Chief Ralph Uwazurike, founder of Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has given reasons he renamed the organisation, Biafra Independent Movement (BIM).
According to him, charlatans were hijacking MASSOB and deviating from the non-violent approach to the struggle. He accused Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), and director of Radio Biafra London of defrauding him in the radio project.
Uchenna Madu, who claimed to be the new MASSOB leader, had few days a go expelled Uwazurike from the organisation. In this interview with Here , Uwazurike dismissed him, saying he was not a member of the group let alone expelling him. Excerpts:
What gave rise to the disbandment of MASSOB, and rebranding it Biafra Independent Movement (BIM)?
Actually, at the stage we are now, we are supposed to have that change. It is a change that will transform into a political party when Biafra will be realized through referendum. Our objective now is to go ahead for the quest for referendum. If our request is granted, then we turn it to a political party in Biafra.
Who will organise the referendum, is it Nigeria or outside authority?
It has been done in so many places. It was done in Scotland; it was done in Quebec in Canada. It was also done in Southern Sudan, so, whoever that did that in those places will do it in Biafra. It is not Nigeria or Biafra that will conduct the referendum. The United Nations organ will do that.
This transformation from MASSOB to BIM, is it a fallout of your expulsion from MASSOB by the Uchenna Madu group?
No, there is nothing like that. In law, you can’t give what you don’t have. You cannot sack somebody from outside. We expelled him and others, then you can’t come from outside to sack somebody inside. An employee can’t sack his employer. It has nothing to do with that.
Actually, I wanted to do the renaming by the end of the month, but because of activities we shall be having; now we shall be holding elections for the organisation right from the grassroots to the level of Biafra leader, and the handover will be on May 22, 2016. There is nothing like somebody sacking me. It is not today that people started sacking Uwazurike. Even when I was in prison, a group of people who called themselves National Working Committee sacked me. So, sacking of Uwazurike as MASSOB leader didn’t start today, and there is nothing to fear about.
It is said that MASSOB started at Okwe, which is the headquarters, what is happening at Okwe now?
MASSOB was started in Lagos, not Okwe. From Lagos to Aba; from Aba to Okigwe and from Okigwe to Okwe and now Owerri, where you have the headquarters. Biafra is everywhere not only in Okwe.
Is it the Madu faction that is occupying Okwe?
I don’t know where he is. The headquarters of MASSOB is anywhere the leader is. Okwe cannot be the headquarters when the leader is not in Okwe. Wherever the leader is, is where the headquarters is because that is where the action takes place.
Why did you sack Uchenna Madu?
There was a time when there was some violence in Okwe between my members from Onitsha and those in Okwe, and about four people were killed. Uche Madu was the mastermind of that violence, and because of that he was sacked.
You have maintained that MASSOB is non-violent, but the protests by Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) turned violent, what is MASSOB’s relationship with IPOB?
There is no relationship, and when you talk of IPOB, it is Nnamdi Kanu. I was the person that established Radio Biafra in London. Before Radio Biafra in London, I opened Voice of Biafra International in Washington DC, but the cost of running that project in Washington DC was high, as we were paying about N9 million every month, so we closed it down and came to London, where we were paying between N3 million and N4 million every month. I made Kanu the director of the radio station in London and one doctor, as the deputy director. After sometimes, he started broadcasting hate messages and preaching violence and we sacked him and he registered his own radio under his name. We left him until he ran into his present predicament.
It was alleged that you kidnapped Kanu when he came to Nigeria to wed because of the Radio Biafra issue?
There was nothing like kidnap. He has to account for the money given to him for that project. Somebody employed you, or gave you money to execute a project, it is traditional that you account to that person. We were funding that radio for years, we asked him since you were deviating from the organisation’s ideals, give us account. We understood that he registered a radio in his name without our permission. We said okay, if you are running the radio as a private organisation, you have to give us account of the monthly remittances we have been sending to London. So, that is fraud. He defrauded us.
Yes, my men arrested him and brought him to Okwe. There was nothing like kidnap. Kidnap who? Somebody you are paying salary as your servant and worker and you are saying he was kidnapped, for what? Just like a managing director kidnapping his gateman in his office. That is nonsense.
What is your view on Kanu’s predicament?
The DSS bungled the case, and they should release him. You said somebody committed an offence, and you arrested him, took him to court and the court granted him bail. The DSS should release him.
There are some youths who so much believe in you and believe in MASSOB, now you have transformed it to BIM, how would they take or buy into it?
While I was addressing the press, all my directors, area administrators were all present in our Owerri headquarters. Everybody is carried along. It was a not a personal issue. All my followers are with me.
You are talking of referendum, when do you think it would take place?
