'I Advocate The Soviet Example, Not National Conference For Nigeria'
Chief Ralph Uwazurike spoke with CHARLES OGUGBUAJA at his country home Okwe, Onuimo, Imo State on why he decided on the controversial, even risky, path of resurrecting the secessionist enclave, Biafra through the instrumentality of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which he founded. What sentiment,if any,is he playing upon?
How do you feel abandoning your profession for this?
Uwazurike: Well, the interest of my people is more important to me than my profession. And basically, even why I went to India was to understand Mahatma Ghandi and see a way of fighting for the liberation of my people. So, it was utmost in my mind to save my people rather than myself .
How did the concept MASSOB come about?
Uwazurike: The word MASSOB stands for the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra and the principle of MASSOB is non-violence, non-exodus and I personally put the name together and the principle also. This principle was borne out of the fact that in 1967-70, we embarked on the struggle for Biafra through violence and we couldn't make a headway. I reasoned it was not the proper way of agitating for a sovereign nation as recognized by the world body (UN). Self-determination is defined in the articles of the United Nations. But United Nations as a body is opposed to violence and killing of people. I saw that through mass movement like this, India like other nations obtained independence. So, the idea of non-exodus came from the fact that Igbos are everywhere in Nigeria and it will be wrong for anyone to ask them to come back to Igboland, to state of Biafra.
I reasoned it would be fine to ask them to stay wherever they are in the federation and agitate for Biafra. I wouldn't want a situation where Igbo would be barricaded or Igboland barricaded in Nigeria and people would take undue advantage of the fact that they are in one place to oppress them.
In fact, everybody today is talking about Biafra- from the North, West and of course East. They are still enjoying other amenities enjoyed by other Nigerians. During the war, they were barricaded. Things like salt, stockfish and other essentials were denied our people. People were bombed and killed en masse. Today, you can't kill all Igbo both in the North and West at the same time. But all are saying the same thing: Biafra.
There is popular belief that you were young during the war (1967 - 1970), that you did not know the spirit behind Biafra?
Uwazurike: Well I was young. I was nine years old and I had experience, very bitter experience. My younger sister died on my laps when my father went for combing and my mother went to purchase drugs for her. She died of Kwashiorkor, a disease that was very prevalent at that period. Her name was Mary. So, I had that bitter experience that she wouldn't have died if there was no war. She was younger. So, I blame the Federal Government of Nigeria for disallowing relief materials to the east and making it impossible for people to have the essentials of life. So, I had experience.
So that experience spurred you to agitate more for Biafra now?
Uwazurike: Yes sure. After all, we also moved from our place here (Okwe) to another place as refugees. We were there when we heard the war had ended. Another one, I saw Nigerian soldiers matching on and confiscating people's goods, raping and maltreating our women folk. Not only that, they also killed Biafran soldiers who were returning home after the war. They killed them. I say that it was a hallmark of injustice. I felt that we were maltreated, that if I grew up I would kick against that. I had that as a child but I didn't know how I could really tackle that then.
While in India did you plan to come back for this struggle?
Uwazurike: Actually, it was accidental. When I was in secondary school, I was just browsing books in the library when I just saw a book on Mahatma Ghandi; that was at Okigwe National Secondary School. So, I read the book- I borrowed it from the librarian- and saw passive resistance, non-violence and all that; how India gained independence through the effort of Mahatma Ghandi through non-violence. Then, I started questioning myself: why didn't Ojukwu use non-violence instead of fighting? So, I started developing interest in non-violence and Mahatma Ghandi in particular. I started building it up in my mind that if I went to India, perhaps I would get used to non-violence. But then, I knew Mahatma was dead. I thought that when I went to India, I would somehow see a source of non-violence. So, after I had finished secondary school, the first place that came to my mind was India. When I went to India-I had read that Mahatma Ghandi was a lawyer, I said okay let me go to India and read Law. Unfortunately, when I reached there, I saw that law was a second Degree course. So, I was compelled to read political science as first degree and it helped me because I had to study non-violence and know what it is all about and all the components of non-violence such as civil disobedience. I wouldn't have known that in law so the study of Political Science also helped one study Indian political development. So that's it.
