By Anayo Okoli, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu & Steve Oko
The South-East governors and leaders at their last joint meeting in Enugu directed the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to immediately set up two committees, one of which is South-East Peace and Reconciliation Committee, to engage Ndigbo for peace and security of the people and their visitors.
This follows the growing state of insecurity in the zone which has made the people to live in fear and suspicion. It got to a crescendo when the country home of Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma was attacked.
This particular attack no doubt, made the governor afraid and the governors have all increased the security around their homes and offices. The happenings seem to have been a wakeup call to Igbo leaders that the way forward is dialogue and reconciliation, not talking tough and being at loggerheads with the people, particularly the youths.
The actions of the chairman of the South-East Governors Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi whose state has had more than enough share of the attacks and destructions, seem to have set the door to dialogue and reconciliation open.
“Umahi has changed his tough stance on the agitating youths, though he insists on not condoning criminality. Speaking recently, Umahi openly dispelled the fear in some quarters that Ebubeagu security outfit being rolled out by the zone is to launch attack on IPOB and ESN. He said that Ebubeagu is not after ESN or IPOB, but to protect the people. This will make the teeming agitating youths who hitherto saw Governor Umahi as their number one enemy that he is not what they thought.
“Most demands of people in the South-East are legitimate. We have to sit down and discuss. It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. Let us fish out the bandits wherever they are. I want to discuss with them. We can make peace. Let us not destroy the infrastructure that we have built,” Umahi had said.
These words will definitely soothe the youths and make them change their old impression of Governor Umuahi. This latest position of the Chairman, South-East Governors’ Forum may no doubt ginger the youths to embrace reconciliation.
But a paramount ruler of Abriba Ancient Kingdom, Eze Kalu Kalu Ogbu, Enachioken Abriba, advised that there is need for the committee to engage IPOB; as well as MASSOB. True to his suggestion, the committee has already extended invitation to MASSOB and Eastern Security Network, ESN.
The monarch declared that the committee would fail if it did not consult with both pro-Biafra movements to ascertain the cause of their grievances with a view to addressing them.
The revered Abiriba monarch has also advised the committee to dig beyond the surface and unravel the real people behind the escalating insecurity in the South- East, as Igbo doubt their youths would embark on destruction of their own property, a culture alien to Igbo.
According to him, a fifth columnist could actually be behind the wave of attacks in the zone while accusing fingers are being pointed at the wrong direction. The royal father also strongly suggested to the committee, to rather consider ‘carrot’ approach in reining in the perpetrators instead of using the ‘stick’ approach.
“I have always been an advocate for such a joint meeting of Igbo leaders. I am very glad that they considered setting up such a committee. It is the most important of everything they achieved at that meeting. Though they adopted the carrot and stick strategy, the carrot is the most effective at this time.
“The committee will be effective if they do the following: Interrogate the situation and find out the real source of the attacks. Are the attacks coming from IPOB, ESN or a fifth columnist aimed at setting confusion in the Igbo nation? It is possible if their target is to sow discord and mistrust, allowing us to kill each other thereby making it easier for them to achieve their ulterior motives.
“The committee will fail if they don’t reach out to IPOB, MASSOB and ESN. It is important that they reach out to them, to at least, know why they are doing what they are doing if they are the ones doing them.
“The committee should be brave enough to distill their genuine agitation and their youthful exuberance,” Enachoiken advised.
He also advised the committee against exposing any group willing to participate in the reconciliation to harm as doing so will be counterproductive.
“Ensure the protection of any group that intends to participate in the dialogue. It should not be an avenue for exposing them to the federal authorities who are bent on killing our youths.
“The committee should engage the services of experts in conflict resolution. They will be of immense help,” Eze Ogbu suggested.
Chief Ozo Anaekwe, former President-General of Onitsha Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, OMATA, said the membership of the committee must be comprised of people of unbiased minds, who are neutral, Diaspora Igbo; people knowledgeable and who do not believe in divisive tendencies and not members of the political parties.
Anaekwe also urged the committee to prevail on the Federal Government to de-proscribe IPOB as part of the peace making process.
