By OBINNA EZUGWU
Amid the continuing killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Southern Kaduna and other parts of the country, particularly the Middle Belt and Northwest zones, Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Garba Shehu last week, issued a statement blaming pro Biafra group, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu for what he called “misleading campaign, using false allegations of persecution of Christians against the Nigerian State.”
Mallam Shehu, in the statement, he titled “IPOB, self-proclaimed Jews, using Christianity against Nigerian state,” went on to explain how a very deep and wide investigation by an agency of the Nigerian government, working with international partners have made them become aware that there are two, interconnected campaigns being run concurrently by the IPOB in this regard.
According to Shehu, “Both are using the cover of Christianity and calling for a US Special Envoy to be appointed to stop the genocide of Christians in Nigeria. But the real purpose is to drive a wedge between the Nigeria government and its US and UK/European allies.
“IPOB leadership, of course, is self-proclaims as Jewish, a position not shared by the generality of the members. For reasons of convenience, he claims to have an interest in the welfare of Christians but this is a ruse: the case for independence, the leader believes, is strengthened by proving the government of Nigeria is autocratic, engaged in a silent slaughter of their own citizens along religion and ethnic lines and that therefore the only viable option for the unique religious and ethnic minority is a sovereign Biafra separate from Nigeria.
“Nigerians and the international community are advised to be wary of this divisive campaign, which available evidence shows is being funded with a monthly spending of $85,000 since October 2019, with no records of the source of this largesse. The campaign consists of producing articles in the names of the alleged Christian NGOs leaders (campaign groups created at the time this PR contract with a US lobbying firm was signed) and letters to and from members of Congress to the White House.
“Unfortunately, some members of Congress have clearly been persuaded there is indeed a Christian persecution underway in Nigeria and do so quoting the campaign and they are known to be taking up the case directly with the White House to appoint the special envoy. The American charity secured a meeting with U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and has made presentations to the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom.
“There is also a UK and European angle of the Campaign, which is more opaque than its U.S sister campaign given there is less legal requirement for public filings but what is known of this at the moment is that their Budget is sufficient to hire four PR firms in the UK, Belgium, France and the U.S (the latter additional to the above).
“They have founded an NGO/Charity and a linked web-based campaign named Stop the Silent Slaughter which is well designed and complete with video evidence-completely concocted. Members of the alleged Christian NGO have had multiple Op-Ed articles in conservative news websites promulgating their message of Christian Genocide. Some of those articles have also been used as evidence in the sister U.S campaign.
“Two of those conservative news websites were co-founded by the owner of the UK PR firm they have hired to generate their publicity as well as an OP-Ed article in the name of a British MP who may have been convinced by their campaign under false pretences. They have secured additional coverage in France, EU and Germany.
“They secured a MPs debate on the Christian Genocide in the House of Commons in which staff member of the UK PR was referenced as the private secretary to the leader of the UK-based Charity. It is clear from all of the above of the IPOBs extraordinarily and dubiously well-funded campaign in the US and UK/EU.
“Europe is misusing the issue of the welfare of Christians purely to further their own political ends, and it seeks to damage inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria as well as to damage the international reputation of Nigeria. Nigerians and the international community are hereby advised to ignore this campaign as they have disregarded similar past campaigns originated by this group which has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian State.
“International groups and societies are welcome to send representatives to Nigeria and give a lie to the false claims made by these terrorist groups who are duping them of their money and involving them in conduct and activities disguised to destroy the harmonious relationships existing between their home countries and Nigeria,” Shehu concluded.
The presidential spokesperson’s statement coming at a time when the government seems to have no answers to the killings in particularly Christian communities in Southern Kaduna, parts of the Middle Belt, and farming Hausa Muslim villages in Katsina, Zamfara and elsewhere in the Northwest; has attracted a flurry of backlash across the divide, with many accusing the presidency of only playing to the gallery.
Shehu’s statement had also seemed to deny the fact of the incessant killings, mostly in Christian communities of the Middle Belt and indeed across the country by the Fulani herdsmen who in 2015, were rated the 4th most deadly terrorist group in the world by Global Terrorism Index.
The killings which peaked in 2015, coinciding with the coming on board of the Buhari government, have continued to attract the attention of Western media, governments Christian groups, with the United Kingdom House of Lords holding a debates about it in 2019, and only few days ago, the Donald Trump administration in the U.S passed Executive Order on Advancing International Religious Freedom, with Nigeria identified as one of the countries of interest.
A Public Relations push by IPOB, but more importantly, the Lower Niger Congress (LNC) led by Mr. Tony Nnadi, both of whom have made presentations to the U.S Congress to highlight what they say is prosecution of Christians in Nigeria with respect to the largely unrestrained activities of the herdsmen, may have helped to draw attention of the U.S and Europe to Nigeria. But many observers have pointed out that the attention is not down to the IPOB activities, but those of the herdsmen.
Consequently, various Igbo groups, particularly the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF) have pushed back, pointing out that the government is only playing to the gallery, having been confronted by the growing international attention to its inability to stop continuing killings by the herdsmen.
