Chief Ralph Uwazurike is the founder of the movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) which founded Radio Biafra and engaged Nnamdi Kanu as broadcaster. He speaks in this interview with The Sun about his mistakes in the making of the proscribed IPOB leader.
You created MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) which began before 1999 and for which you were detained several times. Looking back, what would you say the movement achieved?
One of the things the movement achieved was awareness. It created awareness on the sufferings of the Igbo people and their state in the scheme of things in Nigeria. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was the president at the time and they pushed the Igbo out of governance. It was MASSOB that made him to have a rethink and start accommodating the Igbo people. The main objective of creating MASSOB was to create the awareness and make the world to know what the Igbo people are going through in Nigeria and that we needed our own security because our people in the North and in the West were always targeted once there is crisis in Nigeria. They were usually the first victims. Secondly, the object was to push for Igbo freedom so that the Igbo people could stay on their own. I did that because if you were pushing the Igbo out and does not want to accommodate them, then, let them go their own way. However, the core idea behind those demands was because we wanted peace. We wanted peace for our people and we want them to live. We did not want them killed at the slightest provocation even for offences they have nothing to do with. We did not want any war against our people. So, we decided not to be violent. It was for this reason that Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu backed me. Initially, he was disturbed when I started the movement because he was looking at the fate of Ndigbo in the face of another war. He did not want that to happen and I assured him that we will be non-violent, that we will not take up arms. And it was for this reason that I traveled to India to study Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to non-violent agitation. I gave him that assurance and he eventually saw that we were non-violent and he supported me. That is why I am worried with how things have turned out. I am worried that some people I recruited into the struggle have turned it into a violent movement.
Was having an independent country called Biafra part of your aim when you started MASSOB?
It was not outside my aim. The initial approach was to create awareness about the state of the Igbo in Nigeria. The second part was to achieve freedom for our people because when the war ended, the government declared ‘no victor no vanquished’ and came up with a policy of the Three Rs (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reintegration) but it was a ruse. The Igbo was still marginalized and was schemed out of government. It was after MASSOB started creating awareness that Obasanjo had a rethink.
How do you reconcile your argument that the Igbo were marginalized since after the civil war with the fact that an Igbo man became Vice President in 1979, nine years after the war ended officially?
And what happened afterwards? Was he allowed to complete his tenure? You knew how Shehu Shagari was overthrown in a military coup and you know the reason they overthrew the Shagari government was because they knew that Alex Ekwueme would succeed Shagari. They saw it coming and rose to overthrow the government instead of letting it happen. That coup was against the Igbo people. Besides, when they succeeded, they allowed the president to stay at home but detained the Vice president in prison. That was a clear case of bias against the Igbo man. Otherwise, what other reason did they have to put the Vice president in prison while the President, who was the one calling the shots, was left at home? What other reason did they have? That showed that the essence of the coup was to stop Ekwueme.
Looking back, were there things you did under MASSOB which if you have another opportunity, you would do them differently?
Sure there were. First, creating Radio Biafra London and asking Nnamdi Kanu to manage it was a huge mistake. If you give me another chance, I won’t make the mistake again. It was a huge mistake because he is now using it to cause crisis in Igboland and getting our people killed. Also, there were instances where, perhaps, out of carelessness, some youths died. If I have another chance, I wouldn’t let that repeat itself. But the most glaring is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) situation where the person I asked to manage the Radio Biafra started using it to cause problems for people, insulting his elders and everyone that cautions him and using it to mobilize youths against the society, telling youths to attack and dismantle Police stations and attack military formations and even killing security personnel. He went as far as insulting notable Igbo leaders. That was a very huge misadventure on my part.
When you discovered this, did you call him to order?
Talk to who? I was the first victim of his insults. He accused me of betrayal and alleged that I have sold out to the government of Nigeria. He accused me of collecting huge sums of money to shut up. He accused me of all sorts and turned the people against me. No one tried to hear from me. They all believed him. He was in charge of the Radio and had hijacked it. I left him to be because I know him very well and I also know that sooner than later, the public will also come to know exactly who he is. They will know him for who he is.
Are you bothered by the trend where IPOB suddenly metamorphosed into ESN (Eastern Security Network) which said its job is to flush armed herdsmen out of forests in Igboland?