He said the South-East Governors should prevail on President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the withdrawal of herdsmen in South-East forests. He said the committee should have representatives of both IPOB and MASSOB as members to ensure inclusiveness, otherwise genuine peace will not be ensured.
“If the governors are serious, first of all, they should urge the Federal Government to de-proscribe IPOB; then they should also urge the Federal Government to withdraw the herdsmen in South-East forests.
“If they are setting up the committee, they should ensure that IPOB and MASSOB are represented in the committee, but because the setting up of the committee is the brainchild of the Governors, they will like to exclude some people or groups. However, they should avoid such pitfalls, otherwise, they will not achieve genuine peace.
“They should ensure that the members of the committee are not biased. Remember that the people seem to have lost confidence in the governors; they should look for people who are not biased to head the committee.
“If possible, they should look for people who are living outside the country, who are not biased, to head the committee; they can equally join them with the clergy from the Anglican, Catholic and Pentecostal churches, particularly the Bishops to work with the people that will come from the Diaspora.
“In the first instance, it is not the governors that are supposed to call for the committee; it is Ohanaeze Ndibgo that should have initiated the idea of setting up the committee. How can the governors be directing Ohanaeze Ndigbo on such issue? It is wrong. However, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and South-East governors are working together; they are together in the travail of South-East and the agitating groups. However, politicians should be removed from the committee.
“For me, setting up such committee is a good step in the right direction, nobody is against peace; there is nobody that does not like peace. Peace is good in every community and family but you will not look for peace when you are biased, one-sided, and not honest. So if they are serious, they should involve all the people that are supposed to be part of it, nobody should be excluded,” Anaekwe said.
Chief Jerry Obasi is of the view that the reconciliation committee should seek dialogue with the IPOB, to ensure peace in the zone, saying that no effort should be spared to ensure the South-East speak with one voice on national issues.
He warned that hard times await the Igbo in Nigeria if the governors do not reconcile with IPOB and build on the fallout of their agitation.
“The setting up of the reconciliation committee is the right thing to do, though it is belated. It is also good that the South-East Governors who are always foot-dragging on issues of Igbo interest have now found the voice to set up such committee. It is good they have woken from their slumber. They have always failed to emulate the proactive disposition of their South-West counterparts, especially in the area of security of their people.
“The first thing the committee should do is to reach out to the IPOB and dialogue with them on their grievances. It is also good that one of the governors has admitted that some of the issues raised by IPOB are legitimate. They should find a way to reach out to Nnamdi Kanu now. Why can’t there be a way of throwing carrots and dialogue? The governors should put aside pride and seek dialogue with the IPOB leader.
“Sometimes, you stoop to conquer in order to achieve some objectives and ensure peace. Let the committee engage the Federal Government on the wanton killings in Igboland. The military is in every part of the South-East as an army of occupation, treating Igbo as slaves.
“Another is the issue of killer herdsmen who destroy farm lands, kill and rape our women. The activities of soldiers in the South- East have escalated the problem. You see what soldiers brought by Governor Hope Uzodinma did in Orlu under the guise of fighting the Eastern Security Network.
He lambasted the South-East Governors for allegedly foot- dragging on issues of interest in the zone, stressing that the governors most times, allow the IPOB to set agenda for them.
“They allow the IPOB or MASSOB to set agenda from where they follow. When the two groups set agenda, the governors will start chasing from behind. This is why the Igbo are lagging behind.
“Again, the way and manner they have managed the issue of IPOB and MASSOB is wrong. These two groups have formed the nucleus of the new Igbo society because of the marginalisation of the Igbo in Nigeria. There is no doubt that the issue of IPOB strikes at the heart of about 98% of the Igbo population. So, why will the governors toy with IPOB? Look at the issue of the killing of the ESN Commander in Imo State, Ikonso; do you think such issue would be reconciled soon? The answer is No.
“How can you achieve peace with what Governor Hope Uzodinma is doing in Imo State? The other time he said he invited soldiers to assault his people in Orlu. Uzodinma has forgotten the way and manner he became governor.