“The government is playing to the gallery. The PMB administration since it came into power in 2015, has left no one in doubt as to its divisive policies, and it started with the policy of 97 percent vs 5 percent; when some parts of the country were targeted for political exclusion, especially the Igbo ethnic nationality,” Chief Abia Onyike, spokesperson for the ADF said.
“But later, it was no longer only the Igbo that are being targeted. We observed that the Fulani herdsmen or militia were running amok in the Middle Belt. They embarked on a programme of ethnic/religious cleansing, trying to wipe out the people of the Christian Middle Belt. Of course, we saw what happened and still happening in Southern Kaduna.
“A lot of killings took place, and there was even an allegation that helicopters from the air force were being used to ferry ammunition and logistics to the herdsmen in the hilly areas of Kaduna and Plateau State. And that they used to collect those weapons to launch attacks on civilian Christian population in those areas.”
Onyike argued that the international attention to the Buhari government is because it has failed to act in the face of killings by herdsmen. And therefore, trying to blame the IPOB would not be accepted.
“A lot of killings took place; Nigerians were crying out; many people, including the Alaigbo Development Foundation. But it became obvious that the Nigerian security officials were not interested in checkmating the excesses of the Fulani herdsmen. None of the assailants was arrested or prosecuted. So, it became obvious that there was an unstated official cover handed out to Fulani herdsmen to continue the murderous campaign and the genocide in the Middle Belt.
The Mambilla Plateau region was also involved. We heard about the killings in Agatu, Benue State and the 2018 mass killings in other parts of Benue State, which led the governor of the state, Samuel Ortom to issue an ultimatum, and later on the State House of Assembly passed the Anti Open Grazing Law, which was also passed by the Taraba State House of Assembly,” Onyike said.
“The killings later spread to other parts of the country. It happened in Enugu State, it happened Ondo State, it happened in Delta State. It has continued to happen there, even in Anambra, Abia and parts of Ebonyi State. These things became nationwide in character. And there was also this campaign mounted by the Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) where they stated their decision to conquer the whole of Nigeria and get their conquest up to the Atlantic.
“So, I mean, it’s not a hidden thing. We also knew when the daughter of Afenifere chieftain, Pa Reuben Fasoranti, Mrs. Funke Olakunrin was murdered in Ondo State. And so, it is the federal government that has continued to fan the embers of ethnic cleansing.
When you look at the appointments of the security chiefs, you see that it was tilted to give the impression that the Fulani were heading towards hegemony; to dominate other parts of the country. And the entire appointments made by the government of President Buhari, gave advantage to the Fulani ethnic nationality, and other nationalities like the Kanem-Borno who are in alliance with the Fulani. And they have dominated the country in terms of political appointments. They are in charge of the major economic and political instruments of the country. So, it means that what is happening to us is internal.
“IPOB has been reacting to some of these policies, and of course, became what you may regard as a rallying point for the Igbo youths, because when you marginalize a people to a certain extent, they have to look for a way out. Within this period, the IPOB became popular among the youths. And therefore, what happened was that the Buhari administration in September succeeded in prescribing the IPOB, because they felt that the group was gaining a lot of support and had become the major platform opposing the dictatorial policies of the APC led federal government of Muhammadu Buhari. So, when eventually, Nnamdi Kanu was forced out of the country, the battle line was drawn.
“Nobody in his proper sense should turn around to blame IPOB for calling attention to what is happening to Christians in Nigeria. After all, that Garba Shehu who is talking, last year, when they went to Saudi Arabia, I heard him referring to Nigeria as an Islamic country when he was making some press statements with respect to the mission of Buhari to the country when they went there for hajj. So, who told him that Nigeria is an Islamic country? Apart from the fact that it’s the direction they want the country to go. Otherwise, would he have had the temerity to say that?
“So, whatever is happening in the international community in terms of the perception that Nigeria is embarking on a religious war or persecution of Christians is something that is a manifestation of the atrocities of this regime, and nobody should blame Nnamdi Kanu. The international community is aware of what is happening.”
Speaking in similar fashion, Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Uche Achi-Okpaga said it was unfortunate the government was exerting more effort to tarnish IPOB than to do the needful by ensuring the protection of citizens.
Okpaga who spoke to a national daily wondered whether by accusing IPOB, the government was trying to say there is no insecurity in the country.
Would they (FG) also say that there is no insecurity in the country? All over the country, people are posting on the spot audio and video records of senseless and targeted killings,” he said.
I think now that the ovation of the Presidencys actions and body language have become loudest, attracting condemnations from high pedestal and well-meaning Nigerians, including the latest letter from Col. Abubakar Umar, the next available response, as is usual in their colour, is to heap some blame on a given quarter as the IPOB and deliberately divert attention from the issue.
Okpaga said it was sad that whereas the President swore to protect the lives and property of Nigerians, the same Nigerians are killed in their homes, their farms, on the roads, by herdsmen, while travelling, by bandits or Boko Haram terrorists as the case may be.
Perhaps, it is also IPOB that is sponsoring all that. It is a pity that we are exerting more effort to tarnish IPOB than to do the needful by ensuring the protection of citizens no matter whose ox is gored.