It has to be planned. What we are seeing now is hoodlums and dissidents hijacking the organisation and blocking River Niger bridge and chasing traders away from the market. That was not how to do it. You said Kanu was arrested, so what? I have gone to prison 15 times. I was in prison when my mother died. The last count was two and half years I spent in prison. Benjamin Onwuka is in prison, why is the case of Kanu something else? He has stayed barely few months there. There are some members of MASSOB in prison for up to seven years now, because of Kanu who is just few months in detention, you began to block roads and close markets. How can you describe that? It is not a way of life, there is nothing non-violent about it. Non-violence does not include when you block the road, block people’s access and rights and you say you are non–violent. When you go to market and chase away the traders and you say it is non-violent. Who taught you that? That was not Mahatma Gandhi taught me. So, you can’t say you are non-violent when you are doing something violent.
We have to articulate our position. From now on, there will be elections in all our spheres and we should start off the process of referendum, and follow it legitimately. Biafra is the only thing that makes Ndigbo tick, which people reckon with as far as Igbo land is concerned. So, we can never allow it to die whether our detractors or opponents like it or not, we must have something that frightens others because in the North, there is Boko Haram and in the West, there is OPC and you have MEND. There must be Biafra and we have to uphold it irrespective of blackmail, propaganda that Uwazurike is a millionaire, he has houses. And so what? Look at the director of the Nation of Islam, he has three private jets, and Uwazurike has no jet and people are waxing mouths. What of if I have a jet? They are saying Uwazurike has this, has that, how much did you contribute? Now they are probing people, is Uwazurike’s name there? They gave contract for pipeline protection, was Uwazurike’s name there? You are talking of $2 billion arms procurement, is Uwazurike’s name there? Did anybody give me money, do you have evidence of money given to Uwazurike? If Uwazurike is so rich and so what? Do I care about how you make your money and how you spend it? How can somebody’s business be how Uwazurike is making his money and spending it? It is mere jealousy. BIM should be the issue not Uwazurike’s personal life.
You are talking of Biafra’s realisation, and you have many groups, MASSOB, now BIM, you have IPOB and Biafra Zionists Movement (BZM), people think all these groups are discordant. What is your view?
They are all welcome. Let us be focussed and let the subject matter be Biafra. It shouldn’t be Uwazurike. You see all these groups discuss Uwazurike but Uwazurike doesn’t discuss them. If there are ways you want to actualise Biafra, put it in black and white and let us see it, and Uwazurike will state his own. No matter what, you can’t take it away from me that after Ojukwu and Biafra, it is Uwazurike. It is after Uwazurike that another person will come up. I’m still standing, stop attacking individuals, like you are using Radio Biafra to call Nigeria names, to discredit Ohanaeze Ndigbo and attack Uwazurike. That is not what will give us Biafra. All the groups should start talking of Biafra and at a point we shall come together. If referendum is carried out today and Biafra stands, all these groups will metamorphose into political parties and election is held. That is the way it was done in other countries. The biggest group will emerge through alignment. Let the issue be Biafra and not individuals.
Now you have BIM and if referendum is not conducted, will it be a political party in Nigeria to contest elections?
No. How can it be? That is not an option that we are even thinking of. We don’t want anything about Nigeria, what we are working for is a referendum. Struggle is dynamic; anything can still happen, there is no clear-cut direction how anybody can go and how a struggle can be achieved. Tomorrow people may even decide and say can we do so so and so or otherwise. It is a popular decision and not one- man decision, but as at today, we are not thinking in that direction.
People say what is driving the agitation is the manner the Igbo are treated in Nigeria. For example, in the Nigeria Customs, comptrollers were promoted that saw North-West having 25 slots; North-East, 26; North-Central, 18; SouthWest, 10; South-South, 11 and South-East, four.
Two weeks ago, Buhari appointed 30 high court judges and people argue that equity demands that each zone should produce five judges, but South-East got three. If the Federal Government begins to right the perceived wrongs, would you drop your agitation?
I’m not interested in their making amend. Nothing is better or greater than independence. I came out for Biafra independence and that is what I’m after now. I’m not interested whether Nigeria gives the Igbo this or that. There are Igbo politicians, let them continue with their one Nigeria. If referendum is conducted and majority says, no to Biafra, then I will know what to do. Presently, I’m not interested in Nigeria’s politics and I must tell you even if Biafra is realised tomorrow, I will not take part in Biafran government.
When the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was still in the banking sector, he presented a paper at the National Conference on the 1999 Constitution, jointly organised by The Network for Justice and The Vision Trust Foundation, at Arewa House, Kaduna, in September 1999, where he warned that if Biafra rises the second time, it should be respected. Was it this that spurred you to begin the agitation?
Something gives rise to something. The issue of Biafra started during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The former President was quoted to have said that people defeated in war should not talk or be heard for 200 years. That was what made me form MASSOB in 1999. Whether they like it or not, Biafra has come to stay and there is nothing anybody can do about it. I didn’t see that publication until recently. Anybody should know that you cannot beat a child and ask him not to cry.