“The governors should stop chasing shadow; we don’t need window dressing efforts and scratching the problem on the surface. What will it have taken the governors to reach out to IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu if they are sincere to protect their people? There are many people close to Nnamdi Kanu, the governors should have since put aside pride and sought dialogue with IPOB. Maybe, we would not have gotten to the ‘crossroads’ we are at the moment if they had done what they were supposed to do.
They always allow problems to fester before they realise what to do,” Obasi said.
In his contribution, a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Dr. Aaron Adibe, said the committee should articulate the key points on how to nip in the bud, insecurity in the zone. The don equally urged the governors in the zone to behave in such a way as to attract the confidence of the people.
“On this issue, let me say that the Committee has enormous task to achieve. First, one has to ask, does the people trust the governors who set up the committee? Second, would the political class allow the committee to operate without undue interference? Third, haven’t Nigerians lost faith in government “committees?” Four, would the committee summon enough courage to interface with the actual people, the downtrodden? These are the questions, which if one tries to answer, may become a bit skeptical about the fruitfulness of the Committee.
“However, assuming all things work according to plan, I will suggest that the governors should first begin to behave in a manner that will attract people’s confidence on them. Pushing the above responsibility to Ohanaeze is, indeed, a clear indication that they know they might have failed the people. The people elected them and not Ohanaeze. Same goes to all Igbo political representatives from local to federal governments.
“As the political elites strive to do this, the committee should endeavour to reach out to the grassroots. They should reach out to everybody, call it IPOB, MASSOB, etc. After all, these groups have remained largely non-violent, far better than bandits and herdsmen who are interacting with the political class in the North.”
The position of the Director- General of Bureau for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Imo State, Peter Ohagwa is that the committee reaches out to influential individuals in the South-East communities for their view.
“The Ohanaeze Ndigbo world-wide reconciliation committee should be able to recommend for a firm decision to be taken on this issue of cattle rearing in Igboland and it should be implemented immediately.
“There is need to meet with the leaders of these groups and discuss with them and know what their problems are; with that it will start reducing gradually. Most importantly, this reconciliation committee must work with professionals in the area of peace and conflict resolution to map out many other strategies to end these issues.
“Another important thing, I must say, is that it has been proved that sometime failure of good governance results to so many of these things and the time is now to start addressing the issue of poverty, give the people good governance and at the end they will be the ones to drive away these hoodlums instead of cheering them up”, Ohagwa said.
For the Secretary General, Conference of Nigeria Political parties, CNPP, Enugu, Chief Willy Ezugwu, the south East governors are not serious with solving the issues bedeviling the zone. He said that the peace and reconciliation committee would not be effective until South East governors show sincerity in tackling security, developmental and unemployment issues.
“First, the South East Governors have not shown sincerity in tackling, not just the security issues in South East, but developmental issues and deliberate job creation. To be able to achieve their aims for setting up the committees, they must first prove that they are sincere and any aggrieved South East son or daughter will be able to trust them and members of the committee”, he said.
Igbo elite group, Alaigbo Development Foundation, ADF, does not buy into the idea of governors directing Ohanaeze to form reconciliation committee. It said is is an aberration, saying that the South East Governors should stop dictating to Ohanaeze.
“Ohanaeze should be independent and distance itself from the Governors. But it appears that the Governors, having lost credibility because of their non-performance resorted to hijacking Ohanaeze so as to lean on it and gain legitimacy”, Chief Abi Onyike, the spokesman said.
However, he said that “the issue of internal reconciliation by Ohanaeze would be difficult because of the way the present Ohanaeze leadership was imposed during its last controversial elections.
“The present set of Governors have betrayed Ndigbo in many ways. We don’t believe that any genuine reconciliation can take place now, especially when it was directed by these governors. Ohanaeze is currently very weak and lacks the legitimacy to begin any meaningful dialogue, until Ohanaeze disentangles itself from the stranglehold of these King Herods of Alaigbo.
“However, the first step towards any effective reconciliation is to call a meeting of all Igbo organizations to begin a gradual process of putting things right. But the Governors should not be part of it”.