You also considered applying it to our situation?
Uwazurike: Sure. I stared thinking for Mahatma Ghandi to use non violence to gain independence, it could be applied for Biafra in that line. After my Political Science course, I insisted on reading law. I read law, just like Mahatma Ghandi and all that so I started to prepare myself for the job.
How do you place your position on either sovereign National Conference or National conference?
Uwazurike: What you should understand prima facie is Nigeria is no good. How Nigeria is being administered is not good and that is why some people are even calling for sovereign National Conference. And that is why some people are calling for Biafra. Others say self-determination.
You can see somebody like Anthony Enahoro who sponsored the motion for the independence of Nigerian being the chief protagonist of sovereign national conference today. That is to show that the type of Nigeria he and his colleagues had in mind is not the Nigeria of today. Do you understand it? Look at Ojukwu, the first graduate in Nigerian Army who served Nigerian Army with a Masters Degree, who was the governor of Eastern Region. He even started as a recruit. Look at that patriotism to serve a fatherland. Today, look at him, you brand him all sorts of names, you cajole and insult him, even when you know the sacrifices he has made for Nigeria. And people look at him as if he is an enemy of Nigeria without knowing that he is a foremost patriot in Nigeria. The type of Nigeria he had in mind is not Nigeria today. He had in mind Nigeria of equity and justice, Nigeria of fairness to all. But he sees an opposite of what he had in mind. He therefore begins to see people even talking of zoning presidency. Why do you need to zone the seat of president? Because you have seen only ethnic nationality that tries to perhaps, to occupy that seat to benefit their own people as opposed to the general interest of Nigerians. So, every ethnic group therefore goes into the struggle for who becomes the president, for their own son to become the president. It shows that Nigeria is not for all. So, that is the reason for the clamour for Sovereign National Conference.
Now, to answer your question, MASSOB has drawn out quest for sovereign national conference. There was a time we were actually part and parcel of call for sovereign national conference. Even when we held our conference in Maryland, USA, two years ago, our communiquZ
The concept of Nigeria was man-made in 1914, when Lord Lugard saw to the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Protectorates. And we learnt that it was even his wife that got the name Nigeria from the Niger. Do you understand? So there was no constitution backing the formation of Nigeria. Do you understand? Nigeria is just like a house of cards that has no foundation and that is why any leader you see that emerges to occupy the position in Nigeria tries to settle for his own ethnic interest, for the interest of his people because he sees Nigeria as a mirage and that is why even Gowon himself said there was no basis for one Nigeria. I think Awolowo also called it a mere geographical expression. No one has concrete interest in Nigeria. So, the formation was faulty. Sovereign National Conference itself is no solution. Look at the 1999 Constitution. There was a constitutiuent assembly, constitutional conference or whatever.
They sat together, recommended a constitution so they were given something, they brought another thing all together. They changed the whole thing, one or two men, to benefit their own ethnic group.
There is no guarantee that even the sovereign national conference you are talking about will be an exception. To start with, who is going to organise it. Not the government? Then how many people will attend it? How will they attend? Perhaps you ask people from their ethnic groups to bring people, through which means?
Election? How does election go in Nigeria. Do you understand? It will still be their own people. The people they think should be there. Then you have a quota of those they appoint. Those they will appoint are stooges, those who will not say their minds. So at the end of the day you have a cosmetic kind of arrangement you call a sovereign national conference. So, we (MASSOB) don't want that.
