To watchers of Nigeria’s power politics, the Ralph Uwazuruike case is yet another chilling reminder of not just the iniquities of the political class but also the inequities inherent in the justice system.
For the umpteenth time, the self-styled leader of MASSOB (Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra) was Tuesday hustled before an Abuja court from Kuje Prisons on a long-drawn treason trial. Relations who came with the hope of securing his release after three years in detention yet returned home dejected.
Among his supporters, deep emotions were evoked sometime ago following the reported passing of Uwazurike’s aged mother. Despite his pleas on compassionate ground, the detainee would not be allowed to attend her burial and pay his last respect in line with customs.
The last time, another hope was raised following an order by the court that his mother’s death certificate be produced. But when the all-important document was finally brought Tuesday, the court insisted on a public-owned General Hospital, dismissing the one issued by the private hospital as “unconvincing”.
Another dramatic twist would be added to the already complicated plot Tuesday with an allegation by the detainee before the court that top officials of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) stole N249,000 belonging to him while in custody. He claimed that the said money was kept on his behalf by CSP Olaniran O. O., the Comptroller of Prisons, Nasarawa State, “with records to show”.
Well, let us hope that this accusation would turn out false eventually. Otherwise, it is clearly an unspeakable shame, for a detainee to be so robbed. Its villainy is perhaps only comparable to the abominable act of fleecing accident victims at the point of death by self-appointed rescuers…
Indeed, the latest demand of death certificate with a General Hospital stamp could only have furthered the trauma of the Uwazurike family, left to explain why, when death began to rap at the door, they chose to take their dying matriarch to a private mortician, not the one at Government Hospital. Well, it does not matter if such medical centres are, in reality, a rarity in the rustic village where the old woman presumably spent her last agonizing days.
In all of this, we can hardly blame the court nor begrudge its custodians inclined to sniff at objects of evidence or put magnifier on every letter on tender, though. That is their job. Emotions are reserved for the theatre, not the court. Rather, we should rail at the system that has sustained this chicanery in the last three years under circumstances that create the dangerous impression that some ethnic nationalities in Nigeria are inferior to the other.
To be sure, this writer is hardly sold on Uwazuruike’s kind of doctrine. One’s reservation is not only informed by the many contradictions of such advocacy but also the sincerity of its own very advocates to start with. As in the Niger Delta, this writer has often condemned common criminals masquerading as “freedom-fighters” (what the media now euphemistically calls militants).
But the question to be asked is: how come those arrested alongside Uwazuruike for similar offences have since been let off the hook? Also clamped into custody in 2005 were the OPC leaders (Frederick Faseun and Gani Adams) and Asari-Dokubo, the fire-spitting warlord of Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF).
Then, they were all said to be engaged in activities inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria. OPC was calling for Odua republic while NDPVF had, in fact, professed a new republic on account of open belligerent actions against the Nigerian state.
But, by some legal magic, Obasanjo succeeded in releasing Faseun and Adams before his tenure expired. Considering the ethnic identities of those released, it required a spirit of extreme magnanimity not to accuse Obasanjo of being partial to his kinsmen.
It took Yar’Adua’s sagacity to open the door for Asari-Dokubo to walk into liberty. But come to think of it, on the scale of outlawry, which is to be considered graver between undisguised armed insurrection of NDPVF on the one hand and, on the other, the racketeering of MASSOB in which Ndigbo were being emotionally blackmailed to part with “N20 levy” at market squares at the chant of “Biafra forever” by sweating hustlers?
Against this backcloth, it would then seem Uwazuruike is still being held today for no reason other than the fact that his progenitor is of a lesser god. By implication, the Igbo political class is no less complicit here.
Not many Igbo leaders seem bothered as long as the stream of patronage and pre-bend continues to flow from Abuja. But injustice anywhere only means peace remains an illusion everywhere. What made freedom imperative for the NDPVF leader in June, let it now be said loud and clear, also makes it justifiable for Uwazurike’s release today.
For the sake of fairness, Yar’Adua now has a moral obligation to cause his release without further delay. If Obasanjo did not feel any moral qualms before allowing OPC leaders return to their native South-west last year, and Yar’Adua thought it reasonable to release Asari-Dokubo in June to go back to the Niger Delta creeks even after his categorical denunciation of the Nigerian state, let it then be realized that continued incarceration of Uwazuruike only means one thing: offence to the South-east sensibility.
To those who often lapse into hysteria at mere mention of secession within the fraternity of supposedly federating nationalities, recent developments in United States (the acclaimed bastion of democracy and, therefore, model to aspiring countries like ours) are quite instructive.
America’s continued presence in Iraq is breeding discontent at home, thus lending a new impetus to separatist tendencies. Two weeks ago, two such organizations (known as the Middlebury Institute and the League of South) staged a historic two-day convention in Tennessee, inviting just anyone who wants the Union dissolved so that states “can save themselves from overbearing federal government”. Delegates flocked in from about twenty-five states in US including New Hampshire, South Carolina, Hawaii, Alaska, California and Texas.
Note that Middlebury Institute was founded in 2005 and is based in New York. Its wish, for instance, is that liberal states like Vermont be able to secede peacefully. A federal state like Nigeria, the Constitution of United States does not explicitly prohibit secession.
The second group, on the other hand, would not give up on the idea of Southern independence. It has been in existence for over a decade. Its President, Michael Hill, was recently quoted as saying: “We believe that an independent South, or Hawaii, Alaska or Vermont would be better able to serve the interest of everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
Indeed, on account of Washington’s fumbling policies in Iraq coupled with rising oil prices, Vermont (one of the nation’s otherwise most liberal states) has become a hotbed for liberal secessionists. Thomas Naylor, the founder of one of such groups, the Second Vermont Republic, said cooperation with the League of South doesn’t, however, mean they all share the same beliefs.
The retired Duke University professor said the League of South shares his group’s opposition to the federal government and the need to pursue secession. The first North American Separatist Convention was held last year in Vermont which, unlike most Southern states, supports civil unions.
“It doesn’t matter if our next president is Condoleeza (Rice) or Hillary (Clinton), it is going to be grim,” said Naylor. Such is the hallmark of a society unopposed to the culture of debate.
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Prince New Orleans, U.S.A November 14, 2007
Gega Ekeh, i wonder where you got your name from? Are you trying to be Hausa Igbo or Igbo Yoruba? We wouldn't love to adopt your caliber into igbo folks,
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keke Istanbul, Turkey November 04, 2007
I never know that some people can be stupid like this guy, gaga ekeh or what ever. Dog is better that him cause we can use it as pet. Igbo is not part of your Nigeria,so why must it be your problem. Why must you feel pains that the Igbo dont want to be with your country anymore.
Gaga Ekeh Stanford, USA November 01, 2007
Brother Odion: Obowa. Please tell me, what do ndigbo want? Why should Brother Ralph be set free? I'm being serious. I am notorious, on this site, for chastizing and antagonizing the FG. But I am serious in this matter. Brother Ralph has committed treason by attempting to negotiate the non-negotiable unity of our country. Get it. You are slaves. So long as you abide by the 1999 constitution. If you don't have the gutts to revolt, as Professor Adeyeye suggested in the 2006 memo that many of us read, then please be quiet and let those of us who can restructure nigeria dialog with SSS Chief Olanikpekun. He, after all, is more powerful than our cattle rearing president who is just as weak, apparently, as Shagari. Jihad, my son. You are slaves!
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