Any administration in Nigeria that contemplates industrial development, without factoring in the South East, peopled mainly by the Igbo-speaking group, is building castles in the air. This is due to no other reason than the fact that, the people of the region represent some of the most innovative, creative, and enterprising humans God creates. From Aba to Nnewi, from Abakaliki to Onitsha, from Owerri to Enugu, it is a mix of creativity, innovativeness, entrepreneurship, and erudition. They equally represent some of the most adventurous groups of humans in the world. There is hardly any space occupied by human beings in the world where you won’t find an Igbo man, dwelling and doing business. Like the popular saying goes, “if you get to a town, and can’t find an Igbo man residing or doing business there, you are to, advisedly, run for your own good”.
Back in their land, the beauty of their (the Igbo) culture (cuisine, music, folklore, language, norms and values, proverbs etc.) represents interesting anthropological, and ethnographic propositions for scholars, and lovers of any form of adventures like yours sincerely. The only thing that takes me to a Yoruba restaurant, as an Òkun-Yoruba man is, whenever I want to indulge myself with pounded yam and egushi soup with bush meat, or Amala and Abula with fish, innards, Ponmo. Otherwise, “Oha”, “Ogbonno”, “Ofe Onugbu”, “Ofe Nsala”, with either “Gari”, or “Akpu” (“six-to-six spec”) remains my choice, anytime, any day. These can only be offered in export quality by the Igbo, and perhaps, Calabar and Akwa Ibom People. Furthermore, the Igbo, and their sense of community outside Igbo land, is also top-notch. This is regardless of the fact of them being acephalous, and being republican in nature.
But all the above qualities of the “Igbo nation”, have been under ceaseless assault by the Mazi Nnamdi Kanu-led secessionist group, the “Indigenous People of Biafra” (IPOB), and their military wing, the “Eastern Security Network” (ESN), who have turned the once, economically bubbling region into a shadow of itself. They claim to be fighting for the realisation of an independent “Biafran nation”, as a kind of liberation from the Nigerian state, the legitimacy or otherwise of which, is not something I like to dabble in. But the rationale behind their struggle, and the impact of the struggle on the socio-economic wellbeing of the people, especially their “sit-at-home” policy, usually implemented every Monday, has over the years become increasingly questionable. Reports claim that, the sit-at-home order has set the economy of the region back to the tune of over N4 trillion in just two years.
One would at this juncture be forced to ask, in whose interests are they fighting, if an average Igboman no longer feels safe, living and doing business in “Ala Igbo” (his homeland)? If the entire region is reduced to rubble, then, over whom are they going to rule, if they eventually get what they want – a secession? I wrote an article about two years ago, titled, “With IPOB and ESN, Igbo need no enemy”. In the article, I described how counterproductive the activities of the group are, to the socio-economic wellbeing of the people, and the overall development of the region.
Some parts of the land of the once economically bubbling, and technologically innovative people now rate, second, only to, Thomas Hobbes’ “State of nature”, where life was said to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. The land of the “Rising Sun”, has within the last decade, turned into where human life means little, or nothing to the criminal elements (styled, the “Unknown Gunmen” – UGM) who have hijacked a legitimate agitation by a majority of the people. Although, the UGM who have now hijacked the popular “Ahiara declaration” of June 1, 1969, for selfish reasons remain faceless, the footprint of their destruction remains visible to the blind, and their gunshots, audible to the deaf, just like the stains of the blood of the innocent citizens spilled remain indelible.
It is a fact that, there is no hardship whatsoever, can prevent an Igbo man from going home, every December, for Christmas, or at least, once in a year. But all that has changed, since the secessionists got infiltrated by criminals, who have taken over the forests of Ala Igbo. They come out of the forests, occasionally, to wreak havoc, and go back. People in towns and villages can no longer sleep, with their eyes closed. The last time I was in the East, about a year ago, the ever bubbling “Upiweka” (Upper Iweka) road in Onitsha had become a shadow of its old self. Before this situation of anomie, the human traffic there was only comparable to that of Oshodi in Lagos. But now, the roadside that used to be a beehive of activities by hawkers, traders, travelers, and transporters looked deserted. When I interacted with one of the residents (a native), he told me, “traders are tired of having to spend about an hour in the morning, arranging their wares, only to have to pack within a minute, and run for dear lives, since no one knows when the UGM will arrive, and throw everybody into scampering for safety”.
Considering how I usually felt at home in the area, en route to Calabar, during my (NYSC) national youths service year, the situation got me thinking, and asking (nobody in particular) questions. Are there no elder in the East again, who could rein in, those misguided elements who turned on the people they claim to be fighting to liberate? With the presence of fierce-looking and combat-ready military personnel and policemen, both, the conventional and Mobile Force, from Upper-Iweka road, Ọba, Ozubulu to Ukpor junction, even down to Okija, Ihiala, I felt like I was sleep-walking into a war zone. That was not the Igbo land I fell in love with. Those areas have long lost their innocence.