What I am saying (raises voice) as a person, is that I want the Soviet experience to happen in Nigeria. But if they don't want it, let Biafra go. But if they want it, let every ethnic nationality go, let Yoruba be on their own, let Hausa be on their own, let Igbo be on their own, let Niger Delta be on their own. So, you want Nigeria because you are taking what belongs to Peter to give to Paul, you rob Niger Delta people of their resources and you send it to the North to establish Abuja and refinery in Kaduna. In the Niger Delta, you cannot see even a single federal presence. That is the meaning of one Nigeria. The 22 governors in the North ganging up to say that 13% derivation should be stopped. They are the people who will say they don't drink wine, they don't drink hot, they don't do this, then they will also come to 5%, what do they call it, VAT and get the lion share, because they have the highest number of local government and space. And VAT is derived from the consumption of all these things and they don't consume them in the North and when revenue is generated from the Eastern and Western Nigeria, they come with their number of space and local governments and usurp it.
That's what I mean by robbing Peter to pay Paul and that is the meaning of one Nigeria, the beginning and end. If there is no oil in the Niger Delta today, one Nigeria will be a nullity; it will stop automatically, yes because before 1966, derivation was 50:50 when we had groundnut pyramids, palm oil and cocoa, it was 50:50. Immediately oil was discovered and it comes from the East, they changed: Land Use Decree came, Indigenisation Decree came and people's lands were confiscated, so government would have control of everything, both the land and its resources because it was found in the East. If it was found in the North, the Northern people would not have allowed you in the first place to cross over to their place, not to talk of one Nigeria, to take their resources. So my idea is that let Nigeria divide into as many places as possible; let the people go.
Divide into how many?
Uwazurike: Well as many as reasonable. Even if it is 20-let the people of Ogoni, if they can be country of their own, let them be. Then if in the course of being a country they see that they cannot stay on their own without the Ijaw, you can align with Ijaw people on bilateral ground without any one subjugating its own independence, do you understand? I mean it is funny for somebody to try to perpetuate a forced marriage. It cannot work.
You have come to my house, after the interview you want to go and I say you won't go, you will live with me. If you don't live with me, I will kill you. Then there is problem. What is so wonderful about Nigeria that we must be indivisible? Because the North is usurping other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria? Or because when a Yorubaman becomes the president he will loot all the resources and send to Yorubaland? That's one Nigeria, as long as he is in power one Nigeria is there, when he is not in power, he will shout on this and that. I mean, it is faulty and unacceptable.
Do you do this MASSOB thing with Ojukwu side by side?
Uwazurike: First and foremost Ojukwu is my father and when you talk of father and son, you can't separate the father from the son.
I have told you that I went to India because of Mahatma Ghandi who was dead so many years before I was born so I had to go to India because of him to understudy his footprints and people he led. So, Ojukwu being my second idol, he is alive. If I can travel from here to India for a dead person believing that I would satisfy myself as far as I am concerned, I look at him as my object of inspiration, something I cannot do without. So, I should have picked another word for Biafra. Many people suggested to me to use another word, I said no, it will be Biafra or nothing because the word "Biafra" represents a struggle, struggle unless I want another heart of emotion, or showcase another thing. If it is for emancipation of our people, Biafra was it, I insisted. That is the only word that appeals to our people; that reminds our people of the degree of injustice in Nigeria and Ojukwu was the person who coined the word. He knew the nitty gritty of Biafra and he is still alive.
Do you hold talks with him on Biafra?
