Columns

June 16, 2024

Killing of soldiers in Aba: Matters Arising, by Obi Nwakanma

Killing of soldiers in Aba: Matters Arising, by Obi Nwakanma

Obi Nwakanma

Two weeks ago, armed attackers stormed Aba, and at the Obikabia military checkpoint on the outskirts of the city, shot and killed two soldiers. It was a very unfortunate and dastardly act by these very cruel, heartless and rampaging gunmen who targeted armed soldiers, and have been making the South- East of Nigeria a terrible jungle of contemporary Necropolitics. These killer gunmen must be ferreted out and served their just dessert. But the reaction both by the military authorities, and by the president of Nigeria left bile in many mouths.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu issued orders to security agencies to lay siege and not only apprehend the killers of soldiers of the Nigerian Armed Forces, but also those calling for a “sit-at- home.” The Nigerian Armed Forces, he said, was capable of coming down heavily and crushing “non-state actors” making our communities unsafe. It is heartening to know that the Federal Government and our Armed Forces can crush these non- state actors making our communities unsafe, restless and increasingly unhabitable and insecure.

But why have they not done this? As we speak, half of Niger State is under occupation by an external force – Boko Haram- and other affiliates of ISIS in West Africa. Zamfara and Katsina are now practically governed by non-state actors. Still, the Nigerian Armed Forces have been unable to dislodge them. The Middle Belt of Nigeria has been under siege, and the Nigerian Armed Forces have been on the sideline. Why have they been unable to dislodge these “non-state actors?” 

Now, coming to the South-East, the primary target of the President’s orders, was IPOB which he called a “terrorist organization.” Excuse me, sir! IPOB is not a terrorist organization. It has frequently denied any hands in the killings taking place in the South-East. At every point, IPOB has rejected any acts of violence. It has insisted that its preferred method of engagement is the “peaceful method,” or the “non-violent method.” That is why it routinely calls for the symbolic action of sitting at home to mark the Igbo Day of Memory. To all Igbo, May 30 has become akin to our own Passover.

It is the day we Igbo remember the Igbo killed in the pogrom and the push for Igbo Liberation from a diseased and wicked nation. It has also become the Igbo Day of Reconciliation with the Spirit of the Land and with the Igbo neighbors. The Igbo just withdrew from all civic life on May 30, to sit at home and mourn is the most peaceful and most non- violent of all acts, in spite of the Nigerian governments consistent attempts to criminalize it. It has become muscle memory to Easterners. It no longer requires IPOB to ask them to stay at home on May 30. Every year, they just do it without prompting.

The symbolic power of this singular act startled Mr. Buhari, the former incompetent and failed President of Nigeria, that he decided to militarize the East, just to contain it. But many Igbo organizations using their own strategic capacity to gather and process intelligence now know that what is happening in the South-East is state sponsored terrorism. That is why the Governor of Abia State, after due diligence, and with strategic information made available to him, publicly declared that those who killed the soldiers in Aba came from outside the state. That fact needs to be taken into consideration.

But this is where President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has overplayed his own hands: his orders issued to the security agencies was not to apprehend those who have killed Nigerian soldiers. No, not at all. It was premeditated orders to apprehend, and kill members of IPOB, whom he called “a terrorist organization.” It is not my remit to speak for IPOB, because I disagree with it fundamentally on certain ideological questions regarding Nigeria, and the idea of Biafra that they pursue. But having said that, it is the call for justice to absolve them of crimes they did not commit. The Federal Government needs to bring sufficient proof of IPOB’s terrorism. It just does not do, to merely declare them terrorists. It is about time that Nigerians began to hold the President of Nigeria seriously responsible for the insecurity in Nigeria.

The IPOB has denied the Aba killings. So, what is the basis of Mr. Tinubu’s orders to kill members of IPOB? Reports last week indicate that Nigerian soldiers have laid a siege on Aba – a city only just recovering its groove under Mr. Alex Otti. The talk on the streets in the East is that Mr. Tinubu is continuing where Buhari stopped in his siege on the East. Until Buhari laid a siege on it, using some of his mercenaries from the South- East, it was the most peaceful, and most viable region of Nigeria. People in the East are now saying that President Tinubu, in his orders to the soldiers, is following the footsteps of the last president to lay siege on the East in order to suppress its growth. People are raising these fundamental questions: What are Nigerian soldiers doing on civvy streets in the East?

