By Odimegwu Onwumere
Chief Annie Igbani, the Awka Regional Administrator for Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, was ostensibly almost mobbed to death by the men of the Joint Task Force, JTF, on March 28 this year in front of Dozzy Filling Station, Onitsha, Anambra State.
Journalists christened the act as for “no just cause”. His leg that was broken earlier by the military was again broken, including his eyes. When they took him away to the Army barracks, he was well tormented alongside other MASSOB members. He was later whisked away to the State CID, Awka, the Anambra State capital.
Igbani had to spend one week at the CID and no access to medical treatment was given to him. His captors said that his sin was that he belonged to MASSOB. It was further revealed that what saved Igbani from the alarming hands of the JTF was the large crowd that prevented them from killing him. According to the source: “While Igbani was about being taken to court, a police officer who claimed to have eliminated many MASSOB members, accosted him and told him that even if the court allows him to go, he would be assassinated. They later took him to Court and the Court granted him bail. They were taken to CPS to perfect his bail and there, an Igbo man who claims to be a Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS, commander and has killed many MASSOB members, came to Igbani and told him that he would die.”
Without distrust, Anambra State was a well-known state out of the five states in the South-East geo-political zone of Nigeria that had a seemingly history with illegal arrests and killings of members of the MASSOB since 1999-2014. Just recently, the non-violent organization that was on the struggle to actualize the Sovereign State of Biafra out of Nigeria petitioned the United Nations, UN, and President Goodluck Jonathan over the alleged danger that lurks against its members by security agents in Anambra State. The MASSOB Director of Information, Comrade Uchenna Madu made the disclosure on February 7, 2013 that nine of its members whose names were given as Basil Ogbu, Michael Ogwa, Sunday Omogo, Philip Nwankpa, Eze Ndubuisi, Ebuka Eze, Obinna Ofor, Joseph Udoh and Uchechukwu Ejiofor, had been missing since their arrest in Onitsha area of the state by security agents on November 9, 2012.
In the petition, MASSOB requested that President Jonathan, President Barack Obama of the United States and, the Secretary General, UN, Mr. Ban ki Moon, should intervene and save its members from annihilation. The group said that it had made the attempt of reaching out to the world body, when it was obvious that the authorities had refused to release its supposedly arrested members. Madu decried in the petition to the UN: “Some of our members and relations of the detained members were denied access to them, including medical assistance. We got information that harmless MASSOB members were secretly killed. We suspect that some dead bodies found at Ezu River, at Awka, Anambra State might be our members.”
With the so-called carnages its members suffer in the hands of security operatives and the insurgents in the Northern part of the country against people from the disturbed-Biafra region, the MASSOB National Red Cross Chairman, Engr. Osondu Okwaraeke in Onitsha, Anambra State, therefore called on the United Nations, Catholic Pontiff, Israel and other world leaders to come to the rescue of MASSOB, especially to help actualize the Biafra Republic.
However, information with the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, ICRtoP, New York, informed: “The Security Council denounced the 26 August 2011 attack on the UN building in Abuja, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon conducted a global threat review in its wake. The Council strongly condemned the Boko Haram terrorist attack in northeast Nigeria’s Yobe State on 5 November 2011. On 27 December 2011, the Council issued a statement condemning the terrorist attacks in Madalla, Jos and Damaturu, and reminded Member States to “ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism comply with all their obligations under international law.”
But On 06/07/2014, no fewer than 220 members of the MASSOB, including leader of the group, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, were arrested by the soldiers at a check-point at Okigwe, Imo State. Authorities said that their offence was the putting on of Biafran uniform, (part of the organization’s non-violent tactics to actualize their struggle). Against this influence, investigation by News Express, reports: “MASSOB has remained non-violent since it started the campaign for Biafra’s restoration in September 1999. Biafra was the separatist state declared in 1967 by the then Eastern Region but which surrendered to the Nigerian federal forces in 1970 to end one of the world’s worst civil wars that consumed about a million mainly Igbo lives.”
It had been from one arrest and seemingly killing of MASSOB members to the other since its formation in September 1999. The onslaught continues when on May 24 2014 the MASSOB raised its voice again, according to it, over a plot by the Joint Task Force (JTF) security outfit to kill leaders of the movement in the state. On 2 July 2014, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that the death penalty has no place in the 21st century, calling on all the countries of the world to take serious steps against this. At an event co-organized at UN Headquarters by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the UN, Mr. Ban in his opening remarks, said: “Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world….”