Uwazurike: I have told you anytime I have not talked with Ojukwu I feel I am not complete. I am not afraid to say it. I am not afraid to let Nigerians know that I have close relationship with Ojukwu. If I say I don't have it, it is a lie. Do you understand me? But whether I dialogue with him or not is not the issue. The issue is the interest of Ndigbo in Nigeria, why are Ndigbo in Nigeria? What are they getting in Nigeria? Why is it that what other (ethnic) groups get in Nigeria they don't get? Are there other commitments other ethnic nationalities others have made in Nigeria, they have not made? That's is what the issue is and not the issue of Uwazurike or Ojukwu or Biafra. Then I want to state it again. There is no way I can run way from him. He is the owner of that word. Then, I have to understudy him, as I did to Mahatma Ghandi. So this thing, people are crying that Ojukwu supports Uwazurike, the man started Biafra. I have worked with Ojukwu for eight good years, closely. Ask him one on one. When I was the chairman of Igbo Council in Lagos, I was organising his birthday, that was before the issue of Biafra (MASSOB) in 1996, 97, 98, 99. So I knew him before the issue of Biafra, but then I was understudying him because I knew I was going to regenerate the issue of Biafra. So, if Ojukwu doesn't support me, the word is ended. If Ojukwu doesn't support Biafra who else will? No one can destroy what he has created.
What if the Federal Governments now offers Ndigbo facilities agitated for, will you rest your struggle?
Uwazurike: You see, what you should understand is this, I have always said this, Mahatma Ghandi said you do not force another person to love you and you do not pray that another person loves you. The issue of Ndigbo in Nigeria is that of hatred, Nigerians hate Ndigbo. God knows why. Forget about probability- if the federal government comes and that.
This Federal Government you are talking about has accepted that Igbo are excluded. This Federal Government you are talking about, is free to include Ndigbo. But Igbo are outside of it. Now, they are saying they want to dredge River Niger. Let him (Obasanjo) first construct the road he promised to construct when he was coming to commence his campaign in Anambra, I am talking about Onitsha- Owerri-Aba Road. Today the contractors have run away. They are saying that the Federal government is frustrating the contract. We are tired of promises they make everyday. This is hatred. They hate Ndigbo and we have come to understand that . If I begin to say what Obasanjo does or does not do, what about the killing of Ndigbo in the North? How will they stop that? It is still in the minds of politicians in the north; when they want to kill Igbo, they organise almajiris to do that. These almajiris are another tribe. None of them is ever killed.
See how they treat Igbo, is it how they treat other Nigerians? Now during Oputa Panel, Gen. Buhari and Gen. Babangida were invited to the panel on criminal offences. They refused to come. The SSS didn't go to invite them to interrogate them. But Ojukwu expressed an opinion over an issue and he has been hounded, disgraced, invited. All these people I have mentioned are they in the same class with Ojukwu?
He is their senior in everything. His view is more profound than those of all these generals I have mentioned. But the SSS didn't find it suitable to invite them for questioning. But they saw a means of inviting Ojukwu and giving him one-way economy class ticket. That shows the hatred Nigeria has for our people. Have you not heard of riots in the North, Kano, Kaduna and other places in the North? Do you think the SSS do not know the masterminds of those cases of mayhem, which more than anything threaten their so-called national security? Have you ever heard any of them was invited for questioning?
Have you seen any crimes they were tried for in the court or sentenced for? No! But the MASSOB members who are non-violent are always apprehended. More than 1,000 members are still in Abuja for the past six months. The high court has given order that they should be released, the government is still keeping them there. But all the people who killed all Igbo in the North the other time in Kaduna have all been released. Those are the people who want one Nigeria on the blood of Ndigbo. They want one Nigeria, yet if we raise our head to say what we want, they kill us, if we say let us discuss with you now, they say no and they kill us. Then what do you want us to do?
Ojukwu recently mentioned you that you were a good friend of Obasanjo and you were in the same party with him. Do you have any comment on that?
Uwazurike: All that Ojukwu said in that interview was true. All the things that he said, that's the much I can say about that.
Could you expatiate?
Uwazurike: All that Ojukwu said in that interview was true.
Would you accept headship of Biafra if it is given today?
Uwazurike: Oh no!no!no! I have said that severally even in the life of Mahatma Ghandi, he was alive when India gained independence. But he declined to be the Prime Minister, rather he recommended Gen. Nehru. He was not incapacitated. He was a lawyer and he was great. That's the kind of life I want to live-service to the people without expecting anything. So, if Biafra is actualised tomorrow, I will not be part of the government. I will not even be in politics.
