By Ray Ekpu
It seems that the people who run the organisation called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have never heard the Chinese saying that runs thus: “If you ride a tiger you cannot dismount.” The reason you cannot dismount is that if you dismount the tiger will eat you up.
When they started the Biafra journey a few years ago they probably thought that it was a risk worth taking. And of course, many things are sweetened by risk. But did they find out from Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a soldier, who ran the civil war from the Biafran enclave for 30 months how the journey went?
They didn’t, otherwise, they would have found out that war is not a tea party and that even though Ojukwu had said that even the grass would fight for Biafra, the grass did not fight because the grass is not capable of fighting. Ojukwu had to run to Ivory Coast in search of peace. Did he find peace for Biafra? He did not. Biafra surrendered unconditionally.
But these fellows who are starting the second stanza of Biafra were either not born or were in their diapers then. To them, the story of the Biafran war is merely one of those horror stories you read in a storybook. It is simply a story to which you cannot connect. You simply read it, sigh and move on. But this is real life. The dramatis personae in this evolving story that is capable of becoming a tragedy are different. Its leader, Mr Nnamdi Kanu is in detention. He had jumped bail and travelled abroad until the forces of the Nigerian government kidnapped him in Kenya and brought him back to Nigeria on June 27 this year. As we speak today, Kanu remains in detention so the organisation is, in effect, leaderless and rudderless.
On the opposite corner is President Muhammadu Buhari, a ruthless ex-soldier who has promised to teach the Biafran agitators a lesson in the language that they will understand. In other words, he has promised them bloodshed.
The Biafran agitators have no idea that Buhari is not a mild-mannered man like General Yakubu Gowon who should have been a reverend gentleman rather than a soldier. Gowon is the reason that the civil war was conducted with a great deal of civility and compassion. To the present Biafran journeymen, my advice is “please take note. Buhari is different.” When IPOB issued the first sit-at-home order on May 30, 2014, the idea was to honour fallen Biafran soldiers of the 1967-70 civil war.
That kind of tokenism seemed okay at the time but it was surprising that the young fellows who started this adventure did not remember from what they may have read or heard that, at the end of the war, the former Biafra enclave was like a scene from hell. That was proof that punishment always follows excess. Easterners were killed in some parts of the North in 1966/67 but it didn’t occur to me that the only way of resolving the matter was to declare the Eastern region a Republic. A republic meant asking for war and war we got. I lost some loved ones, lost two years of school and we lost our family property looted by soldiers.
This second round of Biafra adventure is different. Its leader, Kanu is charged with treasonable felony, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms. In solidarity, with him, IPOB issued a sit-at-home order in the South East to be observed every Monday until Kanu regains his freedom. The action took effect on August 9, 2021. On August 13, IPOB diluted its directive by saying that the sit-at-home order should take place only on the days that Kanu is taken to court. How will sitting at home bring Kanu home? Will that influence the court to free him? Not likely. Will it make the Buhari government file a nolle prosequi and bring the case to an end? Not likely. So at the end of the day, their sit-at-home order is basically an act in futility. But it does appear that some hoodlums have hijacked the process and taken the law into their ruffian hands by unleashing mayhem on parts of the South East. The rabble-rousing rule of these unruly ruffians is evident already.
In Anambra State, they burnt a bus. In Enugu State, they burnt another bus loaded with motorcycles and motor parts. In Imo State they sacked a school where students were writing their WASSC exams and burnt motorcycles and bicycles belonging to the invigilators and students. IPOB says it will replace the motorcycles and rebuild parts of the school buildings burnt. But it didn’t say whether it will give marks to the students whose exams were disrupted. Maybe they will also order WAEC and NECO authorities to grant all of them pass marks. However, IPOB has been unable to control its unruly followers. It declared a sit-at-home holiday on September 14 in remembrance of 28 people killed by soldiers at Kanu’s father’s compound at Afarauku in Umuahia, Abia State a couple of years ago. To enforce the order some thugs set aflame a bus loaded with bread at Orie Eruene in Enugu State. That same Tuesday they shot dead an Anglican Priest and school principal Mr Emeka Merenu in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State. They also set his car ablaze. His offence was that he had invited some soldiers to secure the school and protect the students.
Now IPOB has issued another order saying that it had suspended the sit-at-home order and it should therefore be ignored. Its Publicity Secretary, Mr Emma Powerful has now issued a statement saying that the boycott has been called off and anyone who enforces it will be treated as a traitor. He said further: “We cannot be part of the problem we are trying to solve. We cannot join the enemies to compound the woes of our people we are fighting to liberate.” With all of these senseless killings and burning, the tension in the South East is sky-high. The people have been hit by the hard fist of fear and there is a confusing mixture of dread and the unanticipated, a situation that has imposed a sudden chill on the territory. Now insecurity is a constant companion, which may culminate in the terrifying prospect of people continuing to live with fear as a company.
IPOB is at risk of losing whatever support it may have had from those who believe that the Igbos have had a bad deal from Nigeria but who don’t think that the IPOB confrontation is the solution. When IPOB tells people to sit-at-home does it provide food for them? No.
The fear that they have driven into the hearts of the people through violence may cost them sympathy from those who think that win or lose fighting against the marginalisation of the Igbos is a worthy cause. As things are the IPOB is likely, if it continues this way, to accelerate the economic marginalisation of the Igbos.
According to the Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, Mr Dave Umahi, the South East loses about N10 billion every day that the sit-at-home order is obeyed. The figure may be exaggerated but it is a fact that it is losing a lot economically. Apart from individuals and companies that lose money anytime, the madness occurs who is likely to want to invest in a territory where irreverent non-state actors dictate the tune and hold businesses to ransom for a cause with doubtful authenticity. Two of the biggest markets that receive the patronage of businessmen from several West African countries are located in Aba and Onitsha.
On Mondays in particular these markets make tons of business transactions from businessmen from various countries in the sub-region. This Igbo on Igbo violence has incalculable collateral damage for Ndi-Igbo as a race of enterprising businessmen and women because this is a self-imposed affliction. In the North East region, our soldiers are fighting the enemies of Nigeria. In the South-East the IPOB is not fighting the enemy. It is fighting itself, its people, its family, and its friends. This is a friendly fire in which it is cutting its nose to spite its face. The nose is being cut off bit by bit by IPOB and the face is being disfigured incrementally by IPOB.
If they continue this way their businessmen will be shutting their businesses and taking them where there is peace. Parents will withdraw their kids from South East schools and take them elsewhere.
Investors who would have loved to invest in the region will go wherever their businesses will be free from stupid instructions from people who are unmindful of the larger consequences of their actions for the Igbo race. It is Nietzsche who said that it is fair to “distrust all those whom the desire to punish is powerful.” What does this mean for the Igbo presidency in 2023? The five governors of the South East region have said that they are not for secession but for a Nigeria that is run fairly and equitably but an IPOB is busy throwing sand in their garri. It makes it easy for those who would like to cheat the Igbos in 2023 to point to the IPOB’s posture as the reason for denying them a favour they merit eminently.
Ray Ekpu is a respected Nigerian columnist