Many have argued that the arrest, and detention of the leader of the IPOB, Maazi Nnamdi Kanu (who is currently undergoing trial), by the Federal Government of Nigeria, was the reason the situation degenerated. They postulated that if the federal government releases Kanu today, tension would be de-escalated, and everything will return to normal. Meanwhile, Kanu himself, while he was still breathing the air of freedom, his tactics, and rhetoric were never devoid of violence. So I do not buy into that line of argument. Kanu himself, and some of his known close aides have continually dissociated themselves from the activities of the unknown gunmen, that they, simply, are criminal elements who have hijacked the legitimacy of the Biafran agitation, for God-knows end. So, tell me, how will they suddenly stop living an anti-social life they have become accustomed to, if Kanu is released today or next week? Please, do not get me wrong. I am not saying Kanu should not be released, if that is what will guarantee peace and security of lives and properties in the region. That will make me happy. But, I would be happier, if his release comes from the judicial process to which the Federal Government had subjected him. Or if the federal government would do the irreducible minimum of obeying court order that granted the Afaraukwu-born prince, bail.
It is common knowledge that, a man based in Finland, by the name, Simon Ekpa has been the one behind the economically destructive instructions, calling the shot, enforcing the sit-at-home order, over which hundreds, if not thousands of people, have lost both their livelihoods and lives. As we speak, some characters are parading towns and villages, maiming and killing innocent law-abiding citizens for not obeying the order by Ekpa.
Up to this moment, I am still struggling to wrap my head around the thinking by the enforcers of the obnoxious order that, it is in the interest of the people they claim to be fighting to liberate, for them to grind the economy of the region to a halt, using the “sit-at-home” (dis)”order”. To me, it stands logic on its head. It is like, Ukraine bombing places in Kyiv, as part of their resistance to Russia’s invasion of the country. How, so warped in logic? You cannot claim to be fighting a supposed enemy, by lacerating your own body. Mind you; it is not as though most of the people who obey the “order” are members of the group, or subscribe to their ideology, or because they believe in its efficacy in addressing the real cause of the agitation, which has alleged marginalisation at its base. They obey because their faiths in the ability, and even the willingness, of the governments to safeguard their lives and properties have been extinguished, by years of neglect by the various levels of government. If they had provided the required safety guarantee, they would not have been able to coerce the people into obeying such a self-inflicted economically genocidal approach.
Where are the elders in Igbo land?
This is a question, I have, out of my own naivety, thought is a simple one and hope to get an answer to. When I say the elders, I am talking about the members of the Pan-Igbo socio-cultural organisation – Ohanaeze Ndigbo; I am talking about the socio-political leadership of the region (Governors, Senators, House of Representatives members, State houses of Assembly Members, Ministers, Commissioners, among others); I am talking about, business owners, captains of industries; I am talking about the traditional rulers; I am talking about the intellectuals and the intelligentsia, in Igbo land. I am talking about “Ndi Aka Ikenga”. But to my chagrin, almost all these categories have been missing in action, as people of conscience seek an end to the carnage in the South East. Some of them never wanted to get marked by the dreaded UGM, for elimination. Even sometimes, it nearly took the Governors being tele-guided, before they issue statements of assurance, to inspire hope in the citizens. Somebody like the immediate past President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, late Professor Ralph Obiozor had to suffer persecution in the hands of those social malcontents we refer to as UGM, even though, we know that they are not unknown.
The first time some Elders made their voices heard, in a very long time, was when they announced a bounty of $500,000 on Simon Ekpa, who is believed to be behind the carnage. Another was, when the new President, of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was sworn in. The ohanaeze Ndigbo urged him to declare a “State of Emergency” on security in the region. A report by Daily Post, quoted the Secretary-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, to have said that, “a desperate moment needs desperate action. We want to warn again that Ohanaeze will not fold its arms and allow miscreants to destroy economic activities in the South East”. This was in apparent reference to Simon Ekpa. The report went further, “If possible, where this sit-at-home is happening should be declared a state of emergency. This is what Tinubu would do that will make the Southeast governors sit up and find a lasting solution to the problem. Ekpa has declared a second Biafra War, which Igbo are not ready to fight. Igbo are supporting Tinubu and would assist in ensuring that this rebellion is quashed. Ekpa’s action is an attempt to divide Igbo, and we wonder why Peter Obi and the rest are not talking. We hope this is not a conspiracy against the president.”
