Since 1967 when former Igbo leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu first declared the interest of the people of the Eastern Region and parts of it to secede from Nigeria into a new republic, Biafra, the struggle has undergone phases, with many believing that those who came after Ojukwu to continue the struggle are merely using it to line their pockets, reports Ikeugonna Eleke.
After Ojukwu’s attempt and the destruction that followed, which he seemed to have regretted in his latter days, there have been Chief Ralph Uwazurike, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and now, Mr Simon Ekpa, who have made attempts to push for the secession of the people of the zone.
Even though one would believe that the goal is to achieve a new republic, infighting among the groups has contrived to leave onlookers wondering whether the fight is truly geared towards achieving the same purpose. First, was the fight between Uwazurike and some members of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which was founded by Uwazurike himself. Though the details of their fight were sketchy, Uwazurike was accused of financial misdeeds, with many accusing him of enriching himself, including tricking members into building a mansion for him in his Onuimo Community, which was believed to be Biafra House. He was later forced out of MASSOB, leading to his founding the Biafra Independence Movement (BIM), which till date has been wobbling after the initial steam left him.
Enter Nnamdi Kanu. From the blues, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) surfaced, with rumours from far away United Kingdom. Its proponent was Nnamdi Kanu, a less known personality then, who many said his last known address was being the chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), UK Branch.
Leveraging its broadcast arm, Radio Biafra, Kanu popularized the organization and built a cult following for himself. He also leveraged the platform of the social media and its porosity to dish out broadcasts that helped him garner followers who he also radicalized.
But following his arrest in 2017 and re-arrest in July 2021 in Kenya, his popularity further increased, leading to a clamour for his release which gave birth to what is today crippling the economy of the Southeast through not just the Monday Sit at home directives, but incessant declaration of such.
Upon the arrest of Kanu, one of his trusted disciples, Mr Simon Ekpa, took over, making the same inciting broadcasts that launched Kanu. He was greatly admired by Kanu’s followers but his intent was different. Today, Ekpa has become the new kid on the block in the Biafra struggle, and has long moved away from Kanu’s IPOB after using the platform to popularize himself.
Today, Ekpa and Kanu’s henchmen, who consist of members of the Directorate of State (DOS) of IPOB, are at daggers drawn. Though Ekpa continuously mouths the release of Kanu as reason for his incessant declarations of sit-at-home protest in the Southeast, he has long abandoned Kanu, including resisting his (Kanu’s) plea of stopping the sit-at-home in the Southeast. Ekpa, despite calling for Kanu’s release, refused to heed Kanu’s order to put a stop to incessant declarations of the sit-at-home protests in the zone. Indeed, Ekpa and his men have to date, never canvassed for a stop of the Monday sit-at-home; instead, they have always enforced it.
Some weeks ago, in what looked like an open coup to topple Kanu in the Biafra struggle, Ekpa held what he called Biafra Convention in Helsinki, Finland. Toeing the path of Kanu, who had earlier launched IPOB’s militant arm, Eastern Security Network (ESN), Ekpa also launched the Biafra Liberation Army and Biafra Resistance Fighters. Both are armed groups.
During the convention which had attendees from many parts of the world; all Igbos, he declared the official opening of Biafra House in Finland and America, while also inaugurating the Biafra Government in the Homeland (Nigeria), and Biafra Republic Government in Exile (BRGIE) which he pronounced himself the Prime Minister. Despite his earlier claims of being Nnamdi Kanu’s apostle, and rising to fame through the IPOB platform, Ekpa seems to have jettisoned Kanu and has commenced his own move to grow his ’empire’, just as Uwazurike and Kanu did before him.
An Anambra based lawyer, Barr Cajetan Eze, told Fides, ‘The sooner our people agree that this enterprise is all about business, the better for us, so that we can extricate ourselves from it. There is no Biafra anywhere. I think these men are building empires for themselves, using the gullibility of our people to line their pockets with donated funds. Our people must wake up. If there is anything we need to do today, it is to speak with one voice for the release of our brother, Kanu; not so that he can come back home and start fighting for Biafra, but because he is our brother and we owe him the fight for his freedom.’
Meanwhile, a social media influencer and public affairs analyst, Mr Chukwuka Ofoegbu, has dismissed those claiming to be fighting for Biafra Liberation. He described the struggle as a platform which both Kanu and Ekpa had been using to commit atrocities. In a video which he posted online, Ofoegbu identified one Ifeanyi Eze, who goes by the name, Gentle, as Ekpa’s lieutenant and commander of his newly launched Biafra Liberation Army.
‘Gentle is sponsored by Ekpa and he is responsible for all the kidnappings in Okigwe and Orlu areas. He has killed many people and was the one who slit the neck of a female soldier with her husband. The new business they have found themselves now is kidnapping people for ransom and dispossessing people of their cars which they dismember and sell to auto spare parts dealers in Mgbuka Obosi Spare Parts Market, Onitsha,’ Ofoegbu alleged.
He revealed that the video of the recent parade held by the Biafra Liberation Army which had trended on the Internet, to herald their launch, was shot in a remote location in Orsu in Imo State and not Okigwe Area where Gentle hails from and had long been declared wanted.
There is no doubt that Ekpa has long fallen apart with Kanu’s IPOB and its leadership, as Ekpa has assumed the sole struggle for secession, without as little as mentioning Kanu. Barr Eze told Fides that the new trouble Kanu will face if he regains freedom is how to cope with Ekpa’s growing popularity.
‘It will be a tough fight because Ekpa who used to see himself as Kanu’s apostle has used the opportunity of Kanu’s detention to build himself an empire and he is enjoying the popularity he is gaining. I hope you saw the kind of reception they gave him in Helsinki when he entered the convention hall? Kanu has had his time and Ekpa is having his reign now and power is sweet, so you don’t expect that he will step down when Kanu regains freedom. So, even if Kanu is freed tomorrow, I doubt that Ekpa would want to submit to him. And this will cause serious rivalry that will escalate the security situation in the Southeast,’ Eze predicted.
When Fides reached out to the spokesperson of IPOB, Mr Emma Powerful, on his reaction to the Helsinki Convention and the fact that Ekpa seems to be outpacing IPOB with new plans that are unconnected to them in the struggle, Powerful said: ‘Please, I will not like to join issues with those people or even talk about them. Whatever you are writing, please keep my name away from it.’
It certainly looks as if the Southeast Zone is hovering on the brink of another power struggle and how it will pan out or end is anyone’s guess.