By Collins Ughalaa
Security experts and social commentators from across the country have opined that the escalation of the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency that crippled the North East part of Nigeria was because of the mishandling of the group in its formative stage by the Federal Government. The overzealousness with which security officials mishandled the leader of the group, Yusuf, left much to be desired.
It has also been said severally that Boko Haram was an avoidable issue, but because of the way it was handled, only the Nigeria/Biafra war of 1967-1970 is the insurrection that has consumed the quantum of human and financial resources like Boko Haram. Despite the success recorded by the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram the war is still ongoing and lives are still being lost in the North East. And I know that the Federal Government will never agree to make public the financial and other material costs of the Boko Haram war in the North East. This means that similar occurences should have been handled with greater care by the Nigerian government.
One had thought that the Federal Government would have learnt a thing or two from the Boko Haram episode and applied the lessons in handling similar situations, but we are dead wrong. We must never forget in a hurry that the greatest trap set for the Nigerian State under President Obasanjo was the Sharia Law in the North. He smartly avoided this trap and it fizzled away, like he predicted.
In this regard, it is not good that the Federal Government chose to use military force on the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) instead of using the police in handling such situations, until such a time when the police is overwhelmed. The IPOB case would not have even overwhelmed the police, because it is not an armed organization.
I have taken my time to read the address of Mr. President at 72nd United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, over and over again and I am still in shock. This is because in the face all the security challenges in the country, to the point of deploying the Army, the President of Nigeria did not speak as the President of any country in the committy of nations, but he spoke as the leader of Africa. While he spoke on regional issues the President of the U.S. and the Israeli Prime Minister spoke glowingly of their countries. No President stands on the world stage only to fail to canvass the interests of his nation. But that is the nature and character of our decision makers. No wonder they mishandle situations back home.
Despite the failure of Mr. President at the grandest stage of them all, the UNGA, the argument that the military action in the South East was as a reault any hatred of the Igbo should be jettisoned. By the way Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB were going, many people knew he was going on a dangerous lane. Many Igbo people agree that marginalization is real in the Southeast, but they also fault the methodology Kanu brought to the Biafra question. Therefore, while we consider the methodology of the IPOB as not good, we must not lose sight of the fact that the long years of marginalization of the Igbo nation gave birth to whatever Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB are agitating for. It is for the sake of the wrongful application of methodology by Kanu’s IPOB that many have argued that had the IPOB been in the hands of a different person situations may have been different in the Southeast. Because of the faulty methods applied, it was not long that Biafra agitation went out of Kanu’s hand.
Not a few people believe that the idea of calling for the boycott of the November 18 Anambra State governorship election was wrong and an effrontery to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. IPOB and Nnamdi Knau began to lose the respect they had among the Igbo people when they called for election boycott in Anambra State, an order that jolted the Igbo nation. To the Igbo nation, the election boycott order was like cutting your nose to spite your face. And this particlular order pushed out the Ohaneze Ndigbo to voice out its first ever criticism of the IPOB, with a visit to the Anambra State House of Assembly.
What was Kanu thinking when he called for the election boycott and at the same time called for a referendum on Biafra? Doing this was a serious indication that either he has lost track or he did not know what he was doing. That is why many people have asked the question: What does Nnamdi Kanu want? The reason is that referendum does not fall from the heaven. It is still the same government Kanu described as zoo that would conduct the referendum. He would still need the the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC’s) Voters’ Register to conduct the referendum, and it is only eligible voters on the voter’s list that would be eligible to vote in a referendum on Biafra. If Kanu knew this, why did he call for election boycott and discourage people from registering to vote?
This is not the first time Ndigbo would be called upon for a boycott. If the Igbo people and Nigerians are good students of history we would know that the Igbo nation cannot say for sure what their population is. The reason is that in 2006 the Movement for Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) under Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, gave order that the Igbo people should boycott the national population census exercise. Though that order was not complied with 100%, millions of people across the Igbo nation were not captured. Today we are still suffering from the outcome of that population census exercise.