The ICRtoP, whispered: “Human Rights Agenda Network (HRAN), a network of civil society and other organizations working on human rights issues in Nigeria, reported to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in March 2014, the “increased cases of extra judicial executions and summary killings; continued use of torture as state-condoned tool of law enforcement…” The report continued that Ki-Moon expressed serious concern on 20 January 2010 about the renewed violence and crimes in Nigeria, and called on all political and religious leaders to work together to address the underlying causes of the recurring violence in the country.
In March 2014, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, decried that Nigeria was “currently facing its most daunting set of challenges for decades.” The source, warned: “Targeted violence, increased lawlessness, escalating sectarian tensions, the state’s inability to protect, and its military’s own contribution to human rights violations, have raised significant alarm as to whether the international community is bearing witness to mass atrocity crimes – or could in the near future.”
The United Nations condemns such act against MASSOB members by the Nigerian establishment in the World Human Rights Charter, pointing out wholeheartedly that there is freedom of association, right to belong to any country one likes; and that nobody or group has the right to question the person’s citizenry. On November 6 2012, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), South-East region urged President Goodluck Jonathan to order the unconditional release of over 500 separatist Biafra Zionist Movement, BZM, members, who were detained by the police following an Enugu rally.
The CD said in a statement in Onitsha: “It is very unacceptable and wicked for police in Enugu to arrest defenseless activists, who are not armed with any weapon. The movement was just agitating for their freedom as enshrined in Chapter 4; Sections 33, 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 of the amended 1999 Constitution, which provides the freedom of association and peaceful assembly.’’
The BZM being a separatist group from MASSOB, CD condemned what it called the “kangaroo” mode with which the activists were arrested, arraigned and remanded in prison custody. The CD further reiterated that it was very depressing and undesirable to the entire Igbo-nation. It frowned at such conduct by the police, in what it said was, “going by the on-going killings by the Boko Haram religious sect in the northern part of the country. The Federal Government is not doing enough to checkmate their criminal activities against the Nigerian nation.”
The Supreme Court, on Friday April 19 2013, gave the then Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Mohammed Adoke Bello, SAN, the nod to prosecute the leader of MASSOB, Chief Uwazuruike and six others, in what it termed, for “committing treason against the Federal Republic of Nigeria” (simple because of their struggle). The other accused persons the apex court, aside Uwazurike, directed the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to punctually begin their tryout, included Ambrose Anyaso, Augustine Ihuoma, Chibuike Nwosu, Kelechi Ubabuike, Chimankpa Okorocha and Benedict Alakwem.
The government had alleged that the accused persons, who it said were top officials at the MASSOB headquarters situated at Okwe, Onu-Imo Local Government Area of Imo State, on diverse dates between January 2004 and October 2005, at Owerri and other places in Nigeria, “with intent to levy war, overawe and overthrow the legitimate government of Nigeria,” conspired to commit felony to wit: treason against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, contrary to Sections 37 (2), 62(2) (1) 64, 237 (1) of the Criminal Code Act Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 and punishable under Sections 37 and 63 of the same Act.
It was learned that in many occasions the authorities have used propaganda against the MASSOB, citing it as a terrorist organization before the public, a situation which has compelled the group telling the public to dismiss such claim. The group rather said: “MASSOB is now consolidating on building structures and diplomatic negotiations with other countries, including the re-declaration of Biafra in May 22nd, 2000, submission of Biafra Bill of rights to United Nations and Chief Uwazuruike’s attendance of OAU Summit in Lome, Togo in 2000 among other achievements.”
The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, ICRtoP, droned: Human Rights Watch (HRW), on 19 January 2010, called on the Nigerian government to take concrete steps to end the discriminatory policies lying at the root of much of the country’s inter-communal violence…
The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) lists Nigeria’s population as one at ‘imminent risk.’ In 2012, Amnesty International compiled the report, “Nigeria: Trapped in the Cycle of Violence,” containing a section titled, ‘Failing to Protect and Prevent,’ in which AI stated, “Nigeria is obliged under national and international law to protect the right to life and security of everyone on its territory.”
Odimegwu Onwumere, a Poet/Writer, writes from Rivers State.