REV. FR. TIMOTHY ETSENAMHE
The stories of wanton destruction of life and property making the rounds in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria leave nothing to be desired. To state that this region is unsafe is to state the obvious. Life and property are not safe; government’s correctional facilities are attacked and destroyed with the slightest provocation. The brewing crisis in the south-East if not nipped in the bud many fear the situation would snowball into a state of anarchy in no distant time.
The people who live in this area no doubt have been marginalized for a long time occasioned by the distrust the Nigeria Civil War heaved on them. Though General Yakubu Gowon instituted the 3Rs – rehabilitation, reconstruction and reintegration to cushion the effects of the war on the Biafrans, many believed these policies never saw the light of the day as the Igbos were left to fend for themselves. And ever since then it appears they have been somewhat sidelined and prejudiced. This feeling has inspired in an average South Easterner the mindset of being ostracized.
Although ubiquitous to Nigeria, the South-East appears to be adversely ruffled by dearth of infrastructure that are in most cases in doldrums. Some of the road networks in the eastern part of Nigeria are deplorable and are adjudged worst off compared to any other parts of the country. Though a large part of this region harbors bolstering economic and commercial hive there seems to be government neglect. What is common in this part of Nigeria is seeing philanthropists providing some social amenities for those around them. One would ask if the federal government turns it back on this people what is the effort of the South-Easterner governors in ameliorating the plight of her peoples in their various states?
The eastern part of Nigeria has also been hit greatly by the dastardly onslaught of heinous herdsmen whose aim, it seems, is to plunder not only the eco-system but also human beings. The Igbo people have, and are still bearing the brunt of the rascality and impunity of these terrorists. From Abia to Imo, from Anambra to Enugu and Ebonyi, the marauding herders have beaten and battered; they have left indelible marks. We remember how communities like Ozuitem in Bende Area, Ndi Okereke Abam in Arochukwu Council, Abia, were invaded and attacked; we remember the massacre in mid – 2019, in the West Council of Anambra State, where farmers were attacked in their settlement and their farm houses were set ablaze. The men were killed and women, maimed and rapped.
Umuawa – Ibu community in Okigwe Council of Imo State is not spared. In Agbani-Ugbawka Road in Nkanu East Council, Enugu, they robbed and kidnapped about three women. In the town these terrorists did the unimaginable when they butchered an entire family and a Catholic Major Seminarian on apostolic work. Ebonyi and Imo states are not sacred cows in this scourge. They have enormously shared in this bizarre trademark of the killer herders. The massacre at Oguta, like Agatu, was horrific and same goes for Ohaji-Egbemo and Orlu. In all of these havocs, the Nigerian government has never brought anyone to book. Often time these scenarios were politicized and tribal connections jostled over national unity.
These may likely have awaken the residual interest of the average Igbo man in establishing an independent government in Biafra. The indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) founded by the now detained Nnamdi Kanu has now become a systematic and active movement to beat the drums of separation. Since the inception of the current government the activities of the secessionists have gotten to a thunderous degree which to a large extent has discomforted the Buhari led administration. This was why perhaps in 2017 this group was proscribed as a terrorist group and on a national broadcast the President referred to this group and members of the region as a ‘dot,’ appearing to treat their agitation with a wave of the hand.
IPOB with its paramilitary arm- the Eastern Security Network (ESN) cannot be treated with kids’ gloves. Recently this group orchestrated a grand attack in a bid to rid the Fulani herders from their region. Daily Post of January 28, 2021 reveals how the Nigeria army was deployed by the Federal Government to quench the flame of their anger by locating and dismantling the base of ESN in Orlu, Imo state. This turned into a gun duel and it endured for about seven days until ESN declared a unilateral ceasefire and both sides withdrew from the city.’’
Ever since then IPOB continues to press for defulanization of its environment and has pressed the eastern governors to enact the anti -open grazing laws, the rejection of President Mohammadu Buhari as their president, raiding of a Fulani camp in Isuikwuato, Abia state, killing their livestock and burning down their houses. They accuse the Nigerian Army of harassment and intimidation of civilians. It is recorded that the Nigerian Army on the 18th of February 2021 launched an airstrike in Orlu. These altercations between the ESN and the Nigerian forces have created a kind of fear in the south eastern part of Nigeria that has made the place unenviable in recent time.
Today the term unknown gunmen is a common parlance in Nigeria. No one knows the identity of these unknown gunmen. The best we could do is to be at the level of suspicion as to who they are. Early this year, it was heard across all the news outlets how unknown gunmen smeared the lives of about 20 security personnel, including the destruction of three police stations. Often we hear of how the Nigerian forces go in search of these unknown men and how IPOB and ESN members are accused, arrested and killed. People are now being killed as if they were chickens being slaughtered for lovers of ‘suya’. Human life has been devalued in Nigeria, and it is externalized brazenly these days in some areas in the South- East. The sting of death seems to be too frequent in this region. The gruesome murder of Dora Akunyili’s husband, Dr. Chike Akunyili, in broad day light and the killing of poor innocent Nigerians in the East remain a harrowing ordeal.
One cannot but condemn out rightly the destruction of government correctional facilities and Private property that are now common occurrence in this part of the country today. The rate of arson is on the increase. The recent destruction of Joe Igbokwe’s country home by unknown individuals captures in totality how badly life has turned out to be in this area. Those who are the perpetuators to a large extent are bent on making the South- East turn into war zone. Little wonder then the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, opined recently that Anambra should be zeroed and declared a state of emergency. All hands must be on the deck to stop the incessant killing, arson and wasting of public and private patrimonies belonging to this region
The ‘Sit at Home’ is another new abnormal reality today in the East. This order is pointless and impoverishing. The enforcers and those who adhere to it contribute to the problems and pains in the South- East. The government of Mohammadu Buhari will not be cowed into granting the leader of IPOB freedom because of the Monday compulsory ‘sit at home’ near total compliance. The wheelbarrow pushers, keke napep drivers, provision sellers, ‘mama put’ owners, mechanics and other menial workers will eventually suffer the effect of this public holiday imposed by some elements who live and work abroad, who do not play with their Mondays. Millions of naira are lost every week because of ‘sit at home’ order. The rate of poverty and frustration is on the increase. Life is becoming terrible and miserable, people in their early ages are dying of high blood pleasure and depression in this region. This order might just be fruitless to the struggle for Biafra.
The Eastern people have a right to secede but they must go about their move for secession the right and civil way. They have the power to decide who govern them in their various states, so rather than boycott elections and sit at home they should use the ballot to elect credible individuals who would at least make life bearable. The part of dialogue is very paramount in achieving lasting peace. The Igbo elite should engage the government in honest dialogue to chart a better path for her people. However this appears to be impossible because it is largely believed that the Igbo people do not have a united agenda. For example while some governors in this region are signing the anti-open grazing Bill into law others have rejected it on flimsy favoritism basis. Perhaps there are too many opposing voices and each looking for what to gain.
The government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has a major role to play. It should not allow IPOB turn into Boko Haram. It is not enough to proscribe the movement as a terrorist group. The government should listen to this people and should make the effort of coming to terms with some of their demands. The presidency must be careful in spiting and raising the anger of the region. The federal government should engage these people. They should not be treated as if they are not a serious group who should be clamped down upon. It is in the interest of every Nigeria that the country is united. Nigeria will be great if we are able to harness our rich ethno-cultural and religious differences.