- Shops, schools and banks were shut in many parts of south-eastern Nigeria today, the first day of a two-day strike called by a separatist group refusing to abandon its long fight for the independent state of Biafra. The group calls for the freeing of its leader, who is on trial for treason after calling for independence for Biafra.
The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) called the stay-at-home protest to back a demand for independence for the region's dominat people, the Igbos. The group is also protesting the continued detention of its leader, Ralph Uwazurike, currently facing trial for treason.
One MASSOB activist said the strike was but a "warning" of things to come if their leader is not released. The protest is timed to coincide with Mr Uwazurike's trial, due to resume in the capital, Abuja, on Tuesday after official treason charges in early November. Prosecutors said Mr Uwazurike and six other accused belonged to a militant group intent on waging war against the Nigerian state.
On Monday in the sprawling trading town of Onitsha - a separatist stronghold - troops and police used tear gas and fired in the air to disperse crowds of MASSOB supporters who poured onto the streets in support of the movement.
In other key cities in the region inhabited mainly by Igbos - the cities of Enugu, Aba, Owerri and Abakaliki - businesses and schools shut down and many workers could not reach their offices as transporters stayed home, paralysing the areas.
"This is only a warning signal and evidence of things to come if our leader is not released," Nnamdi Ohiagu, MASSOB's director of organisation, told the UN media 'IRIN'. "Biafrans reject this forced marriage called Nigeria, and no amount of intimidation or harassment will make us drop our demand for a sovereign Biafra," he added.
Igbos - one of Nigeria's three main peoples - number about 30 million among the country's some 126 million people. The Hausa and Fulani are dominant in the north, the Yoruba in the south-west. The Igbos already in the 1960 declared independence for Biafra, resulting in a bloody civil war, where Biafra was finally crushed. The dream of a free Biafra has however lived on in the oil-rich but impoverished region.
MASSOB's support is however questionable. Not all who heeded the MASSOB call to stay at home are supporters of the cause, Onitsha resident and businessman, Okwudili Otti, said. "Many people stayed at home because they feared there would be violence as happened in previous clashes between MASSOB and the police, not necessarily because they support them," Mr Otti told 'IRIN'.
For others the strike was less a show of support for MASSOB than a demonstration of dissatisfaction with the Nigerian government. Ernest Maduka, a welder in the city of Aba, said he complied and stayed away from his work more because he was unhappy with President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government than as a supporter of MASSOB.
"Obasanjo's government is not performing. All the money Nigeria earns from oil is cornered by people in government while the masses suffer," Mr Maduka said, adding that general disaffection with the federal government was the main reason for the high level of compliance with the protest.
MASSOB wants to recreate the short-lived Republic of Biafra over which a bloody civil war was fought in Nigeria from 1967 to 1970, during which over one million people died, largely of starvation.
Separatist leader Uwazurike's claims that successive governments have oppressed Nigeria's Igbos have struck a chord among thousands of jobless Igbo youths who were born after the war but who have joined MASSOB's ranks.
Human rights groups charge that dozens of pro-Biafran activists have been killed over the last six years for campaigning on behalf of their cause, with hundreds in detention after being arrested at marches and rallies organised by MASSOB.
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.