Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Biafra Bikers Rejoice: Igbo May Not Have Their Own Nation, but They Have License Plates

The slowly simmering separatist movement in southeastern Nigeria’s region of Biafra does not achieve very much that is concrete nowadays—not after a crushing, near-genocidal defeat of their briefly independent state in 1970 pushed Igbo nationalism underground.  But this week one Biafran pro-independence group scored a symbolic hit.  There is now such thing as a Biafra license plate.

Not for cars, just for motorcycles—oddly enough.   Over the weekend of February 8-9, the largest Biafran separatist group, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) unveiled a license-plate for motorbikes, to be used in Nigeria’s Enugu state, in what some claim as Biafran territory.  Chief Larry Odimma, who represents MASSOB in Aba, in nearby Abia state, told the public in Nskukka, in Enugu, “I am here on the mandate of our [that is, MASSOB’s] leader, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, to launch this plate number, which is aimed at identifying Biafrans and forestalling criminal activities among people who hide under our name to perpetrate evil.”

Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, head of MASSOB

He added, “the national leadership of MASSOB applauds the freedom being enjoyed here in Enugu State unlike what we witness in places like Aba, Ontisha, and Umuahia, where our members are constantly harassed by security agents.”

Igbos can never forget that the Nigerian military
killed hundreds of thousands with a starvation blockade in the late 1960s.
Odimma said the plates would only be issued to citizens with “unquestionable character.”  Perhaps this—and the whole scheme, too—is aimed partly at MASSOB’s newer rival, the Biafra Zionist Movement (B.Z.M.).  MASSOB is more inclusive than the B.Z.M.; the plates say “United States of Biafra,” suggesting a kinder envisioned policy toward minorities within Biafra like Ibibios, Efiks, and Ogonis.  It is also a little more level-headed: the B.Z.M. declared independence for Biafra on November 5, 2012, and seemed to sincerely expect swift diplomatic recognition by the United States and Israel.  The use of the term Zionist echoes an old, discredited theory that Igbos are descended from the Lost Tribes of Israel.  Often, MASSOB and the B.Z.M. seem to spend more time fighting each other, sometimes literally, than working against the Nigerian state.  So perhaps the license plates will announce to sympathetic Enugu constables that these particular motorcyclists are upstanding MASSOB patriots, not B.Z.M. riff-raff.

The Biafra Zionist Movement’s 2012 independence-day parade
Perhaps a bigger concern should be how the use of such license plates will be interpreted if a motorist takes a spin outside the confines of independence-friendly Enugu.  After all, the display of the Biafra flag is still a crime in Nigeria.  This may be as sure a way to invite trouble as to speed through Oklahoma with a Grateful Dead bumper sticker.


[For those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with my forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  The book, which contains dozens of maps and over 500 flags, is now in the layout phase and should be on shelves, and available on Amazon, by early fall 2014.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even though you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook.]

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