February 5, 2023

To calm the East…

By Obi Nwakanma

I bat with those who believe that the violence currently experienced in the South-East of Nigeria is manufactured, instigated and packaged under an internal security operations order conducted by the security services of Nigeria. The aim is to contain the East and create the impression of a “Wild, Wild East.” It de-markets the East and destroys its capital base. 

Because the operations of the security services in Nigeria remain opaque; and because of the limitless power of the President to deploy these forces under the guise of an executive authority without parliamentary recourse or oversight; and largely also because the National Assembly has been complicit and therefore unable to investigate the activities of this President to determine whether or not he has misused his power in dealing with the security situation, both nationally in general and in the South-East in particular, it is difficult to determine exactly the extent of government forces and security apparati involvement in creating and maintaining the violence in the East. 

But what gives it all up is the timeline: Until 2020, the South-East was the most secure, most peaceful and even possibly the most prosperous region of Nigeria, speaking relatively. Economic and social life went on without let. Folks seemed largely unaffected by the posturing of the Buhari administration. The South-East was already used to Federal Government neglect, and so, nothing Buhari could throw at them in that regard mattered. They conducted their lives and their businesses unperturbed by the administration’s policies of deliberate neglect and isolation. Key groups in the East continued to oppose him, and his unjust, even illegal policies of discrimination against the South-East region. 

The most prominent, most visible and vociferous, and in terms of implication, most consequential was the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPoB, the separatist group. They have called for secession, and have insistently called on the National Assembly to conduct a referendum to establish the legal choice of Biafrans to exit from Nigeria and form a new nation. As lobbies go, and prior to Buhari, and even in the early days of his administration, IPoB was small fry. IPoB was a fissiparous break off from the earlier MASSOB, and they had always insisted on the use of non-violence in their political and public campaigns. 

Following the loss of President Goodluck Jonathan who enjoyed massive support in the South-East and South-South regions of Nigeria, the in-coming administration of President Buhari plainly declared a policy of discrimination against what he described as the “5%”. As his administration took shape, he made good his words. The South-East especially was not represented in Buhari’s administration, except of course in the statutory ministerial appointments where the Easterners were given inconsequential, largely paperweight portfolios in Buhari’s cabinet. As a matter of fact, had the Constitution not required it, Buhari was unlikely to appoint a Minister from the South-East. But in spite of those policies, the South-East was thriving relative to other parts of Nigeria. This, just up till the middle of 2020. 

From 2015 to 2020, IPoB had mounted a most formidable, but largely peaceful opposition to the government. Since the Nigerian government continued to discriminate against the old East, it was time for the East to secede peacefully, the IPoB argued. They mounted peaceful street rallies and demonstrations to drive home both their demands and their resolve. While the Buhari administration was seen to be treating the armed Fulani bandits and herdsmen operating across Nigeria, but especially in the South with kid gloves, and capturing, releasing, rehabilitating and even recruiting professed Boko Haram fighters into the Nigerian armed forces, they unleashed armed soldiers and security agents on unarmed and peaceful IPoB protesters. 

The Buhari government instituted a policy of extermination of young, unarmed Igbo who went to the streets to protest his discrimination, which had instigated the new Biafra secessionist movement. Amnesty International and the Human Rights Report published reports of these targeted killings. This enraged Nnamdi Kanu, leader of this new movement, who used some very strong and sometimes abrasive language against Buhari and his supporters, and even threatened to launch retaliatory action should the Buhari administration continue to use soldiers and other security agents to kill unarmed IPoB supporters. He was arrested, detained, granted bail by the High Court, and sent home. One day, soldiers in armored tanks came to his home in Afara-Ukwu Umuahia, attacked him, killed some of his followers, including his young cousin, and missed Kanu, who was smuggled out to the UK, where he mounted virulent attacks against the government using Ham Radio. 

Buhari’s re-election – and the South-East once again resoundingly voted against him – seemed to have presented him the opportunity to sort his Igbo problem once and for all. Using his Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, the administration created a toxic front in the East. First, he had attacked judges of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court; raided their homes in the night, and detained them on spurious grounds. Since 2020, a program of active violence has crippled the South-East, including armed bandit attacks, kidnappings; assassinations; and such things that have hitherto been extremely strange and unthinkable among the Igbo of the South-East. 

Government forces and the criminal elements whom they released from jail breaks are the suspects. Using a Black-Ops strategy, government forces have used the excuse of the Stay-at-Home called by the IPoB to ask the Igbo to protest the abduction and incarceration of the IPoB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, to stage violence in the South-East. The government accuses the IPoB and the ESN as the primary source of violence in the South-East. IPoB and its ESN have repeatedly denied involvement. They have nothing to gain from the violence, they claim. They accuse the Buhari government of masterminding all the violence in the South-East. 

Whatever might be the case, the South-East is in deep trouble. Kidnappings; banditry; mindless killings now threaten the social and economic fabric and life of this once vibrant region of Nigeria. People are now afraid to return home to their country homes; to bury their dead, or conduct traditional marriages. Just later week, a judge was killed inside a court room. Two weeks previously, a young man – the Chairman of a local government – from Aro-Ndizuogu was abducted, his home burnt, and he was beheaded and recorded on video in the bush. A week prior, the home of Attorney Ugochinyere Ikenga, Secretary of the CUPP, was attacked and burnt down, and his uncle killed by assailants. Violence has grown horns in the South-East. The people just cower helplessly. But this beast must be tamed. The East must be calmed. But the question is, how? Very clearly, (a) the elected governments of the South-East – the governors, members of the state Assemblies have so far demonstrated that they have no capacity to govern, much less save the East from the internal rupture occasioned by violence. 

The current governors can no longer be trusted with that task; (b) the Federal Government and its agencies – the military, the police and the Department of State Service – have also proven that they cannot contain the violence in the East, and they are in fact not trusted, as many South-easterners suspect that these agencies have a hand in the violence. So, what is to be done? To calm the East requires thinking outside the box. 

It is now time for the elders of the Igbo world who still have scrotal agency to rise, and quietly guide the process towards building a visible and an invisible Igbo National Defence Services (INDS). The service must have an invisible arm which must provide non-intrusive protective service to the Igbo. It must be highly sophisticated; highly trained, and mobile. It must be capable of anticipating, investigating, evaluating and erasing threats against the Igbo irrespective of who, where, or what constitutes the threat. Every Town Union in the East must be made to raise a company-strength civil militia to be given basic and routine military training, to enable them act as emergency volunteers and town-guards. They should be able to conduct intra and inter-town/joint patrols with neighboring towns on mutual defence partnerships. They should be able to deploy new technologies: drones, aerial surveillance and satellite capabilities, and deploy a strike force to contain bandits, kidnappers, and such like. 

Igbo gunsmiths must be encouraged to start producing bespoke guns. Each household in the South-East must acquire these serially numbered firearms for their own self-defence, but must register them with the town gun registry for proper identification. South-easterners must stop being victims and must now take proactive measures to defend themselves against the terror, since the established government is now incapable of providing security to its citizens. Needless to say, what I advocate here for the South-East goes also to the rest of Nigeria. Enough is enough.