But sadly, eleven years after, MASSOB, the same group fighting for the independent State of Biafra with IPOB, regretted its population census boycott order. On February 24, 2017, Vanguard reported that MASSOB said “that it would support the 2018 national census, regretting what happened in 2006 when MASSOB prevailed on the people to boycott the exercise, which led to the low turnout in all Igbo speaking states”.
Mr. Uchenna Madu, the spokesman of the group, who was rather unapologetic, gave reasons for the census boycott order in 2006, saying that “it was unfortunate that Ndigbo misunderstood [their] position during the 2006 national census, adding, however, that MASSOB used the then action to showcase its strength, popularity and acceptance in Igbo land”.
Underscoring the implications of their baseless decision in 2006, he added: “Though the low turnout of the South East during the last census has been used by our enemies and Nigerian government to undermine and shortchange Ndigbo in Nigeria, it was part of our sacrifice for Biafra”.
Mr. Madu’s position is not different from what the founder of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, said in relation to their regret for the national census boycott order in 2006. In a recent interview published by The Oracle Today newspaper, Chief Uwazuruike regretted the 2006 national census boycott order. He said the order was in response to the activities of the governors of the southeast.
In both statements of regret from Mr Madu and Chief Uwazuruike, it is evident that the 2006 national census boycott order was based on no reasonable grounds other than emotion and ego. You would see that we were sacrificed on the alter of MASSOB fighting the the leaders of the South East, instead of the fight for Biafra.
Perhaps this could show why millions of Ndigbo would not hug any such order from any group when it touches on very sensitive issues such as election and national census. Ndigbo may obey you when you ask them to sit at home in honour of their people who died in the civil war but had got no decent burial yet, but no more could any group, no matter how well intended, expect that Ndigbo would obey any baseless boycott orders, especially on election.
You don’t have to put your future in the hands of anybody who is not even sure of himself. What is the guarantee that the IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu would not regret the Anambra State election boycott order in the next 10 years!
Those who know how freedom is fought all over the world would continue to have issues with the IPOB and Kanu, because all over the world freedom is got either by dialogue or war. As a person, I don’t subscribe to war or any form of violence. But we know that in South Africa, Nelson Mandela obeyed his meetings ban by the government until it elapsed. He did not retaliate in the midst of any provocation. On one ocassion when the police attempted to arrest him for violating his meeting ban, he took his time to explain to the police that his ban had eleapsed. And in the case of Mandela, a lawyer, he was banned from seeing not more than one person, and from attending meetings. In the U.S., Martin Luther King Jnr never retaliated any attack on him. Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi never retaliated any British provocation. But it was Kanu who admitted that he was having his siester when the Army was passing and his boys stopped them.
Contrary to Mandela who was banned from seeing not more than one person, for Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, his bail condition was that he would see not more than 10 persons. But once he left the walls of the prison he threw to the mud the integrity of all those who stood suretee to him. He did not even consider that his fellow freedom fighters were still in detention, he went on flagrantly flouting his bail cinditions. In all his actions Kanu never took to mind the fact that many Igbo youths were suffering detention, many dead and some hospitalised because if his approach to the Biafra question.
Apart from violating his bail conditions, Kanu overshot himself when he set up the Biafra Security Service (BSS), the Biafra National Guard (BNG), and when he started to take salutes. These are actions left for sovereigns.
While Kanu was violating his bail conditions, the Biafra Zionist Movement in August 2017 announced the Interim Biafra Government and appointed its ministers without having the courtesy of discussion with anyone. Is that how freedom is got? It was the wrong steps of the IPOB that forced down the hands of the Federal Government. If Nnamdi Kanu could not respect constituted authority, I wonder the kind of leadership he would bring to Biafra.
Ndigbo must now agree that the three attempts to get the independent state of Biafra, from Ojukwu to Uwazuruike and Kanu, have not worked. We must also applaud the five governors of the Southeast who, despite having different political leanings came together in Enugu State and took over-reaching decisions to stop the killing that was going on on our land. Igbo people are independent minded people and republicans, but we still have issues of unity. Our republican nature has helped us in business but not in politics. Therefore, that the governors gathered in Enugu and took measures to protect the life of their people is most commendable. This is not the time to start talking about the rightness or wrongness of their decision, because the decison was taken to protect our lives, when it was very obvious that the governors were helpless in the situation because Federal forces were involved.
