By Obi Nwakanma
It is no longer news that Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, Senator representing Enugu West in the Senate of Nigeria was violently assaulted by members of the IPOB in Nuremberg, Germany. On August 17, Ekweremadu had gone as an honored guest of Ndi-Igbo Germany who had organized their 2nd Annual Cultural Festival and Convention in Nuremberg.
Clips of videos of the event that have been streaming through much of social media and many chat rooms and comment spaces shows Ekweremadu arriving in great and assured dignity to the event but scampering out of the venue of this event with not only his clothes in tatters, but his dignity too. The clothe he wore was specially made. It bore the Nigerian coat of arms, appropriately announcing Dr. Ekweremadu’s high ranking in Nigeria, but equally insisting on his abiding commitment to Nigeria as a country.
Of course he has much for which he must be grateful, and be committed to Nigeria. But he had arrived the vipers nest of people who do not have the same commitments and reason to have Ike Ekweremadu’s faith in Nigeria. But first, it is important to register a personal sense of disgust and outrage at the violence meted on the Senator. As an ideological pacifist, every act of violence depresses me. As an Igbo, born into a republican tradition in which eloquence and discourse and free and open debate allows for all kinds of disputes to be settled, I am outraged at the emerging mob culture that the attack on Ekweremadu signifies. The Igbo do not have mobs traditionally because we have a rhetorical tradition, and oratory is greatly valued, and taught to every child as the means by which to conduct public business. “Okwu di Ire” – words are portent, the Igbo say. And rather than folks engage in open fighting, among the Igbo, they reduce such a tendency to the sports of wrestling, and thus subdue all kinds of civic insurgence to symbolic acts of disputes and resolution through play. But I guess, that Igbo world has disappeared like most of the great values that made an individual, “onye-Igbo,” which includes respect for one’s guest, irrespective of your feelings towards them.
The guest to your home must never be violated because it is part of the sacred code of the Igbo, that a guest is a harbinger of the gods, and must be protected for as long as they are in the refuge of an Igbo home. The assault on Ekweremadu by the IPOB in Germany violates this very ancient code, or value. And it has been pointed out that Ekweremadu is the wrong person to whom IPOB could have directed their anger and assaulted. First, he appears quite clearly to have represented his constituency in Enugu very well, as he is said to have brought home the bacon.
Measured by those indices, and by some of his contributions in the senate, including the review of the Nigerian constitution which he led through the senate, although it is stymied still at the committee level, Ike Ekweremadu who is one of the ranking senators in the chamber by length of his tenure, is an effective representative of his constituents. He is one of the senators who has stood up to the current President Buhari, and he has been serially hounded by the EFCC for that, who have also yet to prove any cases of corruption against him, even though they’ve tried; and with Senator Abaribe, he is one of the more eloquent and effective senators from the South-East. As a matter of records, Dr. Ekweremadu as Deputy Senate President wrote a five-page letter opposing Buhari’s “Python Dance” in the South East, urging him more towards dialogue with the Igbo and inclusion in the governance of Nigeria.
He, alongside Senator Abaribe were the two Igbo senators that openly argued against the proscription and criminalization of IPOB by the Presidency. It would therefore appear that IPOB had indeed chosen the wrong target for its attack, and may have acted with very little consideration for its larger symbolic interest. And this raises the question of IPOB’s amateurish strategies, often the product of very shallow thinking and immature operational capacities and conduct. IPOB is making needless powerful enemies for itself in Igboland, where it should normally be seeking support and conciliation for a greater goal. It is basically dividing Igbo land, and creating pathways for its own conclusive elimination, both on the ground and internationally.
It is obvious that IPOB, full of enthusiasm and outrage, and no doubt, with its great appeal to a very wide span of the discontented, has not yet learned, through the history of political organizing, how quickly a flash movement such as IPOB can lose steam by creating personality cults, and fighting ill-thought battles, when a greater war lies ahead. Yet, it must also be said, that in spite of all the arguments that can be arrayed against the attack of Senator Ekweremadu in Nuremberg, Germany by IPOB, what it has done is to sow a very new seed in the public imagination. It is no longer business as usual for Nigerian public officials who travel overseas. Time was when Nigerian public officials were honored guests in many Nigerian Diaspora events. They would come. Hosted sumptuously, and given the platform to bloviate. Not anymore. IPOB’s attack on Ekweremadu signals a new attitude; a new way of holding the rulers and despoilers of Nigeria accountable. It is ironic that this trial started in Nuremberg. It carries dramatic ritual and historic significance, for it was in Nuremberg, that the leaders of Nazi Germany were also tried after the fall of Germany in World War II. Today it is Ekweremadu. As the story goes, when the IPOB tried to engage him about the alleged attacks, killings, and rape of Igbo women by the Fulani militia masquerading as herdsmen, and what he had done about it as an elected Igbo politician, Ekweremadu gave them answers that did not satisfy them; they mobbed him, dragged him out, tore his clothes from his back, and chased him away. They apparently did the same to the gentle Mr. Godfrey Onyeama, Minister for Foreign Affairs in Austria. They shut him down, and chased him out of the Chancery of the Nigerian Embassy in Austria. He barely escaped with his dignity intact. The IPOB have made it very clear that they are not interested in Nigeria, and that they intend to bring her to her knees, and see an end to what they consider an unjust and fraudulent enterprise.
Most members of the IPOB believe that the compact that amalgamated Nigeria in 1914 ended in 2014, and as a result, Nigeria no longer exists for them. They of course forget the compacts that negotiated Independent Nigeria in 1957 and ’58 as its compact of renewal, however flawed the result. This is of course immaterial to a very angry generation, many of whom escaped from Nigeria that offered them nothing, and gave them nothing, sometimes through grueling processes of escape to North America, Europe and Asia. They are angry. And they have no fear. They will bring Nigeria down. That is their commitment. And because the Federal Government is incompetent and corrupt, IPOB has its job made easy for it, in terms of recruitment and propaganda. They have a wide array of following among especially alienated young Igbo, and indeed surprisingly, other disaffected Nigerians. Across Nigeria, and certainly across the world, they are recruiting massively.
If President Buhari arrives New York today, he is likely to receive the Ekweremadu treatment. As a matter of fact, in his last visit to New York, he was shepherded closely and very narrowly avoided public embarrassment in the hands of disgruntled Nigerians, particularly the Igbo. But that is because the IPOB had not increased the tempo of their international protests. IPOB’s method is likely to influence others to use this shaming technique to force Nigerian public officials to stay home, or to account for their public leadership. This movement of public shaming has started from the Diaspora. But it will soon become a “thing” too locally. The point of it is rather obvious: Nigerians are angry and increasingly fed up. The safety of the public official is no longer guaranteed. Time will arrive soon, when even military and police escorts will not save them. Why? Because angry mobs have no fear of armies.
The footage of the Shah of Iran’s soldiers fleeing from the mob during the Iranian revolution in 1979 still gives me goose bumps. What happened to Ekweremadu in Nuremberg is the beginning of the public trial of the Nigerian leadership. It has started abroad. But soon, the streets of Nigeria will also be too hot for them. Perhaps the revolution has started.