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When Will the South-East Shut Up? – By Immanuel James Anyanwu

Written by Adeeko Ademola

The Nigerian government should redress these injustices and allow for conversations to happen. Genuine discussions, once and for all, for the stirring components to work out an equitable formula for our nation-being. That is the way to shut up the clamour, not by supression… The government is making patriotism difficult for Igbo Nigerians dedicated to a united country.

Many things are certain, like the fact that there will never be peace in the world. Nothing is perhaps as certain as human violence, never mind all the efforts at ensuring peace. Two abiding situations on the human experience are that: there will always be oppression, and there will always be those who won’t take it. The history of human civilisation is the history of repression and freedom.

Between repression and freedom, the problem, many times, is actually speech. The oppressing system demands a total silence that will never happen, hence a vicious plot is animated. Men are unable to maintain a dictated silence for too long, which leads us to another certainty: that no degree of violence can make men to shut up forever. But nobody has yet whispered this little truth to all agencies of human subjugation.

Take IPOB, for instance, an acronym for the Indigenous People of Biafra; a group agitating for an independent South-Eastern state out 0f Nigeria. On May 30, 2016, the agitators had gathered to mark the Biafra Memorial Day, itself symbolic of oppression and struggle. The day commemorates the Biafran struggle of 1967 to 1970, led by the late Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, in which over two million Biafrans died for the soul of the aborted Igbo nation. The war had been sparked by an aborted coup and its attendant pogrom against the Igbos in Northern Nigeria.

Amnesty International reports that the Nigerian military invaded the memorial service and gunned down over 150 people. Spaces for Change, a rights advocacy group, reports that over 40 people were seriously wounded, but that was not even the end of the story. Soldiers raided hospitals in Anambra, arresting patients with gun wounds. Those arrested were never found again. The manhunt for IPOB leaders continues, and those arrested remain in detention. Some others have been extrajudicially killed with no consequence.

A heavily bandaged eyewitness at Eke Nkpor, who narrated his experience to Spaces for Change, pleaded anonymity for the fear of arrest. “We were on a peaceful procession. I was making a phone call when a combined team of the Navy, Army and the Police rounded us up, and started shooting… They asked me to stand there. When I refused…they shot at my hand. As I was running away, the navy man shot at my legs, I fell down. While he advanced towards me, a ‘fellow Biafran’ quickly rushed at me and dragged me inside somebody’s compound and locked the gate. The security operatives then went back. When they went back, they dragged four corpses on the floor away with them.”

Despite these killings and acts of repression, IPOB persists in defiance. The analysis is simple: Where injustice chips away at the dignity of men, they will hardly shut up, even at the cost of lives. From the classical age to the post-modern world, violence has failed to guarantee the silence of people itching for expression.

The memorial mayhem was not the first of targeted killings against the group by the Nigerian government. Earlier protests had been met with soldiers firing at and killing unarmed protesters, even as they continue to do so till date. The indictment goes to the federal government, otherwise how does one explain its silence despite reports by both local and international rights groups implicating the military? Not a single soldier has been arrested or tried for these atrocities.

The lesson is wasted. Despite these killings and acts of repression, IPOB persists in defiance. The analysis is simple: Where injustice chips away at the dignity of men, they will hardly shut up, even at the cost of lives. From the classical age to the post-modern world, violence has failed to guarantee the silence of people itching for expression. The lesson may be wasted on Nigeria, especially as these killings boast of impunity, if not official endorsement. But the suicidal resilience of the agitation should be an element of worry to those who understand the character of desperate expression.

That desperate expression has a familiar narrative—that South-Eastern Nigeria is politically marginalised. The conversation is often ignored, but acts of violence by state and non-state actors against the region, with no consequence, further entrench that narrative. On April 25, 2016, some 500 Fulani herdsmen invaded Nimbo, a town in Enugu State, killing over 40 people and injuring tens of others. A church and 11 other houses were burnt. Four months later, the herdsmen attacked Ndiagu town in Enugu, killing a seminarian and leaving a trail of destruction. Villagers fled and the invaders took over farmlands, which were often the contention in these attacks between farming and grazing. And because these attacks have little been punished, the separatist agitation has gained more momentum.

