In 1954 at the Commonwealth games in Vancouver, Canada, Emmanuel Ifeajuna got Nigeria its first gold medal in an international tournament. A feat that was internationally celebrated in the whole of Africa as he was also the first black African to win such a laurel at an international stage. It took several decades before Nigeria could win another gold medal in an international stage. Chioma Ajunwa jumped to Olympic gold in Atlanta 1996. In that same tournament, Kanu Nwankwo led Nigeria Olympic soccer team (that was predominantly of Biafran extraction) to gold, beating the much celebrated Brazilian and Argentinian teams on the way. Not forgetting the exploits of the national under 17 soccer teams in 1985 and the years that followed.
In the last few months, several videos have been circulating in the social media showcasing the ingenuity of Biafran youths. I have watched many of these videos. I watched a Biafran youth display three prototype motor bikes and also a prototype of an air plane that despite its deficiencies, was able to fly. This youth, who stated having visions of his inventions in his dreams, could easily be seen as the Biafran version of American Wright Brothers. Another of these youths built a remotely controlled drone. One of the youths displayed a stylistic design of a car with intriguing built-in functions, such as rotating the driver’s seat to let the driver out. Another youth built an ATM that actually dispensed naira notes. Yet another demonstrated infrastructural proto-type for refining crude oil and generating electricity that actually lit up electric bulbs. Last but not the least, another built a payloader and demonstrated its use in excavating sand and possibly dumping it in a desired location. A country that is looking for talents to make it great would readily latch onto these talents but Nigeria would rather kill your talents than utilize it, particularly if you are Biafran.
One thing is common with all these super gifted athletes and inventors. They were born by parents – mom and dad, who probably did not have pedigree in their show of talents. In particular, our budding inventors have parents who may not have had substantial education, talk less of pedigree in science and technology. So, when you set out to kill on sight males and females suspected to be Biafran supporters or Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) members, you are unwittingly killing the potential mom or dad that may give birth to that super footballer or inventor of tomorrow. Why is this important? Many Biafran youths that are being slain today extrajudicially by state police and military, for no crime other than being male and in some cases female and found in the Southeast, could be the mom or dad of that supper talent tomorrow. Most countries of the world deploy their military to protect their citizens but not to kill them.
Soon after Muhammadu Buhari on June 1, 2021 threatened to talk to IPOB in the language they would understand for agitating for Biafra, the inspector general of police, Baba Usman, instructed his officers to kill them, kill all of them and don’t worry about human rights. The administration reshuffled its security apparatuses to ensure Igbos are removed from strategic positions. Since then, the military and police have unleashed mayhem across the South East, killing, maiming, burning houses across Southeast states and traumatizing the entire region. Not only that the Southeast governors and the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo have not condemned these atrocities, in many cases they were seen to be facilitating them. The military and Police invaded Ebonyi and Imo States on the invitation of the governors of the states, Dave Umahi and Hope Uzodinma respectively. Apparently in a race for who would pacify their Fulani masters more by killing the people they are supposed to be protecting. Buhari is now expressing determination to “get rid of miscreants” in the southeast. He is expressing this desire while doing nothing about the super-miscreants and murderers pillaging the north and committing mass murders on a daily basis. For the avoidance of doubt, let it be said that there are no miscreants in the southeast. What baffles me the most is how and why the Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo and southeast governors have been willing accomplices of Buhari’s evil agenda against the Southeast. In terms of mental health and other health indicators, the long-term effects of these unwarranted killings, destruction of lives and property and exposure of large segments of the population to trauma, is a subject of another discussion.
By the time the military and police were done with the initial incursions, the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo on August 4, 2021, commended them for bringing back safety, which literarily meant, thank you for killing our people. Their celebration of these killings would soon be questioned when shortly after, August 5, Human Rights International indicted the Buhari government for extrajudicial killings of at least 115 people in the South East from March to June 2021. But at Owerri Federal Medical center, the facility was said to be overflowing with corpses of those extrajudicially murdered by the police and military. On October 3, 2021, the facility and the state government issued a public notice for the corpses to be claimed within 2 weeks or they would be buried in a mass grave. There was a mass outcry against the 2 weeks deadline to claim the dead or plan for mass burial of people slaughtered by government agents. Many of these people had been killed without their families knowing.