I am deeply bothered because if you allow this guy (Kanu), with the way he is using the social media to incite and misguide our youths, he will cause more havoc. That was the reason I addressed a press conference recently. For instance, the so-called ESN is armed. They have guns they stole from Police stations. With those weapons, they could become a threat. If they stay for some days without food, they could use those guns to start robbing people in their homes or on the road. At the end of the day, it is the Igbo man that will suffer. For instance, you have seen situations where the governor of Rivers state called in the military because of IPOB. The governor of Imo state also called in the military because of IPOB. Who were killed during these two military actions? The Igbo people of course. A sane person must be worried by this development. If you want to liberate a people, your first step should be to put them out of harm’s way, not creating the opportunity for them to be killed.
As MASSOB leader, it was said you armed some people too.
Never! I never did. I told you that I promised Ojukwu that we will not be armed and that we will not be violent. I never armed anybody. Kanu knows that armed struggle was not in our agenda and was never discussed as an option. He knows that too well but he wants to use that to instill fear in people so that they will fear him and respect him as the messiah and he will subjugate everyone to be under him. I never armed any group in MASSOB.
Do you see the possibility of disarming the ESN?
I have called on the governors of the Southeast to take over ESN. However, in actual sense, there is nothing like ESN. What you have is just a few guys he armed with guns they snatched from police stations that they attacked. These are the guys that are called ESN. The rest is Photoshop. He does Photoshop of the few guys in a bush and he goes on the internet to broadcast it as the picture of soldiers he had recruited to safeguard Southeast. How does he think he can safeguard Igboland? How? He and ESN lack capacity to safeguard anybody. What they do is Photoshop. The ESN is of no consequence. But that’s not my biggest worry. My biggest concern is that so many people may believe him, buy into it and think that the Igbo people already have an army to fight for Biafra. The response may not be too good for us. For instance, most of the people killed in Orlu where people who had nothing to do with either IPOB or ESN. They were people caught up in the attack because IPOB had advertised ESN as being heavily armed.
You confirm that soldiers actually killed people in Orlu?
Obviously! People were killed. If anyone tells you anything to the contrary, it is a lie. People were killed. And these were innocent people who had nothing to do with what ESN was doing. A friend came here to show me his car that was damaged after he ran into a roadblock mounted by the so-called ESN where they were extorting, or robbing, people on the highway. He tried to detour but had his car damaged in the process. He came here to show me.
Beyond robbing Police stations, do you suspect that IPOB and ESN have other sources of weapons supply?
That question is best answered by Nnamdi Kanu. He should know. He is the one that has been boasting of weapons. So, he is in a better position to know. However, if you have to kill a policeman or rob and burn police stations for weapon, it means you don’t have money to sustain your struggle because if you have money, you go and buy weapons. You don’t have to kill soldiers and policemen in order to acquire weapons. Doing that means that you are not even prepared and therefore can’t sustain a struggle. To lead a struggle is not about robbing police stations for weapons or killing soldiers and stealing their guns. If you think you can become Boko Haram in the Southeast, it won’t work because you don’t have a forest to operate from. There is no such forest to hide you like Shekau is doing in Northeast. There is no Sambisa forest in the Southeast. So, if Kanu believes that he is leading a struggle, he should come back here and lead. Why is he hiding in United Kingdom? He should come back and hide in one of those forests they keep talking about. They talk about forest in Orlu. Which Orlu? Where is the forest? Those are people’s farmlands which are not even up to one kilometer square. You can’t call that a forest.
But there were claims that they brought down two fighter jets belonging to Nigeria?
Fairy tales! Jokes. They don’t have the capacity. Recall that when they said they have formed ESN, they took a picture of Ambazonia forces in Southern Cameroon, photo-shopped it and sent it out as picture of ESN operatives. It was all fairy tales. My concern is that not many people know that what they are doing is simply Photoshop, using computers to manipulate images and present them as their own. Sadly, they are using these images to brainwash some Igbo youths. Many of them believe those images and begin to act in such a manner that make you wonder if they are actually Igbo children. We must put a stop to it. That is why I am pleading with everybody to join hands to change this narrative against Igboland. It has the potential to become a huge problem for the Igbo people in a few more years.
What are your fears for Igbo youths who had been sulked into the IPOB narrative?
