By Chris Ajaero
Monday, September 20, 2004
Ralph Uwazuruike, leader, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, speaks to Chris Ajaero, assistant editor, on the recent invitation of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu by the State Security Service, SSS, his group's next plan of action, and how he escaped arrest by the police. Excerpts:
Newswatch: How would you react to the recent invitation of Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu by the State Security Service, SSS, over his support for MASSOB?
Uwazuruike: I would say that if they arrest Ojukwu, they have inadvertently arrested the entire Igbo race and so we will not take it kindly with them. I think they want to disgrace our revered political leader and we will not allow that.
Newswatch: But the SSS said they did not intend to arrest him. According to them, they want to dialogue with him on the renewed agitation for Biafra?
Uwazuruike: If they want to dialogue with Ojukwu, they should go to his house in Enugu and not invite him to Abuja. They should realise he is a king in Igboland and cannot just be invited by SSS to come to Abuja. Ojukwu is a national leader and should be given the respect he deserves. Remember that when General Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari were invited to the Oputa Panel they did not go. So, Ojukwu will not honour such an invitation.
Newswatch: The SSS appears not to be comfortable with his comments on the renewed agitation for Biafra by MASSOB, especially by openly declaring support for your group.
Uwazuruike: Is he not entitled to his opinion in a democratic setting. He is exercising his fundamental human rights and nobody can stop him. On several occasions, Yoruba leaders have declared support for the Odua Peoples Congress, OPC, and the SSS did not invite them to Abuja. Is it because MASSOB is predominantly an Igbo organisation, that is why they want to cow us, but we will never relent in our efforts to actualise Biafra.
Newswatch: Akin Olujimi, attorney general and minister of justice, said that the federal government is not showing preferential treatment to OPC. He said OPC has not been known to be leading an insurrection, but in the case of MASSOB, its action is treasonable.
Uwazuruike: That is not correct because we do know that some Yoruba organisations had said they were fighting for self-determination and nobody has done anything to them. They just give MASSOB a bad name to discredit it, but they will not succeed.
Newswatch: Your order for stay-at-home on August 26 was observed with passion by the people of the old Eastern region
How did you feel about the success of the exercise?
Uwazuruike: I am really excited. I have not felt happier than I am now and I give thanks to God. More than that, I dedicate that very day to Odumegwu-Ojukwu who started the issue of Biafra and I believe he will be very happy too because what I am presently doing is just to continue from where he stopped.
I am very happy and I have sent out a message of gratitude to Biafrans in the South-East and South-South, all market leaders, church leaders, traditional leaders who believe in our cause and everybody who worked for the success of that day. Even those who didn't work but who have the spirit of working in future I still thank them.
Newswatch: You said that you dedicate the event of August 26, to Ojukwu. What is his level of involvement in the on-going- agitation for the actualisation of Biafra?
Uwazuruike: Of course, he is involved because Biafra is the child of his brain and the success of Biafra today is his success. If we eventually actualise Biafra, and anybody talks about Biafra, the first person that comes to mind is Odumegwu-Ojukwu before any other person. I believe that day was a day of glory for him.
Newswatch: You said the stay-at-home order was meant to test your popularity among the people of the South-East and demonstrate to the international community that MASSOB was fully in control. Now that the action is over, what feelers are you receiving from the international community?
Uwazuruike: Like you may have observed, the international community sent observers. Some of them came to Okigwe. They were also seen in some other places. As at today, I have not really received any reaction. But definitely they read Nigeria newspapers and magazines on the internet, they even know about Nigeria more than we who are here. So, they have seen what happened and how people responded and how people really need Biafra as their own country as opposed to Nigeria. I believe they will be thinking about it and they will do something about it.
Newswatch: With the huge success recorded through the stay-at-home order, what is MASSOB's next plan of action?
Uwazuruike: We are on stock-taking now. We shall not allow the success to blind-fold us. Rather, it poses a new challenge for us. Our people have challenged us. They are saying "we have given you support, okay what next?" We have been given more assignments. We have to go back to the drawing board and start as if we have not started before and work as if we have not even worked before.