Subsequent and repeat indiscriminate military/police killings and burnings of homes in Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, and Enugu, have occurred without any meaningful condemnation from Ohaneze Ndi Igbo nor the governors. Anambra state had remained relatively spared from these recent killings from June 2021 until recently as November 6 drew nigh. The Buhari administration deployed over 34000 security forces to Anambra State as the administration was determined to conduct an election for state governor that many believed was a sham arrangement to impose a governor on the state and given a historical backdrop of declaring winners even when elections do not take place. In addition, politicians have notoriously disappointed by not serving the people, rather, they siphon public funds for their personal use. The result is lack of infrastructural development and deterioration of the few existing ones.
All these military deployments in the South East are happening in the face of unimaginable insecurity and wanton loss of life in the north orchestrated by Boko Haram, ISWAP, Miyetti Allah, Fulani cattle herders, bandits, etc. But the President Buhari’s administration is not interested in deploying the military against his ethnic group regardless of their criminality. At least, not to the extent of killing them. Rather, the military and police who are predominantly from Southern Nigeria and the Middle Belt, are frequently the victims of their attacks and there was never a military or police revenge mission on the communities these attacks occur. We are frequently told that large numbers of them have repented, which makes way for them to be rewarded with placement in the military, police, and other agencies. The regime has employed the tactics of minimizing the crimes of his ethnic group (for example, describing kidnap and slaughter of people as business) while at the same time exaggerating and mischaracterizing as criminal, other groups protests against Buhari’s failures.
Citizens of the world have a right to express their displeasure with their governments and most reasonable countries respond with dialogue and engagement. Between December 2001 and June 2002, I watched with bewilderment as Argentinians were on the street daily until they got a president that was sensitive to their aspirations. During those six months period, at least four presidents took office in Argentina and resigned in response to popular opinion. The power of the military and police was not unleashed on the people. But in Nigeria, the story is different. Certain segments of the society are comfortable with Buhari’s catastrophic humanitarian disaster and senseless loss of lives. Till date, there has not been any coherent and sustained voice asking the president to resign, which understandably is linked to Nigeria’s ethnic politics. Yet people talk about “one Nigeria.” No country will be one without inclusion, equity, and justice.
Unleashing your military on the people you are supposed to protect instead of engaging on dialogue and making sustained effort to address grievances, has the opposite effect. You cannot claim one Nigeria, while at the same time exclude segments of the country from the benefits of belonging to the same country. When you choose marginalization as a tool, you have wittingly or unwittingly signed up to fail. Olusegun Obasanjo has not always been pro Igbo. In his first administration as civilian head of state (1999-2003), he played the marginalization game against the Igbo and chose Andy Uba to play the role Lauretta Onochie is now playing for Buhari – as an assistant to the president, these people would readily spit at agitation for Igbo interests. But all that changed in Obansajo’s second term. He heeded to Gani Fawehinmi’s rebuke that admonished that Obasanjo could not be serious with development with his continued marginalization of the Igbo despite their creativity and hard work. Subsequently, Obasanjo appointed Charles Soludo and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the governor of the central bank and minister of finance, respectively. Both esteemed Igbo son and daughter were instrumental to economic policies and reforms that ultimately qualified and earned Nigeria debt forgiveness, thus freed up much needed fund for development.
Many of us living abroad have seen that many countries that have embraced equity and justice are doing well. United States of America, Russia, and China are some of the countries with intimidating mix of talent and natural resources, which they have deployed to optimum effect. Not all developed countries are endowed with natural resources but in the absence of abundant natural resources, those that have chosen to tap into their human resources, inclusiveness, equity, justice, and utilizing the right talents for the right purposes are also doing phenomenally well. These countries include Japan, Singapore, Israel, and New Zealand. Having natural resource endowments gives additional tools in your toolkit and this is the reason why countries with natural resources should be doing well. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) provides a classical example of the role of abundance of natural resources in development and nation building. UAE provides an enviable case of leaders with desire to serve the people and elevate their country. They have demonstrated a propensity to utilize their earnings from oil and gas resources to hire the best infrastructural developers in the world and in the shortest possible time have turned their country into a marvel.
Despite abundant natural and human resources, Nigeria continues to struggle. In spite of claims of one Nigeria, there is rarely a national agenda that is not ethnically engineered by the ethnic group in power to shortchange other groups. Having, cattle roaming the highways, low ways, townships, villages, farm lands and destroying people’s livelihood and worst of all, killing the people if they complain, is beyond imagination and definitely at variance with equity, justice, fairness, and building a united prosperous country. One groups livelihood, should not be another groups ruin. At this stage of human development, the least expected of any serious country is to at least copy and adopt technologies and practices that have been developed and proven to work in other places.
Bryson Okeoma, DNP
A commentator on contemporary issues, writes from the US.