By Louis Ibah Ethiopian Airlines has announced it would be flying an all female-manned crew aircraft into Nigeria on December 16,2017 as part of efforts to encourage the participation of more Nigerian women in the aviation industry. “We are proud to announce our first all-women flight to Nigeria which is expected to leave for Lagos,…
When the Defence Headquarters, last week, declared the “Independent People of Biafra (IPOB)” a terrorist organisation, I was somewhat confused. For a moment, I thought that a new organisation had emerged in Nigeria and had attracted the ire of the authorities overnight. Although Nnamdi Kanu, the prime mover of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was mentioned in the statement, I had wondered whether the military was actually talking about the group Nigerians know or another unknown.
The Defence Headquarters, in its statement signed by Major General John Enenche, Director of Defence Information, stated: “The Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) group, which has posed to be a security challenge in the country, has been metamorphosing from one stage to the other.” Legally speaking, could we say that the “Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and the Defence Headquarters-created “Independent People of Biafra (IPOB)” are the same? If the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) were a legal body, could whatever declaration made about the “Independent People of Biafra (IPOB),” although sharing the same acronym, be binding on it? Well, while this is not for the legalese of it, what is clear is that the Defence Headquarters goofed. Perhaps, for the military authorities, Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) and Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) are the same, as long as the acronym is IPOB and there is Biafra in them.
Whatever is the case, the blunder of the Defence Headquarters is what happens when things are done in a hurry, when actions are not well thought out, when people suddenly wake up from slumber and begin to take actions whose rationsalisation is suspect. This is why the categorisation of IPOB as a terrorist group leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Yes, there is a universal understanding of terrorism. The Oxforddictionaries.com, for instance, defined terrorism thus: “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political aim.” If this definition is anything to go by, how has IPOB, which had stated that it was agitating for Biafra, using non-violence means and acting it out, become a terrorist group? Now, since last week, the military has not discovered any cache of arms in South East it could hang on the group. The things the authorities could attribute to the pro-Biafra group are “possession and use of weapon,” like “stones, Molotov cocktails, machetes and broken bottles on a military patrol on 10 September 2017” and “physical confrontation of troops at checkpoint,” claims IPOB members say are the reverse, as the military had, since the beginning of “Operation Python Dance,” violated the rule of engagement, regarding dealing with civilians.
Inasmuch as I believe that IPOB and its leadership made mistakes in the course of their agitation, in insulting everybody and using foul language, the sudden declaration of the group, as terrorist organisation is like giving a dog a bad name to hang it. And the measures so far taken, like full military operation, to the extent of unleashing armed soldiers and deploying fighter jets to the South East, is like trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer. There has never been any explosion of bomb in South East or any part of the country by IPOB. There has never been any reported violent attack on anybody or group by IPOB. The group had only organised rallies, which may have paralysed activities owing to the large number of participants. It is, therefore, obvious that the authorities, in looking for an excuse to descend on IPOB, reasoned that it was only by demonising the group that there would be justification. And the toga of terrorism fits. However, nobody would lose sight of the fact that the Arewa Youths Coalition, which earlier gave the Igbo quit notice, had openly canvassed the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group. If the witch cries at night and the baby dies in the morning, there is no point searching far for what went wrong. Those who think the Defence Headquarters authorities acted out someone’s script cannot be blamed. Or will they? That the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, recently said the Nigerian Army did not declare the IPOB, as terrorist organisation shows there is disagreement on the course of action by the components of the military. This says much about the confusion and lack of coordination of activities in the government.
In any case, the South East governors and the Defence Headquarters’ actions in declaring IPOB a terrorist organisation or in proscribing the group’s activities had no place in law, until the Federal Government did the right thing on Wednesday, using the court and following the processes. This was the point Senate President, Bukola Saraki, made when he advised the government to do the needful. The Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, in Section 2, stated that only the National Security Adviser (NSA), the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) could declare an organisation involved in act of terrorism proscribed, after the approval of the president. Such action should also be gazette and published in national newspapers. By the action of Wednesday, the Federal Government did correct itself.
However, I must say that we are treating the symptoms instead of the ailment. Biafra is not just an agitation, but has become a symbol of strength for the Igbo. It is only the address of the issues that make it to resonate that would assuage the feelings of the people and make them forget it. Proscription of IPOB would not solve the problem. Outlawing other pro-Biafra groups would not bring an end to agitation. One thing for sure is that Biafra will continue to be part of our history until Nigeria is restructured in such a way that all the component units would have a level playing field, have their fair due, manage their human and natural resources and develop at their pace, without being dragged back by others, whose deficiencies are an encumbrance. If this is not done, in future, when more sensible people, who would use their brain instead of their brawn and mouths, who will use intelligence, knowing what it takes to fight for independence in the international arena, instead of only holding rallies and ranting around in South East, the Biafra of both the mind and being would be realised.
For the South East governors, their hasty proscription of the activities of IPOB, on the heels of the Defence Headquarters’ pronouncement, has given them out as what Fela would have called “Follow Follow” or “Messrs. Follow Follow.” If the governors were convinced that IPOB activities should not continue, they could have had the courage to announce the proscription before now. Doing so because the Defence Headquarters declared the group a terrorist organisation smacks of panic measure. The governors were simply playing to the gallery, especially since the military was already executing the Operation Python Dance, with riot policemen also fully deployed to the affected areas. There was failure of leadership. Their northern counterparts, who engaged the Arewa youths and got them to back down on their misguided quit order and still came to South East on peace mission did better.
And for IPOB members, I guess they have seen that war is death. What they saw in Operation Python Dance is just a dress rehearsal of war and they complained. Some of us who saw the civil war, even as children, understand the evil wind war is. I should think that they now know that shouting at the rooftops and daring everybody, without anything whatsoever, are just infantile behaviour, which would take them nowhere.