Excerpts from Independent UK as edited by Ngozichukwu Ada-Dav
I came back to my home country in October 2015 to try to help bring an end to the violence and persecution by peaceful means. From London, where I had been living, I had set up Radio Biafra to offer a platform for debate over the right to self-determination of the Biafran people. Because of my activism and vocal criticism of the Nigerian government, I was arrested, demeaned, degraded and treated atrociously and held without trial in an undisclosed location for 18months.I was accused of treason and belonging to an illegal organisation. I was denied the bail that had been granted me. And when I was finally released on bail, less than a month before my court hearing, the Nigerian army was sent to kill me as part of its ongoing activities against Biafrans known as Operation Python Dance. So I wouldn’t have a judge decide on my case in a free and open hearing. I wouldn’t be able to expose the attempts by the Department of State Security to silence me. I wouldn’t have the chance to turn the spotlight of the media on to Nigeria itself.It was 14th September 2017. I woke up with a start. It was about 4pm. I was still recuperating, and I was sleeping that afternoon in my room, and someone was shaking me and calling my name. I blinked. I might have started involuntarily. I was in my old home in Umuahia. My parents and other members of my family were there, brothers, nephews, nieces, cousins. We had friends and supporters outside and inside. I had felt safe, secured.Then I heard the gunfire and I understood what the man standing over me was trying to tell me. I had to get up. I had to get out now. Soldiers had come. They were attacking the compound, shooting, killing my friends and family.But I refused to go. I suppose for a minute or so I refused to believe what they were telling me: that the soldiers had come to kill me; I would be shot in the head, dumped among my dead companions in a shallow grave on the side of some road. They would say I had resisted arrest. That we had opened fire on the soldiers. That we were to blame. But we had no guns in the house. We only had our voices. And my men had been telling the soldiers they had no right to enter.My men began to drag me from the bedroom. I protested. I didn’t want to leave my home. I wanted to confront the soldiers and ask them what they had come for. In just less than a month I have a court hearing. I was determined to be there. My story would be told. The world would know how the Nigerian Security Forces tried to keep me imprisoned without trial on trumped-up charges. How they refused to bring me to court when a judge demanded it. How they ignored the bail that had been posted. How there was still some faint ghost of independence among Nigeria’s judiciary. I would stay for that.I was being bundled down the stairs and out into the compound at the back, away from the soldiers who had forced their way into the front of the house. My men pushed and pulled me towards the high perimeter wall. Somehow, they man-handled me to the top of this and I fell to the ground the other side, a sharp pain literally took my breath away. My limbs flailed. My mouth opened but I couldn’t take in air. I had fallen on my left rib cage. I gasped, convinced that I had punctured my lung in the fall. I heard footsteps and people talking, more gunfire. And always the sound of helicopter blades ripping up the air above me. Then I blanked outOverhead I could hear helicopter gunships, their propellers whirring with that sick, lazy beat they have when they hover. More gunfire. Shouting. Soldiers shouting. My men shouting. I realised the soldiers were not here to arrest me – they could have done that at any time. These were crack troops; they’d called in the air force. They were not here to negotiate my surrender.More than 28 of my fellow IPOB members were killed that day. They had tried to defend my home, my family, without guns, without clubs, only with their bodies and their words. The soldiers even shot and killed the family dog. Initially the Nigerian Army denied the assault, but footage and photographs showed the attack as it happened and its aftermath. They changed the narrative and in one of the Nigerian popular TV Stations – ChannelsTV, the Chief of Army staff claimed his men attacked my home because they were chasing a Truck loaded with Arms.After that terrible day in September 14th 2017, I woke up in a safe house. I was in great pain. My left side was swollen, and every breath was agonising. I had internal bleeding, a doctor told me, and I was advised to rest before I could go anywhere. Then I remembered my parents, my family members who had stayed in the house, young nephews and nieces. I was told they had all congregated in my mother’s room when the soldiers broke in. The room was peppered with machine gun fire. At the time I knew nothing more. Later on, I discovered