By Clifford Ndujihe, Vincent Ujumadu & Anayo Okoli
ALTHOUGH the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, has gone to court to quash the Federal High Court order proscribing it and declaring it a terror group, the news of the group’s ban was received with mixed feelings in the South-East.
Many Igbo see IPOB as a vehicle to redress perceived marginalisation of the Igbo and South-East as well as to restructure the country into true federalism.
With the IPOB ban, coupled with the attack by soldiers on the Afara-Ukwu, Umuahia, Abia State home of IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and on-going Operation Python Dance II in the five states of the South-East, opinions are divided over the way things have turned out. Many are disturbed by the way the soldiers are carrying out the operations, which they said was infringing on the rights of the common people and hurting economic activities in the zone.
While some claim that Nnamdi Kanu mismanaged the opportunity and has, therefore, caused a major setback to the Igbo agitation to address their marginalisation in Nigeria, others counter that the IPOB leader has raised the bar on the battle against marginalisation.
To some, especially the elites and elders, the group’s proscription was a welcome development, a good riddance to bad rubbish, while others, mainly the youth, say it was a big blow, an atrocity by government, especially on account of the number of people that were allegedly killed before and during the clashes between soldiers and IPOB members.
It is, therefore, not surprising that a host of Igbo leaders, including the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze, have called for the withdrawal of soldiers from the South-East and discontinuance of the Operation Python Dance II (Egwu-Eke II).
An encounter with soldiers at a checkpoint
A lawyer, who claimed to have witnessed the ordeals of people at a military checkpoint in Ebonyi State, said: ‘’The militarization of the South-East is already having its sad tale on the people of the region. I travelled to Enugu from Abakaliki in a bus on Thursday (penultimate week). When we got to the military checkpoint close to Ebonyi State University Perm Site, I noticed that so many buses were parked along the roadside by the Nigerian Army officers on duty. We joined the line of buses without prompting. I enquired from those we met the reason so many buses were parked like that, stopping passengers from meeting up with their scheduled appointments. So many reasons were offered, prominent among which is that the soldiers wanted to identify those who belonged to IPOB volunteer force or those who were IPOB members. I was stunned by the rough handling of citizens by the soldiers.
‘’We were made to line up in a single line. One by one, they demanded for either your national identity card or voter’s card. If you didn’t have either of them, you would be asked which LGA you came from and what you did for a living. Failure to produce either of the ID cards or provide what was satisfactory answer to them, they would push you with force and order you to go lie down behind their tent. I was livid with anger before it got to my turn.
‘’I had both my national identity card and voter’s card but I refused to produce any when they requested for it. They asked me what I did for a living and I told them I am a lawyer. They asked for my work ID card and I told them lawyers don’t carry ID cards around. One of the officers glanced at the book I was holding (Freedom of Information Act which also contains the Fundamental Human Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules), he quietly asked the officer questioning me to let our bus go. ‘’Swiftly, I left them to see the officer I perceived was the leader of the team. Politely, I asked why they were subjecting Ndigbo to this kind of inhumane treatment. He arrogantly told me they were following instructions from above. Every other thing I said infuriated him. He ordered me to leave or he will order his men to deal with me. Those I was travelling with were already seated in the bus waiting for me, so I had to join them and we left, leaving behind follow citizens at the mercy of the soldiers.’’
Since the IPOB proscription, there have been discussions on radio stations every morning, between 8am and 9am, when, after reviewing the headlines of newspapers, listeners call in to analyse and air their views on the proscription and other issues of marginalization of Ndigbo.
From the various opinions, there is consensus that outlawing IPOB without tackling the issues of marginalization, injustice, inequality and unfairness, at best, will be postponing the evil day.
According to a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, Chief Eke Uke Onuoha, tackling the root cause of the agitations is the real solution, not proscribing IPOB.
“I think proscribing the group was not the solution to the problem. Although I have my reservations on the way the group was going about the agitation, I believe it was due to youthful exuberance. But they had very genuine complaint which the government knows. It is not yet late to address the issues to avoid another IPOB.
“Remember, there are other groups even outside Igboland complaining; so when they agitate, you ban them. That is not the solution, the solution is to begin to address the reasons they agitate”, Onuoha said.
The Ohanaeze Youth Council, OYC, concurred. It sees proscribing the IPOB as a temporary measure that may not yield desired dividend without addressing the issue of marginalization of the Igbo through restructuring of the country.