It is rather unfortunate that the five governors are lampooned for the good decision they took to avoid turning our enclave into a theatre of war, without sparing a thought as to why Ohaneze Ndigbo backed the decision of the governors. For Ohaneze Ndigbo to support the decision of the governors meant that the apex Igbo body brought the icing on the cake. In Yorubaland where I grew up, no Yoruba man would condemn a decision taken by the six governors in the regeon with the backing of Afenifere. It is unheard of. But in Igbo land, we would not listen to anybody because of our republican nature, not even the highest elected officer from the zone, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, would get out ears. This is bad for Igbo advancement.
It is not reasonable to expect the governors and other leaders to divulge all the details of why they took the decison they took for our good. With my limited knowledge of governance, security information is never shared with every citizen. Not even America, the leader of the Free World, can do it. That is why you would see public officials avoid some subtle questions in the name of security information. But back here, we expect our leaders to tell us all they know. I am therefore, convinced that the governors of the Southeast are in the best position to know what many people do not know about the security situation in the land.
If Nnamdi Kanu was the President of Biafra, would he divulge all the security information at his disposal? If the citizens know half of what their leaders know about the security situation in rhe land there would be anarchy. This is the reason both military and civilian governments protect security information jealously.
It is high time Ndigbo began to rethink more carefully about IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu, because if Biafra comes tomorrow it is going to be a sovereign nation, and it would have relationships with other sovereignties based on internationally accepted rules and best practices. If their continued attack on constituted authority is their best known way to demand for freedom, then they should expect that the authorities would react.
Anyone who wants to be honest will know that the decision of the governors quickly arrested the situation and saved lives. No one knows how many more people would have died if they did not take the decision they took. Calm has returned and the reality of the situation seems to have sunk well with the IPOB members who have since deserted the streets. In Owerri, Imo State, those who sell Biafra insignia and the crowd that gather at newspapers vendors’ tables to argue about Biafra have disappeared. No one wears the Biafra colours anymore in the streets of Owerri. The Biafra flag have disappeared from the streets. The keke operators who decorated their keke with Biafra insignia have since removed them. These disappearances are very loud and significant. Thanks to tbe governors.
Part of what Ndigbo should do now is to look beyond the politicians who are keen to making political meat from the IPOB matter ahead of 2019 presidential election. Dr Bukola Saraki is the Senate President. He has joined other Nigerians to declare as illegal the proscription of IPOB by the five governors of the Southeast, and the declaration that IPOB is a terrorist organization by the Army.
It is worriome to me why Saraki would want the Igbo people to see him as their hero. As Senate President, why can’t he use the powers of his office to ask the Army to leave the Southeast? However, as former Governor, could Saraki have allowed anything like IPOB in his state? Knowing the powers of a governor, I expected Saraki to comment differently and with more honesty as the number three citizen and former governor.
Saraki’s comment that “the announcement of the proscription of the group known as Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) by governors of the South East states and the categorisation of the group as a ‘terrorist organisation’ by the Nigerian military are unconstitutional and does not follow due process” is at best political and should not be attached any serious consequence. Otherwise he should ensure that the Senate declassifies IPOB as a terrorist organization. That way, we would know he is serious. If he cannot get this done, his comment is just like every other opinion on this issue, which does not, of course, outweigh that of his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, who also wears the shoe.
Ndigbo are not all in support of IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu. Therefore, I join other well meaning Igbo sons and daughters to urge Mr. President to behave like a father and see us as his children. It is said in Igbo land that when a father beats his child with the right hand he brings him back with the left. Therefore, Mr. President should withdraw the military from the Southeast and initiate the process of identifying the causes of the agitation in the Southeast and address them.
The five governors of the Southeast should also be more alive to their duties. The quality of leadership posted in the Southeast leaves much to be desired. If the governors provide good leadership in the Southeast, I do not think that the cry of marginalization will last longer in the ears of the Igbo man.