You will play advisory role?
Uwazurike: I will be a statesman, if I must call it that. That's all.
What is your blue print on MASSOB?
Uwazurike: Sure, it makes me laugh. I have 25 cards to play. That is 25 stages and have played only four and Nigeria is shaking. Only four cards I have played and I have not played any of my jokers, do you understand me? It makes me laugh, it is amazing that I have 25 and I played only four and Nigeria is shaking from the foundation. The four stages I have enumerated them. We have mobilization and it cuts across the 25 stages. Then declaring the new Biafra, keeping the primary things (structures) in place and appointing directors, PA's and all that. Now the forth stage is, non- cooperation. Notwithstanding what we call the success of August 26, we cannot be moved simply because we have recorded this, no. There are certain things we are expecting. Or there are certain things we are expecting in a particular stage and if you have not completed this we cannot move to another stage.
A stage can take up to five years. A stage can even be a matter of 10 minutes like the stage two, the re-declaration of Biafra. I did it in less than 30 minutes. That was in 2000. MASSOB started in 1999 in Lagos. There are so many things that are expected at a particular stage. Actually we made a remarkable success on August 26. To me as a person, there are so many things that were lacking on that day. The entire South South states were asked to close. They didn't close. I tell you in the next episode, the entire South South will close alongside the Southeast. So, the entire 10 states of Biafra will close down.
May we know the 10 states?
Uwazurike: You should know by now. The five eastern states: Imo, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu. Then we have Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Bayelsa. They will close in the next exercise. All of them will come down like on 26th.
How did you instruct them?
Uwazurike: That's the magic. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. And actually it is mightier than the sword. So non-violence is mightier than arms and ammunition. You remember that if on August 26, I had lined up tanks and all the arsenals on earth, I wouldn't have compelled all Igbo on earth to stay-at-home but by word of mouth only and voluntarily. If you like, go about your business, if you don't like stay at home. Do you understand?
Did you monitor it?
Uwazurike: My men were everywhere. And I was there. I stayed at home. I was to be in the US for World Igbo Congress. I couldn't go because of that. As the leader, I had to be the first person to stay at home.
How do you commit yourself financially?
Uwazurike: As for finance, I always tell people that it is God that is the financier. No individual can finance (MASSOB), no individual whether billionaire or trillionaire cannot finance MASSOB, cannot provide money for MASSOB activities that runs in millions. It is God because God is in the people and the word of the people is the word of God. So, the people are enthusiastic. The people want freedom who are subjected to suffering, hardship. The Federal Government will say other people are financing us. No problem.
Don't people who live in other advanced countries send money to you for MASSOB?
Uwazurike: When you say Igbo, you are amorphous, in the sense that, these people are they not MASSOB members. Membership is not only limited to Nigeria (voice rises). I have members all over the world. There is no country that we don't have offshoot of MASSOB. So when I say this it is not limited to only Nigeria. There are some responsibilities that are taken up by some members abroad. We have MASSOB international. Part of Biafra International, for instance, is brokered everywhere in Washington. So, when you say Igbo Abroad, they are MASSOB members. That is the issue.
Is the United Nations in any way doing anything with you?
Uwazurike: In 1999, immediately I proclaimed MASSOB, the first thing I did was to send Biafran Bill of Rights to the United Nations. It is there and we have a committee that gets in touch with the United Nations. That is what I am telling you, that there are certain functions that are not done by Uwazurike alone. Most of our functions are even done more abroad than in Nigeria. Even in Nigeria, I have my officials scattered all over Nigeria working, day and night. So it is not a one-man affair.
Did any United Nations officials come here at all?
Uwazurike: You mean the United Nations observers? They were here. They were everywhere. My people saw them in white jeep. They were everywhere both in Mbano (Imo State) to monitor, nothing more.
