THERE is no gainsaying that Ndigbo have had a rough patch in Nigeria since the end of the civil war in January 1970.
It is even worse in the last six years of Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency when the South-East became, literally, a territory under the dominion of a suzerain. The President’s overlordship and his relationship with the zone, which is that of a superior feudal lord to whom fealty is due, rankles.
No self-respecting people can take that, not to talk of proud, self-assured Ndigbo with their indomitable optimism and can-do spirit. It, therefore, didn’t come as a surprise that a group like the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra sprang up and its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, became a mythical figure with a cult following. His message resonated loudly and his fiery rhetoric caught the imagination of the youths who reasoned, correctly too, that it is a sacrilege for them to be relegated to second class citizens because of their ethnicity.
Overnight, IPOB activists became self-determination aficionados. The group started well. Kanu, himself, meant well. He had passion, charisma and conviction. But IPOB lost the plot when they framed the struggle around their leader, thereby personalising Biafra. First, Kanu became the Supreme Leader whose followers worshipped at his feet. Insults and ultimatums became the language of the struggle. Kanu broached no dissent or criticism, no matter how constructive and well-intended. He became Nnam Oha – a “He Who Must Be Obeyed, HWMBO”.
No one needed to be a Nostradamus – the French astrologer, physician and reputed seer, who predicted future events – to know that sooner than later, IPOB would become the problem, rather than the solution. I was alarmed and on June 3, 2021, I voiced out my fears in an article titled: “Is another war for ‘Biafra’ inevitable?”
And these were my points: “As I noted recently, there is no Igbo leader today that has as much hold on Igbo youths as Kanu. Such enormous power should come with great responsibility. That seems not to be the case. Biafra or no Biafra, Ndigbo need to be alive. Brainwashing Igbo youths to confront soldiers that have no respect for any rules of engagement is suicidal.
“Today, some Igbo are as afraid of Kanu as they are of Buhari. This my way or the highway philosophy of IPOB detracts from the struggle. Threats against those who do not necessarily disagree with the struggle but have a different idea of how things can be done without bloodshed smacks of a budding autocracy.
“Mass self-immolation, which is what I am seeing in this “it is either Biafra or war” battle cry of IPOB is not a sign of bravery. It is a red flag of a society on the path of self-destruction. You don’t wage a war against a bull in a China shop, because even if you win, you risk losing all. You deploy tact and wisdom in guiding the bull out of the shop. That is not cowardice. Ndigbo who are calling for restraint are neither fraidy-cats nor quislings.
“Calling Nnamdi Kanu out if he errs is not an act of betrayal and, therefore, does not deserve a fatwa. With the way things are panning out, particularly the stratification of Alaigbo along the lines of those who are for and against Kanu, we risk Igbo-on-Igbo violence. It is a slippery slope. Ndigbo don’t need to fight another war even for the sake of a territorial Biafra. Buhari is a rampaging bull who has no qualms replicating the tragedy of the late 1960s. Playing into his hands is foolhardy. This war is not inevitable.”
Expectedly, IPOB sympathisers were up in arms, calling me an otelectual, a derogatory slang coined by Kanu, meaning an intellectual that reasons from the anus. This was before he was kidnapped in Kenya by agents of the Federal Government and brought back to Nigeria in an extraordinary rendition that runs afoul of international laws. The problem has since then become hydra-headed.
The Igbo-on-Igbo violence I warned against in June is very much afoot. If you are branded a saboteur, that is a death sentence. And you don’t even need to betray the cause for you to be so branded. Personal scores are settled by people hiding under the protective umbrella of IPOB. Things got to a head when IPOB announced that henceforth, every Monday starting from August 9, will be a ghost day until Kanu is released.
The sit-at-home order will affect schools and marketplaces, they decreed. In Alaigbo, education is an industry, not a haram. Entrepreneurship is a virtue, not a vice. As businessmen, Ndigbo have made spectacular success of private enterprise. Enlightened self-interest should have informed IPOB that anything that will affect those two pillars of Igbo reality negatively is a definite no-no. More so, secondary school students were writing their external examinations and any attempt to shut down schools at such a critical moment will impact negatively on a generation of Igbo youths.
Many, therefore, heaved a sigh of relief when Kanunta, Nnamdi Kanu’s brother, announced that the sit-at-home order had been suspended to allow students in the region write their National Examination Council, NECO, papers. But on August 8, Emma Powerful, the IPOB spokesperson, issued a blood-curdling statement, not only insisting that the lockdown order was “sacrosanct”, but threatened that “anybody who ventures to come out tomorrow will regret his or her life. We warn you tomorrow is a total lockdown in every part of Biafra.”
Some who dared paid the supreme price. Since then, it has been a free fall. Mondays became “ghost day”. With the capacity of the state to enforce law and order grossly diminished, people stayed away from the streets to save their lives.
Emboldened, IPOB expanded the coast. Last week, they declared Tuesday, September 14, 2021 as another sit-at-home day, this time, to commemorate victims of genocidal invasion of the compound of Kanu at Afaraukwu Ibeku Umuahia, Abia State. To enforce the order, IPOB operatives invaded the Comprehensive Secondary School, Nkume in the Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State and stopped students from writing the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, WASSCE, and set ablaze motorcycles and bicycles belonging to staff and students.
Rev. Emeka Merenu, the priest-in-charge of St Andrew’s Anglican Church, Ihitte-Ukwa in the Orsu Local Government Area of the State was also killed and his vehicle set ablaze. His crime? The church has a school and he was alleged to have brought in security men to protect the students who were writing the WASSCE. Neither Taliban nor Boko Haram can do worse.
The backlash was instant. The people have been pushed to the wall by those who claim to be their protectors. So deafening was the outrage that IPOB issued a statement disowning its own foot soldiers. Former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, described what happened at Nkume as madness.
“The goal of struggle is to spare children from the scourge of discrimination that blighted the lives of their parents and grand-parents. Destroying spaces in which kids are taking exams in order to forcefully prevent them from doing their exams is madness,” he said.
Some people have justified the lunacy in the South-East on the ground that revolution is not a tea party and cannot be without collateral damage. Maybe! But there must be a goal and the strategy must be right. What is the goal here? Is it to force Buhari’s hands to set Kanu free? Anyone who knows Buhari well and the mindset that underpins his actions will know that won’t happen.
IPOB’s actions are tantamount to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Buhari does not care. In fact, he will be happy that Igbo youths are helping him complete the job of reducing South-East to the level where North-East is right now. The businesses that are destroyed are owned by Ndigbo. The students that are prevented from sitting external examinations are Igbo. The sit-at-home order is only hurting the economy of the South-East. So, why should Buhari bother?
Those who are busy fanning the embers of this madness should reflect on the posers Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra State, raised on Tuesday: “Will investors come to the zone under the present condition? Will established businesses not think of leaving the South-East under such a condition? Will traders from neighbouring countries that flock Aba and Onitsha on Mondays not seek alternatives? Will some industries not think of re-locating?”
Making South-East ungovernable in the name of self-determination is a self-defeating gambit. It is counterproductive. Ndigbo are better than that. This madness must stop.