*Educate hooligans what sovereignty means
From Nkechi Odoma
It is usual for people to have resolutions with the arrival of a New Year and the several groups claiming to represent the interests of the Igbo nation in southeast Nigeria would do well to announce realistic resolutions for the year 2017. The resolutions should centre around advancing the geo-ethnic agenda without engaging in acts that amount to self harming. Self harming is precisely what all the groups – IPOB, BIM, MASSOB – that agitated for Igbo interests did in the preceding years.
Less than one week into the year it became apparent that the mistakes of 2016 would be repeated wholesale with the one month ultimatum issued by the Biafra National Guard, BNG, for the release of IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) leader, Nnamdi Kanu failing which they will attack the government. It is inconceivable that one Ruben Okoro signed the statement issuing a threat to commit treason in his capacity as Public Relations Officer of BNG.
A few things are lost on these characters here. First, one does not threaten to attack a constitutionally installed government and not expect the relevant security institutions to act regardless of whether the southeast or the Igbo voted against that government enbloc; other nationals will hold the government responsible if it does not treat the BNG avowal to attack seriously.
Secondly, committing a crime in pursuit of forcing the government to release suspected insurgent from detention will inevitably attract repercussions. Furthermore, the notion of being ‘freedom fighters’ as these element want to portray themselves does not arise; they waived their right to use that label from the moment they began the expression of their grievances from the point of attrition as opposed to dialogue.
Part of the self harm being done in the region is such that people are not even able to objectively assess issues anymore. The Nigerian Army for instance launched Operation Python Dance in the southeast during the Yuletide and while it generated goodwill for the institution as it helped to curb the activities of criminals during the period, BNG’s best input is to parody it. In the fixation to attack the state and the army the antagonists failed to realize that their geo-political zone celebrated Christmas and New Year without being under siege from kidnappers and robbers as was the case in the past.
Much as the Igbo separatist elements are in denial. Fortunately, the leaders of thought from the area inundated the Nigerian Army with accolades – governors, traditional rulers and clergymen were full of appreciation to the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tanko Yusuf Buratai during a short working visit to the southeast. They showed the power of intellectual approach to issues.
Tragically, this capacity to approach issues intellectually using dialogue is one that is lacking among those agitating to commit crimes as one increasingly sees ethnic jingoists that cannot even make meaningful contributions to national debates online without resorting to calling Nigeria a ‘zoo’ and other ethnic nationals dismissed as ‘animals in the zoo’.
It is therefore not surprising that even the CSOs and NGOs pursuing the Igbo interest have taken on aggressive stance that has left them increasingly militarized like the other separatists groups.Even some groups that were hitherto nationalistic in outlook have been hijacked by ethnic warriors as in Campaign for Democracy (CD) that has now been reduced to a southeastern mouthpiece.
The devious intent for hijacking such NGOs can be seen in the use of CD to claim that 2000 persons have been killed by the state. No such deaths occurred anywhere and just like their counterparts in Amnesty International who claimed 150 deaths, the sudden jump in the figures given by CD has exposed the purposeful and deliberate disdain for federal authorities.
A statement issued by CD’s national publicity secretary, Dede Uzor, which made that claim made a futile attempt at looking nationalistic by exploiting the Southern Kaduna killings. One can only hope that the request to include IPOB and MASSOB members in the panel to investigate the Kaduna killings has nothing to do with attempts to cover up the allegations that some persons of Igbo ancestry fought as mercenaries on the side of the rampaging herders.
That demand for the National Assembly to include IPOB and MASSOB members on the investigative panel exposes the delusion that is prevalent among these separatist groups whose members hallucinate about their phantom acceptability as mainstream entities. What parliament in the world would hobnob with insurgents? If that demand was meant as a devious way of worming their way into legitimacy then is dead on arrival. The best members of these outlaw groups can hope for from the National Assembly is for some selected lawmakers that would negotiate lesser punishments for their errant members.
There is a lesson for all the separatists groups in the southeast – IPOB, MASSOB, BIM, BNG, CD and just any other acronym that will join the growing list – Boko Haram fanatics started out with the same delusion of righteous sense of hurt but eventually ended up as something the entire world is eager to hear the last about.
From the way the various separatists groups are behaving it is a matter of time before they attempt staging spectacular attacks as face saving measures once Nigerians begin to realize their threats are empty.
God forbid that things get to such sorry pass since the response to such provocation would be no lesser than the one given to Boko Haram. The difference would be that with the benefit of experience no one would wait until they get out of hand before acting.
It is therefore time for the Nigerian state to call time on this nonsense and say enough of the IPOB, MASSOB, BNG, and BIM distraction. They cannot threaten the government with a 30-day ultimatum for the release of Nnamdi Kanu who is facing trial before a competent court of law. If things were to work the way they are demanding then the clan members of every armed robber apprehended by law enforcement agents would threaten to bring the country down like these groups.
The lot therefore falls to the so-called human rights NGOs, whether local or international should hold seminars and workshops to educate these would be hooligans what sovereignty means and the consequence of their action should they take up arms against the state. The separatist groups on their own should re-assess their option; perhaps they will come to the realisation that their current choices are hurting more than helping their interests. This should be their New Year resolution.
Odoma is President, Africa Arise for Change Network and contributed this piece from Abuja.