Biafra casts long shadow over Nigeria, nearly 50 years on TrendyVoice

22 July 2015

Biafra casts long shadow over Nigeria, nearly 50 years on

Its name is synonomous with the declaration of
independence and updates on the brutal conflict that
followed, but nearly 50 years after Nigeria's civil war,
Radio Biafra is again making headlines. The modern-
day version — broadcasting online apparently from
London and, many suspect, retransmitted inside
Nigeria – was taken off air last week after regulators
called it illegal.
President Muhammadu Buhari was also forced to
issue a statement, denying the station's claims he had
criticised Igbos, one of the country's three largest
ethnic groups, in a recent BBC interview.

"The illegal
broadcasts from the seditious pirate radio station…
shattered the peace… with unsavoury hate
messages," the National Broadcasting Commission
said last Friday.
The messages were "designed to create disunity
among Nigerians and mislead young people in a
deliberate act of subversion. Nigerians do not need
another round of heartache and bloodshed", it
added. The existence of the station, which was easily
picked up in Nigeria's southeast, is a reminder of the
country's bubbling ethnic tensions and the still-raw
wounds of history.
Listeners said its anti-government propaganda
showed the dream of a separate Biafran republic is
still alive, 45 years after the end of the bloody civil
war. "Although the radio did not have good
programmes lined up, its listenership was growing
by the day and the government felt threatened by its
popularity, especially among the youths," said
Chijioke Amadi, 32, in the southeastern city of Enugu.
'A state of our own'
With Nigeria's young demographic, most listeners to
Radio Biafra will not even have been born when Igbo
General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu declared an
independent Republic of Biafra in 1967. But
memories linger of the anti-Igbo pogrom in the
mainly Muslim north that preceded secession and
the war that followed.

When the fighting ended in 1970 with more than one
million Igbos dead of disease and hunger, Nigeria's
military ruler General Yakubu Gowon declared there
was "no victor or vanquished". But the Igbos claim
they have been unfairly treated – even punished –
ever since. "Our grandfathers and fathers adopted
the ideology of Biafra," said Uchenna Madu,
spokesman for the Movement for the Actualisation of
the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).
"We believe in their vision and we have continued to
build on the foundation laid by our parents. We are
being denied our fundamental rights of being
Biafrans," he told newsmen. "We love Nigeria, we
want to contribute to its development but the
Nigerian state is paying us back with hatred. We want
a state of our own."
One Igbo former military officer, who participated in
the so-called "Igbo coup" in January 1966 and later
fought for Biafra, said the sense of injustice had been
passed down generations. "The children who were
born after the war ask their parents why the five
states in the region are underdeveloped," the 72-
year-old said, declining to give his name.
"Their parents tell them of the pogrom and
devastation that took place during the war and these
children, now adults, feel bitter and demand to go
their separate ways."

'We shall prevail'
Most "Biafra" agitators assert their region is
overlooked in the provision of infrastructure such as
roads, water, electricity, medical care, education, as
well as senior political posts. There was criticism
recently from the southeast of Buhari's appointments
to senior military roles.
Emeka Umeagbalasi, head of the International
Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of the Law, said
Igbos had been "totally excluded with impunity". The
appointments were "undemocratic and
unconstitutional," he added, referring to a
contentious constitutional provision for posts to be
shared among Nigeria's regions.
For Eze Onyekpere, director of the Centre for Social
Justice pressure group, the situation demonstrated
how Nigeria has failed to come to terms with its past
and diversity.
"They have been swept under the carpet. These are
national questions which Radio Biafra has sought to
highlight," he added. In such a powder keg of
competing ethnic and religious identities, dissent —
whether on radio or via Biafra Television — can
thrive. Eleven men from a MASSOB splinter group
are currently on trial charged with conspiracy to
declare a breakaway republic when they stormed a
state-run radio station in Enugu in June last year.
For Uchenna, the incidents show "the spirit of Biafra
is alive and it cannot die".

"We shall prevail," he said. "We are no longer
interested in Nigeria. No tribe in Nigeria has the
interest of the Igbos at heart, hence our sustained
campaign for our own separate republic."

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