WEEKEND ARENA

Biafra: The thin line between a defender and an oppressor

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I almost got attacked in a bus, while travelling around the southeast, researching and conducting interviews on my subject for a biography I was commissioned to do. I got into an argument. It was a consequence of the incessant and irritating presence of security personnel on the roads of the southeast. They had positioned themselves a few metres apart, menacingly extorting money from the drivers. My offence was saying that such sieges were very avoidable, if the agitation for secession had not turned violent. Like very hungry lionesses, everyone, mostly the young traders, ‘pounced’ on me. I had reasoned that secession or self-determination was an inalienable right, which must be conducted within the confines of the laws of the land. Within the confines of the laws of the land would mean, lobbying to get such enshrined in the Constitution. The only alternative would be to make it an armed conflict, which would result in the kind of siege we were witnessing that day. That aggravated more angst, and it took God’s grace that I was not devoured. I was called names-sabo, coward, ofeke. Yes, I was terrified that I forget to tell them that ‘they stay at the compound of the faint-hearted to point at the grave of the brave’.

It was deplorable that I could be termed an enemy for sharing an opinion during a struggle to restore people’s suppressed opinions. I have followed the ‘politics and business’ of the struggle for the restoration of Biafra since 1999 and I dare say that none has attracted the sort of attention the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB has. At the onset of their agitation, they group painted a picture of what the Igbo man needed. You would see the group fixing bad portions of the road, clearing grueling gridlocks and the likes. But things gradually got out of hands with unsavory comments that tended to pitch the Igbo man, living out of the southeast with his neighbours elsewhere. This got exacerbated when many unauthorized mouths got into the fray to speak for IPOB. You will notice it when you go online, where so many handles, mostly registered to attract followership, are dishing out conflicting orders, making ridiculous claims with superimposed images to hoodwink the gullible. It is this apparent lack of coordination that the Nigerian state is exploiting to inflict pains on both members of IPOB and hordes of innocent Igbo youths who lose their lives on daily basis. I still believe that a lot of those attacks apportioned to IPOB, were done to give them a bad name, but so many handles were online speaking for them.

Diplomacy and tact in managing information are crucial in any struggle. I have often asked the youths to go to YouTube and watch some of the speeches Ojukwu made as the leader of Biafra. He was in his 30s then and knew the importance of words. Despite fighting a full blown war, I have never come across any speech where he called for extermination. Most of his speeches always centred on the plight of the Biafran children, the genocide against them, ostensibly to attract sympathy to his cause. That is strategy. Well, you may not take it away from his high profile training as a commissioned military officer, knowing his limits within a conflict. I am sure, Ojukwu would be sad at what this whole thing has become today. True leaders check the pulse of their people and know when to draw a line between killing them and protecting them. That is why most security policies in the world typically allow criminals to escape than letting the innocent citizen to die. Thank God that a group like Ndigbo Royal Heritage, NIROH, led by Dr. Paul Okoye has been preaching peace, urging the youths to reposition the southeast with wisdom and creativity.

Today people in the southeast, known for their enterprise are going through all sorts in the hands of the security agents of the state as well as those situating to be protecting them. Of course, this will be rubbing off negatively on businesses and the economy of the region, because no meaningful commercial activities thrive under intense insecurity as being witnessed today.  Earlier in the week, students who were preparing to write the school certificate examination were getting conflicting notices, occasioned by a sit-at-home order by IPOB. Should the struggle for liberation endanger the education of our young ones? Videos of food vendors crying over their items being thrown into the gutter are online, and some of these women depend on that daily income to survive. I am sure such activities would only gladden the hearts of the ‘supposed enemies’. The Igbo man needs peace, he does not want to wake up and hear that there is a threat to his life. He knows he can do better under such circumstances.  Many of them applauded the formation of ESN to checkmate the activities of the rampaging herders, but nearly a year after its formation, news of their conflict with Ebubeagu and those opposing the views of IPOB fly more than their resistance to the herders who have continued to attack communities in Ebonyi and Enugu. So what are they doing?

Nobody is happy with the way the Nigerian state is drifting apart, with a leadership that has shown double standards without decorum, but we all know that time plays a role in assuaging pains. Every problem has an expiry date.