UWAZURIKE:Why the Igbos obeyed MASSOB's call to stay at home. By Fred Iwenjora, Saturday, September 04, 2004.
ON Thursday, August 26, 2004, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) issued a stay-at-home order for their members and people who have any sympathy for their ideals. Of course, not many Nigerians gave it a second thought. To them, it was a vain effort by a man seeking undue popularity.
Thus, it was a huge surprise when traders, drivers, public servants and other professionals heeded the call and stayed in their homes, especially in the five South-East states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo and in some other parts of Rivers. Also, some Igbo businessmen closed their shops in Kaduna, Kano and some parts of Lagos.
Till today, people are still aghast as to why the protest was that successful and what it was intended to achieve? What is MASSOB’s next move? The only person to talk to was Chief Raph Uwazurike, the founder and leader of MASSOB. And when we got him to speak, he was forthcoming on all issues. Excerpts.
Many Nigerians are still unclear about your motivation. But more specifically, why did you call for the stay-at-home protest on August 26? What was it supposed to achieve?
First and foremost, I thank God for making it possible for me to still be alive till today. And for making it possible for my people to understand our gospel. I credit the whole success recorded on that day to Chief Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu who started Biafra in the first instance. What I am trying to do today is to see that I actualise that laudable objective.
For sometime now, we’ve been on this struggle and we have been repeating ourselves on the reasons for the struggle and our reasons are legion.
They range from the marginalisation of our people to constant killing, sponsored killing of a particular ethnic group across the nation to selective humiliation and destruction of our business interests, burning of markets across the country where Ndigbo dominate, thereby making lives insecure. Above all, in Nigeria, we are not part of the system. We are rejected, we are isolated in government set-up. So, this formed the basis of the (struggle).
Over time, people were suspicious of my moves and procedures. Some thought I was coming up with another civil strife or embarking on the use of arms and ammunitions to actualise Biafra. But within the last five years, I have tried to let my people understand my method. And when I felt that they had not understood my method, I put my credibility to test. I said, let me test my popularity amongst my people. That was just what I did amongst my people on the 26th of August. But it’s not about Uwazurike, it’s about a non-violent movement of determined young men and women who are out to change the lives of their marginalised people.
So, what did you discover?
I realised that my people are in full support of what I am doing. In fact, I take it that I have been given a new mandate to speak, act for them and protect their interests. That is an added responsibility on my shoulder.
Before the stay-at-home order, there were several leaflets and handbills discrediting you and which were massively circulated in the South East.
Does that not call to question the issue of whether you’ve been accepted by the general public even in Igboland?
I got several of these leaflets and I know that they were sponsored by the governors. They are meaningless to me because that didn’t stop the people from expressing themselves. The leaflets didn’t change anything. Some of these handbills had photographs of big houses which credited their ownership to me. They did not include the addresses of the houses. If they had done that, I would have reacted because if you say a house belongs to me, I have the right to claim it or not. They should have put the location of these houses.
But I tell you they were just trying to be mischievous but these agents of the oppressors of our people failed woefully. They are all interested in being the president and vice president of Nigeria. But we all know that they will fail because they are blinded by their lack of knowledge. How could the five Eastern governors all be president or vice at same time? I like what happened because if they had kept quiet, they would have claimed the success of the event of August 26. But they came out and opposed it and the people ignored them.
It only shows you that nobody voted for them. If they were voted for, the people who voted for them would have listened to them. In Abia State, for instance, the people were threatened to open their shops but no one was moved. In Owerri, they took the keys to the market and opened it. Yet, no one came. The same thing happened in Enugu, Port Harcourt and other places.
Where were you on that day?
I was here at home in my village. I didn’t go out except to dash off to meet a few news people and UN monitors who came to see me. By the time I returned, I heard that some three lorry loads of Mobile Policemen had scaled my fence in search of what I couldn’t tell. When they didn’t see me, they left. According to them, they said they saw some whitemen who came in with a jeep.
You see, what did the stay-at-home protest achieve?
Like I said, all that happened on that day are in the MASSOB 4th stage which include civil disobedience, non co-operation, doing things opposed to the status quo, closing markets when they want them open, staying at home when they say come out, telling the whole world that we are here while they are there, saying they are Nigerians while we are Biafrans. That’s to show we are not interested in what they are doing.
If the South East and South South people believed in the present government, they would have said ‘get away Uwazurike, we don’t believe you.’ But they closed everywhere even places that had never been closed before. Otu Onitsha (market) was closed.
Since I was born, it has never been seen to happen before. The people wanted to show their feelings.
We are trying to check through our reports to know the things that happened on that day across the land. Don’t forget that our people who are in the North and in Lagos also heeded our call.
We would hold a meeting of heads of the provinces and then we would see what happened. While many people are saying that it was a huge success, maybe with our meeting, we would all see that we had some shortcomings in some areas and we would try to correct it. But let me tell you every Ibo man in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Bayelsa, even SabonGari, Kano, Kaduna didn’t go to do business on that day and you must have known how the economy was held to a standstill. That’s the preliminary report we had.
But like I said, we shall sit down and articulate our achievement, look at the areas we didn’t do well. We shall continue with the mobilisation. There are some areas that we know we didn’t do as well as we expected. We shall go all out with total mobilisation efforts. In the next one year, every Easterner will be a MASSOB member.
If that is so, then who are you ruling? We can close the market for as long as we want without any single trace of violence because that is the spirit of MASSOB. It is a matter of time. The barrel of the gun won’t do anything about it, it won’t scare us.
Don’t you think that it was fear of violence or attack by your members that made the people not to come out?
Far from that. We’ve never been associated with violence. We’re non-violent and we will remain so. You can go round as a journalist and ask people why they heeded the call. There was no violence; people stayed away because of fear of violence.
Okay, if you say violence, against who? MASSOB is not violent. If we were, how do you justify the sit-at-home order that was respected in Kaduna, Lagos, Kano which are non-Igbo states? No arrests were made.
How many MASSOB people did you see along the roads?
I gathered that at Enugu, there were bonfires. I take strict exception to that. We will investigate that if we trace it to MASSOB members, then we will punish those who are there. We don’t tolerate indiscipline. We had strict instructions that no one will even come out let alone talking to people or putting bonfire. If someone says it was threat to violence, I want to see the instances. What we are preoccupied with now is trying to fine-tune the phase four towards its actualisation. At our next meeting, we will do a post mortem and move forward. If vehicles moved in some places, it means we are not so popular there.
What is your relationship with Chief Emeka Ojukwu because people report he has discredited MASSOB?
This is one of the regular questions people ask which I don’t want to keep answering. But let me tell you: I am only finishing what Ojukwu started. I am only a disciple or apostle. I am not deluding myself into believing that it would be actualised at my time. In a movement, the leader does not always see his goal achieved. As far as I am concerned, Ojukwu is my father and I don’t think a father in this case could disown his son so easily. Don’t forget that Ojukwu is in politics only to protect the people’s interest.
What do you make about the planned decentralisation of labour by the government?
I don’t want to talk about Nigeria. It doesn’t matter to me. Any policy you see in Nigeria is planned to benefit one person or the other, either people in government or other people you see around the corridors of power. Why do you want to hoodwink labour because you don’t want any opposition again? In their Nigeria now, they see labour as the only opposition after having stiffled all opposition parties. The bill cannot be popular. The National Assembly is just an appendage of the executive. So if the bill is passed, I cannot be surprised, I will only be if it’s not passed.