What happened when they came?
Uwazurike: To write their report and submit.
Are you expecting the outcome of the report?
Uwazurike: No, no, no. I am not telling you that I am expecting any report. I am telling you that somebody sent them. They will submit their report to that person who sent them.
What are you expecting from the move?
Uwazurike: Yes, I like this question because you see our people think that it is Nigeria that will return Biafra for independence. Far from it; it was not Ethiopia that granted Eritrea independence. And if people think that as Nigeria got independence from Britain that's how Biafra will get independence from Nigeria, they better have a rethink. Nigeria was a colony, British colony. Biafra is not Nigeria's colony. That's the mistake people make.
It is the United Nations that will determine. If they want to recognise the State of Biafra as they decided in the case of Eritrea, and other ones like in Eskimo, it is up to them. And we are following their principle, the model, non-violence and not recourse to arms or arms struggle. Why we are not violent is not to impress Nigeria. No, we are non-violent because we don't want to annoy the UN. We want them to see us as responsible. They see us as agitators. And we are following their footsteps, whatever is their guideline. My men are always in their office making sure that they are following the guidelines, explaining every point of our activity to them, asking questions. There are so many questions. So many things you have to follow. A lot of them. And it is not only Biafra that is asking for self determination. Many are asking. There are many things you have to undergo. There is no one for Biafra and others. It is the same guideline.
You have 25 stages (blue print), is it likely you will complete them?
Uwazurike: Yes, I said right from the word go, I was thinking between the fifth and sixth stage, Biafra must emerge. I wouldn't want to undergo the 25 stages. I am not praying for that. Like I said, we are on the fourth stage, the whole nation is shaking. Nigeria may collapse on the fourth stage. So we are watching.
What is your word of advice to the nation?
Uwazurike: What is it that perhaps we have never said before (laughs)
The issue is MASSOB or Biafra; Uwazurike or Ojukwu. The issue is what are they talking about? Why do people who are the original inhabitants of Nigeria... the Hausa migrated from all these Arabic nations, the Yoruba migrated from Mecca and all that. If you go to Benin, Cotonou and all these, you see Yoruba. But Igbo, we are the only people the whitemen found in Nigeria when they came here. But the same Igbo are the people who say they want to leave the original place to form another place. That means that they are not comfortable in that place. That is the issue. Why is the place not making them comfortable in Nigeria? What do they want? Where do they want to go?
So what is wrong with Nigeria?
Uwazurike: That is the issue and not to personalise the matter as if Uwazuruike, Ojukwu or MASSOB is bad. That is my advice. And the second advice is MASSOB is not violent. We do not intend to be violent at any stage of our struggle. But the Federal Government understands that nobody has monopoly of violence.
About how much has MASSOB expended for its struggle?
Uwazurike: Money, how much? There is no amount we can't spend for our freedom. So, we don't calculate such things.
How about Ojukwu saga? How do you see it?
Uwazurike: If they arrest Ojukwu, they are playing with fire. They better don't arrest him and allow him to stay alone. I am telling you that if they arrest him, it is fire they are inviting.
Uwazurike: I would say that I was born between 1958 and 1960 as my records of birth were... my parents were illiterates. I started my Primary School from Okwe Central School to Okigwe National Secondary School. So, later I went to India where I studied, first Political Science and later I read law at Indian University. I came to Nigeria, went to Law School and thereafter was called to Bar. I practised for some years before I started articulating a position on Biafra, where I am today as the MASSOB leader agitating for the State of Biafra.
How did you receive a chieftaincy title?
Uwazurike: My chieftaincy came from Lagos. Before now, I was contributing to the co-operation and progress among Ndigbo in Lagos. The leaders of Ndigbo, Igbo Community in Lagos decided that I should be given a chieftaincy title. They did that around 1996.
What were you conferred with?
Uwazurike: They called me 'Agada Cheremba' something like an umbrella that gives shade to the people