39-year-old Noel Chigbo was gunned down by the military at the Amakohia area of Owerri North for allegedly 'violating checkpoints rules'. He was a father of two, whose wife was also pregnant with another baby. Noel's crime was looking fresh and young and driving a new Toyota camry he just took delivery of. It has been over one week since he was killed and none of his killers has been detained.
25-year-old Divine Nwaneri, an undergraduate of Imo State University was shot dead along Douglas Road by the military. Her only crime was walking close to the custodial centre. Nobody asked Divine to turn back, nobody arrested her for questioning. Nobody did anything to caution her, just a finger on the trigger and she was dead the next minute.
A driver of a commercial bus was shot dead same style in Owerri. Nobody asked him any questions. To those who were laws unto themselves, he deserved nothing but death. Scores of other innocent people have been shot dead, unprovoked, by the military and police since hoodlums began testing the waters in South East's emerging hospitality capital.
Since taking office through the ceiling, Hope Uzodinma has acquired more than 200 vehicles for the police, army, DSS. In that same period, the governor has done nothing in the area of human capital development. Teachers protest every day. Pensioners? Don't go there. Recent NBS data showed that Imo has the highest unemployment rate in the entire country.
If you still don't have a clue as to why hoodlums rule supreme in the state, just look at the economics.
My job is to present the issues the way they are in a bid to solve the problems and not to pander to anyone's emotions.
Security agencies, mostly from the IRT, military SF and DSS raided Awo-Mmama in search of ESN commander, Ikonso. In the gunfight that ensured, four innocent villagers were killed alongside the ESN commander and one of his lieutenants. The military lost a Lieutenant, while three police officers were reportedly killed.
While the raid on Awo-mmama was still raising dust, the military swooped on towns like Oguta and Ohaji, indiscriminately killing, arresting and detaining any young man of age; burning down houses of people who escaped their arrest, then engage in mass hysteria in the media to misinform the public.
Nigeria has always been at war with the South East. The rise of IPOB, and the lack of emotional intelligence by Kanu only provided another excuse for such war to continue. There is no nation that is governed by fear that makes any progress. Yet, Nigerian government has continuously applied the principles of fear to whip dissenting voices into line, especially in the South East, reason for the indifference our people exhibit when police officers are killed. The federal government should demilitarise the East to de-escalate tension and make economic concessions to dialogue with the people. Failure to do this will make it impossible for communities and security agents to work together and might spark another uprising in the Oil Rivers. It is a crisis that will leave everyone with bloody noses.
The mistake most people make when commenting on the indifference of the ordinary Igbos over the attacks on the police in Igbo land is seeing it as public support for these attackers. There is public perception of every issue, and then there is the real story.
The Nigerian police and the army are generally seen in the East as occupying forces because of their horrible human rights records; and their checkpoints as mere toll points. Mass arrests for huge bail money is rife. All of us know one or two persons who had been victims of this archaic way of policing. The attacks by herders and seeming indifference by security agencies to put an end to it, only exacerbated this animosity between the people and federal government's security agencies. It is why the coming of ESN was hailed as a fresh breath. Those blaming the people for how they react to these killings are not being sincere.
It was reported that checkpoints in the East generated over N100 billion between 2015 and 2018. During Christmas periods, security agents, including customs waylaid Eastern-bound travellers, confiscating rice and other grains they were taking home for their kinsmen, extorting huge sums and making their movements hard. Some of those grains were said to be later taken to IDP camps in the North East. Security agents killed scores of innocent persons at the checkpoints within the time in review. Between that same period, there were more than 30 attacks by herders in the region that security agents did nothing about.
Policing in the East is done mainly on busy roads where people are extorted regularly. It is why these hoodlums easily routed the police and forced them back to their decaying barracks, while they proved very incompetent in dealing with them. This is the real story.
If the police and the DSS have failed to arrest these gangs, mainly because they came to the East for business; not the business of fighting crimes but lining their pockets, is it Kenechukwu that will do the job?. To also earn the trust of the people, the police should change from an extortionate force to something more humane.
The ordinary people also know that the political class use the police to legitimise their wickedness and put them down. The police is seen as serving the elites. The class division as regards to the use of security agencies is why everyone is indifferent. So as the police have been cowed in the East, the political class worked too hard to see to the end of its legitimacy. If they are wise enough, they will know that they might be next, and then, the rest of us. It took the attack on Imo police and prison facilities for the South East leadership to read the handwriting on the wall and try to de-escalate tension and form a face-saving security outfit, something they should have done in 2017. I am sorry to announce to them that it is already too late. There can never be peace without justice. Justice in this sense entails standing up for the people, and truly speaking for them, then stealing less of the funds meant for them.
