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Nigerians Call for Release of Separatist Leader


The recent release of Niger Delta militant Mujahid Dokubo-Asari has prompted calls for the immediate release of another separatist leader from the southeast. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja.

Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the banned Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), is the only high-profile militant leader still being held in Nigeria.

Niger Delta militant Mujahid Dokubo-Asari and two separatist leaders from the southwest, who were arrested just about the time as Uwazuruike, have all been released.

MASSOB was formed in 1991 to campaign for a separate sovereign state for ethnic Igbos of southeastern Nigeria.

The Igbo umbrella group, Ohaneaze Ndi Igbo, says Uwazuruike's continued incarceration is not only unfair, but a confirmation of Igbo's marginalization in Nigerian politics. Odunze Nayelegu speaks on behalf of the group.

"We feel so bad because the organization led by Ralph Uwazuruike is not violent," he said. "It is not a militant group. They are simply expressing their minds. They have been marginalized and they want their own separate state. Is that why he should be locked up? Moreover, the OPC [Odua Peoples Congress], their leaders have been discharged. Niger Delta has done worse than any other organization in this country, their man has been discharged. There is no Igbo man, nobody from the southeast in the leadership of this country, nobody is speaking for us."

Nigeria's 40 million ethnic Igbos have consistently accused federal authorities of excluding them from national politics.

An attempt by some southeastern senators to force a debate on Uwazuruike's release on the floor of the upper legislative house on Wednesday was thrown out on the grounds it would interfere with the judicial process.

Uwazuruike and 10 of his supporters were arrested 18 months ago for allegedly forming an ethnic militia to topple the government.

Igbo secessionists plunged Nigeria into a 30-month civil war in 1967 with the proclamation of a Republic of Biafra. More than one million people reportedly died.

The new Nigeria leadership has pledged to make national reconciliation a priority.

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