So, the next on our programme will be determined when we hold our national meeting. Right now we are having our zonal meetings. At our national meeting we shall take stock, analyse what happened, where it went right, where it went wrong, aggregate our agenda and then come out with a new dimension. I have to listen to my officers on the ground. Actually, it was a huge success but there must be some places that didn't really perform. We have to ask ourselves why did this areas perform better. May be, we have not really reached the people of some areas. There are so many people that have not yet known about MASSOB, we have to reach them. There are still people who criticised the events of August 26; we have to reach them also to make them believe in the struggle. We intend to win more people and so we shall work as if we have not even worked before.
Until then, I cannot single-handedly say that our next move will be this or that. I can only do that when I have listened to my members.
Newswatch: Could you tell us how you carried out the mobilisation that made it so effective?
Uwazuruike: Like I said before, when I re-declared Biafra on May 22, 2000, a lot of people were sceptical. This was because people did not know the angle I was coming from. They knew Biafra from one concept: the Biafra of the gun, of killing, of hunger, kwashiorkor, starvation, barricade and all that. But they had not experienced the Biafra of non-violence. So they didn't give me support then. However, after five years, so many things occurred to them. They saw that for five years, I did not kill even an ant. I did not destroy anybody's property. I did not kill any soldier or policeman despite the fact that my men were killed in dozens, we did not even retaliate. Even though my house was burnt, I did not retaliate. They started drawing some inferences from them. They started reckoning and identifying with me.
After sometime, I said let me put my popularity to test and then I picked August 26, and you can see the result. But I must tell you, before God, I did not anticipate that 100 per cent compliance. I was looking at 50-55 percent compliance. But in this case the compliance was total. So, I got more than I bargained for. I see it as God's work. I am overjoyed and I cannot really thank people enough for their support.
Newswatch: Before August 26, the police had begun a manhunt for you and your members. They declared your action treasonable claiming that since there is a constitutionally elected government in place, what you were doing was illegal. How would you react to this?
Uwazuruike: Well, the Nigeria Police are doing their job. But they are too excessive in doing their job. They are doing their job because they perhaps may have taken an oath of office to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria. But you don't attack people who are not armed, you don't use guns against people who are not even holding knives. That is becoming too reactionary. However, in the context of Ndigbo and the Easterners, the Nigeria Police become too reactionary because of the hatred they have for our people. For instance, day in day out, they kill our people in the North, they make secret arrests. They arrest one or two almajiris, the next day they release all of them. Look at the trend of events, since the Maitasine up to date that our people have been killed in the North, how many arrests were made? When were they prosecuted, how many people were jailed or killed? None. But you see MASSOB members who never did anything other than hold rallies or meetings, you arrest them, keep them for nine months, one year, two years, then you can understand the hatred and that is part of what I am fighting for because our people are not wanted in Nigeria. In a place you call one country, a particular ethnic group is haunted like an enemy that is part of the problem.
So, their threat did not emanate from the August 26 event. They had killed us severally, in hundreds. Up till now more than 1000 MASSOB members are languishing in jail without any form of trial. That is part of the struggle I am involved in.
Newswatch: We understand you have concluded plans to establish a government in exile. What role is it expected to play in the New Biafra project?
Uwazuruike: Actually, that is true. We have almost concluded the plan but we want to put in place the structures. By structures I mean the recruitment of our own personnel, etcetera. We want to make it a full-fledged government in exile and so we are taking our time to ensure everything is in place before it takes off.
Its role will be to attend to foreigners who would like to do business with us, especially those of them who do not want to come to Nigeria to do business with us since they would say it is not a sovereign state. Then if we have offices over there, they will simply walk into our offices and deal with us without fearing that the government of Nigeria would feel they are contravening any international rules and regulations or being afraid of any security problem. And you can see that we have Voice of Biafra International today in Washington DC. If it were to be in Nigeria they would have closed it down. But since it is in the United States they cannot do that. So, if we have an office outside Nigeria, the Nigerian government will be helpless.
Newswatch: Now that the civil disobedience agenda of MASSOB has come and gone, what stage of the 25 stages of the struggle is your group?
Uwazuruike: I must say that we would not just rush through all these stages. We have to articulate what we really want to achieve in each stage. We have just finished with August 26, and we need to examine stage four to find out whether we have achieved what we set out to gain in that stage. If we are convinced that we have achieved them, we shall move over to stage five. If we have not achieved all we want in stage four, we shall try to do that.
Those who are not deeply involved in the struggle may think we have done very well but we cannot make such assumption. We have to discuss stage four exhaustively before we jump over to the next stage.
