Military Onslaught In South East Is Diversionary

By Ikechukwu Amaechi             

In normal climes, it will be odd for a columnist to comment on any issue this week other than the plane crash that claimed the lives of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru, and 10 other officers – and the fallouts, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s “heartless felt condolences” expressed by the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd).

But Nigeria is a study in abnormality.

Writing on Attahiru’s death, as tragic as it is (he was only 54 years and appointed Army Chief five months ago), or Buhari’s inexplicable refusal to attend the burial ceremony at the National Military Cemetery in Abuja, about 18 minutes’ drive from Aso Rock, would be tantamount to chasing rodents when one’s house is on fire.

Alaigbo is on fire and no conscientious objector can be silent on the war of attrition since Buhari approved new security measures for the South East and South South, as disclosed on May 11 by the acting Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba.

Baba has since ordered police officers to carry out extra-judicial killings in the South East.

While launching ‘Operation Restore Peace’ in Enugu on May 18, 2021, he declared: “Don’t mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violations, the report will come to my table, and you know what I will do. So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don’t wait for an order.”

That is reckless and frightening. And the order has gone into full force with the collateral damage mounting. On Monday, I received a telephone call from a friend in Owerri and the message was ominous.

“Iyke, please, I am pleading with you in the name of God, something serious is going on in Imo State and the whole world must hear about it,” my friend, a university lecturer, blurted out as soon as I picked his call. Ordinarily a sedate person, I have never seen him as exasperated and desperate. The urgency in his voice alarmed me. He narrated an encounter between him and a senior police officer of Igbo extraction a few minutes before he called.

The officer told him how policemen, in the name of hunting down Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) activists accused of killing police officers and burning down police stations, swoop on bus-stops in the early evenings, arrest youths and detain them. And without charging anyone to court, every night, about 10 are taken out to be summarily executed.

“What is going on here is genocide and the whole world needs to know about it. Please, use your voice. Don’t be silent,” my friend pleaded. I have always worried that the worsening security situation in the South East will boil down to this. Any attack on security infrastructure in the South East, and, indeed, anywhere else is condemnable. Killing of policemen is an egregious act that must be punished in accordance with the laws of the land.

But every well-meaning Nigerian must be horrified by the Federal Government’s hardly disguised desire to turn the South East into a war zone rather than seek for its peace, stability and development.

The only reason why the Nigerian state will declare war against Ndigbo, which is what Baba’s murderous mandate to officers amounts to, is because some people in government, especially Buhari, view the old Eastern Region from the prism of a conquered territory under occupation since the end of the civil war in 1970. People in occupied territories ought not to be seen, not to talk of being heard. But trust Ndigbo, they must be seen and heard no-matter their circumstance. They cannot be caged unless they decide out of their own volition to be silent. That is one lesson Buhari is yet to learn. Pity!

But, is it not possible that IPOB may not be the culprits in these attacks against police in the South East and South South?

Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, has no sympathy for IPOB, neither do they have for him. The hatred is mutual. But this week, his Chief Press Secretary, Oguwike Nwachuku, issued a statement, reported by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), saying that no fewer than 400 people who carried out recent attacks in Imo have been arrested and charged to court.

“The good thing,” Nwachuku said, “is that over 70 per cent of them are not Igbo.” So, what does that say about the crisis in the region? Since there are no Hausa, Fulani or Yoruba members of IPOB, does that not suggest that Igbo youths may not be behind the violence in the region?

Could there be fifth columnists and agent-provocateurs? Shouldn’t the government be interested in Uzodimma’s disclosure rather than levying war on an otherwise peaceful region? The problem is that when it comes to dealing with the Igbo, Buhari’s deep animosity tears down the ramparts of rationality, which explains why the hawks in Abuja are right now baying for the blood, to borrow a French idiom, of their bête noire – Ndigbo.

But one thing is certain, if the shoot-at-sight order is to arm-twist Ndigbo into surrendering their ancestral lands to Fulani herdsmen, it will fail.

As Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State, pointedly told Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, on Tuesday, “no inch of the space delineated and known, currently, as South West, and indeed the whole South, will be ceded to a band of invaders masquerading as herdsmen under any guise.” This is one battle Buhari cannot win. He will lose in the South, just as the plot will surely meet its waterloo in the North Central.

In case Buhari does not know, of the over 70 million Igbo living at home and in the Diaspora, every one of them, including those in his cabinet, is a Biafran.

But there are two groups of Biafrans right now. There is a vocal, fanatical minority led by the likes of Nnamdi Kanu that subscribes to a territorial Biafra; and there is a silent majority that subscribes to what Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu referred to, in his twilight, as the ‘Biafra of the mind.’

Ojukwu’s Biafra of the mind is a metaphor for justice, equity and fair play. While not pursuing territorial space as it was the case in the late 1960s, Biafra of the mind is a clarion call on Ndigbo and, indeed, all oppressed Nigerians to stand up against repression, tyranny and cruelty.

Biafrans in the second category are willing to live in Nigeria as Nigerians and contribute to building and nursing it to prosperity. But they will only do that as freeborn. Nothing suggests that even those in the first category may not drop their demand for a territorial Biafra and join hands in building Nigeria. After all, it is the lack of justice that is spurring the rebellion.

But nothing also says that those currently in the second category may not be forced into Nnamdi Kanu’s column. Sadly, Buhari is doing everything possible to achieve this particular result with dire consequences. A Nigeria that will get the buy-in of ‘Biafrans of the mind’ cannot be one where an Igbo pupil who scores 150 in a Common Entrance Examination into Unity Colleges is denied admission but a Northern pupil who scores 25 is chosen based on ethnicity or religion. No!

That Nigeria must not be one where an Igbo must change his state of origin, religion or adopt a strange surname to stand a fair chance of being employed in a federal parastatal or secure a government contract. That country must be one where competence trumps nepotism, the signature tune of the Buhari presidency, in determining who gets what. Sadly, the absence of equity, justice and fair play makes the argument for the ‘Biafra of the mind’ rather tenuous.

And guess what? Buhari is the most effective promoter of the quest for territorial Biafra. He is Nnamdi Kanu’s biggest enabler. Buhari’s single-minded pursuit of Fulani supremacist agenda is IPOB’s most effective membership recruitment tool. A Buhari that believes it is illegal for Southern governors to call for an end to open grazing but sees nothing wrong in Sharia police, Hisbah, confiscating and destroying 8,400 bottles of beer in Kano, cannot be part of the solution to Nigeria’s current woes.

On Tuesday, the Commander-General of Kano State Hisbah Board, Dr. Harun Ibn-Sina, said he confiscated 8,400 bottles of beer in Dawakin Kudu and Kura LGAs because “Hisbah Board has prohibited the sale of beer in the state to avoid being intoxicated.” To rub in the insult, he said the “suspects” would be charged to court once investigation was concluded.

Yet, Kano with 44 local governments gets the lion’s share of revenue from Value Added Tax (VAT) which Abuja collects from all states. That is the crux of the matter and why agitation for dismemberment of the country may not abate soonest.

A brutal war of attrition in the South East is not a solution. It is a mere distraction from the crisis of legitimacy that Nigeria faces under Buhari’s watch.

Amaechi, a highly respected media practitioner and the Publisher of TheNiche newspapers first published this article on Thursday May 26, 2021

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