By Joshua Evangelista
Fourty-six years after the end of the war in Biafra, the South and the South-East of Nigeria are again fibrillation. On October 14th Nnamdi Kanu, Director of Radio Biafra and leader of the Indigenous people of Biafra – IPOB (one of the main movements for the independence of the Abuja-jurisdiction area), has been arrested by the State Security Service (SSS) around Lagos with the charge of conspiracy, terrorism and intimidation. Despite the fact that the High Federal Court of Abuja has sentenced for his immediate release, Kanu is still under custody. The arrest of the activist and British citizen (based in London), brought to several demonstrations in all the main cities of the south-east of the Country, which have often been “pacified” with arrests and killings. There are so many videos on YouTube showing plainclothes policemen and soldiers shooting to unarmed people. The previous 9 February more than 20 people belonging to the secessionist movement died during a collective prayer in the yard of the Ibo National High School of Aba, after being surrounded by soldiers and policemen. Now the Biafran diaspora is organizing itself to pay the funerals of the victims and the expenses for its leader’s trial. We have therefore contacted the Coordinator of coordinators of IPOB, in order to understand which are the reasons behind this new secessionist boost and to understand toward which scenarios the situation might lead. Dr. Clifford Iroanya, Shell’s engineer in Nigeria until 2006, is now coordinating the Independence Movement from Houston, from where he keeps working in the Oil Business. We ask him if he is an “American Citizen”, and he answers “No. I am a Biafran citizen but I’m forced to accept a foreign citizenship because my very National identity has been denied to me”.
Dr Iroanya, several international analysts are afraid of a new civil war. Are they right to be worried?
This is not a civil war, it is a massacre. A war can be defined civil when there is an internal conflict inside a nation. I live in the USA, where in the ‘800 there was a conflict between Unionists and Confederates (who were divided by the issue of slavery); this conflict gave birth to a civil war. To have a civil war you need to have two factions. This is not the case. I call it genocide. There hasn’t been armed reactions by the Biafrans; the military shoots the demonstrators – and there are videos to prove it – and then it piles up corps in mass graves.
Are you therefore not going to respond to the repression with armed struggle?
None of us is talking about an armed struggle. We want a peaceful independence. The United Nations and other major international institutions like the European Union must recognize that this slaughtered, devastated and constantly threatened people has to be released. That’s all. We are a peaceful people and we pursue the path of non-violence. But we expect to be heard.
No retaliation is contemplated?
We have always been non-violent. We are for the beauty of life. It’s not allowed in Biafraland to take the life of someone else. We are tired of blood. While they continue to kill us, we only have a flag to grab to. The flag of Biafra.
How would you reach independence?
By creating awareness on the outside. In ’67 the British forces have hampered each of our attempts to raise our voices and to therefore make ourselves heard. Still in schools no one teaches what happened during the Massacre, which for us was Genocide. We constantly have to implore the media in order to gain a space.
Why struggling for independence instead of focusing on the demand for more rights to the residents of the southeast?
The concept of Nation is different from the concept of Country. A nation is made up of people with a shared value system. Ideally we can say that in Nigeria there are three nations – that carry three models of values – that do not converge. In northern Nigeria there is a feudal values system; in the western part of the country there is a monarchical conception of public life. In Biafra, on the contrary, there is a republican system of values: we believe that we are all equal before God. It is not recommended for countries with such different conceptions to share a territory. It is a waste of human resources and time to struggle to be united when it is not possible. We want to relate and to have good relations with our neighbors, but within our own independence.
How important is religion in this political conception?
