Nigerian soldiers
Soldiers

Adebayo Obajemu

A window into the level and the dynamics of Insecurity, anxiety and extrajudicial killings in the southeast were  three   telling incidents of great significance in the last two weeks have occurred in that zone of the country: one, the killing of Ahmed Gulak, an APC chieftain and former Special Adviser to president Goodluck Jonathan,  the ongoing army operations where many  youth have allegedly been labelled IPOB militants and sympathisers, according to media reports,  and were executed by soldiers, the other was an unfortunate incident close to Onitsha bridge by Anambra state’s side.

Gun-wielding troops of the Nigerian army had mounted various check points causing heavy traffic gridlocks that verged total standstill.
As a salon car approached and was flagged down by the soldiers, the occupants, suspected to be IPOB militants opened fire on five soldiers at the checkpoint, instantly killing all of them .

In its bid to solve a growing regional crisis, Nigeria’s government may have made it worse, again.
Not too long ago, a group,
Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL) accused the military of extra judicial killings of youths in the zone. The accusation was contained in a statement issued three weeks ago by the President-General, GoodluckIbem, and Secretary-General, KaniceIgwe.

It cited the alleged shooting to death of Owerri-based businessman, Noel Chigbu, by a soldier at a checkpoint in Amakohia, Owerri, on Friday, April 30, 2021 by 10p.m., among other killings.

The statement read in part: “COSEYL, the umbrella body of all youth organisations in the South East geopolitical zone, is very enraged over the unlawful, barbaric, wicked and extra-judicial killing of a businessman, Mr. Noel Chigbu, aged 39 years, by the military at Amakohia junction, Owerri, Imo State for allegedly violating their checkpoint rule. Another is the unlawful killing of a first-year student, Divine Nwaneri, at a military checkpoint close to Imo Governor’s office.

“These killings and more that happened in recent times are tangible proof that the military are on a secret mission to exterminate Igbo youths in the South East. The killing of unarmed agitators and pampering of Boko Haram terrorists is a clear testament that Ndigbo have been marked for extinction by the Nigerian military.”

It wondered why the soldiers paid with tax-payers money would kill an innocent youth on the flimsy excuse of violating checkpoint rules. COSEYL stated: “This is absolute madness and it must stop forthwith.

Urging the soldiers to desist from harassing the Igbo people, the coalition added: “The impunity with which soldiers and other security operatives deal with Igbo youths calls for serious concern. This is total harassment of Ndigbo and we reject it in its entirety.

“Igbo youths are being arrested by the army who brand them unknown gunmen and kill them. How do they know that they are unknown gunmen?”It called on governors, lawmakers and other political office holders from the South East to speak up in defence of their people, who are being unlawfully killed daily without justifiable reasons.

“If our governors and other political office holders are keeping silent and all Igbo youths are killed, who will vote for them in the next elections?

“We, therefore, demand that the military must identify and hand over those soldiers involved in the unlawful killings of Chigbu, Nwaneri and others to the police for immediate prosecution

For months, the revival of age-long  secessionist rhetoric for the creation of  a “Biafra” nation for the Igbo ethnic group has grown in popularity across Nigeria’s southeast.

Many attribute this revival to Buhari’s exclusive government, ethnic jingoism, tribalism which seems to favour the Fulani ethnic stock of the president to the exclusion of other nationalities in key appointments and the impunity of Fulani herdsmen and their pampering by the authorities, even when it is evident that innocent Nigerian are killed,kidnapped and raped by some of these herders.

The secessionist calls have been mainly led by NnamdiKanu, the self-declared leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Kanu, a British citizen who started his protests from London, was previously known only by his dedicated followers in the region, but has now grown popular with tacit support from other nationalities outside the southeast on account of what many see as the righteousness of his legitimate demand.

Kanu was again at the center of growing tensions in the southeast this week as,  he asked the people of the region to observe stay-at- home order on 30th to 31th May .

In a show of force, the Nigerian government deployed army troops to southeast . Of recent, many Security personnel, especially police have been killed in the region by gun men, according to the authorities, IPOB members are behind the spate of violence, killings and arson on public utilities, but the organization has vehemently denied responsibility for these crimes.

Not helping matters are  videos on social media  showing soldiers’ inhumane treatment of local  youth in the southeast and chasing after unarmed civilians in trucks. Inadvertently, the army’s actions have stoked increased tensions between southeast Igbos and the northerners.

Historically, Igbos in Nigeria’s southeast have felt marginalized in Nigeria and president Buhari, a northerner, did little to ease those sentiments soon after taking office when he suggested he’d prioritize development in other regions where he won more votes.

The animosity between the regions had progressively worsened over the years.

In June 2017, a coalition of northern youth groups issued Igbos living in the north with a quit notice. At the time, the Nigeria government urged Igbos to disregard the threat and promised to apprehend the youth group’s leaders but no one was arrested in connection with the quit notice.

