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Exile from Biafraland Brings Case to Irish High Court: +audio:
Tuesday March 07, 2006 03:26 by Robbie Sinnott
The Story of Madu Chuckwunyere, his Wife and Child
All audio is mp3 128kbps
History and Background of Biafran Separatist Nationalism (21mins 20secs)
Madu's Experiences as a Refugee (20 mins)
Update on Madu's situation - phone interview from refugee hostel on Kinsale Road, Co. Cork.
Madu Chuckwunyere and his Family in Exile.
Sheltering from the rain of an Irish summer, Madu Chuckwunyere and I sit on some steps in a Dublin shopping centre, and he tells me his story.
Madu is a member of MASSOB* (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra*). He says he left 'Biafraland' with his pregnant wife in August 2004 for political and religious reasons. These are given in detail and are quite compelling. He went to Togo (west Africa) where he stayed till April 2005 when he, his wife and young baby had to leave amidst anti-Nigerian attacks in the run-up to 'elections'*.
He came to Ireland because he knew nuns who had taught him in Cameroon, and he did indeed meet one of those he knew. Though he is a trained industrial chemist, he wasn't allowed to work, so he got involved in voluntary work in Rathmines.
In the meantime, probably as a result of the fast track system applied to Nigerian asylum-seekers in Ireland, he has (the day of the interview) just had his appeal for political asylum turned down.
Since August 2005, he and his family have been sent away from their new friends and colleagues down to the Kinsale Road, Co. Cork, knowing that they could be denied leave altogether.
Rosanna Flynn from Residents Against Racism* says that Leave to Remain on political and religious grounds is very rarely granted, but Madu is contesting the verdict on his Leave to Remain* application, and his case is being brought to the High Court.
Residents Against Racism
Leave to Remain
The threat of this family’s imminent deportation has been suspended, but their undignified wait continues. The three live in limbo, but Madu says “at least we have each other”.
Historical Background to Biafra Question.
Nigeria as we know it, was created by the British Empire in 1912. It comprises more than 200 ethnic groups, the three largest being, the Hausa-Fulani based in the north, the Yoruba in the south-west and the Igbo in the east and southeast.
There was much jockeying for positions of power when Nigeria became independent in 1960, but a failed Igbo-led coup in 1966 sparked off mass-atrocities of Igbos in the north, costing many hundreds of thousands of lives.
In May 1967, Igbo leader ‘Dim’ Ojukwe saw no alternative but to declare an independent state of Biafra corresponding to the Eastern Province which had existed under British administration.
On the face of it, this decision was intended to create a safe-haven for Igbos, but there were other forces at work. The oil industry had recently set up in the region, almost completely within the borders of the would-be state of Biafra.
France, South Africa, Rhodesia and Israel supplied arms and training to the Biafran secessionists, while Portugal was instrumental in providing civil supports. Britain (who still saw the area as its sphere of influence) along with the Soviet Union, heavily backed the Nigerian Government in its attempts to keep a unitary state and possession of the oil.
The Nigerian forces quickly blocked off access to the sea and took the oil installations. Deprived of access to food imports and to its major export commodity, Biafra became a lost cause. The attacking forces decided on a policy of mass-starvation into submission, but there was no surrender until January 1970, by which time, two million (mainly civilians) had perished.
During the terrible man-made famines, Holy Ghost missionaries from Ireland began to send appeals back home. “A penny for the Black babies” is a mantra that is still remembered, and Biafra saw the launch of decades of Irish charity abroad (beginning with the founding of Concern during the Biafra famine itself).
This new movement of Third World charities which was borne from Biafra, had many causes, including; new freedom for Irish Catholic missionaries in a post-Vatican II world; the growing ubiquity of television, which could bring the immediacy of suffering to Irish living-rooms; and, perhaps, the opportunity to exorcise the ghosts of guilt still haunting our collective memory – our latent shame of the 1840s Great Hunger.
On this latter point, every year, Afri Action Ireland organise a “Famine Walk” from Dubhloch to Louisburg, Co. Mayo, to commemorate the ten miles walked by starving families during the famine, only to be met by an unconcerned townsfolk who saw them as an embarrassment; a reminder of the poverty and Gaelic from which they themselves had so recently come.
The Biafran experiment of 1967-1970 may have been the result of a geopolitical tussle for oil combined with the power-hungry inclinations of an Igbo bourgeoisie (who had their tradition of enterprise and literacy met by a glass ceiling within the new state of Nigeria); but here in 2005, the masses are still neglected.
The local population have oil shortages, while Shell and Chevron wreak environmental and human havoc.* Ken Saro Wiwa and eight others from the Ogoni people were executed by the state for speaking out in 1995, and a recent open letter* by Amnesty International suggests that the government continues to repress the population of the entire south-east through a tactic of divide and rule.
environmental and human havoc
The Irish government meanwhile, so eager to please the corporate interests of the Corrib Consortium*, seems to be indifferent to the plight of Madu, his wife, and their eleven-month old child.
History and Background of Biafran Separatist Nationalism (21mins 20secs - recorded July 28th, 2005).
Madu's Experiences as a Refugee (20 mins) - recorded July 28th 2005
Update on Madu's situation - phone interview from refugee hostel on Kinsale Road, Co. Cork., recorded October 18th, 2005.
Interview with Madu from latest Majority World (Near FM) coming soon - relating to the geopolitics of the Niger Delta.