Chief Ralph Uwazurike, the founder of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB is unhappy and that may not be unconnected with the fact that he, of recent, is being relegated to the background on the issue of Biafra agitation. The man of the moment, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who Uwazurike said he employed and handed over the Radio Biafra he set up as part of the agitation process, has been getting all the attention of late.
Uwazurike is also worried that many people, including the media, had not appreciated his sacrifices towards the actualization of Biafra. But he insists that only his style of approach can lead to the actualization of Biafra, describing as an act of wickedness, the insinuation that he was a sell-out on the issue of the struggle.
Since the launching in Aba, Abia State in 1999, MASSOB under Uwazurike continually alleged mass arrests and killings of its members by government forces. He had also consistently embarked on programmes aimed at actualizing Biafra and was indeed the arrow head of the agitation. For the first 10 years of the formation of MASSOB by Uwazurike, the body and its members/supporters were very active but non-violent.
For instance, in May 2008, MASSOB released a list of 2,020 members alleged to have been killed by security agents since 1999. Uwazuruike was arrested on several occasions and charged with treason. In 2011, he and 280 MASSOB members were arrested in Enugu while attending a function in honour of late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Few days later, however, former President Goodluck Jonathan ordered Uwazuruike’s release, as well as all other MASSOB members in detention.
MASSOB thereafter launched the Biafran passport in 2009 as part of the program to celebrate its 10th anniversary and Uwazuruike, said the introduction of the Biafran passport was in response to persistent demands from Biafrans in Diaspora
In 2005, MASSOB re-introduced the old Biafran currency into circulation. This sparked a lot of excitement at the time especially as one Biafran pound was said to exchange for two hundred and seventy naira at the border communities of Togo and the Republic of Benin.
In February 2013, MASSOB claimed that several corpses found floating in the Ezu River on the boundary of Enugu and Anambra States were those of its members previously arrested by the police. The group claimed that the police routinely executed MASSOB members without proper trial.
On September 13, 2015 police in Anambra state arrested about 25 MASSOB members who were marking their 16th anniversary and one of them was shot. At St Charles Lwanga Catholic Church Okpoko,18 members were arrested and one shot and at Iba Pope Catholic Church, while at Awada, 11 members of MASSOB were arrested. At Awka, two MASSOB members were arrested by the police.
On May 31, 2013, Uwazurike’s MASSOB was branded as one of three extremist groups threatening the security of Nigeria. In fact former President Goodluck Jonathan declared that the Nigerian state faced three fundamental security challenges posed by extremist groups which he listed as Boko Haram in the North; the MASSOB in the South-East; and the Oodua People’s Congress OPC, in the South-West..
But following his disagreement with a section of MASSOB members, the bubble burst and the man, who was almost invincible in the Biafra agitation, started receiving knocks from people who hitherto, were adoring him. One of the allegations was that he abandoned some MASSOB members who were incarcerated in various Nigerian prisons. He however defended himself, saying such a thing never happened.
He told Saturday Vanguard: “The impression being created was that someone paid me to stop the struggle. This is unfair. Or do people expect me to start fighting Nnamdi Kanu? Or do people think you are fighting for Biafra when you kneel down in public places to make show? How can anybody hold the view that I am a sell-out?
“I set up Radio Biafra in 1999 and handed it over to Nnamdi Kanu for the good of the struggle, but what did I get in return? Someone I employed used the radio station I set up to blackmail me. Where did I go wrong? And if you were to be Uwazurike, what will you do under such a situation? If I didn’t set up MASSOB, how could Nnamdi Kanu have had a platform to start what he is doing?”
Stressing that his approach to the struggle is what would ultimately lead to the actualization of Biafra, Uwazurike added: “On May 22nd, we organized a ceremony in which over one million people participated in Onitsha and other cities and this was reported by the media. It was the same in Aba, Enugu, Owerri and other cities, yet people are saying that I am backsliding or that I am a sell-out.
“Do you also know that I built 20 houses at Okwe, Imo State, for the wounded Biafra soldiers who were begging for alms at Oji River and I pay them salary every month? Today, there are no more Biafra soldiers begging for alms at that spot.
“Only last month, I risked my life to travel to the North for the sake of Biafra and I was at Arewa House in Kaduna where I met people, yet the media and Igbo people do not appreciate my sacrifices. How would you feel if you were to be in my position?”
Uwazurike, who led a delegation of Igbo leaders from the South East, told some youth groups at the Arewa House in Kaduna that MASSOB had pursued the path of peace since its creation in 1999 and would continue to do so.
He continued: “Self-determination without violence is a fundamental right, we must strive against sowing the seed of discord but do all that will promote peace and justice in Nigeria. There is a gap in communication from our leaders which needs to be bridged, hence we are meeting with notable leaders in the north to persuade them that there is no cause for alarm,
“We have overgrown the era of marching the streets with Biafran flags. MASSOB is now consolidating on building structures and diplomatic negotiations with other countries, recalling that there was a re-declaration of Biafra on May 22nd, 2000, submission of Biafra Bill of rights to United Nations and his attendance of OAU Summit in Lome, Togo in 2000, among other achievements..
“MASSOB existed for 18 years without violence and in 2009, I went to London and opened Radio Biafra and handed it over to Nnamdi Kanu as the director. Soon afterwards, politicians hijacked him, and he started working for them.
“The radio that was meant to educate our people and advise our people was turned into a source of hate messages, blackmail, intimidation and others. The resultant effect was that the northern youths came up to challenge us, to say that they are not happy with the hate messages and the insults they receive from the same radio.
“The main purpose of floating the organization called MASSOB was not to cause crisis in Nigeria. I assured the late Odumegu Ojukwu when he was alive that there would be no other civil war in Nigeria. Because he, Ojukwu, was so concerned and wanted some measure of assurance from me that MASSOB would not cause problems in Nigeria, I gave him that assurance.”
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