|What drives his insistence on the sovereignty of Biafra?
Sunday, November 26, 2006 The Orbit
Last week, I took time off during the conference of the African Studies Association in San Francisco, to meet with a representative of the new Biafra movement in the Bay area. He had agreed to meet me, and we had to talk. I wanted to understand his mind“ this medical doctor““ What is the guarantee, given the apparent conditions, that a new Biafra would not reproduce all the contradictions of the current nation? How could the Diasporic leadership of the new Biafra movement seduce young Igbo men and women with talks of liberation, who get routinely killed by the Nigerian government, while these stay in the secure space of exile, safe from the torture and the bullets? I needed to know, especially in the backdrop of the news report on 30 MASSOB activists who were tortured to death while in police custody, as was reported ! in the Tribune newspapers of November 9, 2006.
According to the Tribune reporter in Awka, these youth mostly between 16-21 years, most of them arrested in the Okpoko area, and detained in Awka were tortured in the police cell; a fact confirmed by the head of the anti-Robbery squad who simply said they died from illness. With a pained expression my interviewee said, Our movement has never compelled anyone to act without conviction.
First, these young people who support MASSOB do so voluntarily because they feel the brunt of Nigeria on them; they have no future there and they know it; two, the principle of our movement has remained fundamentally pacifist and non-violent, and when the Nigerian security organizations kill these unarmed young men and women, they commit grievous crimes against humanity and we are determined to bring them to account someday. I have prefaced this essay with the story of this meeting, principally because it is important to come to grips with the facts. Many of us may disagree with the goals and methods of MASSOB, but it is important to understand that the routine, extra-judicial execution of young Igbo men and women, members of MASSOB though they may be, in police custody is above everything else, a human rights issue. The violation of the rights of prisoners of conscience is an international crime. The president should be made aware of the consequences of these crimes.
There are two important points to note here: the United Nations charter guarantees the rights of people to secede, and those who agitate for secession are thus not necessarily criminals. The criminalization of dissent in Nigeria is by itself reflective of the undemocratic and homicidal nature of the Nigerian state. Three weeks ago, just as the police in Onitsha were torturing thirty MASSOB activists to death for being members of MASSOB, a national conference of American secessionists was holding in the New England state of Maine. These were representatives of groups who want to break away from the United States.
Among their spokesmen was a retired Professor from Duke University. In other words, they are not just fringe characters. Many are thoughtful, ideologically clear individuals, who perceive their interests as best served in separate entities. There were the groups who want an independent republic of Texas. They were of all kinds of disparate leanings: radical left-wing, to ultra right Christian groups. But that is not the story.
The story is that the United States government did not send a militia or a SWAT team to shoot down anybody on sight, nor did they send the FBI to disrupt the meetings.
This is an important difference, that none of those who came to the meeting was arrested by the department of Homeland Security for interrogation. For many years, the Quebec region of Canada has been seeking to secede from the Federal union of Canada. On every occasion when the question has been placed on the ballot, to decide through a plebiscite whether Quebec would go or not, the Quebecois have always narrowly voted to remain in the union. But this has not stopped nationalist Quebecois from trying, nor has it stopped those who favour a union of Canada from campaigning hard to defeat the move democratically.
Often, they have done this by acceding to certain terms favourable to the Quebecois, not by killing young men and women from Quebec who seek secession, nor by sustained economic and social isolation of Quebec.
There are too many young Igbo who have looked hard at Nigeria and have concluded, and have no evidence to the contrary, that they have no future in Nigeria. They come to the world with talents which are deliberately wasted by Nigeria. They return in death carrying the burden of an unfulfilled life.
These are the ones who join MASSOB. They join because they have nothing to lose; they have no jobs, no social security, no sense of a national belonging, no life. They feel a strong sense of discrimination because of what everybody knows as the federal government’s long-standing Igbo policy of isolation and strategic impoverishment.
This campaign to degrade Igbo humanity and infrastructure has got to its acme under the current watch of president Olusegun Obasanjo. This administration has not only authorized a horrendous campaign of death against young, unarmed MASSOB activists who agitate for liberty, it has done so with a sense of vendetta and conquest. The result is that young Igbo men and women are now shooting target under any guise in their own lands. They meet to play football, security agents swoop down on them. They meet to organize a simple street march, they are made objects for target practice for the Nigerian police; they gather to discuss Igbo problems, as once happened recently in Nnewi, orders come from above to violently disrupt and arrest participants including well known university professors. Government agents arrest and kill youth who are identified as members of
The government has a right to arrest these individuals and try them even under the sedition laws, but torturing and killing them in police custody is a homicidal act. A picture currently floating on the Internet shows a tipper load of dead young men and women in Onitsha being offloaded, with their MASSOB uniforms, into a mass grave with a lone policeman supervising the process, covering his nose from the smell. It is a chilling image.
The figures of MASSOB activists killed rise.
The current Tribune story of the killing of thirty MASSOB members in police custody only adds to that number. What is unfolding in the South-East of Nigeria seems like another Darfur, the selective annihilation, the brutal involvement of the state, and the horrendous number involved. But newspapers in Nigeria are silent on it; the Human Rights community has not uttered a word of condemnation, the Olisa Agbakoba-led Nigerian Bar Association, plays possum perhaps because these youth are Igbo, voiceless and inconsequential? The danger is that as more of these deaths touch every family in Igboland, resentment would rise, and a hardening of positions.
The voice of moderation and restraint would pale among the Igbo. The federal government ought by now to know that the Igbo have the resources both nationally and internationally to counter the extra-judicial killings of its young people with its own deadly means, and escalate the situation, a condition which will make the conflict in the Niger Delta seem like a market brawl. It is dangerous and against Nigeria’s national interest to push the Igbo, through these killings, towards strategic retaliation.