The reckless militarization of the South-East and South-South geopolitical zones of Nigeria never started today nor yesterday. The federal government has been accused in the past - and present - of treating Igboland as a conquered territory. I remember when I travelled back home in 2013 and was driving from Onitsha to Benin City I had encountered a monstrous 'go-slow' just before the Niger Bridge head. From Upper Iweka Road towards the major entry and exit point to and from the South-East I spent several hours in the artificial gridlock that stretched well over a kilometer! It was a disgusting, suffocating spectacle to behold as motorists heading towards the bridge were forced to drive at a snail’s speed. The heavily-armed soldiers were directing traffic and monitoring every vehicle that passed by, parking some for verification of documents or passengers or waving off others.
And again traveling from my hometown of Ihiala to Port Harcourt a few days earlier, I had met some gun-wielding military and paramilitary officers posted to mount roadblocks on the ever-busy Onitsha/Owerri Expressway. After an altercation with the officers at one of the many checkpoints, I wondered if in the northern states some Igbo soldiers or policemen could be drafted and allowed to do what the predominantly northern military elements were doing on our roads in 'Biafraland.' Or was that the price to pay for losing out in the 1967-70 pogrom? Was it a harsh reminder of defeat?
The ongoing Operation Python Dance 2 in the South-East and the imminent launching of Operation Crocodile Smile in the South-South areas of the embattled country are not only provocative but intimidatory. The so-called "show of force" is a show of shame that advertises our country to the outside world as a nation with the jackboot mentality. It is primarily meant to intimidate the people and silence them. We hold that in a democracy such an anti-constitutional demonstration of crude force that believes in 'crush-crush' policy in a time of relative peace is uncalled for and unnecessary.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan had criticized the deployment of the military to quell what was meant to be a police duty of maintenance of law and order. Reminding President Buhari that we were not under the military regime but a democracy, GEJ was making sense as a democrat, the massive corruption under his presidency notwithstanding. Jonathan uncharacteristically sounded like someone who had found his voice after a mob trial when in a released statement he lambasted the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lie (sorry, Lai) Mohammed for claiming that some PDP treasury looters and disgruntled politicians of the GEJ era were behind the IPOB insurrection drive. The lying Lai never provided any evidence to back up his assertion.
There are other places of conflict where the services of the security forces are most needed. Both Boko Haram terrorists (still terrorizing the population of some northern states) and the Fulani herdsmen (still armed and dangerous) ought to be more serious issues, more pressing and important, threatening the corporate existence of the nation. The President must be told to shed the toga of a tough general who believes in the Bismarckian philosophy of blood and iron made only possible by the jackboot.
Democracy frowns at these antiquated tactics and encourages instead diplomacy and restraint. Everything must not be seen from the myopic prism of militarism and coercion. We have since passed that era when the gun and tank had not been demystified. Now that we are well into the 21st century revolutionized by the Internet, we ought to talk more and fight less.
Nnamdi Kanu may be seen as a rabble-rouser or an unpatriotic element out to undo what Lugard unilaterally did in 1914, but the truth is that his separatist message resonates loud and clear with the feelings of 'Biafrans' at home and abroad. Though we recognize that Kanu has flagrantly broken his bail conditions and crossed the red line with his reckless declarations and actions (like the establishment, with infantile gusto, of the so-called Biafra Secret Service or the election boycott in Anambra State he decreed with juvenile impetuosity) we still believe dialogue at a higher level, as suggested by ex-President Obasanjo, could go a long way to douse the tension in the land.
The current policy of blood and iron as a means of settling the issues of the day could achieve a temporal remedy, but in the long run the application of the boot and tank could be counter-productive. While we recognize the constitutional right of the federal government to maintain law and order across the federation, there is need for utmost caution to be exercised at all times and circumstances lest the democratic ideal be compromised.
The Buhari administration's preference for flexing its military muscles instead of constructive engagement with the disgruntled segments of our society is antithetical to democratic ethos. The deafening demand for a better 'deal' in a skewed federation like ours that kills dreams and suffocates merit ought to be heard and addressed holistically. While some hardcore critics have been accusing President Buhari of harboring certain disdain for the Igbos, it gathers evidence that remains incontrovertible if we tend to recognize the fact that his administration favors the northerners to the point of nepotism!
The lopsided federal appointments, the brazen manhunt for the pro-Biafrans in the South-East when the Arewa youths that had issued (and later withdrew) a quit notice to the law-abiding citizens resident up north were never arrested nor charged to court despite promises to that effect and the divisive post-electoral declaration of the President bordering on electoral vindictiveness -- all taken together the President could therefore not be said to have demonstrated leadership.
While Nnamdi Kanu and his loyal henchmen have reportedly gone underground, hiding and dodging assured arrest and detention following the recent military invasion of his country home and the clashes with his supporters in Umuahia, the South-East Governors meeting with other stakeholders from Igboland in Enugu “proscribed” IPOB activities in the South-East. Following that proscription the Defence Headquarters in Abuja declared IPOB a terrorist organization. And some days ago a Federal High Court in Abuja officially and legally outlawed the activities of IPOB by declaring same as a terrorist organization!
But the United States government through its Embassy in Nigeria reacted to the branding of IPOB as a "terrorist organization" by declaring, “Within the context of unity, we encourage all Nigerians to support a de-escalation of tensions and peaceful resolution of grievances. The Indigenous People of Biafra is not a terrorist organization under US law.” IPOB has done nothing violently significant to warrant the proscription and terrorism label by the government.
Sequel to the proscription from Enugu enacted by the elected Governors, Ohaneze Ndigbo and some Senators and Honorables, the Chairman of the South-East Governor's Forum, Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, sounded more like a man possessed! Possessed by power, money or something else. He was obviously pandering to the pan-Nigerian sentiment which in the minds of the silent majority is obsolete to say the least. But the fear here is that a radicalized IPOB that may opt for some kind of guerrilla tactics could be more deadly and dangerous than what we were used to see and hear. If such transformation ever happens then every room for negotiation would have been shut.
Nigerians have long been deceived and raped by politicians to the extent that their Nigerianness is ebbing fast. A nation that has disappointed and failed a majority of her people by killing some, imprisoning others and taking others hostage in a hostile economic environment cannot possibly elicit pride or patriotic sentiments in anyone. A confused giant of Africa where poverty, joblessness and dehumanization still traumatize a good number of her citizens cannot lay any claim to sustainable nationhood. It is high time, therefore, that we stopped deceiving ourselves and face reality as Asiwaju Bola Tinubu has just advised with wisdom.
When the python dances or crocodile smiles both the snake or crocodile charmers and the spectators gleefully watching the macabre show are all exposed to mortal danger. The dancing python and the smiling crocodile constitute a dent on our hard-won democracy. It is a bad omen; a harbinger of chaos and anarchy.
You can reach SOC Okenwa at [email protected].