If you didn't see this day coming; a day when all the knuckles are off, then you were not paying attention enough. From ethnicization of appointments, to 97/5 percent dichotomy and asking the world bank to focus on the North, Buhari set the stage for the taking over of different parts of the country by armed non-state actors. The insincerity of the Buhari’s administration by treating known terrorist groups like the herdsmen with kid gloves while killing other flies with sledge harmer brought out the beast in everyone.
As it stands, Buhari is writing Nigeria's epitaph, a doom foretold.
The Nigerian state has lost the monopoly of violence; the only thing it had relied upon to whip dissenting voices into line. For a government whose only approach to resolving any issue is violence, the more violent men are beating the state to a retreat.
Democracy in Nigeria has become a rotation of musical chairs among corrupt elites, marred by violence and fraud. That was why it was easy for the Nigerian state to lose the Weberain notion of "monopoly of Legitimate force and control of territory" to the deep state. Currently, 44 local governments in the North are under the control of terrorists. Nigeria is an Orwellian dystopia. Orwell's analysis in Animal Farm and 1984 are our current realities.
The militancy in South East and South-South likely has foreign support that helps them with training, intelligence and equipment. The swiftness with which they operate and the inability of the security agencies to track them tell enough. The first shot was fired in Ebonyi, then Imo, Cross River, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Enugwu and Rivers. For any group to operate in these areas for months unhindered should help you pierce the pieces together.
The governors, on their part, know that they have lost the plot. Some have left the government houses, hiding in hotels in state capitals or in Abuja. Power has been taken from them. Nigerian politicians rule with the brutality of the police, soldiers, DSS or anyone with arms, capable of arrest and detaining under the supervision of the law. Now, people who don't care about the law have cowed the police, soldiers, and the rest, thereby stripping the governors of their power. The question they have not asked, however, is "how did we get here? How did we surrender the authority that we had so easily?
The political class in the East, and some states in the South South are currently as vulnerable as the rest of us; powerless, scared and concerned. They have been humbled and are waiting for Abuja to save them, not with dialogue or investment in human capital development of indigenes of their state but with military power. People like Uzodimma are paying back the loans they took to purchase the position they presently occupy. Others were guided by parochial individual interests. Understanding the principles guiding Nigeria's politics is key to eternal personal peace.
From Umuechem, Odi, Zaki Ibiam, to Zaria, Nkpor, Onicha, Emene, Oyigbo, Aba and the Lekki toll gate, the government mastered the act of violence as the only means of dialogue. Amnesty International reported more than 300 people killed in the East in 2016, mainly IPOB members. Their political leaders only played politics with their corpses and that was it. No commission of enquiry was set up, none of their killers were charged to court. Families waited, the rest hoped that these families forget the brutal killing of their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. We never applied the rule of equal justice to their case and concluded within ourselves to move on.
But have we?
When you view it with the fine eyes of a physician, you will see why some people rejoice when security agents are killed. Anyone who is denied justice will do anything to get a pound of flesh.
Nations are shaped in times of crises. Times like these help them to examine their approaches to governance, make necessary decisions and bring about changes that would put them on the path to progress. Many nations, prepared to learn, would have evolved since these issues came to national consciousness in 2016 by making regional political and economic concessions. But a nation where hypocrisy is government's official policy will keep sinking.
It has been argued that African leaders rarely embark on any reforms that will benefit the people that they are oppressing without a resort to violence. The continent of Africa suffereth violence and violent men taketh her by force. Nigeria had 50 years after the civil war to implement policies and political restructuring that would have put her on the path to progress but the leaders refused because a dysfunctional system is to their benefit. Here we are, terrorised, pauperised and afraid.
The most violent thing I have ever seen is the 1999 Constitution. But it took the coming of Buhari to amplify that violence. The former rulers of Nigeria knew how to manage her backwardness, but when Buhari came, all pretences were off, the Fulanisation policy of his administration birthed the chaos we are in.
When you look at the entire black Africa, only few countries are not engulfed in one nationalist struggle or the other. From Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad, central African Republic, Senegal, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, it is murder, death, kill that simple reforms would have solved.
In the last couple of weeks, I have sat at different fora where most of the side discussions centred on attacks on police formations in the South East. Most times, as the only Igbo in the room, people ambush me with questions in a bid to understand the side that I am on. I am always asked if IPOB is responsible but if the governors with all their intelligence have not blamed the group, then who am I?