Newswatch: At what stage of the struggle do you expect the UN to come in and declare the Sovereign State of Biafra?
Uwazuruike: I have always insisted that the intervention of the UN will depend on us, the freedom fighters. It will depend on the amount of work we have put on the ground. Like we had the civil disobedience for one day, supposing it had continued for one week or two weeks, definitely the UN will talk because all the economic activities in the Eastern region will be paralysed.
Some foreigners have interest in doing business in the East and when they see their interest is being adversely affected they will do something. Remember that on August 26 most banks, local governments, the bureaucracy and Houses of Assembly did not go to work.. The whole world is watching and at the appropriate time the international community will do something.
Newswatch: About a week to August 26, the police had declared you wanted and some people speculated that you had left the country for Europe to escape arrest. How come you stayed in Okigwe without being afraid that they would arrest you and jeopardise the whole order?
Uwazuruike: I stayed in Freedom House for 24 hours. Every day of my life I take it as my last day on earth, even today, I am ready to die for this cause and at any time. So, I thank God each day that passes and I have not died. I cannot run away, if I run away who do I want to stay with there? It is just like some people saying that my family is in Europe or America, my family is in Lagos living together. I am not afraid. If I send my wife and children abroad, what about the wives and children of other officers of MASSOB. Where will I get the money to send them abroad? Discipline starts from the officer. I have to show it myself. If I had gone to America, it means I am not serious because I cannot tell people to stay at home and desert them. When I said they should stay at home, it must be in Biafra land first. So, I must be the first to stay in my own house.
And on that 26 of August, contingent of mobile policemen jumped over my fence and came into my house. I was at home I am not that kind of a leader. I am not a politician who says one thing and does another thing. All the time my men were killed, I was in the forefront. I never sent them out and stayed back. So, that is my life.
Newswatch: When the mobile policemen invaded your house, did they come to arrest you?
Uwazuruike: Yes, that was their mission. But when they came I was not in. What happened was that the AIT crew came from Port Harcourt and Umuahia. Because there was no movement of vehicles, they had to trek all the way from Umunna to Okigwe. So when they finished the interview, I had to convey them to the main road in my car. It was when I went to drop them off that the mobile policemen jumped over my fence, came in but did not see anybody. They said they saw some white men, whom they said were UN observers and people told them that they came to my place. I was not there when they came.
Newswatch: Many other Nigerian perceive your agitation for Biafra as tantamount to disintegration of one United Nigeria and another secessionist agenda by Ndigbo which must be nipped in the bud. Don't you see this as capable of truncating your move to actualise Biafra?
Uwazuruike: There is something I learnt from Ojukwu. Ojukwu said if you wake up in the morning and see that your enemy is clapping for you, that you should be sorry for yourself because you are not doing good enough. So if the Hausa man supports what I am doing then I should ask myself a question whether I am doing what I ought to do. I don't expect him to support me or acknowledge what I am doing because he thinks he is my oppressor. Somebody who wakes up every morning to kill you in his own domain, is he your friend? He believes in one Nigeria for the purpose of tapping the oil resources that is found in our backyard. When he wants to do his sharia, he remembers that he must kill an Easterner. And when he is killing the Easterners he does not distinguish between the Igbo man and the Calabar man, he kills everybody. Then, after killing the Easterners, he comes out to shout one Nigeria and talks about truncating democracy and undivided Nigeria. Then between him and Chief Uwazuruike he should determine who is truncating democracy and killing one Nigeria. They are hypocrites. I want them to ask them one question, consider the number of Easterners they have killed in the North, if we have killed that number of Hausas in our area, will there still be one Nigeria?
All I want to say is that we are involved in a non-violent struggle but they must know that nobody has the monopoly of violence. Today, I have a challenge from my people, they have given me support. If anybody thinks that we will continue to talk about one Nigeria when our people are killed and maimed in the North unjustly, I tell that person that it is a lie. There must be an end for everything. In everything you do, there must be a turning point.
Newswatch: Many people of the old Eastern region seem to be passionate about the present agitation and are anxiously expecting this dream to come through sooner than later. What final word do you have for them on this?
Uwazuruike: My final word for them is simple. What happened on August 26 was a surprise to everybody. By the same token, the day Biafra will be actualised, it will be a second surprise to everybody. I thank them for what they have done and assure them of our determination to fulfil our own obligations. I won't let them down.