Ethnic Militias and Sub-Nationalism in Nigeria: a comparative Study of massob and opc

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A. If anybody attacks us, we attack the person. If you want peace prepare for war. If the Yoruba attack us, we shall reply by attacking them back. Their number does not outweigh our own number in Lagos. We give them whatever they want.

Q. What are the messages of MASSOB to non-MASSOB members?

A. To be prepared for independence of Biafra.thats all. Until we are independent, we are on our own, there will be no peace. Injustice is glaring and you can’t achieve peace and unity without justice.

Q. There are reports that MASSOB imports arms, of which even the SSS accuses you. How true is this?

A. I will not answer that question. If MASSOB is importing arms will I tell you that we are or we are not? They have security agencies all over the place; it is their duty to find out because even if we are importing and I told you we are not, you wouldn’t believe it. So it is the duty of the security agencies.

Q. What is your relationship with Igbo governors in the east? Are they with you in this struggle?

A. Yes, they are cooperating. They are Igbo too and they know the feeling, so they are cooperating.

Q. They are cooperating with MASSOB?

A. Why not, at least the former governor of Imo state has openly declared support for our course. All of them are in support because what we are doing is going to benefit every Igbo man. We are talking of freedom of the Igbo and no one wants to be a slave.

Q. What about the people that express the opinion that Biafra is too small in terms of space for the Igbo compared to Nigeria which is much bigger with potential to make global impact?

A Well, if it is declared, we will know whether it is small or big

Q. For instance, we know that every four African is a Nigerian

A. What benefit are we getting from that? No water, no nothing. Does that place food on the table? All these analogy makes no impact to the ordinary man.

Q. People see the feat MASSOB accomplished on August 26, 2004 as its greatest achievement. How did you do that?

A. No, no, we are not lacking in ideology. For what? Is August 26, bigger than introduction of the Biafran currency?

Q. For the Biafran currency, it seem did not go down well with the government. Isn’t this the major problem for harassment of MASSOB?

A. Was I the person who printed Biafran money? Biafra money has been there for the past 37 years. Do you know if we have been there using it even before we formed MASSOB. Why must it disturb anybody? It can’t disturb me. Why must Biafra currency disturb anybody? I have told them in Italy you had the lira, but then the Vatican City has its own currency. In America you have dollar and other currencies. What is all the noise about Biafran currency does it disturb anybody? Am I the person who printed it?

Q. But MASSOB re-introduced the Biafran currency?

A. How can you even prove it? Did we call a press conference to say today we are introducing Biafran currency? If people are using Biafran currency why must I be crucified? Was there any law that banned the use of Biafran currency in the first place? You know the other day they arraigned my boys whom they caught with Biafran currency in Owerri High Court. The magistrate threw away the case and said what is the meaning of all this. Where is the law? The boys were released even without any condition. If you think Biafran currency should not be used, you put up a bill in the parliament, then if it is passed, it becomes law, then you can say don’t use Biafra currency.

Q. But the only legal tender in Nigeria is naira, why support the use of Biafran currency?

A. Nobody is disputing that, but like I said I can have a personal negotiation with you to exchange my goods and services the way it benefits me. But if you say naira is the only legal tender in Nigeria, don’t you use dollars? If I come to buy something and I say I have only dollars wont you accept it? Is dollar not legal tender?

Q. Some of these issues agitating MASSOB can be trashed in a sovereign national conference. What is MASSOB position on this?

A. We are not interested in National Conference that would not produce an independent Biafran state.

Q. What is your take on the views of former Ohaneze president Joe Irukwu who believe Igbos can be reintegrated into Nigeria through remedies of political and economic marginalization so that Biafra would be laid to rest?

A. Professor Irukwu is different from Ralph Uwazurike. He has his own ideas about life and I have my own ideas of life. I respect him entirely for what he is. I have given Nigeria enough time to change to my liking and it has failed to change. If to him it requires one million years, I don’t give such time. I gave Nigeria time to change their hatred against our people. The killing of Igbos started in the North, in Kano in 1945. Up till today they are still killing our people in the North. Just a few months ago our people were killed in the North. When do you think these things will stop? The same Irukwu you ask him what measures he has put in place to stop the killing of our people by Hausas.

Q. What is it that can make you stop talking about MASSOB?

A. I have no powers today to stop MASSOB. I cannot. MASSOB is all over the world. Am I going to stop MASSOB in Nigeria or in America or in Europe? I am here as a referee, nothing more. I don’t even do anything, people do the work outside. How can I stop MASSOB? Which MASSOB am I going to stop? I formed it fine, but it has outgrown me. I am even the least player in MASSOB today. Voice of Biafra International is there. I don’t make any contribution to the programmes they present. The news bulletin, they don’t show me what they broadcast. If I say stop MASSOB, they will say ‘otorugbagbukwa gi ebe ahu’ (May stomach upset kill you there).