From recent events, every Igbo is now a stakeholder in IPOB; whether he/she is a member or not. This realization shifted my attention about the group where I pay keen attention, and observe trends, especially behind the news headlines, deciphering truth from the group's propaganda and misinformation campaigns of the Federal Government and offer constructive criticism. You can not wish away the issues raised by the group. Most people disagree on methodology.
As an Igbo, whether you like it or not, you are a partaker in the group's wins, if any, and losses. It is the reality of the Nigeria we live in today. You can be a detribalized Nigerian all you want, but at the end of the day, Nigeria reminds you that you came from somewhere. Like they say "Nigeria will happen to you". The Igbos who lived in Oyigbo from October last year will testify to this. Those who escaped being lynched after Wike invited youth groups to the government house and emboldened them to fish out IPOB members in their communities understood without being told that despite the fact that they did not belong to the group, IPOB came to define them in the eyes of every other Nigerian. It is the proverbial one finger that has touched red oil and it has gotten to the mouth of every member of the community. It is why in search of perceived IPOB members, security agencies are carrying out mass atrocities in several parts of Imo State.
That is why we should continue to keep watchful eyes on IPOB, continue to criticise Kanu and his group to ensure they do not make further mistakes that will railroad us to perdition. IPOB on the other hand should learn to take criticism and not always resort to threats when one does not align with its approach. The herd mentality that is the group's current driving force is very dangerous to who we are as a people. Like Professor George Obiozor said, the Igbo do not speak with one voice but with different voices under an articulate leadership. Unless, IPOB is denying us our heritage, it should accept the disagreement.
The North has destroyed itself and currently feeds exclusively from the South. It is why Buhari’s administration has not taken its usual kangaroo approach towards these rising trends, but is rather giving the governors the go-ahead to solve the problems. It is the reason for their recent turn around from beating the drums of war to a more pacifist approach and calling for reconciliation. A collapsed South East might collapse South South.
Most people have dissected the rise of radicalism in the East without the flavour of looking at economic concerns and justice as key fuels to these rise in anti-goverment actions. Recent NBS data should worry all the leaders in the East but they are less worried about these trends and dismiss them with the wave of the hand while fixated on 2023 that might never come. Most of the recent nationalist struggles are rooted on injustice and economic strangulation.
My dissection of our present woes, the Igbo agitation in Nigeria, is anchored on the lack of justice, but only a few people appreciate this angle of thoughts. They are quick to remind you of the Igbo wealth in other places, how so and so percent of companies in Lagos are owned by Igbos, yet no other region was forced by carefully implemented policies to keep its wealth out of its shores like the South East. It is the only region that has no federal presence, except military and police build-up. Even the international airport has been taken away from the region, to continue to make it heavily dependent. If 5 Nigerians are leaving the country to go seek greener pastures, 3 out of those five are likely to be Ndigbo. This has, in no small measures, created a scarcity of young men and women in the communities, and makes it easier for Fulani herders to overrun them. Those who try to go into agriculture are creating feedstock for herdsmen. How much more can a people take?
The Igbo want to build their wealth in Igbo land and not forced to migrate to other places due to lack of infrastructure in the East. The Igbo understand that they have what it takes to rub shoulders with Singapore, Beijing, and the USA, and not Chad or Afghanistan that those who rule by military might dream of. The Igbo know that Nigeria as presently constituted, is a danger to her growth. Every generation moulds its own philosophy. It is why this generation, born several years after the civil war, wants to fight another war to secure its freedom. The war of the 60s was fought by intellectuals; Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Columbia grads. This one, I can't really tell. It is highly hypocritical to blame a people for wanting the best for themselves.
It is easy to disregard these concerns, especially when you are not the person who feels this sense of deprivation. This insecurity is as a result of these economic strangulation, and with a little sprinkling of radicalism, the result is our present state.
It was Louis Farrakhan who opined that "There really can be no peace without justice. There can be no justice without truth. And there can be no truth, unless someone rises up to tell you the truth".
Yet, Frederick Douglas's reminds that: "Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe".
Justice in the Buhari’s Nigeria is shielding terror sympathisers like Isa patami, and terrorist groups like Fulani herdsmen but killing those who were flying only flags, proscribing them as a terror group. When you run them underground, whatever you see, you take.
As an Igbo, if you think that the unknown gunmen will stop at just killing police officers and politicians, then I am sorry for your self-loathing and ignorance. Fact is; these men will come for everyone directly or indirectly.
We all need justice. My father always told me that if you want your freedom, you should be ready to fight for it. But should it be done with arms, killing people, including children? I don't know.