The press reported this week that an Abuja High Court had granted bail to Chief Ralph Uwazuruike and 43 other members of his Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State o Biafra (MASSOB) who had been in detention since their arrest on January 26, 2003. The group had spent their days in detention in Abuja.
The long spell of detention, spanning about five months, was clearly against the spirit of the Nigerian constitution which obliges the state to arraign citizens arrested for any offence, within 24 hours or be freed.
It has become standard police practice in Nigeria to ignore this article of the Nigerian constitution, and as fin this MASSOB case, holding citizens of Nigeria in detention without trial for five months, reminiscent of the dark days of military rule.
The Nigeria police has been particularly overzealous in the way it has dealt with MASSOB which is a collection of quixotic individuals who have existed more on the pages of the newspapers, threatening to actualise the ill-fated Biafran dream, if the situation of the Igbo people was not turned around for the better by the Nigerian state.
At its heart, MASSOB represents a genuine cry for the full integration of the Igbo into mainstream Nigerian polity and the termination of the alleged marginalisation of a significant part of the Nigerian community. A discerning observer would realise that MASSOB is in fact a call for the institution of a fair and equitable society in Nigeria. This is not to excuse whatever acts of lawlessness members of the group might perpetrate.
However, the Nigerian state has treated it as a “law and order” issue which must be crushed with an iron fist. This explains the arrests, harassments and detentions that have been the lot of Chief Ralph Uwazuruike and his rag-tag army of Biafran idealists. At least members of MASSOB have not systematically launched genocidal attacks on other Nigerians from a different ethnic background.
The same cannot be said for the Yoruba terrorist organisation, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) which has been killing and maiming other people, especially Northerners since the advent of Obasanjo’s government in 1999. Forced by its excesses, Obasanjo himself went on television to outlaw the terrorist group while the United States put it on its list of dangerous terrorist organisations.
Yet the self-declared leaders of this terrorist group, Frederick Fasheun and Ganiyu Adams have continued to walk freely on Nigerian streets despite being responsible for serial murders of Nigerians, genocide and perpetrating ethnic hatred. The group even went on record as having campaigned for Obasanjo’s reelection in the just concluded, but disputed elections.
The pertinent question to ask is why we seem to have double standard of policing in Nigeria? Is MASSOB a legitimate body to punish because the Igbos are without godfathers in the current dispensation, while OPC can continue to murder because the presidency and the police now speak Yoruba?
We must police Nigeria with the same standards, without leaving room for the suspicion which the treatment of MASSOB and OPC is generating in the minds of Nigerians. What is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander. We welcome the decision of the court that ordered the Inspector General of Police to release the MASSOB 44 on bail to enable them enforce their fundamental rights to personal liberty, The Inspector General of Police must be reminded that this is a democratic dispensation which thrives on the basis of law and does not accept impunity. To detain the MASSOB 44 while the gangsters of the OPC are free to continue to plan acts of genocide and the police seem to look the other way, is not acceptable.