Barrister Emeka Emekesiri is the presumed founder of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB. He is the spokesman and counsel of the Supreme Council of Elders of IPOB, which formed the customary government of IPOB. He speaks on the original philosophy of IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu’s incursion. He also explains why Igbo presidency is not a solution to Biafra agitation and the Biafra case against Nigeria still pending in the court of appeal.
What is the customary government of IPOB all about?
You know that as it is now, Biafra does not exist as a sovereign nation but the human beings called Biafrans are still in existence and when the Republic of Biafra ceased to exist, what ceased was the republic and the status made by the government of Biafra, the laws made by the republic of Biafra ceased to exist.
The Human beings remained as well as the customs and tradition of the people. These native laws, customs and traditions of the people remained and were adopted by the Nigeria government under section 315 of the constitution as the existing laws.
That is why the customary law and the Sharia law are recognized by the Nigeria constitution as existing laws in force before Nigeria was created. So on the fall of the Biafran republic, all the laws made by the Biafran parliament ceased to exist but the customary laws of the people remained intact, valid and adopted by the Nigerian constitution as existing laws. That is why today in Nigeria customary laws are given their proper position as part of Nigerian law and that’s why we have customary courts and customary courts of Appeal just like Sharia law.
Is it not spurious to claim there were people called Biafra earlier than Ojukwu’s declaration in 1967?
Biafra had existed about 500 years before Nigeria was created. It wasn’t actually a new country that was declared by the 1967 proclamation of Biafra but it was like a restoration of the old Biafra. There was no Nigeria abinitio. We had three regions from where Nigeria was carved out in the 16th century.
We had the Zamfara region in the north, the Biafra region in the east and the Benin kingdom in the west. From these three regions in the ancient map of Africa, up to 1885 when there was the scramble for Africa in Berlin, where they shared the map for Africa, that Map continued to be in existence until 1885. It is from these three regions that the country, Nigeria, was created.
When the country was created, they left some part of Zamfara region into the present-day Niger and Chad; they left some of the present day Biafra people in Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and left some parts of Benin people in Dahomey which is now called Benin Republic and some other parts. So they took a few and put us in a new country called Nigeria.
They distorted the map of Africa and created a new country called Nigeria, merging the incompatible tribes together. So when the Eastern Nigeria wanted a republic of their own, it was Chief Frank Opigo from the present day Bayelsa state that suggested they should use the ancient name of their ancestors, Biafra, and that’s how it was adopted.
It wasn’t even Ojukwu that suggested the name but Opigo. Remember that before then there were the Bite of Biafra and Bite of Benin which they changed in the Nigeria map in 1975. After the Biafra war, the bites of Biafra and Benin continued to feature in Nigeria map. Bite is like a bay beach, the river mouth, the ocean mouth of Biafra.
So there was a nation called Biafra that had that ocean mouth. In 1975 the Nigerian government made a law called the bite of Bonny act to replace the bite of Biafra. So our history shows there was Biafra before the Ojukwu declaration of Biafra.
If such is the case, why is the present day Biafra limited to the Ibo tribe alone?
That is because when the war was fought, the enemy sowed a seed of discord among Biafrans that some Biafrans decided to deny their identity, especially the Biafrans of the South-south and other areas that decided so. It was a mechanism for self-preservation.
In other words, when the enemy catches on you, you will say I am not a Biafran to save your life. Such is usual in a war situation; people out of fear decide to deny their identity. It’s there in the Bible, when Peter denied Jesus Christ to stay alive but he repented. So I am now expecting those who denied Biafra to stay alive to now come back and accept we are Biafrans.
We lost our sovereignty but our identity is not lost which is what I have argued in court face to face with Nigeria lawyers. What we lost was our ability to govern ourselves but we are still the remnants of the Biafra that were not consumed.
How come everything about IPOB is now centred on Nnamdi Kanu?
I don’t know how to describe Nnamdi Kanu but without apologies I have come to say that Nnamdi Kanu is the worst evil I have met on earth. Tell him I said this. I pray God to give me the ability to forgive that boy. He destroyed everything we built. He came from MASSOB and joined us in IPOB; I didn’t know who he was. It was just unfortunate.
I created that name Indigenous People of Biafra and I wrote it in my Book, Biafra or Nigeria Presidency, What Do Igbos Want? and gave reason I called it IPOB. While I was writing the Book from 2007 to 2011, the United Nations passed a law called UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007.
So I instituted a case at the Owerri Federal High Court in 2012 and served notice on Nigeria government that we are Indigenous people of Biafra since we were not all consumed by the war.
What were your prayers in the suit?
The prayer was for self-determination because we took the law. Fortunately, the Nigeria government enacted the right of people to self-determination. The Nigeria law cap10 of the federation 1990, Articles 19-25 enacted the rights of indigenous People to self-determination.
So I picked it by originating summons, let the Attorney General of the Federation come to court to interpret this law, whether by such provision indigenous people have right to self-determination and if so, we ask for it. There were many prayers including the prayer Ohanaeze Ndigbo brought before the National Assembly dated June 28, 2012, where Ohanaeze Ndigbo brought a memorandum to the National Assembly to create six autonomous self-governing regions in Nigeria.
