Why Imo State Is On Fire

Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodimma was recently attacked by angry youths in his own state

By Collins Opurozor

There have been attacks on state institutions and law enforcement personnel across the South East lately. But it is clear that Imo State has topped the chart in the frequency, scale and audacity of the attacks, especially since the apparent cessation of hostilities between the Federal side and IPOB’s operatives in Orlu. It is therefore interesting to understand what might have gone wrong, and perhaps find a valid context to make sense of the newest mystery in town known as “Unknown Gunmen”.

Two issues are important here. First is the broader question of neo-Biafran agitations and the perceived complicity of the Igbo political elite in undermining what many Igbo youths now increasingly see as not just an achievable alternative but as the only option. The statement by the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor, upon assumption of office that, “Nnamdi Kanu is too little to talk about Biafra” was undiplomatic, uncharitable, and incendiary.

Take it to the bank: Igbo people may disagree with Nnamdi Kanu’s approach, but no single Igbo person, breastfed by an Igbo woman, can question the rationale for the agitations. Nigeria is an alien, even an alienating, idea to the Igbo, and most of them know that their aspirations are abbreviated in Nigeria simply because of their tongue.

Second is the hasty misdiagnosis of the Orlu situation by Gov Hope Uzodimma who described a fundamental issue of separatism as mere militancy and vowed to crush the militants. In one of my essays at the peak of the Orlu crisis, I did point out the deadly consequences of that misdiagnosed situation. When an ailment is wrongly diagnosed, a cure becomes improbable.

The Orlu situation was not militancy. That situation got very bad because of the dearth of leadership in Imo State. For a while, a story was everywhere that Fulani herdsmen were given a settlement in Orlu for RUGA. Till date, this has not been authoritatively confirmed. This was propagated by the hierarchy of the IPOB. Yet nobody refuted the story. The Imo State Orientation Agency is moribund under the watch of Hope Uzodimma. The Ministry of Information wasn’t even interested in the dire consequences of such misinformation. They all kept mute. Anger started building up until clashes erupted between the pastoralists and the security operatives of the IPOB. Nigerian security forces stepped into the issue and reportedly took sides with the pastoralists. The natives rose in anger, questioning the whereabouts of the security forces when they were allegedly being harassed by the pastoralists. As IPOB’s operatives engaged the Nigerian forces in battle, the rest can now be told by everyone.

In the aftermath of the Orlu battle, arrests were made. In one of his broadcasts, Nnamdi Kanu swore that what happened to his men in Obigbo, Rivers State, would never be allowed to happen in Orlu. He demanded that all those arrested in Orlu be released immediately and threatened that if Gov Hope Uzodimma should fail to immediately free them, “Imo will burn and burn”.

In response, Hope Uzodimma went to Aso Rock and, in all haughtiness, admitted that he invited the military to conduct airstrikes in Orlu, and stated his determination to deal with all those arrested.

Today, Imo is burning, and Hope Uzodimma has begun to blame his political rivals for the conflagration. Interesting! When NBS, on the strength of its Q4 2020 findings, recently designated Imo as the unemployment capital of Nigeria, Hope Uzodimma, through his Commissioner for Information, blamed the NBS for the verdict. Even the Orlu crisis was officially blamed on the opposition by the Uzodimma administration. So it is a familiar pattern for Hope Uzodimma to goof this minute and blame some ghosts the next minute.

The world over, brute force has never succeeded in crushing the question of self-determination. The history of liberation movements in Africa is a fit testimony that in the quest for freedom, death appears insignificant. Even when the British paid allowances to soldiers for killing Kenyans during the ‘Mau Mau Uprising,’ is Kenya not an independent nation today? When Carl von Clausewitz argued centuries ago that no great political question can be resolved through debates, but always through blood and fire, and therefore “war is a continuation of politics by other means,” he was certainly oblivious of the dynamic character of political issues. The world is changing and becoming freer every day.

State violence, belligerence and bellicosity cannot address the Imo State situation, or quell the quest for secession. First, there should be a general acknowledgement that Nigeria has been unfair to Ndigbo. Second, the Nigerian state should stop the culture of responding to legitimate agitations with disproportionate force and bestiality. Third, Hope Uzodimma and his colleagues, including their socio-cultural organ called Ohanaeze, must realise that their ineptitude, rudderless governance, and ruinous misrule have fueled the crisis, just as their inability to create jobs has offered any group the springs up in the region a tribe of willing tools waiting to be called up. The inferno in Imo revolves around misdiagnosed malady, which only remedy is dialogue.

Opurozor is a social-political analyst

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