Last week the federal government completed the process of declaring IPOB a terrorist organisation by getting the court to approve the earlier step taken by the army and the governors of the region to proscribe it. Many people had questioned the panicky action of the army and the governors including Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki, insisting that only the Inspector General of Police, National Security Adviser or the Attorney General of the Federation could do that through the court.
Having legalized its illegal action, a question immediately arises: Is IPOD a terrorist organization as defined by the law, and is government right in taking the action, which has ostensibly brought calm and order back to the region and prevented what would become a major political crisis? A preponderance of public opinion has been of relief by government action flowing from their concern for breakdown of law and order and possibly violence and another war involving the region; but this does not answer the question of the integrity of the decision because it has not been properly interrogated.
Even government really bungled what could have been a master stroke and persuasive political argument by its uncoordinated, conspiratorial and shoddy handling of the case by stepping out of order and using the back doors to pursued an ordinarily legitimate policy. But to return to the question of whether government was right or wrong is declaring IPOB a terrorist group, the answer is not definitive and crystal clear; it is a political application of a legal definition and can be subject to several interpretations based on exigencies and motives.
Section 2 of the Terrorism Act defines terrorism loosely beyond the normal use of violence to mean “an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having intended to; … seriously intimidate a population; seriously destabilize or destroy the fundamental or political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country ….”
Government was right in moving against the group but wrong in proscribing it. After watching a video clip of the group’s ‘security and military outfit’ and the joker inspecting a guard of honour I felt it was a stupid joke taken to absurdity. Although they are unarmed and apparently innocuous such brazen defiance of constituted authority, if unchecked could further embolden them to more impunity. It is a shame that both the federal and state governments displayed such complacency for so long while they stoked the ember of fire.
As provocative and questionable as their motive and actions were, does it make them terrorists? The answer is a big no, all the rationalisation by government not withstanding! IPOB cannot be a terrorist group for the simple reason that it does not bear arm nor advocate violence as a means of action like any other terrorist group across the world. There is no terrorist organization in the world today that is not associated with violence and destruction of life and property. Although, their actions could threaten the peace and security of life, they were not direct purveyors of such threats.
So why did government resort on this measure of proscription of the group with the tag of terrorism? Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence against a people; has the group done that as a strategy or method of action to achieve their objective? Politically, the word terrorism is like a coat of many colours; it depends on who is wearing the coat and those doing the definition. Even most confirmed terrorist groups are some people’s freedom fighters. Nelson Mandela and the ANC were once declared terrorists; ISIS, Hamas, Boko Haram etc have their supporters, including countries.
Proscription is a political vendetta by the government to intimidate the Igbo as a people and the group that had given them and their plight a voice, which they ruling elite had found quite uncomfortable and conscience wrenching. Nobody in this country today would deny the fact that the Igbo are particularly marginalized and structurally disadvantaged.
Obviously, every part of the country has one issue or the other to complain about being marginalized, which could be policy focused in nature, but only the Igbo suffer institutional and institutionalized marginalization that requires constitutional amendment. For instance, the region has the lowest number of states in spite of being one of the major ethnic groups in the country. Revenue allocation, electoral allotments and economic benefits are based on number of states and local governments.
And the reason is simple: Nigeria does not trust the Igbo because they fought a war and lost but by sheer industry and determination have pulled themselves by the bootstrap to challenge the rest of the country in terms of development and personal accomplishments in spite of their political handicaps. Despite the absolute dearth of federal presence, the region is becoming the industrial hub outside Lagos. A significant proportion of private commercial development in Abuja belongs to them. Like the Hebrews in Egypt the more government oppresses them the more they increased and multiplied. The Igbo are capable of anything!
Proscribing IPOB is another anti Igbo action by this government. Without condoning their activities as inexcusable and intolerable, as well as offensive to decent conduct as they were, proscription was unwarranted and an over-kill and exposed the motive behind it. The group could have been dealt with without this excessive and extreme measure.
If IPOB is a terrorist group, why were they conducting open demonstrations and rallies? Do terrorist groups do peaceful protests? What do we called those militant groups that blow up pipelines and kidnap expatriate workers which cost government huge revenues, yet this government negotiates with them? Apparently what is good for the goose is not good for the gander!
When Boko Haram was gaining notoriety in its murderous campaign against the country, the government then attempted to categorise it a terrorist group. But those in power now rose up in arms, claiming that they were products of poverty, in spite of the bloody carnage being unleashed daily on the people. It was the U.S. and UN that eventually took the initiative, thus galvanizing global effort to tackle the menace after so much damage had been done and sizeable territory lost to them.
IPOB provided government a veritable opportunity to address the issues being raised by the group even cosmetically, but their hegemonic arrogance and superiority complex blinded their reason and common sense. All the political gains made during the acting tenure of Vice president Osinbajo have been lost to this jackboot, outdated, militaristic thinking. Proscribing IPOB may bring temporary peace to the region and reprieve to the conquerors, but doomsday has only been postponed unless the grievances are addressed.
Proscribing the group is a mistake. Nnamdi Kanu may be a villain and impostor but he represented a political tendency that is beyond him. So taking him out will not remove the tendency; it will find another form and outlet and when that time happens, the strategy and modus operandi will be different from that of Kanu. Then the categorisation of terrorism may be more fitting.