By now, we can safely say that the known phase of the programmed liquidation of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has successfully been carried out by the Nigerian Army. The September 10 sting operation in Umuahia has pushed the agitators to the backwaters. They have gone underground and no one seems to know what the group may have up its sleeves in the days to come.
An interesting outcome of the assault on IPOB is the excited discourse around Nnamdi Kanu. His emergence as the arrowhead of the quest for Biafra signposted a significant turning point in the struggle. The young man’s approach was brusque. He had no room for niceties. He was unapologetic in every sense of the word. He loathed everyone and everything that was anti-Biafra. He knew how best to throw brickbats and he did not spare anyone that crossed his path. Many held him in awe for good reasons. He had the courage of his convictions. But beyond that, he had an enchanting hold on his flock. He recognised no sacred cow and breathed down on anybody known or perceived to be an enemy of the cause that he was fighting for. His language was intemperate and acerbic. He was something of a tin god, who feared neither man nor spirit. No one seemed to know the source of his powers. Many of those who were at the receiving end of his vitriolic excesses were scared stiff. They could not join issues with him.
However, those who were tongue-tied over Kanu before the Umuahia operation have had their lips loosened up. They appear to have been rescued by the army. The invasion of Kanu’s home in Umuahia and the consequent bloodbath have sent Kanu out of the scene. He has not been heard or seen since the military assault on the defenceless agitators. It is not even certain whether he is alive or dead. His absence seems to have opened a floodgate of criticisms. Those who could not speak out against him all this while have stepped out of their closet. They are denouncing Kanu as if they just encountered him. The mystique around him seems to have been shattered and the lily-livered are having a field day. But that is hardly surprising. It is in the nature of man to hanker after the fair weather. Kanu’s habitation seems to be tormented at the moment and many are not prepared to tread the inclement path with him.
If we leave Kanu momentarily, we will be saddled with the barbarism that took place in Umuahia on 10th of September. On that day, unarmed young men and women were massacred in their numbers in Kanu’s home. The incident was supposed to cause an outrage. But a good number of those who are supposed to make an issue out of it have chosen to bury their head in the sand. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who is supposed to be the chief security officer of Abia State, was thrown into blue funk by the bloodbath. His confusion was evident. His immediate reaction was that the incident “could presumably be attributed to the commencement of Operation Python Dance II.” I am still at a loss as to why the governor did not recognise the fact that the killing of the IPOB members had nothing to do with the python dance, which was scheduled to commence five days before the cold-blooded massacre of the unarmed agitators. Even if the massacre was occasioned by the commencement of the python dance, was that supposed to be the objective of the exercise? Is the operation about mindless massacres and cold-blooded killings?
Much more regrettable is the fact that Okezie’s complacency and inaction was complemented by his fellow South East governors. They met over the Umuahia killings and all they could say was that IPOB had been banned in the zone. They said nothing about the massacre that took place. Lt. Gen. Buratai’s army of occupation intimidated them into submission. In the final analysis, Okezie and his fellow South East governors did not show leadership in this matter. They failed the people.
The cowardly response from South East governors, unfortunately, set the tone for what was to follow. Since the Umuahia massacre, everyone has been talking about Kanu. They have been focusing on what he did or did not do. No one is talking about the massacre. The killing of defenceless civilians has been conveniently ignored by everyone. There is no outrage. There is no condemnation. Even worse is the fact that the Senate of the Federal Republic has followed suit. After a seven-week recess, the senate reconvened and all that they could tell us was that the unity of the country is not negotiable. If that was the most important thing they wanted to tell Nigerians, they should have simply kept quiet. We have heard all the talk about a non-negotiable Nigeria ad nauseam. It has become too jaded to form the focus of any message to the nation. President Buhari’s recent reference to it did not excite anyone. In the same vein, the senate has failed to excite us. But it is much more tragic that it did not say anything about the Umuahia massacre.
It is on the strength of the fact that Nigeria and the world looked the other way over the Umuahia killings that the army and the Federal Government had to go a step further by declaring IPOB a terrorist organisation. It was so easy for them to do so even when IPOB has no weapons to hurt a fly. If we square this up with the rigours that Nigeria went through before Boko Haram could be labelled a terrorist group, we would begin to wonder when it became easy for an organisation to be so called. Even though Boko Haram visited Nigeria with the level of terrror that was never known in the history of the country, neither our home government nor concerned foreign governments was prepared to call it a terrorist organisation. The Jonathan presidency even went further to fight against any move that would place the terrorist tag on Boko Haram. Government’s argument then was that if Boko Haram were labelled a terrorist group, the unsavoury tag would affect every Nigerian travelling abroad, particularly to the United States. It took a whole lot before the United States government reluctantly enrolled Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation, despite its manifest links with Al Qaeda. But all that has changed. Terrorism has become a word to toy with to the extent that a non-violent body can be forced to wear the tag. What an absurdity.
But we know the undercurrent of this whole game. It is an attempt to give the dog a bad name in order to hang it. By declaring IPOB a terrorist group, government set out to achieve one aim. It wants to drive the agitators out of the streets so that their quest for their dream republic will become ineffectual. The assumption here is that if these agitators are no longer seen, the wind would have been taken off their sail. But that is a very simplistic way of looking at a situation as complex as the IPOB phenomenon. IPOB members may no longer parade themselves in the streets since they do not have arms to confront the army and the police, who are now hunting and hounding them. If this should be the case, then the group is likely to change its strategy. It may not be seen. But it may be heard loudly and clearly. If this happens, government may have, unwittingly, created a new monster in IPOB.