Of all the comments and write-ups I have read since the senseless massacre of some Igbo youths in Enugu on Sunday, August 23, none has struck me as the one by Aloy Ejimakor, titled, ‘Enugu Massacre: Forget IPOB, they are Ndigbo’.
Ejimakor is a lawyer and personal counsel to Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB). But he did not write as somebody with any relationship with Kanu. He wrote as an Igbo, concerned and rattled at the volume of violence visited on his kinsmen by the security agents. “Whoever takes the life of an IPOB member is taking the life of an Igbo and therefore will ultimately account to Ndigbo. It’s not a threat; it’s a fact”, is one of the remarkable points he made in the write up.
He goes ahead to describe an IPOB member as simply ‘any Eastern Nigerian (especially the Igbo) who will rather have Biafra than a Nigeria that eats her children, especially her Igbo children’. You will need to appreciate the depth of this definition, to understand the force behind the agitation and actions of the youths from the East. Let me make this point from the outset – I am a believer in a fair and equitable Nigeria.
Various accounts have been rendered on issues leading up to the Enugu mayhem. I agree with the Ohanaeze President, Nnia Nwodo, on the need to get to the root cause of the matter. One thing that however cannot be overlooked in the Enugu shooting is that it was human lives that were wasted; it was the blood of Nigerians that was shed. By that singular act, Nigeria as a nation, has been further diminished.
Some have described the Enugu incident as one killing too many. They are correct. Since August 2015 when the Nigerian security operatives began to turn their guns against the youths from the East, more than 150 souls have been wasted. In 2017, a global organisation, Amnesty International, managed to put a figure to those felled in some of the encounters between the youths and the soldiers. The report was based on analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and 146 eye witness testimonies, all revealing soldiers firing live ammunition to disperse unarmed youths on street protests.
A chilling aspect of the report was on how, at least 60 protesters were shot dead within two days leading to the Biafra Remembrance Day of May 29, 2016. It also captured the gory incidence of massacre of youths in Aba, Abia State, earlier in February.
There is no doubt that some may not agree with the agenda of the youths, either of IPOB or any other platform. Some may also disagree with their strategies or context of their agitation. But none can sincerely accuse them of employing violence in going about their mission.
The failure of understanding these harmless Igbo youths and hence the regular mobilisation of maximum force against them, rather, has to do with the “us and them” disposition of the Nigerian leadership on issues confronting that part of the country.
It is this terrible mindset that has blinded the authorities of the Nigerian state on the reasons behind the agitations. At the heart of the issue, is a question of injustice and inequity. Since the end of the Civil War in 1970, the South East, in particular, has been on the receiving end of marginalisation from successive administrations in the land. Aside near absence of federal infrastructure in the area, appointment of indigenes of the zone into offices, has not been commensurate with their counterparts from other parts of the country.
Previous administrations had in going about the nauseating trend, applied some diplomacy. But none had been as audacious and ferocious in manifesting this running animosity towards the people as the current Muhammadu Buhari government. In words and deeds, the President and his government have put up demonstrations that sell the impression that there could be an axe to grind with the people.
The youths from the region, are not blind to these unfriendly dispositions. Thus, convinced that they are not wanted in the Nigeria Project, the dream of an independent state of Biafra where their future could be secured, offers irresistible attraction. Of course, the idea may be utopian, as some have said. There are some who even insist that the geography and circumstances of the 1967 – 1970 Biafra, no longer exist, to warrant the agenda. Some also argue that a new template in seeking autonomy from an existing entity, has overtaken the traditional approach of ‘nzogbu – nzogbu’ street protest. These are arguments that have their strengths and weaknesses. All however border on the strategies adopted by the youths and not the justness of their demand.
What is therefore needed in getting around the issue is dialogue, particularly given that the strong arm tactics adopted by the government in forcing the boys to drop their agenda, have not yielded any positive results.
The danger in the regular deployment of maximum force against the youths, is that it may, over time, get them toughened to the point of welcoming death as manifestation of fidelity to their cause and heroic escape from internal servitude. This could be quite fatalistic. But perhaps more than that, the tendency of the Nigerian government at readily unleashing mayhem at its people, is clearly against the tide of contemporary international relations where the principles of consultation and compromise hold sway.
It particularly sounds awkward that while the government deploys men and resources to woo murderous Boko Haram terrorists and other criminal elements in the North for a dialogue and has been serially duped in the process, it derives pleasure in its security operatives mowing unarmed youths in the East. This regular senseless ejaculation of might by the government against a particular section of the country, cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged.
It is, thus, high time the leadership of the Igbo, took up this matter of gross human rights violation and outright genocide with appropriate international organisations, since it has become clear that there are no avenues for getting justice for the people within the context of present Nigerian state. Ohanaeze leadership cannot wait indefinitely to get to the root of the August 23 killings before taking up the matter with appropriate local and international authorities.
Whether we agree or not, in the continuous harassment of the Igbo youths, Nigeria remains scandalized in the eyes of civilized nations. In the genocidal actions against them for merely expressing their rights to association, this country continues to go down in essence and substance.
And by that bizarre action, the Buhari administration continues to widen the gulf of mistrust between it and the people from that part of the country.