It is no longer news that a secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by Nnamdi Kanu who is currently being detained by the Federal Government is seeking the separation of the South East states from Nigeria. The group wants the states to form a new country to be known as Biafra, the name by which the defunct Eastern Region was once known in 1967-1970. IPOB cites institutionalised marginalisation by the Nigerian state and state-sponsored killing of Igbo as reasons for its actions.
Successive Nigerian governments have responded with arrests, detention and outright killing of the group members. Some time ago, the Amnesty International released a damning video detailing cases where the Nigerian military under President Muhammadu Buhari killed not less than 150 members of the group inside a church and other locations in Onitsha, Anambra State on May 29/30 where the group had gathered to remember their heroes who died in the Biafra war four decades ago.
Also contained in the Amnesty report is a case where members of the Nigeria security agencies comprising police and soldiers swooped on unarmed IPOB members praying inside Ngwa high school, Aba, Abia State on February 9, 2016 and opened fire without warning, killing dozens of them and injuring hundreds. This, most certainly, cannot be the best way to solve the Biafra question. When a people complain of marginalisation in a country they call theirs and express a desire to secede as a result of that, it shouldn’t take the genius brain of Albert Einstein to know that the best way to attend to such a sensitive issue is not by rolling out the tanks against them. You don’t use force to keep an aggrieved partner in a relationship he/she has expressed a desire to quit. The easiest way to keep this aggrieved partner in the relationship is by addressing his/her grievances. This is what I believe the government of President Muhammadu Buhari should do with the Biafra issue.
Regardless of what anyone may think about the Biafra question, what even Buhari himself cannot dispute is the fact that some of the grievances of the IPOB group are genuine. It defies common sense that the government has repeatedly vowed never to negotiate with this unarmed group. Personally, I find it criminally offensive that a Buhari government which is currently negotiating with the deadliest terror group in the whole world, Boko Haram, cannot bring itself to hold talks with the unarmed IPOB group which has been largely peaceful in carrying out its activities. You cannot be negotiating with the Boko Haram terror group which has killed thousands of Nigerians and displaced millions and protecting the murderous Fulani herdsmen with a strong 1000 man military taskforce while you are busy killing the unarmed and largely peaceful IPOB members. This cannot be right!
The president must understand that as an employee of the Nigerian people, he is under both moral and legal obligations to listen to grievances from every section of the country and do his best to address them. The recent launch of a military task force code-named “Operation Python Dance” in the south-east a few days after the damning Amnesty report on the extra-judicial killing of the IPOB members by the army smacks of a deliberate attempt by the Buhari government to create terrorists out of the IPOB members. That no soldier is facing trial following the damning video recently released by Amnesty International lends credence to the insinuation that the continued extra-judicial killing of the IPOB members has the blessing of Buhari. This is a moral tragedy. And it paints a very horrible picture of a government hell-bent on using soldiers trained, equipped and paid with the tax payers’ money to kill the same tax payers they are meant to protect. This is nothing short of murder.
Our conspiracy of silence over these senseless killings is becoming more nauseating than the actual crime. How can the president keep using the army against the unarmed pro-Biafran guys even when herdsmen adjudged the fourth deadliest terror group in the world are allegedly being protected by the same army despite their murderous activities all over the country? How can this be right? We need to understand that grave injustices such as these are the main reasons why the Biafra agitation has refused to go away. The IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu has been in detention for close to two years now. The government has defied a court order issued by Justice Adeniyi Ademola of Abuja high court that he be released unconditionally.
In a country where the murderous herdsmen yet walk the street as free men and high-ranking Boko Haram fighters are being released from detention, the continued detention of Kanu who has never killed a fly cannot be justified under any circumstance. Injustices such as this will only end up gifting the IPOB with more sympathisers. The president should as a matter of urgency release Kanu from detention and enter into talks with the IPOB. A man who wants peace must learn to talk with his enemies, not friends. Using maximum force against IPOB as the Buhari-led government is currently doing will only escalate the agitation and make the government come across as a morally bankrupt. It might even win the ‘war’ for the government but it will certainly not win the peace which is the most important thing.
Ogbu, a social analyst, writes from Port Harcourt.