Biafra means ‘come and join us’. The word Biafra is the composition of two Igbo words: “bia,” which means ‘come’, and “fara” which can be translated as joining. We are a tolerant nation. There is no restriction for anyone, as long as one’s religion is not imposed nor it becomes a state religion and nobody confuses citizenship with the belonging to a religion. Not everyone is aware that Nigeria is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. In its Constitution, Nigeria is said to be a secular country; but this is not true: in the constitutional text the word “sharia” is mentioned 73 times, “islam” 28 times, “Muslim” 10. Keywords from the other big religious confession as “Christianity”, “church” and “Christ” have zero mentions. In Chapter 6 of the Constitution there is an article, the 261 one, about the Court of Appeal of sharia. How can this be true? We can not force anyone to follow a religion.
Why not to focus on a reform of federalism, with a concentration of resource management within single States?
It will never work, not with this constitution. Without political freedom there is not economic freedom. The taxes that we pay are going to the Congress in Abuja and to almost all the military institutions of the North. Independence is the only way.
Why is the Movement for the liberation of Biafra scaring the political system now? Almost half a century passed since the Civil War.
There are various reasons. First of all, we believe that the resources and the environment around us can be the key to living well. We have the skills and energies to become one of the most developed countries. On the other hand, those who are now ruling – by practicing a feudal political system – expect us to remain always submissive. They even expect us to be satisfied with the crumbs falling down from the table. Obviously these people have always been feeling encouraged by the fact that the British placed them in power, in this state called Nigeria, so that they could get rich by accounting to the western chiefs. But today we have the resources and we have a people who have studied and know its rights. And this fact scares the central government. They have a terrible fear of the fact that we can ask for what belongs to us.
What is the role of the Diaspora in this new awareness?
We are in constant contact with those who live there. We recommend them, we care of their trials: it is not easy to stay sharp when you are in constant oppression. We make the “count” of the dead, we design new strategies.
Some people accuse the Movement of being mainly formed by young ideologized people, who do not know what has happened during the war and that are totally far from the real needs of the people.
I was a teenager during the war, I know what happened. Anyway, it’s a crazy idea: you do not need to have lived through the massacre to be aware of it. What fathers have experienced is what is told to the children.
Why the State has got such an attention towards Nnamdi Kanu?
People like Kanu are born one every million. He is honest and upright. But, above all, he is practical. He does not trust the promises. He does not want words. What he says must be done. And this attitude is inspiring a new generation of Biafrans. It is very adept at deconstructing all the propaganda against us. And this is a great danger for those who rule Nigeria.
What do you think about the liberation movements of the Niger Delta, which seem so much closer to your battles in recent times?
Let’s start with a basic precondition. That land has been known as Biafra for so many centuries. Subsequently it has been named Eastern Nigeria. Finally someone has picked up the wording “Niger Delta” and the geographical delineation “South-South” to indicate the states around the mouth of the River. This is ridiculous, in no other state exists a “south-south”: in Nigeria only the cardinal points are not respected! This is the classic strategy of “divide and rule”. In reality we are all inhabitants of Biafra. They firstly divide us and they finally tell us that we just struggle to grab all the resources. Some young people – who have undergone this brainwashing – call themselves “Niger Delta Militants”. This name is conceptually wrong, in my opinion. As well as the focus of their fight, which is only centered on resources.
What has changed toward you with the election of the new president, Muhammadu Buhari?
We must first explain who is Buhari. He is someone who joined the army in 1961. Someone who has never concluded a course of study and whose education is low and therefore not certified. So we’re talking about a not qualified president. The second point is that he is not “new”. In December 1983, a coup overthrew a democratically elected government. He should be in jail, and instead he is the president of everyone. Since he’s there we have been seeing many more killings and massacres against civilians, in a proportion that I would define “geometrical”. Nothing similar has ever been seen since the ’70s. Not to mention his “fight” against Boko Haram.
Give us a better explanation of this last sentence, please.
Buhari is from the north. In an official statement, he has asserted that an attack against Boko Haram means an attack against the whole north. Boko Haram had earlier accounted him as a chief negotiator. Do you all believe he is the right person to fight them? We do not. It’s sufficient to say that Boko Haram has killed more people since Buhari is charging than from the very establishment of the terrorist group itself, in 2009.