Q. So there is no going back on this path to secession?

A. No going back

Q. Thank you very much

A. Thank you.

Transcribed unedited Interview with Mr Benjamin Onuegbu, Western Regional Representative of the Movemant for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) at the MASSOB Western Regional headquarter Ajedidun Street,Ijeshatedo,Lagos,November 10,2008.
Q. I want you to start by telling us who you are.

A. My name is Benjamin Onuegbu.

Q. What is your position in MASSOB?

A. I am the Western Representative of MASSOB

Q.Why was MAASSOB started?

A. MASSOB started 13 September, 1999 and our leader saw a dream of liberating his people, the oppressed people of eastern Nigeria. They are slaves because nothing in Nigeria benefits the easterner, no development in the area, they are hardly employed into federal establishements and even when it occurs they are not promoted. Go to the east, you cannot see government presence especially in Igbo land. In the scheme of things we are not regarded. Another thing again is that every year, you hear that the northerners are using us as sacrifice, killing us enmass. Even in the west Igbos are killed every year. These massacres have been happening from time to time and when we are crying, no government listens to us because of that, the Igbo rallied round Ralph Uwazurike, who came out to say enough is enough. When he started this, he did not invite anybody; he was just writing in the papers and announcing it through interviews on television. Many of us went and approached him having witnessed and felt the suffering of the easterners/Igbo. We came to him and joined. There was no invitation to anybody, we felt what we were suffering, and we joined the organization MASSOB. And what is the meaning of MASSOB; Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign state of Biafra.

Q. Do you believe that these entire problems you enumerated could be solved only by secession from Nigeria?

A. Thats all, there is no other way. No alternative. You cannot do anything now for us. What they said they are doing now like putting people in the executive and government post is late. There is no other way, look at my age, what can you do to me now. I have never been a worker in Nigeria, but yet I am doing very well, I have a wife and children. Four out of my six children have graduated from universities but they are still applicants. At my age what can you give me? I am seventy-nine years of age, am a skilled man. Those children I trained them but they cannot help me after their education.

Q. What is MASSOB’s strategy to actualize Biafra given the fact that the previous attempt in the past could not materialize?

A. Yes, I was one of the people who fought at that time. But we were short of weapons. God helped us to survive it for three years. Nigeria went abroad and hired countries, lifted our oil to foreign countries in exchange for weapons but we withstood them for three years. Then as war used to happen, there was no ceasefire and discussion to settle the issues that is why it has risen again. This time around, I heard about it and felt it is a worthy venture. But this time around there is no going to be any war again, no more bloodshed, even though Nigeria is shedding our blood. More than 2000-3000 people have been killed; I will give you one paper after this interview where we compiled the names of those killed. It is the vision of our leader that the best way to go about it is non-violence, non-exodus. We cannot run away like before, we cannot harm any person, they can harm us because if we can maintain it as we are maintaining it now, at the end Biafra would be a reality.

Q. Now let me ask this, it is nine years now since Chief Uwazurike started MASSOB of which he said he has twenty five stages. I do not know the stage you are now and how can you realize a Biafra state without violent struggle?

A. We have discharged eleven stages now and we are nearing to the sovereign government of Biafra. What we are doing now, we are not doing anything with Nigeria. We are doing everything we are doing as Biafrans. The stage we are now is civil disobedience which has taken quite some time. We have gone out with a parallel government. Nigeria government is there but we have nothing to do with it because it is not doing anything for us. Yes, yes Nigerian government is in the east, with their governors, but we have also constituted our own government in the east. We ordered civil disobedience which the governors attempted to counter but failed.

Q. Are you talking about what MASSOB did on the 26th of August 2004 to be precise, the sit-at-home call which people complied according to newspaper reports. How did you people achieve that feat?

A. How we achieve that, you know at that time, infiltrations have not gone deep into our member. Are you aware that some Igbo elites go into our members to bribe them, give them money to sink our ship? That time it wasn’t like that that is why we succeeded. Let me tell you this, any average Igbo man or woman or even pregnant woman is a child of Biafra because the mind of the woman is already in Biafra. The problem is that most people had thought that if they come out to talk about Biafra, they will be killed or imprisoned. Like what they are doing us. So those gifted by God continue pushing it like we are doing, that is the thing.

Q. Okay that is where I want to go now because so many MASSOB members have been arrested some imprisoned and killed. Are these not killing the spirit of the members to continue in this venture? What is the spirit driving your members inspite of these dangers?