In the aftermath of  clashes  the army has  declared IPOB a terrorist organization. It cited the group’s formation of Biafran law enforcement bodies and “possession and use of weapons.”

The fallout of the events of the past days is still unclear but already,  gun men have routinely killed many police officers and soldiers in the region.

The latest build up of troops and the guerilla tactics employed by IPOB members in responding to army violence have been stoking fears of a breakout of violence.

In response to a gradual move towards anarchy and killing of security personnel, the Buhari government has launched Operation Restore Peace, designed to destroy the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group in support of independence for the former breakaway Republic of Biafra, and its security wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN).

According to Acting Inspector General of Police (IGP) Usman Baba, the security services are not to be constrained by human rights considerations. In comments reported in the Nigerian media, he said: “Don’t mind the media shout; do the job I command you. If anyone accuses you of human rights violation, the report will come to my table and you know what I will do. So, take the battle to them wherever they are and kill them all. Don’t wait for an order.”

“What another order are you waiting for when Mr. President had ordered you to shoot anybody carrying AK-47 rifle? Quote me, even a dead policeman can be tried and dismissed from the force and his family will not get his benefits.”

“So, don’t sit and wait for them to come; take attack to them and don’t lose your arms to criminals.”

“So, the IGP is not only giving the green light to human rights violations, but also promising his protection for those who commit them. In addition, he is threatening those who might hang back with the loss of pension benefits! Usman is implying that he has the full support of President MuhammaduBuhari”, declared professor AdeagboMoritiwon, a political scientist. The professor said this posturing is yet another sign of Buhari’s lack of empathy and sensitivity. He said in a situation like this, the president ought to have made a conciliatory nation-wide  broadcast to douse tension and sue for peace.

Business Hallmark learnt that  security services are conducting house-to-house searches in Ebonyi, Imo, and Rivers states, all with large Igbo populations. Local people are saying that the security services are rounding up young men and their family members and taking them away for questioning. IPOB leader NnamdiKanu has dubbed the police initiative “Operation Massacre Biafrans.”

As it is now, youth and even other people are living in fear, not knowing what will happen. This fear had led to panic buying of foodstuffs, in case  the face -off between IPOB and security forces are in for a long haul.
Shops and offices have remained under locks and key in the  southeast, and feelers show that banks may join for fear of attacks and violence.

The inspector general of police shot- on- sight order have scared the daylight out of people and have chosen to remain indoors for the time being.

“Usman Baba is a northern Muslim from Yobe State. He is a career police officer. There is nothing in his background that would suggest an understanding of southern and eastern grievances and fears of the “establishment of a Fulani Caliphate”, said a top politician from the southeast who pleaded anonymity.

Operation Restore Peace and Baba’s rhetoric would seem tailor-made to feed the revived Biafra secessionist movement and general southern and Christian fears of a Fulani-Muslim onslaught against Christians.

Moritiwon said,” it should be anticipated that local people will fight back viciously and the security services—as directed by Usman Baba—will respond in kind. It is to be hoped that President Buhari will repudiate Baba’s rhetoric and methods, not least for the sake of the unity of Nigeria.

 

Only last week, seven suspected persons were killed when the Nigerian troops from 6 Division Garrison, Port Harcourt and 29 Battalion in conjunction with operatives of Nigerian Police, DSS, and NSCDC raided an operational base of the Eastern Security Network, an armed arm of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra.

 

The raid was  said to have been carried out on Thursday, 27 May 2021 on the base located at Agbomchia Forest along Pipeline Road Ogali/Komkom Boundary between Eleme and Oyigbo LGAs of Rivers State, army spokesman Mohammed Yerima said in a statement on Saturday.

“In the firefight that ensued during the Clearance/Raid Operation, 7 IPOB/ESN members were neutralized.

Meanwhile, The World Igbo Congress (WIC) has viewed, with a sense of foreboding, the reported “shoot-on-sight” order given to Nigerian Army units operating in the southeastern states ostensibly to check the activities of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

The group, in a statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Basil Onwukwe, yesterday, said: “The said order further exacerbates the perplexing inability of the Nigerian forces to issue and/or execute similar orders against the deadly Boko Haram and marauding Fulani bandits, euphemistically called Fulani herdsmen, who have ramped up their terror activities against Nigeria since 2015.

“The order further compounds our consternation over the posting of soldiers of Igbo descent to the hotbeds of terror in Boko Haram over-run territories while posting only Fulani soldiers to the South-East.

“By all estimations, IPOB is simply an unarmed organisation.

Nigerian governments have a long history of worsening potential crises through a highhanded approach. In Dec. 2015, the Buhari-led government was accused of killing hundreds of members of Islamic Movement of Nigeria, a Shiite group in Nigeria’s north, leading to fears of another insurgency in the north. The Nigerian army claimed the group prompted a confrontation after blocking the motorcade of Nigeria’s army chief. Despite a court order for his release by courts, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, the leader of the Shiite group, remains in government detention.