IPOB, the Nigerian Army, and the Nigerian Government: Things I wish I could tell all sides

Thursday, September 21, 2017

 Image result for ipob

I have not witnessed war.

(Thankfully)

I have only heard first-hand harrowing accounts, and watched equally traumatic depictions.

In my lifetime, I think I may have come close to witnessing war twice. The first was 1993, with the annulment of what is still considered the freest & fairest elections Nigeria has ever had.

Tensions were so high, that a lot of us children living in the Western-Nigerian region would freshly recall being suddenly whisked away right in the middle of classes to the airports by fearful parents and loaded into overflowing lorries, in a bid to ‘flee’ impending hostilities.

The second time I think I have come close to witnessing war was last week.

On the one hand was the Nigerian Government – represented by its Army – rolling in tankers of militia into the Eastern Region of Nigeria, exciting the already excitable members of the separatist movement, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), invading private homes in search of the self-pronounced leader of IPOB, exerting show of force via its “Operation Python Dance”, calculated to forcibly quell protests in the region; and the pictures/videos which garnered international outcry, of captured members of IPOB, being forced to lay in mud/muddied waters and drink same, while being beaten.

On the other hand were members of IPOB – occupying the streets of some towns in the Eastern region of Nigeria in furtherance of their stated desire for a sovereign State of Biafra; refusing to back-down for the security forces; brazenly clashing with the security forces, with sticks, stones, and bare-hands; (allegedly) stopping-and-searching moving vehicles for citizens of other regions, thereby increasing the risk of reprisals against citizens of the Eastern regions residing in other regions, and incurring general disdain from all quarters.

In the middle of all these were the rest of us; some of who believe in the urgent need for a genuine national discourse culminating into restructuring of the country or (possibly) a peaceful independence of the separate State of Biafra, but who are not members of/do not support the activities IPOB; some of who neither believe in Biafra nor understand the need for secession, but also do not support the actions of the Nigerian Army against IPOB; some of who neither support Biafra, nor the Nigerian Army, but are in themselves disenchanted with the present Nigerian State; some of whom solidly believe the Nigerian Army should crush every whimper of secession under its might of force; and some of who are totally oblivious to IPOB or Biafra and/or the activities of the Nigerian army, their very living preoccupied with finding the next meal, and absence of the luxury of access to news reports.

There was also social media. Stoking the embers of war; almost fanning the flame into a raging, full-scale inferno.

Everybody became a Writer Reporter. Even persons who had no idea if the shores of Nigeria were in Asia or North America shared “situation reports” on the ongoing battles between both sides, most of which “reports” circulated aimed to incite anger, hate and the already heightened mutual suspicions among the differing people of the Nigerian populace.

Thankfully, war was averted.

There is now some semblance of ‘peace’, which I am wary of, even as I wonder if this storm is merely gathering the clouds.

There are things I wish I could say to the main players in this particular episode of national unrest, so as to avoid further conflict: to IPOB, the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Government.

IPOB:

1.    Every individual is fundamentally blessed with the freedom of association and freedom of liberty. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights, and even the Nigerian Constitution recognises this. It is understandable therefore if you desire to exist independently.

2.   However the concept of Biafra, both as an ideology and as a people predated you. Long after you're gone, it will remain. While you are at liberty to agitate for its actualisation, you are not the sole face of the struggle. While you speak for a lot of people; you do not speak for everyone. Be accommodating in letting others from the same region who do not see eye to eye with the substance and/or mode of your struggle own their views, without derogatory appellations.  

Like ‘efulefu’.

3.    Brute force did not work in 1967 – 1970. Violence is not likely to take you far, especially as the world has gone nuclear. Battles are seldom fought physically anymore. In any case, you do not have the resources and will not get them. Own your struggle, but change your tactic. Go intellectual. Get the world to hear your voice – articulately - and your work will be half done.

Otherwise, your voices will be drowned as mere tantrums. (Eventually)

4.   Don’t isolate yourself. You see your brothers and sisters who share your desire but not your strategy, whom you have branded “efulefus”? You see the other Nigerians whom you sometimes deride? You need them. Who do you think would pen those beautiful letters to the United Nations, convincing them that the boys drinking mud is no Photoshop magic, if you all go killed? Except you intend to self-destruct, you need allies. 

      After all, no person is an Island.

5.  Quebec, South Sudan, and the Republic of Ireland clamoured/have been clamouring for independence for a long time. The struggle for secession is no walk in the park. It is not beans. You need all the energy you can get, so do not waste it on fruitless street-fights. Your journey is far.

6.    If Mandela had towed the path of hate-speech, it is not likely he would be widely revered as he is now. While your pain may push you to heightened emotions, do not succumb to hate-speech. After all, s/he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.

7.     Boycotting elections while agitating for secession is akin to cutting of your arm, while waiting for treatment of a festering wound in it. Regardless of your disenchantment with existing institutions, you will require the machinery of the same institutions to ensure your voice is heard and your desire comes to fruition eventually. Otherwise, all of your agitations will be akin to running around in circles - like headless chickens.

