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Published On: Mon, Sep 18th, 2017

IPOB: Igbo elders keep mum over crisis

Obinna Ezugwu

 

Mayhem! There is no better word to describe the events playing out in the South East zone, and Abia State, the home state of rabble rousing leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in particular at the moment. It has to do with the intense military onslaught and the result has been sorrows, tears and blood.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai had declared what he called Operation Python Dance II in the zone which according to him, was to checkmate criminality and those threatening the sovereignty of the country. But one thing was clear from the start, it was a premeditated military campaign in Igbo land, and that’s what it has been since last week Sunday.

Yet, in the midst of the crisis, prominent leaders of the South East geopolitical zone are being accused of largely failing to intervene, just as they failed to nip the Kanu’s excesses in the bud.

Kanu started his movement in 2012 with the launching of Radio Biafra from his base in London and with which he started scatting verbal attacks on the Igbo leadership, the Nigerian leadership and just everyone he turned his attention to. The Goodluck Jonathan administration largely ignored him, but things began to escalate in 2015 when he was incarcerated by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. His followers grew. By the time he was eventually released on bail earlier this year, he had become a cult hero.

He preaches Biafra, a separate country for the people of Eastern Nigeria. In a country with mass poverty, little opportunities and joblessness, thousands of disillusioned Igbo youths bought into his gospel, and his followers kept soaring, and so did his ego. He did not relent in his attacks on the Nigerian leadership, both of the Federal and State.

And recently he formed a security guard called Biafra Security Service (BSS), a group he said would coordinate the return of Igbo from the North in view of the quit notice given to them by Arewa youths. He had insisted that the BSS was an unarmed group, but even so, it was unlawful, an affront to the authority.

However, things gradually tipped towards the cliff while the elders failed to provide direction. Last week, the Buhari administration began military crack-down in the entire South East. In Abia, the hotbed of violence, several individuals have been killed in what has been described as an excessive use of force and an illegal military operation by the like of rights activist, Femi Falana; Ebun-Oluwa Adegboruwa and many others. Around 1.am on Thursday, the army reportedly invaded an area in Aba and killed many inhabitants.

Earlier on Sunday when the operation began, seven people were reportedly killed. On Monday, the military for the second time, lay siege on the Umuahia home of the IPOB leader with 10 armoured tanks and Hilux vans filled with heavily armed military men. There were sporadic shooting; violence erupted in various locations which continued on Tuesday warranting an imposition of curfew by the state governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. That same day, the soldiers invaded the office of Nigerian Union of Journalists, destroyed their equipment and beat up journalists. On Wednesday, a horrible video showing the drawning of about 50 IPOB members in a stagnant water by the military emerged.

Throughout Thursday, violence continued as a police station at Ariaria Market was reported to have been burnt, bodies of slain shop owners and by standers filled social media space. Eye witness accounts said two women were shot a meter away from the Government House, Umuahia. In the evening hours, the military yet returned to Kanu’s home shooting sporadically and broke into the house. His father and other siblings were abducted and the IPOB leader’s whereabouts is unknown at the time of writing.

In the midst of the onslaught, Ikpeazu addressed a press conference stating that there would be gradual withdrawal of troops in the streets of Aba and Umuahia, the state capital. It was widely reported that there would be withdrawal of troops from the state. But not long after that, the army in a statement signed by its Director of Public Relations, Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka Usman insisted that the operation will continue.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Abia State Governor in his speech stated that “there will be gradual withdrawal of soldiers on the streets of Aba and Umuahia from tomorrow”. This should not be misconstrued as withdrawing of troops earmarked for Exercise EGWU EKE II. The General Officer Commanding 82 Division has not said such thing,” the statement read.

“Consequently, we wish to state that Exercise EGWU EKE II is commencing tomorrow as scheduled. Commanders have been instructed to ensure that all hands are on deck to commence the Exercise to its logical completion. We wish to state further that the successful completion of the exercise will dovetail into the various states security outfits till the end of this year.”

Calls for an end to the mayhem have grown. Kaduna State senator, Shehu Sani demanded that the operation be stopped. Former DSS director, Mike Ejiofor pleaded with the Buhari administration to put a stop to it, but the pleas have failed on deaf ears. The onslaught has continued, and members of the pro Biafra group are threatening to take up arms.

Things can indeed get worse very quickly. Some agitators had reportedly, in retaliation, attacked Hausa community in Abia and Rivers. Crisis between the Igbo and Hausa community was averted in Jos, Plateau State. There is now an indefinite curfew in place. Yet some say, prominent leaders of Igbo land have largely failed to intervene.

Attempts by BusinessHallmark to contact former Minister of Health, ABC Nwosu on Wednesday evening proved abortive. Calls to his known phone line went unanswered. His line was subsequently switched off.

Report later came that he had condemned the military onslaught, noting that the government was reading the agitation wrongly.

“Sending the army to the South East is a wrong move. The Federal Government is reading the agitation in the South East wrongly and applying wrong moves,” he reportedly said.

“Revered leaders from the South East such as Chief Mbazulike Amaechi who was a Minister of the Federal Republic before and after Independence and Prof. Ben Nwabueze have also spoken on the matter.

Governor of old Anambra State and member of the All Progressives Congress, Senator Jim Nwobodo simply opted against speaking. He had promised to do so on Thursday, but later refused to take calls to his phone line. So did Eze Ilomuanya, the chairman of South-East Council of Traditional Rulers who promised consistently to talk, but never did, and Prof Anya O. Anya who neither took his calls nor responded to text messages to him.

President emeritus of Igbo think tank group, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike however said it was wrong to blame Igbo leaders since they have been speaking. He said it was not possible to simply order the agitators to go and sit down because they won’t. And that’s why he had insisted that the only way was dialogue.

“The Igbo elite have been speaking, and that’s one of the things that brought Kanu out of prison,” he said.

“You don’t just get up and tell the boys to go and sit down. They have genuine grievances, we the elders are trying to make sure that we manage the bad situation. It is a bad situation because the IPOB and other agitators have no arms. They are doing demonstrations, and that’s how to go about it in a modern world. But our government is still trapped in the past of using the army against demonstrators. Catalans just did theirs the other day, and the others are still doing their own and nobody has killed them.

“The elders have always called on the federal government to dialogue with them, this is not a military rule. Besides, agitation for Biafra has been on for about 18 years, and nobody can get up and say they were carrying weapons.”

He called on the military to leave the state so that peace can return, even as he alleged that there may be sinister motives behind the operation.

“Those who invaded Abia are the ones looking for trouble. If I’m in my house, and you come to my house, you have to go. It is not me who will leave my house for you. The army that invaded Abia State should leave so that the people will have peace.

“Before this time, Abia people never complained of anything other than federal marginalisation.

“I do not believe that what is going on in Abia is just a straightforward action. I believe it a ploy to impose state of emergency in Abia State with two purposes in mind. One to get the governor out of office at least temporarily while they put a military man there. And secondly, to crush all the Biafra agitators with military might. Once they have a military man sitting there in government house, he will now start throwing orders left and right. That’s my suspicion.”

On her part, former Minister for Education, Oby Ezekwesili accused President Buhari of alienating the Igbo, and advised him to stop being a tribal leader.

 

 

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