days, armed struggles are no longer fashionable. We have adopted a peaceful movement.