By Martin Ezimano
What Uwazurike lacked in eloquence, he more than made up for in organizational — and as would later become evident — enterpreneurial acumen.
From being a nobody mouthing a forbidden word, Uwazurike was able to effectively mobilize and galvanize a sweeping population of Igbo by reawakening the slumbering sentiments and nostalgic remembrances of their days in the wilderness away from the “Egypt” of Nigeria.
Indeed, at a point, the badge of radicalism amongst disenchanted Igbo youth — albeit of the unlettered class — was membership of MASSOB.
MASSOB started by hoisting Biafra flags in Igbo land. (The very first was mounted by Uwazurike himself, who, unforgettably, upon doing so immediately fled from the scene on a waiting motor bike!)
MASSOB next graduated to holding rallies and peaceful marches. (Also ascribable to MASSOB is the dubious credit for the demobilization of Igbo land against participation in the 2006 national population census, an abstention which the Igbo rue to this day). Uwazurike, with his MASSOB, so effectively marketed and brought back the idea of Biafra into forceful reckoning that the Biafran pound became legal tender of heavier value than the naira accepted for transactions in some African countries.
In addition to that, talks were being circulated about MASSOB issuing Biafran passports and members were enthusiastically paying huge sums of money for that special privilege.
On the back of this massive financial subscription to his re-marketing of Biafra, Uwazurike soon constructed a palatial MASSOB headquarters in his Okwe country home in Imo State.
Where Ojukwu’s Biafra had been driven by sheer desperation, borne as a survivalist reaction to the calculated pogrommatic agenda of the then Federal Military Government, Uwazurike’s Biafra was built upon the cry of marginalization, the deliberate exclusion of the Igbo from the central core in the country’s power calculus.
In this Uwazurike was saying nothing new. Several Igbo, notably amongst whom was Ojukwu himself, had severally levelled the charge of Igbo marginalization against successive Nigerian governments. The only difference was that Uwazurike was taking the argument further. The marginalization, according to Uwazurike — and MASSOB — was evidence that the Igbo was not wanted in Nigeria. And since they were not wanted, they should be allowed to peacefully exit the country.
That MASSOB’s marches and activities were nonviolent did not however stop the Nigerian security apparatus from harassing, hounding, arresting and eliminating MASSOB activists all culminating in the arrest and trial of Ralph Uwazurike himself for treason related offences.
Uwazurike was in prison and on trial between 2005 and 2007 when he was eventually released on bail on compassionate grounds to bury his mother by Justice Binta Nyako.
We may do well to note these three points
(1) Uwazurike was released on bail in 2007.
(2) To bury his mother.
(3) By Justice Binta Nyako.
Whilst carrying on his “love affair” with the Nigerian government, Uwazurike, the story goes, spotted one young man of indeterminate livelihood yet flamboyant lifestyle in London and saw in the young man’s suave speech the vital qualification for the much needed propaganda arm of his Biafran struggle.
The young man was thereupon recruited, rehabilitated from his indeterminate — well, truth be said, disreputable — earning ways and appointed to headship of the propaganda unit christened Radio Biafra. The name was of course a deliberate historical play on the legendary original Radio Biafra run by Okokon Ndem, that worthy progenitor of today’s Lai Mohammed, who successfully won for Ojukwu on the airwaves the war lost on the fighting fields.
This rehash of nomenclature and dedication to mindbogglingly outrageous propaganda however proved to be where the similarities ended.
For unlike as was obtained between Ndem and Ojukwu, this young man did not remain faithful to his master, Uwazuruike.
Their relationship ruptured.
Accusations and counters flew.
Uwazurike was denounced on air for selling out Biafra and having been settled by the Nigerian government.
The young man, in turn, was accused of anti-MASSOB activities.
The young man was eventually arrested and “disciplined” — the details of that extreme discipline may not need elaboration — and expelled by MASSOB.
But if the young man had learnt anything from Uwazurike, it was tenacity.
So, upon being rescued from MASSOB “disciplinary” detention by a front line Igbo politician, this young man returned to his London base and immediately launched his own variant of the Biafran struggle.
However, in marked contrast to his erstwhile master who advocated a nonviolent approach to Biafran emancipation, this young man prophesied hail and fire, thunder and brimstone, bullets and bombs as the fate of Nigeria, (which he calls “zoo”), if his indigenous people of Biafra — of controversial if not provocative territorial claims — was not allowed to peacefully depart.
Adroitly tapping on the powers of the airwaves and the limitless reach of the internet, the young man broadcast incendiary messages that included threats that Somalia would be child’s play compared to the waiting fate of Nigeria by the time he and his army of followers decided to force the issue of Biafran restoration.
This young man in unprecedented and extravagant vulgarity rubbished the “Yorobber” traitors in the Southwest and “Awusa-Foolani” in the North as being the brains behind Biafra still being in the zoo.
An Igbo adage has it that as the drummer, so the dancers.
Uwazurike with MASSOB had preached nonviolence and projected a gradual 25-step program of emancipation for Biafra and the awakened Igbo youths conducted themselves within that understanding.
However, with the emergence of this young firebrand, who had preliminarily discredited Uwazurike as having sold out to the Nigerian authorities, and with this young man daily fulminating on the abominations of Nigeria and the urgent divine necessity to forcibly terminate such abominations, the youthful Biafranists became extremely radicalised.
Verbal abuse became a veritable — indeed the most deployed — weapon of the new struggle.
Having finished off — verbally — the Awusa-Foolani and Yorobber traitors, next to be pulverized were Igbo who did not subscribe to the new madness in the methods. The old word “Sabo”, a veritable death sentence in Ojukwu’s incarnation of Biafra, was dredged up to clothe any dissentient Igbo. Not long afterwards, another more colorful epithet was added: efulefu.
All therefore became sabo and efulefu who as much as questioned the methodology of the new struggle. Efulefus’ mothers private parts were not spared in the rich flow of abominable abuse. Efulefus’ probable Foolani paternity was brought into the mix. Revered traditional, religious and political institutions deemed unsupportive of this new Biafra were thoroughly demonised.
The young man, this drummer boy who changed the beats and altered the dance steps to a mad frenzy is of course none other than Nwannekaenyi “Kenny” Okwu better known as Nnamdi Kanu.
To be continued….
Martin Ezimano is a civil rights attorney, litigation expert and political activist.