Was that Ohanaeze proposal not akin to restructuring?
Yes it is. We are still using the language for devolution of powers to the regions government which the politicians now call restructuring. But we are talking about regionalization, that is devolving powers to the regions to govern themselves as it is in Britain where you have the Scotland, Ireland, Whales. Four countries in one; each one governs itself yet they are all British.
So the same thing can happen in Nigeria too; we can still have our Biafra, Arewa, Oduduwa and whatever name you want to call yourself within one Nigeria. Self-determination means you have the right to determine your political status.
What is wrong with the present structure of Nigeria?
The present Nigeria structure is obnoxious, deadly, terrible and hinders growth. It is neither unitary nor federal. If it were federal, everything cannot be concentrated at the centre. It’s like a fraudulent entity packaged to enrich some people.
What was your original plan for the establishment of IPOB?
When we created IPOB, it was meant to be name for all remnants of Biafra. It’s not an organization such as the one Nnamdi Kanu went and registered as a limited liability company in UK.
When he was ostracized from IPOB because of his useless behaviour, he went and used our name, IPOB, and registered it as a limited liability company. You know, because he is not a lawyer, he didn’t know what I was doing. In the first case I filed, not as a legal entity because you cannot sue a legal entity as it is an amorphous body.
With Billie Human Rights Initiative, the Elders of IPOB signed a legal instrument authorizing Bilie Human Rights Initiative to sue on behalf of Indigenous people of Biafra.
How come you and the Elders allowed Nnamdi Kalu to upstage you and take over IPOB?
Well, we still blame ourselves. When he joined from MASSOB, he told us a lot of stories and accused Ralph Uwazurike of a lot of things. He said Uwazurike started the Radio Biafra for him in 2009 and stopped financing him. They were about five of them including Uche Mefor who fell out with Uwazurike and they joined us after we had lodged the suit.
After meetings we continued support of their radio broadcast and that was the mistake. I trusted them but I didn’t know. Sometimes they would invite and interview me with their laptop in a room. It’s an internet radio and they would be broadcasting. I didn’t know much of their stuff because they were experts in that. Do you know Dr Dozie Ikedidife (late) in 2013 made a broadcast on that radio from Nigeria and his voice was heard all over the world and he addressed all Biafrans. So we saw him as a good help that could help in media and the Elders accepted him.
Initially, he was doing well. Even though I created the name Indigenous People of Biafra, I didn’t make myself a leader but gathered the elders who became leaders of IPOB because under our customary law it is the elders that have the right to gather their children. I took the legal aspect and that’s why I am the solicitor for IPOB.
The leader is Justice Eze Ozobu (late); his deputy is Dr Ikedife while the secretary is Col. Joe Achuzia and other elders that were in charge of this movement. Nnamdi was doing very well in the media then, everything was beautiful. The federal government respected us, the case was on.
Suddenly, Nnamdi Kanu took the microphone and announced that the Elders have become saboteurs! Traitors! They have taken bribe! And he started insulting everybody, even the countries we had written letters to such as the British government, America, French, German governments, all the countries we had started discussing with; but Nnamdi used his microphone and destroyed everything. He called them unprintable names.
The elders warned him but he refused to listen and on May 12, 2014 the elders ostracized Nnamdi Kanu, excommunicated him and published it the newspapers.
How come he still uses the name IPOB?
The name IPOB is copyrighted and he has no right to use the name IPOB without my permission. I created and copyrighted it. Under copyright he has no right to use that name Indigenous people of Biafra because it’s copyrighted.
But if I go to court to fight over the name, how will people see it? They will say oh see two Biafrans fighting over the name IPOB! What thing I know is that anybody who doesn’t know the vision of where he is going will come to a standstill because he will not know where else to go.
Would you accept that Nnamdi Kanu has actually brought momentum to IPOB?
No, he has actually destroyed it. There is what is called negative influence, in fact he destroyed Biafran movement. What is momentum? Momentum where you have caused more damage? It’s now more difficult for us to get independence with all the propaganda and lies. Nnamdi is the worst evil I’ve ever met on earth.
What’s the way out to checkmate him?
I have handed him over to God to deal with him.
But do you think legal methods can actualize Biafra?
Legal method is not only about court. Legal methodology includes judicial which involves court and we are in court; political, which is what we have done now because we have gone into politics; and diplomacy, which we are discussing with all the governments that matter.
We are discussing with British government, Germany, France. Australia government was the first to invite us to discuss the Biafra issue. You can use judicial power to get independence and enforce right to self-determination.
In 2002 Bakassi was carved out from Nigeria by judicial power of the International court of justice. Some people say that Nigeria is indissoluble but you can see how part of it was removed.
Do you think that the international community can wake up one day and declare the republic of Biafra?