Or rabbits.

The Nigerian Army.

1.  Growing up, I heard of your prowess in surrounding countries, and how you were widely regarded. ECOMOG. Darfur. Even World War 2. While I have seen you make sacrifices in executing your duties, I have sometimes (sadly) doubted the veracity of these stories, in view of the prolonged battle with the rag-tag group of terrorists up North.

2.      It is true that you do not have the liberty to protest (to avoid the risk of being court-martialed for ‘mutiny’) But I know that just like other Nigerians, governments in governments out have also failed you, and even placed your life at risk by failing to equip you with adequate arms to ensure your work is done, properly. Over the years, annual ‘Security Votes’, have been shrouded in obscurity, increasing the tendency to end up in private coffers, leaving the rest of us none the better for it.

3.     Do you not see that we are all in THIS together – whatever this is? So that even as you carry out your mandate to protect lives, overzealous and excessive use of force on the ones you have sworn to protect is no symbol of strength,

4.   But we are just following orders” is not enough justification for human rights violation, in the guise of keeping the peace. This same rejoinder has been used, even by members of the Nazi Army who participated in horrendous crimes against humanity culminating in the Second World War. Sadly, their commander was not there to protect them as they each stood trial for crimes against humanity. Remember that (a) no reign lasts forever (b) humans relish having scape-goats, and (b) Posterity has a loooooong memory.

But what do I know?

The Nigerian Government

1.       Nature abhors vacuum.

That IPOB has gained momentum and became a ‘moving train’ is not a vote of confidence on its leader. Rather, it is a vote of no confidence on successive Nigerian governments, who have failed to hearken to the plight of the people of Eastern Nigeria, and have failed to (genuinely) rehabilitate the region (post civil-war), ensure wide-spread development and invest hugely in the untapped human and business resources that it holds.

Look at the bigger picture.

2.  Humans often want to be heard, which is how the IPOB leader became a ‘messiah” of sorts; channelling the inner frustrations of the people and providing a ‘voice’ to their disenchantment. So that while it is IPOB of Eastern Nigeria today, tomorrow, it could be a group from Benue State, protesting the failure of the government to protect their farmlands from the consistent savagery of cattle herdsmen; or a group from Western Nigeria, protesting continuous erosion of the educational standards of the public schools system and the plight of the indigent school-goers; or even a group from the North protesting periodic ethnic and religious cleansing by supremacists, unchecked by any form of government action taken against perpetrators over the years. Or even the whole of Nigerians, protesting against endemic and systemic corruption.

Listen to the people. And show them you heard.

3.       There is such a thing as emotional intelligence. And tact. Not everything is ‘fire-fire’. (Which was how/why the IPOB leader gained undue recognition and was made a living ‘martyr’ in the first place).

Rather than make the citizens “the enemy”, how about approaching the agitations in the region with civility? For example: roll in caterpillars and construction materials, to commence serious and widespread infrastructural work in various parts of the region. Create employment schemes. Invest in the untapped clothes and shoe industry of Aba. And watch whether the ranks of IPOB will not be broken, and the voices of protesters silenced.

Or do you not know that progress is a greater weapon than aggression?

4.    This is not the 1970s. The laws do not exist as mere decoration. Every person is subject to due process, inclusive of the government of the day. That a people do not support the government of the day does not equal an automatic death sentence, or a blanket clamp on their rights to expression. 

      That is the beauty and ‘burden’ of democracy, albeit fledgling – like ours.

5.   Rather than command a face-off between the Army and the citizens, it would have cost less (especially in terms of human lives) if the government had sought a court order for the arrest of persons it perceives are causing disorder. The appropriate security agencies – the Nigerian Police – should have been used to enforce such order, and the Military should only have been brought in as a last resort, with very stringent orders to concentrate focus on executing the order, and with the utmost respect for human lives. The show-down witnessed was (at the very least) needless, and could have been avoided. The polity was heated, unnecessarily.

6.  Lastly, for as long as there is no genuine national discourse on the events of 1966 -1970, stemming from both military coups of 1966, to the pogrom in Northern Nigeria, and the thirty-month long civil war that rocked the core of Nation’s unity, the present conflicts we face will continue to be handed down from generation to generation, and we as a people may never actually move from square-one. Every other measure taken will be merely dealing with the symptoms.

We must deal with the root cause via a genuine and frank national discourse, in order to lay to rest these ghosts of the past which rise from time to time, and engender hurt and mutual suspicions, which continue to threaten the fabric of our co-existence as a people.

***

(Is this enough, or too much??)

Paz,

Meg.


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Photo Credits: www.pulse.ng

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3 comments

  1. Brilliant piece. If only the parties involved could get to read this.

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  2. The problem with us is that we are so quick to forget. There are better ways to seek for freedom rather than the use of force and violence. Unnecessary lives would be wasted. We are better off as one Nigeria.

    ReplyDelete