A. Yes, the force that is driving our active members is determination. They have pledged their lives that unless they get Biafra, they would not quit the struggle. They have pledged their lives for Biafra. It is better to die in the struggle of liberty than to live as a slave.

Q. Is that your slogan?

A. Yes that is our slogan, and that slogan is what is guiding our members. Unless they die they cannot quit the struggle.

Q. How many members do MASSOB has all over the world?

A. If you take the strength of MASSOB all over the world, it is more than forty million people. Let me tell you one thing, there is no average person or Igbo man that is not a MASSOB.

Q. Not Biafra,I mean the MASSOB organization how many are you?

A. Okay, the organization itself-yes our members, the strength of our members is not less than 15 million people.

Q. How did you come about that figure?

A. They are registered members; we give identity card, so we know the members.

Q. Fifteen million registered members?

A. Wonderful, we are given ID cards. We know how many ID cards issued out starting from 1999, we know how many?

Q. How many members?

A. I am telling you the truth, I am not joking, but only thing you see is that some of them may get ID card but because of harassments from Nigeria, because of fear, become inactive in the organization. Even some elite in the east, they are members. They have ID cards, some fear open identification with us so as not to be discriminated in case of employment. Some politicians fear open identification because they want to stand for governor or senate, which they may not give them, if they openly identify. Even there is no governor here that does not support us.

Q. There is no governor that does not support you?

A. Yes.

Q. They support you, but none of them have come out openly to show it?

A. They can’t come out open because they are serving Nigeria. They know that once you came out, they will rob them their positions. That is why they fear and we know that.

Q. Now you talk about government, that Biafra has a government, can you tell me more about the structure of the organization from the national level down to the local level. What is the structure, like now you are the coordinator of Western Zone?

A. Yea, in the beginning the structure is that we started with ward officers, after ward officers, you get district officers (DOs) after DOs…

Q. The district officers, how many are they?

A. Em, you cannot count them. They are many. These people you see here, they are PAs.

Q. A P.A means what?

A. Provincial Adminstrators. Each PA has about ten DOs. If you come to that Area you may have between 20-30 PAs

Q. Each PA has ten DOs?

A. And each DO, they have many ward officers

Q. Okay, then what is the structure of these wards office?

A. A leader of the ward. We started with them first, gathering people. After they may have stayed like two years or so, by which time they must have matured, they are then promoted to district officers. Each district officer move to PA after serving for a certain time, ranging from one to two years thereafter they can be promoted to Chief P.A. Chief PA manages a zone in that Area. A zone is comprised of ten PAs and each PA controls about ten DOs and each DO has about ten wards.

Q.Is the Chief PA the highest attainable position?

A. No! No! Our structure is different. When our government is properly constituted, we would think of what to do with the state. We do not like the state, we would rather use region.

Q.Do you have region in existence?

A. Yes, we have region, each region is composed of ten Areas.

Q. Is regions the highest level?

A. Yes, as at now, regions are the highest level.

Q. Okay, right now you are in charge of western region?

A. Yes west as a whole, I started from ward before mobilizing people and given offices. The whole of the regions here and overseas started from here.

Q. How many regions do you have in Southwest?

A. Three regions. I divided them about two years ago.

Q. What about the regions in the east.

A. We have many regions

Q. You don’t know the number?

A. We have Owerri region, Enugu region, Aba region, Abakiliki region, Nsukka region, Onitsha region, Okigwe region etc. What we mean by region is when the people are free, they rule themselves, there will be no imposition.

Q. Does it mean you are not adopting the structures of Nigeria?

A. No! No! No! Nigeria is a fraud, Nigeria is a fraud. What happens there is take from the people what God has given to them. Snatch it and give it to others who are far away from them all in the name of one Nigeria. One Nigeria is because oil is found in the east. If this oil is found in the west or north, Nigeria would have divided for long. We know all that tricks that they are using now trying to amend or correct it but it is impossible because we have opened the eye of easterners. Some know it, some senators they know it more than I do. Before they were saying who will save us, but when we came out and said okay, sacrifice us. Since three years now, have you heard that an Igboman is murdered in the north? It can’t happen again. If they do it now, we shall retaliate in Biafra land.

Q. Let me ask this, MASSOB is a very huge organization, you see a lot of things, for instance, they have embassies abroad, and they have radio stations. Now how is the organization financed to accomplish all these tasks?

A. We are funded majorly by donation and we cannot force somebody to donate. We do it in a way that each group has their meeting for the upkeep of the movement and the little money people pay, like due which is not mandatory; some do it for the upkeep of the movement. We are spending a lot of money here but we are making it.

