MASSOB: the real new face of Igbo?

By Ochereome Nnanna
Thursday, September 2, 2004

Many Nigerians have confessed that the degree of success of the passive “mass action” called by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) on August 26, 2004, took them by complete surprise.


 On that day, and perhaps for the first time since the war ended, the Igbo people across the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and beyond, responded with nearly absolute unanimity to a call by an Igbo group for a one-day total boycott of all economic and social activities as a mark of identification with the renewed recourse to the Biafra idea.

Normally, the Igbo are not the easiest of people to persuade to abandon their economic activities for political reasons. I have attended scores of public functions such as rallies, lectures, symposia and such events meant to mobilize the Igbo both in Lagos and the East.

 Many people have, for long, come to the realization that the Igbo people are simply no longer interested in (especially political) events happening around them. If you want the crowds you pay for it, just as people pay for crowds in other parts of Nigeria these days. I remember one Zik Lecture held in 1995 in Enugu. The former Chief of General Staff, ex-Lt. General Oladipo Diya, was invited as the Special Guest of Honor. He sent his Principal Officer, General Ishaya Bakut.

 The lecture was the final public event attended by the late Chief Mokwugwo Okoye, who was the Lecturer. At the height of the gathering, there were only about 25 people in the Banquet Hall of the Hotel Presidential, the venue. On top of that, majority of the guests were from Abuja and Lagos, and up to half of them were non-Igbos who had come to honour the Great Zik of Africa. The visitors (who were familiar with attendance at Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello events in the West and North and the eagerness with which top Igbos pushed and shoved to be noticed) were thoroughly embarrassed for the Igbos!

The reasons for the apathy can be categorized in two ways. With regard to the first reason for apathy is the Igbo man’s realisation that his own survival is up to him. For you to win a person’s loyalty, he must see you as an important source of support for his livelihood.

As the saying goes among the Igbo: “it is from where a person feeds that he puts back something”. Since the Igbo man has no beggar culture (though some people have become so desperately poor that they are learning, albeit clumsily, from those to whom it is a cultural heritage), he knows he is “on his own”. And so, for a group to ask the entire Igbo nation to make the sacrifice of closing shop for a whole day, there must be a big story behind it. I don’t pretend to have all the inside story. Rather, my interest is to subject last week Thursday’s passive mass action by the Igbo nation to a sociological analysis.

For some of them at the higher level, two groups existed. The first includes those who have continued to put up brave efforts to assert their dignity as Igbo men though they lost the civil war. We have seen the gallant efforts of such personalities as Chief Emeka Ojukwu, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, Col. Joe Achuzia, Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, to mention just a few. On the other hand were those who believed the only option left for the Igbo elite was to “stoop to conquer” as they put it.

They strove for acceptance by their peer elite members among the winning side of the war, even if as second or third fiddles (Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, after accepting to be the running mate of Alhaji Othman Tofa, justified himself by saying “ a second fiddle is better than no fiddle”!). Others, especially those in the public services of Nigeria, did their level best to distance themselves from their “Igboness” by wearing Hausa or Yoruba clothes, speaking these languages whenever they felt big Hausa or Yoruba ears were listening and refusing to converse with their fellow Igbos in their native language as the Hausa and Yoruba do normally and proudly, all to avoid being victimized.

Some Igbo groups in Rivers and Delta States declared themselves “Minorities”! Whether this hoodwinked those they were trying to fool is another story!

In the area of politics, there was a mass desertion of Igbo-centric political platforms after the politics of the Second Republic.

 The East became a fertile ground for political parties that had their power sources in Aso Rock, even though this never translated to the Igbo in those parties sharing any of that power. When the military struck and recreated the political arena, whereby all powers resided in Aso Rock in Abuja, many young Igbo politicians and business hustlers, some of them barely literate and of questionable pedigree, through pimping for soldiers, became the local agents of the Nigerian political establishment.

 They were given contracts and security personnel by their masters in Abuja and also made the local godfathers” of political platforms controlled by the Presidency to control power in Igboland at the pleasure of their masters in Abuja. These hustlers had to resort to all sorts of coercive strategies to hold the “loyalty” of those who came to lick oil at their toes.

 Shrines, especially blood-sucking ones, became handy in securing the devotion from desperate politicians, who were also invariably hustlers. These, in summary, constitute the “Now” face of the Igbo political play makers. In other words, the “Now” faces of the Igbo in politics are those who aggressively and loudly posture as “Igbo leaders” so that their masters from other parts of Nigeria would continue to pass the crumbs of power reserved for the Igbo at the civil war’s end to them.

The MASSOB phenomenon obviously represents the “New” face of the Igbo, and we are not saying it in terms of the separatist agenda of the Movement. The new faces of the Igbo are those who have decided to take the destiny of the Igbo race in their own hands. Having watched the stark failure of the existing elite in Igboland to put the house in order, the new faces of the Igbo have decided to cast their lot with Barrister Uwazuruike’s MASSOB outfit, which seeks the resurrection of the suspended Republic of Biafra.

The new Igbos, having waited in vain for nearly forty years for the activation of the “No Victor, No Vanquished”, and “Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation” to be implemented in “One Nigeria”, have decided it was just a fraud to persuade the Igbo to desist from guerrilla warfare, the next phase of the struggle since most towns and villages were lost to the Federal side by January 1970.

Unlike the “Now” faces of the Igbo, the “New” faces do not harbour the defeat syndrome of their fathers. Unlike the war time generation, they do not know what losing all one had means. They do not see any justification in the Igbo adopting the inferiority complex approach and tip-toe around Nigeria when he is as well (if not better) endowed as any other Nigerian. Uwazuruike proved to be the leader they have been waiting for through his determination, fearlessness, selflessness, organizational skills, ability to connect to inspiring imagery, particularly of the civil war Biafra when the Igbo, for better or worse, showed the world what they can do, and consistent touch with the people through all possible media.

MASSOB’s clout sharpened after the 2003 general polls, when the All People’s Grand Alliance (APGA), the party led by MASSOB’s “grand patron” Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, was denied the right to take over the political machinery of Igboland through the polls. The drift to MASSOB’s side is a deepening of the feeling of alienation among the Igbo that even playing the Nigerian game through the Nigerian rule is not enough for the Igbo to be allowed to control their own affairs within the dictates of the Nigerian laws and constitution.

The Igbo are very difficult to mobilize when the leadership is fake. But once genuine inspiration comes the Igbo can move as a block  politically as much as the Yorubas do or even more so. Next year’s MASSOB Day is likely to be more intense than this year’s. However, MASSOB leaders are enjoined to stick to their policy of non-violence, non-exodus. They must refrain from threatening anybody, except those who feel that freedom and justice are threats to their own interests.

 They should watch out for infiltrators, whose primary mission would be to destabilize the Movement and give it a bad name. They should have cordial relationships with other groups seeking justice across Nigeria because even if they achieve their objective of freedom and justice they would still need their neighbours as friends.