No. The international community cannot one day wake up to declare you a republic. That cannot happen but we have purchased judicial immunity for Biafrans. What it means is that when two parties are in court, nobody disturbs anybody. No party harasses, molests or detains any party until the case is over.
Since when we went to court no Nigerian police has molested us. If they did, it was in error such as when they went to our office at Owerri and arrested two of our officers. We told the Attorney General that it was contempt of court and he said sorry that they thought it was Nnamdi Kanu’s faction. They apologized.
The federal government has proscribed IPOB
That’s Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB.
How many factions of IPOB do you have?
Nnamdi Kanu’s brand of IPOB is the one proscribed. I know it’s difficult for people to appreciate the difference but the difference is clear. I told you Nnamdi was ostracized in 2014 and his organization was proscribed in 2017, three years after the elders had excommunicated him.
The Indigenous People of Biafra of the Elders of Biafra is not proscribed and the media should make it clear that IPOB is an amorphous body. All of us are indigenes of Biafra and you cannot proscribe us.
The one proscribed is the limited liability company, that one registered by Nnamdi Kanu in overseas which could sue or be sued and the federal government sued and proscribed it but we are indigenous people of Biafra land. We are the remnants of the land, you cannot proscribe us. We are not terrorists but Nnamdi’s Kanu’s group were proscribed and declared terrorists.
Don’t you think that a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction could assuage this Biafa agitation?
It’s just like saying that because Gordon Brown from Scotland was prime minister of Britain Scotland should no longer seek independence. Scotland is still agitating for their independence even though their man was prime minister.
If Scotland in a developed Britain cannot get independence, what makes you think an African state can active such actualization?
Scotland has conducted about three referenda and failed. In the last one they failed I heard they are planning another referendum. One is that they’ve got to a stage where they can conduct referendum but we have not got to that stage. They got that through their regional government but we have not been able to score up to 51 percent majority.
Biafra is yet to get a regional government; if we get a regional government what happened to Scotland may or may not happen to us. Do you know why Scotland has not been able to score 51 percent? Scotland has everything; they are not being persecuted or marginalised as we are being persecuted in Nigeria.
I don’t think that any Scottish is being discriminated against by the British government. So I don’t think that the people of Scotland have any reason to pull out except the natural pride of identity, that I am who I am. In Nigeria they hate us, we are slaves in Nigeria and we want to go.
Going by your explanation about the original philosophy of IPOB, is it possible Nnamdi Kanu could be an agent sent to destabilize IPOB?
I had thought about it before when the then Justice Shiuaibu asked us to come and argue our case so he could give a ruling. While we were preparing I received a motion from Nigerian lawyers and discovered that Nnamdi Kanu’s people had written a petition against me that I should be arrested.
They said I deceived Nigeria and registered a secessionist movement, disguised as a human right organization called Billie Human Rights Initiative. They alleged that Bilie actually means Biafra Liberation in Exile and that I should be persecuted for perjury. So instead of arguing our case the matter changed to a criminal case of perjury.
By the time we finished the argument, Justice Shiuabu was transferred and we lost that window. Nnamdi Kanu’s case was thrown away and the Biafra case started de novo because a new judge came. So that made me think Nnamdi Kanu could be working for the Nigerian government.
It has crossed my mind and it may be true because before he came to Nigeria, he announced that he was coming, which means that he wanted to be arrested. You can say he planned for his own arrest knowing that having used the media to gather support all over the world, his arrest will create protest.
What is the latest on the Biafra council of elders matter at the federal high court?
We’ve gone to appeal. We know it’s not going to be easy. At the federal high court, the judge dismissed our case; he didn’t even go into the details of the case. He didn’t even strike out but he dismissed the case. He had no reason to dismiss the case and that was why we went on appeal but the issues before the court have not been litigated.
There eleven issues we wanted him to look into: the self-determination is there, the radio license the federal government granted to Fulani herdsmen without granting same to other people; the N100 billion the federal government promised to give the Fulani herdsmen is there, without granting same to others which is discriminatory under section 42 of the constitution.
You can’t single out herdsmen of a section and give them money without given it to others trading in poultry, goats and piggery. Devolution of powers to the region is also contained in the suit; an order compelling the federal government and the Attorney general to present an executive bill to the National Assembly for a law devolving power to regions.
They didn’t even look at our case and dismissed it. We have gone to the appeal now and if the appeal court doesn’t do well, we will continue to the Supreme Court and from there to International court.
What is your advise to Biafrians?
I advise Biafrans to be patient and follow the due progress and stop wasting their lives. All these children that were killed and massacred, what can we now say about them? We condemn the mass killing by Nigeria but those that have died are dead already. Sometimes they accuse me that Nigeria government has bribed me and that is why they don’t arrest me but it’s not true.
Nigeria government cannot arrest me because I’ve not committed any offence. Everything is a process; we will get a regional government first. Patience pays at the end. Let the children return to the elders. Nnamdi Kanu when he returned from prison went to Dozie Ikedife and apologized. He was advised but he went again and did the opposite of what he was advised not to do. That means he didn’t respect the elders.
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