President Bola Tinubu says they are on a “peace mission.” But it is an unconstitutional deployment. The Nigerian constitution forbids the deployment of the Nigerian Armed Forces to any domestic spaces unless they obtain the authority of the National Assembly under the Emergency Act. Tinubu did not obtain such an authority from the National Assembly before deploying the Nigerian Armed forces on a so-called “peace mission” within Nigeria. There is no state of war in Abia state. There is no emergency requiring the provocative deployment of Nigerian Armed Forces on the streets of Aba.

It is a provocative deployment because it is calculated to harass and intimidate Easterners for not voting for him. Nothing else explains the military and police roadblocks in the Southeast. But it is an impeachable offence to misuse the power of the president. The National Assembly must now investigate this overreach of the president and usurpation of the power of the National Assembly. The only agency constitutionally empowered under the Police Act, to police and secure Nigeria domestically is the Nigerian Police Service. They have the power to anticipate crime,

investigate, arrest, and detain suspects, and bring whoever commits federal crimes to the courts, under the prosecutorial orders of the Ministry of Justice and office of the Attorney General. In fact, the Nigerian constitution gives power for police formations to be mustered into an Armed Force in the event of war and national emergencies. It does not give the military police powers. Only the authority to assist the Nigeria Police to maintain domestic order during emergencies. Even so, that power must be sought by the president and granted by the National Assembly.

That is the rule of law, and the constitutional principle which the president swore to defend and protect. The power of the Armed Forces is to defend Nigeria from external attacks like the current attacks by Boko Haram and its West African affiliates, who have literally taken over the North, in places like Zamfara, Niger, and Plateau, and whose ploy is to seize Nigeria, dismantle its constitution, and subdue it to the Sharia. These foreign, armed militias are basically circling and forming a ring on Nigeria’s federal capital at Abuja. But Tinubu has not issued orders to dislodge them with fierce and intolerant brutality. Those are the real threats to Nigeria against whom the Nigerian Armed Forces should deploy, forcefully.

Tinubu’s administration should dislodge these foreign militias and not send Nigerian soldiers to kill or intimidate mostly unarmed civilians in Aba. And why must the Federal Government always deal with the civilian population of the East differently? No one laid a siege to Kaduna, when the Nigerian Defence Academy was attacked, and soldiers killed. The situation in the Southeast, at best, is a police issue. It is the job of the Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) of the Nigeria Police to commence a widespread investigation of the killings of these soldiers, widen their dragnets, and arrest the perpetrators. But there are also the lingering questions: Why were these soldiers deployed to a checkpoint in a region not at war in the first place? Why?

Secondly, how did these killers escape? It is strange that with over 15 police and military checkpoints between Obikabia and the boundaries with Rivers State, the killers of the Nigerian soldiers slipped through and disappeared within minutes, and without trace. This raises important questions. At the very least, it suggests that the killers had high tactical support which only the police and the Armed Forces can provide in Nigeria. The manufacturing of conflict, and militarization of the East was a ploy of the last president to “teach the dot a lesson.”

But the lesson Mr. Tinubu must learn is that the Igbo survived Buhari. The South- East is a massively endowed region of Nigeria, with a vast pool of skills and talents; a vigorous and dynamic people, who possibly constitute Nigeria’s largest tax-base, given right incentives. Such people are blessings to other nations. But not in Nigeria. The Igbo are nation-builders, who hold the key to the Nigerian renaissance. There is nothing anyone can do about it. Mr. Tinubu’s strategic obligation is to heal Nigeria, not to continue to drive a wedge between its people, or continue to make the Southeast the permanent adversary, and victim of the Federal Government.

This is a fact which Mr. Edwin Clark has, only just last week, also reminded Mr. Tinubu, and which he needs to bear in mind. He must withdraw his orders for the soldiers to target IPOB. Should his administration wish to succeed where Buhari failed, he must rethink his national security policy: reorganize the security services, re-equip, retrain, reorient, recruit the highest quality of personnel, and redeploy them appropriately, and, above all, initiate a strategic peace move with the South-East.