Q. Does it mean you don’t mandate people to pay?

A. No we don’t mandate people. How can you mandate people you’re not owing and sure if they are working?

Q. No I am talking about the structure at the horizontal level.

A. Alright we have started running a government; it is we who are the government. You cannot call a Hausaman to come and run our government or declare for us an independent Biafran state, no! In general we don’t have soldiers, but we have security men. The security men take care of our welfare as regards to security. We don’t train soldiers, we are non-violent and we shall maintain our non-violent stance until Biafra is achieved. Coming to ministers, we have directors appointed like the people that I had meeting with before this interview. They are directors of all the ministries.

Q. How is the ministries like, is it like agriculture, sports etc?

A. Yes, yes.

Q. At what level are these ministries operational?

A. At all the levels, like each region just like any government at the central level; we have directors, the same with other levels of the organizational structure at the local level. Just like Nigeria, where there are ministries at central and commissioners at state level, we have it like that in MASSOB. If you like I bring you the list of my ministries.

Q. So at every vertical level of MASSOB administration, there is horizontal structure in terms of directorates of different sectors?

A. Yes, transport, market, sports, finance, culture, music and entertainment. If you like, the list is here. I held meeting with them yesterday when I returned from national meeting. I tell them what to do. One funny thing we have is that many of the members who are not focused, they go about shouting Uwazurike eat money, they never contributed penny. They themselves talking, look at the ministries, we have information ministry, mobilization ministry, finance, record and statistics ministry. We have education ministry, we have student affairs ministry, and we have works and industry ministry, women affairs ministry, culture, music and entertainment ministry. We also have welfare ministry, security ministry, market traders ministry, okada riders ministry, motor drivers ministry, chieftaincy affairs ministry, industry and agriculture, health and sanitation, war veterans ministry (those who fought in the war, though they are old men), motor park ministry. They were twenty as at yesterday, but I have expanded them by separating some to give us twenty-five ministries. I gave them authority to run on their own.

Q. So these ministries, you appoint individuals to run each of them as directors?

A. Yes, we have just one person.

Q. Do they have other members?

A. Yes, they have members, like education they have a programme, we opened adult education programme. Each Area open their own, they rent a place and they come in the evening by 4.O’ clock or sometimes 6 O’clock and close by 9 O’clock or 5 O’clock depending on the Area. Then, those who don’t know how to read and write they help them.

Q. What about works?

A. Works, if we have our own personal works we do them. If you go to Okwe, you will see what we did there; the Freedom House.

Q. I have been to the place?

A. You have been to the place. When people see that, they say ‘ehee’ plenty millions have been embezzled. But it is our labour. Any thing we are doing, we do it well, if not material, everything there were done by MASSOB members.

Q. You mean MASSOB people?

A. Yes, even here we are, I know Uwazurike built when he was a lawyer but we have done a lot of renovation. I did it when he was in prison. I pull down to roof to put it to this standard and before December, I am finishing everything including doors and window. Even wiring will be done by next month.

Q. Can I ask you about demographic make up of the fifteen million members you claim? What are the make up in terms of the proporition of male and female members?

A. Okay, I can give you the range, not exact figures. You have a lot of women here. Most of us our wives are members. We have women wing, we created women wing both here which is a branch and home. It is the same in America, Canada and South Africa. When I mention that we are upto twenty million people don’t doubt, it is true. After all the radio you hear is not operated here, it is not operated here, people are there, workers are there operating it. So we have women, we have elderly people and we have young boys, the youth of course.

Q. The mix from what I read is that it is predominantly youth

A. No! No! No! Am I a youth? You have some people who are older than me in this organization. When you go to the section or ministry of war veterans, you see people older than me. Don’t mind what they are talking, we have chieftaincy affairs where crowned chiefs meet.

Q. Are you talking about coronated chiefs?

A. Yes, chieftaincy affairs takes care of them.

Q. Apart from realizing Biafra, what other incentive do members get apart from the hope that they will realize Biafra someday?

A. Okay, our major incentive in this struggle is to achieve survival for our children and children’s children to come. Two, some of us may not benefit materially from this because of our age but it is for our children to save them from the ugly situation of Nigeria. Our struggle is to create a country where equity and social justice shall reign supreme, something that is alien to Nigeria. The evil structure laid down for me and our children is what we are fighting to end. The life and security of our people becomes target of ethnic and religious riots at the slightest provocation in Kano and Kaduna. That cannot happen now, so we must secure their lives even in Lagos here. If they attempt anything against our people, we finish them. They know. Even though, we will not fight, there is another way we will paralyse everything. So that is the thing.

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