Again, political tension is rising in the Southeast over violent skirmishes between the separatist group IPOB, and Nigerian security agencies. These events have become so recurring and perennial that it calls for urgency n fresh thinking and approach. Although the group has been proscribed as a terrorist organization by the federal government, history teaches that it is the wrong strategy for an armed-less, non-violent political opposition group with a populist ideology and mass following. It would only lead to radicalization and eventually armed struggle.
The event of last week is again a clear warning to the government it is repeating the mistake of the past that led to the Boko Haram insurgency that is devastating the country and economy. On Sunday last week, a combined team of security agencies, for the umpteenth time invaded the venue of a meeting by the agitators at Emene, near Enugu and opened fire. When the dust had cleared 21 young men and two officials of the Department of State Services (DSS), lay dead. It is a pattern that has continued, which end is indeterminable.
On Monday, a day after the Emene incident, hundreds of agitators trooped out in Aba and Onitsha in defiance protest. Two days later, they also trooped out in Enugu. The Biafra Eldorado promised by Kanu is enticing, and the high handedness of the security agencies is strengthening their resolve. It’s a combination that could cause an explosion of armed confrontation.
Since May 30, 2016, when a combined team of police, civil defence corps and soldiers opened fire on members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who had gathered in their numbers at Nkpo, an outskirt of Onitsha, Anambra State to mark the Biafra day anniversary, more than a thousand people have been killed. It has been a tale of sorrows, tears and blood for the region. In a November 2016 report, global human rights body, Amnesty International said the number of agitators killed between August 2015 when IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu was arrested and August 2016 were at least 200, but that it is “likely higher”.
But this is about the first time security agents have been killed in a gun battle. Many people in the past had warned that this may be the eventual reaction and consequence of government highhanded approach. Human beings learn most by example, not preachments and punishment. Boko Haram and Islamic Movement in Nigeria, IMN, have produced a template for opposition to the government and its demonstrable efficacy, and other groups such as IPOB are watching.
The issue of IPOB and Biafra is not about legalism of sovereignty and illegality of the group, but justice, human rights, peace and unity. These are inalienable rights and preconditions for a meaningful existence, and cannot be abridged or taken away by law without serious consequences.
The strategy, for the president and the security agencies under his command, appears simple: To crush the spirit of Biafra rebellion and cower the restive youths by instilling fear through violence. But how far can it go and how realistic remains to be seen. An argument can be made back and forth but it matters little. Why did they hold such a meeting being an illegal body? Why did the security agents interfere to disrupt the meeting which was not public to cause the shooting and killing?
The questions can go on ad infinitum, but it serves little purpose other than to muddle the issues and further in-flame tempers. But the lessons are clear and definite: No army or force of arm can crush a people whose rights to human dignity, justice and self-determination have been trampled upon and denied. It has never happened in history and it will not begin with Nigeria. The mere fact that this is happening in the lifetime of those who fought the Biafra war is instructive.
By his actions on this issue, President Buhari may be unwittingly and inadvertently setting a stage for another civil war in the country because there are too many existential threats and centrifugal tendencies that are landmines for unity and peace. War has become unpredictable in this era of technology and globalization, and should not be a strategy for resolving national differences and unity questions. It is very evident that some parts of the country still live in mortal fear and suspicion of the Igbo, whose recovery from the war against all punitive and discriminatory actions to stop and suppress them, unnerves.
This newspaper is concerned that the growing escalation and now militarization of the crisis is an ill-wind that will blow the country no good. Unlike the older people who experienced the war, these youths only see what Nigeria has done to them and are ready to fight for their redemption. It will be naïve and simplistic to believe that the job has been done with the defeat of the old Biafra experiment; no, the job is still work in progress until the majority of the people believe in the country and harbour Biafra illusion no more.
Government is misreading the phenomenon by thinking that Biafra is a mere youthful fancy; it is not as virtually every Igbo person has sympathy for it perhaps in varying degrees, and the earlier this is understood the better for us all and the nation. Any time there is this conflict people – youths – are killed, and the government would not expect the families of those being slaughtered by misguided security forces to continue to applaud it. Government is sowing the wind, it will reap the whirlwind.
IPOB and the Igbo have legitimate rights and aspirations to protest their perceived grievances against the country as far as they are peaceful and non-violent. What is expected of a responsible and responsive leadership in the circumstance is to find a reasonable accommodation and means of mitigating the perceived wrongs as is happening in the Niger Delta, and even Boko Haram, whose so-called repentant fighters are being rewarded with amnesty and rehabilitation.
This newspaper believes the government is dissipating too much of its energy and resources in fighting too many wars, some of which are unnecessary. Experts in System theory believe that there is a limit to which a system, such as Nigeria, can withstand the level of conflicts and tension pulling at its seams without giving in. Nigeria has come to this point and unless the government pulls back from its self-defeating strategy, more serious conflict may be lurking.
The challenge of defeating Boko Haram is directly linked to the over-engagement of the armed forces in internal crises to the detriment of territorial defence of the country. A word is enough for the wise!
NGstudents Team Cares…..