By Ikechukwu Amaechi
IN any normal clime, it will be odd for a columnist to comment on any other issue this week other than the fatal plane crash that claimed the lives of the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru, and 10 other officers and the fallouts, including the Commander-in-Chief’s “heartless felt condolences” expressed by the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd).
But Nigeria is a study in abnormality. For me, writing on Attahuru’s death, as tragic as it is (the man was only 54 years and appointed Army Chief barely five months ago), or President Muhammadu Buhari’s inexplicable refusal to attend the burial ceremonies which took place at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja, about 18 minutes’ drive from Aso Rock, would be tantamount to chasing rodents when one’s house is on fire.
Alaigbo is on fire and no conscientious objector can afford to be silent in the face of the ongoing war of attrition since Buhari approved undisclosed new security measures for the Southeast and South-south regions as announced by the acting Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba on May 11.
Since then, IGP Baba has given an ultimatum to security operatives to carry out extra-judicial killings in the Southeast. While launching ‘Operation Restore Peace’ in Enugu on May 18, 2021, he declared: “Don’t mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violations, the report will come to my table, and you know what I will do. So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don’t wait for an order.”
That is rather frightening and reckless. Unfortunately, it seems the order has gone into full force and the collateral damage is mounting.
On Monday, I received a telephone call from a friend in Owerri and the message was portentous. “Iyke, please, I am pleading with you in the name of God, something serious is going on in Imo State and the whole world must hear about it,” my friend, a university lecturer, blurted out as soon as I picked his call.
An ordinarily sedate person, I have never seen him as exasperated and desperate. He narrated an encounter between him and a senior police officer of Igbo extraction a few minutes before he called.
The officer told him how policemen, in the name of hunting down Independent People of Biafra, IPOB, activists accused of killing police officers and burning down police stations, would swoop on bus-stops in the early evenings, arrest youths and detain them. And without bothering to charge anyone to court, every night, about 10 are taken out to be summarily executed.
“What is going on here is genocide and the whole world needs to know about it. Please, use your voice. Don’t be silent,” he pleaded.
I have always worried that the worsening security situation in the Southeast will boil down to this. To be sure, any attack on security infrastructure in the Southeast, and, indeed, anywhere else is condemnable. Killing of policemen is an egregious act that must be adequately punished in accordance with the laws of the land.
But every well-meaning Nigerian must be horrified by the Federal Government’s hardly disguised desire to turn the Southeast into a war zone rather than seek for its peace and development.
The only reason why the Nigerian state would declare a war against Ndigbo, which is what IGP Baba’s mandate to officers amounts to, is because some people in government continue to view the old Eastern region from the prism of a conquered territory effectively under occupation since the end of the civil war in 1970.
Is it not possible that IPOB may not be the culprits in these dastardly attacks against police in the Southeast and South-south?
Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, has no sympathy for IPOB, neither do they have for him. The hatred is mutual. But this week, his Chief Press Secretary, Oguwike Nwachuku, issued a statement as reported by the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, saying that no fewer than 400 people who carried out recent attacks in Imo have been arrested and charged to court.
“The good thing,” Nwachuku said, “is that over 70 per cent of them are not Igbo.”
So, what does that say about the crisis in the region? Since there are no Hausa, Fulani or Yoruba members of IPOB, does that not suggest that Igbo youths may not be behind the violence in the region? Could there be fifth columnists and agent-provocateurs? Shouldn’t the government be interested in Uzodimma’s disclosure rather than levying war on an otherwise peaceful region?
It is obvious that those in Abuja are baying for the blood of their bête noire – Ndigbo.
But if the shoot-at-sight order is an attempt to arm-twist Ndigbo into surrendering their ancestral lands to herdsmen, it will fail. This is one battle the FG cannot win. It will fail in the South, just as the plot will surely meet its waterloo in the North-central.
In case the Federal Government does not know, of the over 70 million Igbo living at home and in the Diaspora, every one of them, including those in this cabinet, is a Biafran.
The only distinction is that while there is a vocal, more fanatical minority led by the likes of Nnamdi Kanu that subscribes to the idea of a territorial Biafra, the silent majority subscribes to what Ikemba Nnewi, Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, referred to, in his twilight, as the ‘Biafra of the mind.’
Ojukwu’s Biafra of the mind is a metaphor for justice, equity and fair play. While not pursuing territorial space as it was the case in the late 1960s, Biafra of the mind is a clarion call on Ndigbo and, indeed, all oppressed Nigerians to stand up against repression, tyranny and cruelty.
Biafrans in the second category are not only willing to live in Nigeria as Nigerians but also continue to contribute their quota in building and nursing it to prosperity. But they will only do that as freeborn. There is nothing that suggests also that even those in the first category may not drop their demand for a territorial Biafra and join hands in building Nigeria if the condition is right. After all, it is the lack of justice that is spurring the rebellion.
A Nigeria that will get the buy-in of ‘Biafrans of the mind’ cannot be one where an Igbo pupil who scores 150 in a Common Entrance Examination into Unity Colleges is denied admission in favour of another who scored 25, the only criterion being ethnic origins or religious affinity.
That Nigeria must not be one where an Igbo must change his state of origin, religion or adopt a strange surname in order to stand a fair chance of being employed in a federal parastatal or secure a government contract.
That country must be one where competence trumps nepotism, the signature tune of the Buhari presidency, in determining who gets what.
Sadly, the absence of the values of equity, justice and fair play, makes the argument for the ‘Biafra of the mind’ rather tenuous.
And guess what? President Buhari is the most effective promoter of the quest for territorial Biafra. He is Nnamdi Kanu’s biggest enabler. Buhari’s single-minded pursuit of Fulani supremacist agenda is IPOB’s most effective recruitment tool.
A Buhari that believes it is illegal for Southern governors to call for an end to open grazing but sees nothing wrong in the Sharia Police, Hisbah, confiscating and destroying 8,400 bottles of beer in Kano, cannot be part of the solution to Nigeria’s woes.
On Tuesday, the Commander-General of Kano State Hisbah Board, Dr. Harun Ibn-Sina, said he confiscated 8,400 bottles of beer in Dawakin Kudu and Kura LGAs because “Hisbah Board has prohibited the sale of beer in the state to avoid being intoxicated”. To rub in the insult, he said the “suspects” would be charged to court once investigation was concluded.
Yet Kano with 44 local governments gets the lion’s share of revenue from Value Added Tax, VAT. That is the crux of the matter and why agitation for dismemberment of the country may not abate soonest. A brutal war of attrition in the Southeast is not a solution. It is a mere distraction from the crisis of legitimacy which Nigeria faces under Buhari’s watch.