But do the Ohanaeze really think it (the use of kinetic approach) is the solution? Maybe a mix of kinetic and sociological approach would do. I don’t blame the apex socio-cultural organisation though, for being somewhat meek. Those who have spoken up against their nefarious activities in the past, either had their properties torched, or got targeted for elimination. Professor Obiozor was a victim, ditto for Chief Joe Igbokwe – they both had their houses in the east burnt. So, it became a matter of, discretion being the better part of valour.
Is this how we are going to fold our arms and watch?
Surely, things cannot be allowed to go on like this. Something has to be done, to put an end to the wanton killing and destruction going on, in the “Japan of Africa”. Nigeria, and indeed, Africa cannot, and should not, fold their arms and watch the economy of the South East, turn into ashes. Socio-economic successes of Ndigbo outside Igboland should not be mutually exclusive with prosperity in their homeland. It’s high time the Igbo replicated at home, their successes in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and elsewhere.
A report by Sahara Reporters on Monday states that, “the Ohanaeze Ndigbo (who had at one time placed a bounty of $500,000 on his head), has now invited the self-acclaimed Biafran agitator, Ekpa, and his group for discussion amid the sit-at-home protests against the continued detention of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu”. This underscores the fact that, every critical stakeholder in the region is desperately desirous of peace, and is doing everything humanly possible to bring that to fruition.
In a related development, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide, on Tuesday, also called on the Senate to march words with action. This is, according to them, by ensuring swift action by the Federal Government in collaborating with the Finnish government and working out modality for Ekpa’s extradition, so that he could be made to account for the lives lost, as a result of his incitement of violence in the region.
At last, there appears a ray, at the end of the tunnel. A hand-written letter by Kanu, who is in the DSS custody, has emerged on Twitter. It was posted by one of his counsels, Aloy Ejimakor, with the twitter handle – @AloyEjimakor, urging Simon Ekpa to halt dishing out instructions to people to observe the obnoxious “sit-at-home” order. It is something that is seriously hurting the socio-economic wellbeing of the South Easterners. Furthermore, it has brought the economy of the region to its knees. The letter, which circulated widely on social media, has also been confirmed by Kanu’s immediate family members, as a response to Ekpa’s insinuation that the letter was faked by Ejimakor. While the letter might not be a guarantee that Ekpa will desist from pouring fuel into the raging inferno, there are numerous Igbo youths who follow his instructions, on the assumption that, he is indeed carrying on (leading IPOB/ESN) with the blessings of Kanu. With the letter, Kanu’s message of peace to him, they might just reassess their obedience to him, and give peace a chance. That will take the wind off his sail, and restore peace to Igbo land in no distant time.
But in his bid to assert his independence (or at least, autonomy) from the office of the “Supreme Leader”, Ekpa in a video, posted on his verified Twitter handle (@simon_ekpa) on Sunday, said, “The reason for us not taking orders any more from the DSS dungeon is to safeguard our leader. We want our leader to be safe, we want to exonerate our leader from anything that Biafrans will be doing for his own best interests”. He then added, “So any actions that Biafra people will be taking in Biafra land, you don’t attach Mazi Nnamdi Kanu to it. Any actions that Biafrans will be taking in Biafra land for the freedom of Biafra, freedom of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and freedom of all prisoners of conscience you do not bring Mazi Nnamdi Kanu to it.”
Nevertheless, I think the young man, erroneously believes, he has a complete hypnotic control over Igbo youths, which makes him think that, in the absence of Kanu, he is in charge of the proscribed group, and can therefore, do, and undo, while Kanu remains in the custody. That is a gross miscalculation.
What is the way forward?
As the Igbo nation yearns for the restoration of its atrophied homeland economy, by the UGM, taking instruction and inspiration from Finland, the signal emanating from Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, I believe is a major condiment for the restoration of peace in the land of the “Rising Sun”. Tinubu would do well, seizing the momentum, by starting to anchor whatever peace plan he has for the South East, around Kanu’s encouraging gesture, as represented by the letter. This is in addition to working in synergy with the various stakeholders who have demonstrated their thirst for peace. Whatever peace initiative the five State Governors in the region (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo) have, should also be collapsed into the broader agenda of the aforementioned stakeholders, and aligned them with that of the federal government. President Tinubu should then, as a matter of urgency, convene a Town Hall meeting to be hosted in Igbo land, with Kanu in attendance, on account of his latest offer of olive branch. Ekpa too could be accommodated in the meeting, if he retraces his step, and accepts the invitation by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo. There, the President would listen to, and harvest their grievances, with a view to addressing those that are genuine, with utmost sincerity, within the framework of the harmonised initiatives of the different stakeholders.
If the Igbos thrive abroad, it won’t be out of place for them to also have the needed atmosphere to do the same at home. They require peace at home (in Igbo land) to replicate their feats in the region. After all, charity they say, begins at home.
Abubakar writes from Ilorin, Kwara state. He can be reached via 08051388285 or firstname.lastname@example.org