“If the root cause of these agitations were not addressed, it would not be any surprise if another group more daring than IPOB springs up in the future”, Ohanaeze Youths warned in a statement signed by its President, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro; the Deputy National President, Dr. Arthur Obiora; Mazi Okwu Nnabuike, the Secretary- General and other leaders.
OYC, therefore, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently commence the process of restructuring the country by matching words with action.
Also, traditional rulers from Ibeku Umuahia, the home clan of the IPOB leader, frowned at the action of the Federal Government, saying the issue would have been resolved through dialogue.
“We were surprised that soldiers would come into Abia State for such attack without the knowledge of the governor, who is the chief security officer, to get his clearance. We are calling on the world to our rescue. We have been calling for dialogue but they neglected our call and came to kill”, the monarchs said, saying the issues that triggered the agitation are still looming large unattended to.
On the Egwu Eke 11 exercise, the monarchs rejected it and wondered why it was not launched since Fulani herdsmen had been attacking and destroying lives and property in the South-East.
Present at the briefing where they made their position known were Eze Samuel Onuoha, the Paramount Ruler of Ibeku Clan; Eze Henry Ezekwem, the Chairman of the Council; Eze James Ogbonna; Eze Iheanyichukwu Ezeigbo; Eze Donatus Aguiyi; Eze Chiabuotu Emelike and Eze Eddy Ibeabuchi. Others were Eze Philip Ukaegbu, Eze John Ibezim and Eze Emmanuel Onwubuariri.
Building consensus on restructuring
Going forward, some Igbo leaders said there is no going back on redressing Igbo marginalisation. One way of doing this, according to them, is reaching out to other parts of Nigeria and building a consensus on restructuring which, they argue, will benefit all parts of the country.
Indeed, Ohanaeze leaders have been meeting with South-West, South-South and Middle-Belt leaders to forge a consensus on restrucruring and, last week, Ohanaeze President-General, Chief John Nnia Nwodo visited some North-West states on the issue.
Igbo should continue to live in other parts of Nigeria, but also think home –Ohanaeze
The Anambra State Chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Damian Okeke, in the meantime, says as much as he would encourage the Igbo to continue to invest in other parts of Nigeria where they reside, they should also make it a matter of policy to invest part of their incomes in their home states.
Ogene said in an interview in Awka that if the people had investments in their home states to fall back on any time they were threatened by their hosts as was done by the Arewa youths who gave the Igbo quit notice from northern states, they would gladly return home and continue their businesses.
According to him, the problem most of the Igbo had was that they forgot their states as soon as they settled down in other parts of the country, only to complain whenever their hosts threaten them.
He also informed the pro-Biafra agitators to realize that Igbo leaders would not support any agitation that would lead to war, advising them to tread softly while expressing their anger over the happenings in Nigeria.
Okeke said: “There is no part of Nigeria that is developed which Igbo people are not among the highest contributors. In fact, there is no city, including Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, Jos, Kano and even in far away Sokoto and Maiduguri, among others, that the highest percentage of development there were not done by Igbo.
“It would be foolhardy to expect Igbo people to abandon their investment in other parts of the country. In addition, anybody who witnessed the Biafra War, like I did, would not want to experience another war. Nonetheless, the fear of war should not stop the Igbo from speaking up against oppression.
“Anyone who is marginalized will always feel bad, but that will not make those marginalized to commit suicide. That is why we cannot completely condemn the youths for what they are doing.
“For the first time since the end of the civil war, the governors of the states in the former Eastern Region are meeting to ensure a better Nigeria. Even those in the National Assembly are meeting, just as the people of the Middle Belt have indicated their interest to discuss with our people.
“We have to admit that there is a problem in Nigeria and it is only when we acknowledge this that we will begin to find a solution. That is why we need to always speak with one voice because that is the only way we can achieve our goal.
“What we advocate is that the rule of law must be obeyed and justice and equity ensured for peaceful co-existence in Nigeria. We agree that peace will reign in Nigeria if the right things are done.
“As far as I am concerned, we are using Biafra to ask Nigeria to do the needful because that is the vehicle we should use to get our rights. What is happening to us today has gone beyond marginalization. We should work together to get what will benefit the Igbo and the important thing is to get what belongs to us in Nigeria.’’