By Ochereome Nnanna
I WOKE up this Thursday morning, and after my usual morning devotion, I consulted my Internet-enabled gadget as is now customary with most people. I was confronted by two very unfortunate fallout of the Nigerian Army’s Operation Python Dance II which is ongoing in the South East.
There were many videos of men of our Army, in full combat gear, armed to the teeth and surrounded by military vehicles, dehumanising scores of unarmed young men. They were stripped naked, dumped into puddles of mud, forced to drink muddy water and beaten like animals. Some of the prostrate bodied laid quite still, meaning, as the videoer insinuated that they could be dead. The individual recording the video surreptitiously at the risk of his life was commentating about the unfolding barbarism in English and Igbo. It will not be surprising if, after this so-called “show of force” exercise, mass graves will be discovered to add to the 1,967 bodies earlier discovered in Aba, as per the Amnesty International’s report released in June this year.
This is just one of the tales of army terror that have been coming from the South East since President Muhammadu Buhari sent the soldiers to go and deal with “robbers, kidnappers, cultists and violent separatist agitators”, a job that is constitutionally cut out for the Nigerian Police.
The second point of worry, a much more dangerous one, was the reported clashes between some (possibly) pro-Biafra youths and Northerners resident in Port Harcourt and Aba, resulting in the loss of lives and property. This is a very terrible turn of events which has never been part of the peaceful Biafra agitation since it made an upsurge about two years ago. It is definitely a spin-off of the Python Dance II, a wholly unnecessary, wasteful, provocative, inciting and sectional abuse of our armed forces.
Nnamdi Kanu and other pro-Biafra groups have never targeted non-indigenes or Northerners. They refrained from doing this, even when Arewa Youths issued “quit notice” to Igbo people living in the North and released hate songs calling for genocide against them. With October 1, 2017, only two weeks away, the onset of ethnic clashes between Nigerians who had before now lived peacefully and symbiotically together should alarm and frighten any patriotic Nigerian about what could unfold in the nearest future unless sanity takes hold of those in the middle of these tragic events.
I found it curious, even sobering, that while the first reports of the Port Harcourt clashes between the Biafra agitators and residents of Northern extraction made it to the public space, the Coalition of Northern Group, CNG, made their first constructive public statement, calling on Northerners not to yield to the temptation of reprisal attacks but to join in efforts to restore peace in the country. Northern Governors and leaders, with the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II at the centre of things, also met and sued for peace while pledging to respond to the call for the restructuring of the country which, many feel, would help reduce the heat of separatism.
It is important that all hands be placed on deck to pull Nigeria back from the brink of collapse which stares us in the face. Let us start by prevailing on President Buhari to withdraw the Army from the South East. There are two armed terrorist groups currently requiring the attention of the armed forces. The first is the Boko Haram Islamist insurgents in the North East. The second is the armed militia masquerading as Fulani herdsmen.
In spite of the fact that these faceless Janjaweed-like groups have been rated as among the most murderous in the world, killing, maiming, occupying farmlands, raping, kidnapping, robbing and taking over communities all over the Middle Belt and the Southern States, Buhari’s regime ignores their ignoble exploits. This government is only interested in pursuing “cattle rustlers”. They are not interested in protecting the citizens from the internal insurrection championed by these armed herdsmen.
For the second time in many months, the military spokesman, Colonel SanI Usman Kukasheka was on AIT this Thursday morning, and when asked why the Army has ignored these marauding armed herdsmen, he chose to talk about how the Army has dealt with “cattle rustlers”. Any time the officials of this regime mention the activities of these herdsmen, they only address it in the false robes of “farmers/herdsmen clashes”, ignoring the fact that these herdsmen are aggressive, bloodthirsty invaders of the farmlands and communities of innocent indigenous Nigerians. Can any sane person describe the attack of armed robbers on a family as “a clash”? It is wicked to make it look like the victim and the attacker are on the same footing in the eyes of the armed forces, security agencies and police authorities under this regime. If the attacker and his victim are placed on the same pedestal, the law enforcement agencies can conveniently be used against the victim while the attacker is allowed to go free.
It is this partial use of the armed forces, police and security agencies against some groups that are less-fancied by the leadership of this country at this time of our history that is driving Python Dance II.
Igbo youths and Igbo people, in general, are tired of being relegated to second class citizenship in a country they led in the fight for its independence. The civil war ended 47 years ago. People like Buhari, who fought in the war on the Federal side, do not want the Igbo people to be reintegrated into the system. For them, the unwritten code of keeping them at arm’s length scripted by the ruling class after the civil war should be a permanent feature of Nigeria’s post-war architecture. For them, that issue has been “settled”, so when you raise the matter again, it is like a call for another civil war.
On the opposite side of the scale, the section of the Igbo populace that can no longer put up with the manner in which the so-called unity of Nigeria was “settled” want a restructuring of the country. Some even want outright and total independence, as Nigeria, has proved incapable of providing freedom and equity to Igbo people. As recently as 2012, Nnamdi Kanu participated in protests in London calling for a better Nigeria where things work. The advent of Buhari’s government, with a clearly-scripted policy of extreme nepotism, partiality and ethno-sectional favoritism that marks the Igbo people as outsiders has radicalised many Igbo people, especially the youth, who are now asking for an independent republic, Biafra.
Curiously enough, the pro-Biafra groups have, till now, maintained a non-violent approach to their quest. Even Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is merely asking for a referendum to determine if Igbo and other people he has co-opted into his Biafra project are willing to be part of it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this manner of agitation, so long as its proponents remain law abiding and refrain from harassing anyone. Whenever they cross the proverbial “red line” the Police and the law courts are there to bring culprits to book. It is only when these agitators have become so unruly and violent that the Police cannot cope, then the President can draft in the Army to back them up, following constitutional prescriptions.
Operation Python Dance II is in full swing in the South East simply because President Buhari, Arewa Youths, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and other Arewa hawks have decided that unarmed Biafra agitators should be “treated like Boko Haram”. It is a purely sectional script. This is an ill-wind that will not blow this country any good.
I hope sanity will take hold before this crisis spins out of hand.