There have been responses from the Enugu State government, meanwhile. Some of the alleged attackers were arrested in neighbouring Kogi State and arraigned. The Kogi court referred the case to Enugu for the lack of jurisdiction, and the Enugu State Attorney-General wrote the Inspector-General of Police requesting the case file to be transferred to Enugu for proper adjudication. There have been no response on that, unless recently. This further deepens the suspicion of federal conspiracy in the South-East suppression.

The federal approach is counter-productive. With repression comes more agitations, perhaps from the pique of ethnic pride, besides the higher issues of marginalisation. Then come the herofication of the struggle, the provocation of pro-IPOB empathy, and the blight of patriotic emotions for Nigeria.

Rather than dispassionately address the political issues spawning the agitation, the Nigerian government has chosen the path of blatant repression. A militarisation policy tagged “Operation Python Dance” was unleashed on the region in the just-ended Yuletide season, and for beyond. Military checkpoints abound virtually at every stretch of major roads, causing untold traffic gridlocks, not without reported cases of abuse and torture. “We are being treated like a conquered people”, said John Nwodo, a former minister of information and current chairman of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the region’s sociopolitical organisation. Mr Nwodo, an otherwise shinning member of the Nigerian political elite, expressed sympathy for IPOB. State-sanctioned repression is winning converts, winning the argument for the separatist group.

The federal approach is counter-productive. With repression comes more agitations, perhaps from the pique of ethnic pride, besides the higher issues of marginalisation. Then come the herofication of the struggle, the provocation of pro-IPOB empathy, and the blight of patriotic emotions for Nigeria. The scale of attacks and the lethargy of the government response create more Igbo enemies for the nation, undermining genuine efforts at national cohesion. Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, himself a member of the ruling party, notorious also for often expressing anti-Igbo sentiments, recently made a volte-face: “We have nothing to show that we are part of the Nigerian project. Neither do we have any sense of belonging in the present government at the national level.” A local oppressor notwithstanding, his position at least highlights a link between political dissatisfaction and separatist agitation, which cannot be quelled by repression.

Expression, as earlier noted, is certain. Even within equitable democracies, agitations persist. Run for years by military autocracy, Nigeria has been rendered incapable of decent dialogue. Its military-concocted constitution frowns at protests and makes it difficult to hold peaceful demonstrations. Not once has President Mohammadu Buhari addressed the IPOB agitation at least with some unifying rhetoric. The father of the nation who should reassure his restive children of their place in the polity rather maintains a hateful grimace, lacking the temperament needed to run a modern democracy. What was more, he assumed power and declared, to the shock of all rational, that he intended to shortchange regions where he got less support, as if the nation’s patrimony were his personal estate to share as he pleased—as if he was entitled to everyone’s vote. He failed to recognise that those who did not support him have the democratic right to do so, and on no account should they be punished for making a constitutional choice. Worse is the fact that any orchestrated injustice against the region fails to take into account the people there who voted for, and still support the present government.

The Nigerian government should redress these injustices and allow for conversations to happen. Genuine discussions, once and for all, for the stirring components to work out an equitable formula for our nation-being. That is the way to shut up the clamour, not by supression. The South-East has become one huge experiment in official duress. Democracy is deepened by speech, and never by enforced silence. The government is making patriotism difficult for Igbo Nigerians dedicated to a united country. For them, to retain allegiance to an unjust entity is to inherit the burden of its moral corruption, and to denounce the same is to incur charges of treason. Government must stop these repressions and desist from making the Nigerian patriot of Igbo extraction a laughing stock among his kinsmen.

About the author

Adeeko Ademola

Fiery Writer • Online Publicist • Content Manager • Entrepreneur • Patriotic Nigerian