The fears are what I have explained here. But I want to add that parents have a lot of work to do here. Parents should get their children out of harm’s way. They must start recalling their children. You can’t achieve a republic the Nnamdi Kanu way. He lacks the capacity to achieve that. It is beyond him. He does not even know anything about what is at stake. Achieving a republic is not about ranting on social media about how you will bomb here and there or how you will kill people? And then you go about condemning and insulting those that matter? Do you think any reasonable world leader will call Nnamdi Kanu if indeed there is need to discuss the possibility of Biafra? No, he lacks the capacity for such engagement. Biafra is actually a smokescreen for Kanu. He is using it to put everybody’s life in danger just for his personal interest. Remember, the Federal Government had labeled IPOB as a terrorist organisation. When that happened, people rose in defence of IPOB saying they don’t bear arms and are not violent. Suddenly, you turned around and started arming them. Are you not authenticating the label on you as a terrorist organisation? That is exactly what you have done. Now, if you deny that you are not, government will present pictures that you have released as your armed soldiers in its own defence. How would you deny it then? You would have confirmed what government did. Look also at the situation where you destroy the houses of Northerners living in your area. What exactly are you telling them to do to your own people living in their area? If you really love your people, you will not put them in harm’s way, you will not create the possibility of military action on them because they will be killed. I have a feeling that he is doing these because he stays abroad. And the people he is urging on do not see the danger he is leading them into. I pray they come to see the reality. Anyone who loves his people, who wants freedom for his people, will not lead them to their own destruction and death.
You align with the position of Ohanaeze Ndigbo that Biafra is beyond Kanu?
Of course that is what it is. It is beyond him. I employed him as a broadcaster for Radio Biafra, London. I established Radio Biafra International and employed him. I first established Radio Biafra in Washington DC. Ojukwu came to Washington DC with his wife, Bianca, to commission it. It was after I was released from jail to bury my mother that I decided to establish another one in Africa. I was thinking of setting it up in South Africa when a friend convinced me to put it up in London. He assured me that he had a friend who is good in broadcasting that could be engaged to manage it. I went to London and did that. I got money from Nigeria and set it up. I also engaged Nnamdi Kanu, rented a flat for him. Before then, he was squatting with a Ghanaian lady. I was the first to get him a flat in London. Suddenly, some politicians got hold of him and are now using him to drive a negative narrative to achieve their aim.
You suggest that there could be external forces using the ESN to destabilize the Southeast?
That is obvious. What you see happening is political. People are sponsoring him. Politicians are giving him money. They are using him. Sadly, some of the youths involved in this do not even know that he is not doing it for the welfare of the Igbo. No, he is not. If he is working for the interest of the Igbo people, like I said, he won’t put any Igbo man or woman in harm’s way; he won’t allow any one of them to die. If you love your people, would you like soldiers to come to your community and attack them? If you love your people, would you like what happened at Odi (Bayelsa State) and Zaki Ibiam (Benue State) to happen to them? Kanu is not working for the Igbo but people don’t believe.
So, how will the Biafra question be resolved?
So long as there is injustice, the Biafra question will remain. No one wants to live in balkanized states. We should learn from other lands. We must look at a country like the United States of America to learn how they have been able to integrate all groups. So, injustice has remained the main issue. For instance, see how the President Buhari’s leadership had evolved since 2015. See his appointments? Look at how quiet the Federal Government has been on the issue of killer herdsmen. The silence is a stamp of approval on what those people have been doing across the country. No decent country or leadership behaves that way. Bring justice to everyone and you see the country evolve in a different direction. But when you remain mute over the excesses of armed herdsmen, you are seen to have given a stamp of approval on what they are doing. How do you now bring justice to others?
Is there anything wrong in communities rising up to arm themselves in self defence against those who are invading and killing them?
Have you not heard of instances of communities where some people fought back and killed the herdsmen but were arraigned in court and condemned to death? And nothing happens to the herdsmen. This is why many communities restrain themselves because they know that they will not get justice. I agree that the law allows for self defence but it is qualified. Self defence has to be immediate, on the spot, not an afterthought. If someone comes here to attack me with a knife or a gun and I overpower him and kill him first, that could be taken for self defence. Not when he has done so and gone home and then, after some days or weeks, I go to retaliate. That is no longer self defence. So, self defence is qualified in law. No one is allowed to arm himself illegally. You don’t go to arm yourself because you think that armed robbers may come to your house. That is illegal. And that is why everyone is against herdsmen carrying weapons.
But the President has given something like a shoot-at-sight order on anyone carrying AK-47
That is an afterthought. Why did he wait too long? It has been more than six years. He wasted time and blew the goodwill that he had. Before Buhari came on board, herdsmen come to the Southeast and do their business. Where they make mistakes and destroy crops, they pay for it and go their way. But because of Buhari’s support, they grew wings. Now, they tell us that the invaders were herdsmen from Niger and Mali and not the traditional herdsmen we have always lived with. Whatever it is, if those among them who commit such crimes are punished, everyone will sit up and it will give people the confidence that government is not behind it. But you don’t punish them and you want people to feel good? And suddenly, you wake one day to make an order; did you just start seeing their atrocities?