how, miraculously, no one was killed or badly hurt and the Nigerian Army let them be for once they knew I was not in the house. But the attack took its toll on my parents. My mother suffered heart complications as a result of the trauma and stress of the Nigerian army’s invasion of my house. She became very ill and died earlier this year. It would not be an overstatement to say that the primary cause of my mother’s death was Operation Python Dance 2. I have lost a mother. My father, a strong man, a chief among Biafrans, has lost his life’s companion. Sadly, we have watched his own health decline since the attack on our home and my mother’s death. I mourn my mother. I mourn all my IPOB family member who had given their lives to protect mine. All those who have been killed since, protesting the actions of the Nigerian security forces in Biafraland. They were brave, good people. They should not have been forced to make that sacrifice, but I will honour them for it untilmy dying day.Eventually, we were able to rent a boat on the coast. We left from a small town in Abia, Azumiri, an unobtrusive place where the Nigerian authorities might not have thought to look. We planned to go to the Republic of Benin, just west of Nigeria. For 14days we travelled in dangerous seas in a small boat with an outboard motor. The Atlantic off that coast is heavy, stormy, treacherous. On more than one occasion waves threatened to swamp our little craft. I was still gravely injured and in need of constant medical attention. At one point we put ashore to find ice to keep the medication I needed chilled. It was a dangerous time. I stayed hidden in a room while my companions went foraging for supplies.From Benin I travelled by road to Senegal, a distance of nearly 2,000 kilometres. Once in Senegal I was able to make arrangements to travel to Israel. None of these journeys was easy. I was still in pain and the threat from Nigerian agents abroad never went away. When we stopped to rest on the road, I couldn’t go out. My world was shrunk to a room with a window, and sometimes not even that. I might as well have been in prison.Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, all the countries I had to pass through rely economically on Nigeria, their governments corrupt enough to arrest me and send me back. I had to stay silent, unknown. I couldn’t even tell my wife or family where I was, just in case they became targets. It was agonising to realise that they didn’t know if I was dead or alive. Israel was a haven for me, but it took over a year to get there, and only then did I feel confident enough to let my fellow IPOB family members and immediate family know I was safe.In 2017 Amnesty International recorded hundreds of killings of Biafrans by the Nigerian state. These killings cannot be disputed. The numbers since have not been collated but will be equal. Bodies are buried in shallow graves, thrown in the bush or left on the street. Since 2017 state oppression has included: the beating of young men attending a relative’s funeral in Onitcha in 2019; in August 2018 the arrest and imprisonment in Owerri of 100 women protesting against violence carried out by the security forces and specifically the attack on my home; in 2017 and 2018 brutal beatings given by Nigerian soldiers and police to anyone wearing or carrying the Biafran flag, including a disabled man in Onitsha; the indiscriminate burning down of houses by Nigerian Police in Abia Statein October 2019, because their inhabitants support Biafran self-determination.The men who came to my family home in September 2017, came to kill me. I have no doubt of this. If they wanted to arrest me or question me, they would have sent the police or agents of the DSS. Why send soldiers trained to kill, if not to kill? I had wanted my day in court in 2017, but the military response tells me that the rule of law in Nigeria has collapsed. Government Agents act with impunity, and I include among them the Fulani terrorists who are doing the Nigerian government’s dirty work, not one of whom has been brought to justice for the murders they’ve carried out.It is a sign that Nigeria itself is imploding. The old order which has clung to power for decades can only survive at the end of a gun. But even now, if a Nigerian government was willing to talk honestly and openly about our demands and to consider a referendum on self-determination for the Biafran people, in a neutral space provided by the United Nations, I would be there at the table.Look around Africa today. There are some countries with a functioning democracy, where the rule of law is respected, and free and fair elections allowed but not Nigeria. Our struggle for self-determination is the struggle of Africa’s post-colonisation from Algeria to the Cape. If we can achieve this, perhaps we can lead other African countries to bring democracy and respect for law and human rights into the lives of African peoples.