By Ojo Maduekwe
After the illegal and controversial labeling of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, a “militant terrorist organisation” by the defence headquarters, DHQ, the Southeast Governors Forum comprised of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, states followed the DHQs action and proscribed the activities of IPOB.
In a communiqué issued by the governors in Enugu, they said, “All activities of IPOB are hereby proscribed. IPOB and all other aggrieved groups are advised to articulate their position on all national issues and submit to the Committee of Governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and National Assembly members from the South-East Zone, through their chairman, South-East Governors Forum.”
Many people have described the governor’s reactionary statement as not only illegal, but weak. Report has it that the governors were under pressure from the presidency to proscribe a peaceful and armless IPOB. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, while reversing the DHQs pronouncement, indirectly admitted that the Southeast governor’s were influenced to act.
“You have to get it very clear. First of all, what the Defence Headquarters did was to make pronouncement. It wasn’t a declaration per se… And I ensure you that what the military said was to set the ball rolling and to bring the awareness to the public that this is what this organization is all about. I’m happy that the government (apparently referring to the Southeast governor’s ban on all IPOB activities) has done the right thing right now”, said Buratai.
While it may be true that the action of the governors was illegal, to say that it was borne out of weakness is debatable. After the federal government approved the deployment of soldiers to the Southeast region in what was codenamed ‘Operation Python Dance II’, there was heightened tension in the region that only began to abate after the governor’s issued the ban on IPOB.
There are people who have argued that the governor’s should have stood up to the federal government and “defend the Igbos” from what was obviously an attack on not just the IPOB but an entire ethnic group. They argue that President Muhammadu Buhari has never considered the Igbo’s as equal partners in the Nigerian project, as can be seen from his government policies.
Nearly two months after Buhari was sworn in as president in May 2015, while addressing a gathering at the United States Institute of Peace, USIP, on July 22, said concerning a question on inclusive government, “I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% (of the vote) cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituencies that gave me 5%.” The Igbos voted massively against Buhari in 2015.
He would follow this up with a lopsided appointment of Nigeria’s security chiefs. All the country’s current security chiefs, minus two, are from Buhari’s side of the country, the northern part of Nigeria. Also, all the political-heads overseeing and supervising all the military and paramilitary arms and agencies are also from the north. They were all assigned their lopsided appointment by Buhari; the first time such a thing has happened in Nigeria’s history.
Recently there were appointments made into the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC that drew the ire of opinion leaders in the south. Out of the 15 appointments made, 10 were from the north (comprised mostly of Buhari’s ethnic group); three were Yoruba’s from the southwest and the last two from the South-south. Again, none of the appointees were Igbos.
To resolve the IPOB issue, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has asked Buhari to meet with the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu. In an interview with Newsweek, Obasanjo said, “I don’t see anything wrong in that (Buhari meeting with Kanu). I would not object to that; if anything, I would encourage it.” The idea of talking with groups that pose as threat to Nigeria’s sovereignty is not alien to Buhari. He had once canvassed for Nigeria to talk with Boko Haram terrorists.
After more than three months in London on one of his many medical vacations, Buhari returned and in his address to Nigerians, ruled out the idea of talks with IPOB, saying, “Nigeria’s unity is settled and not negotiable. We shall not allow irresponsible elements to start trouble,” and went ahead and vowed to destroy “relentlessly” any group that threatens Nigeria’s peace and safety.
Some analysts argue that Buhari’s approval of the deployment of soldiers to the southeast was a way to scuttle any talks with IPOB. One of such talks between Kanu and the southeast governor’s was said to have been successful and that their next meeting after that was to involve the entire IPOB leadership.
With Nigerians already divided on IPOB, if the governor’s had not acted like they did, there is no doubt Nigeria would have been fighting its second civil war as you read this, or on the verge of doing so. Thanks to the southeast governors, Nigeria might just live in peace for now, maybe to ‘fight’ another day.
PHOTO: Southeast governors reading their communique banning IPOB.