Victor Umeh: Courage and more

By Ab-Davidson Nwohonja on 16/07/2014

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Great courage was exhibited recently at the political camp of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), when its chairman, Victor Umeh, spoke to the press in Enugu on the issue of Biafra.

In the statement, Umeh showed the kind of courage that was not usually seen among Igbo leaders of his dispensation, as he spoke up in favour of members of Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), together with members of Biafran Zionist Movement (BZM). Hundreds of MASSOB members have been killed by Nigerian Police since 1999, with hundreds detained across the country, while members of BZM were arrested on Wednesday, June 4, in Enugu for attempting to make a radio broadcast.

Umeh, while in Enugu on Wednesday July 11, called for the unconditional release of all the members of pro-Biafran groups being held in various detention cells across the country in what he called the spirit of ongoing national reconciliation. He specifically urged the Federal Government to halt the ongoing prosecution of of Biafra Zionists Federation (BZF) members, as well as all members of MASSOB standing trial at various courts in the country, in the spirit of the Amnesty.

The APGA chair called on Nigerian government to do this because MASSOB youths were being deceived and misused by their leaders, most especially Ralph Uwazuruike. “The manner these youths are being exposed to danger, arrested and incarcerated in various detention cells across the South East has become a great source of worry” he said. He went on to lament how he has always been moved to tears each time he saw patriotic Igbo youths “being misused” by Ralph Uwazuruike, who he said was trading on their emotions and sentiments. He appealed to government to rehabilitate them through an offer of amnesty.

For sure, Umeh’s speech and stance is commendable, and a far cry from what some other so-called Igbo leaders have spewed in the past weeks, in response to the activities of BZM and other pro-Biafran groups.  For instance, it is on record that on Tuesday, June 10, some so-called Igbo leaders under the aegis of Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought (CILT) roundly condemned the BZM members for their Enugu action of early June. Deputy Secretary to the group, one Evang. Elliot Uko, in a statement warned the BZM and other groups to desist from overheating the Nigerian polity, and declared: “We warn Igbo youths preparing for or planning whatever demonstrations to shelve the idea, as such action will only encourage our already misguided folks, who erroneously believe that secession or disintegration will help the situation. “We advise those indoctrinating them along these lines to retrace their steps”

He had added that such actions were capable of leading to a breakdown of law and order, and must be discouraged. Finally, Uko and his friends claimed that “Ndigbo believe in a united Nigeria where equity and justice reign, where no man is oppressed. We believe in a restructured country where every section is treated fairly” the Igbo Leaders of thought said.

While the thrust of this piece is not to point out the gutless nature of the statement from the Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought, it is instructive to acknowledge the courage of Umeh in his own statement. We will neither join those that have already criticised CILT on their statement, nor tell them to keep quiet if they lacked courage to defend their people as others had already done. Even the lure to tell the CILT to, at least, emulate Hausa/Fulani leaders, who kept quiet over the activities of Boko Haram for months, will not make us berate them on their statements. There is no need telling that blaming the agitators seriously puts them (the agitators) in harm’s way because it would indirectly signal to Nigerian Police and military that the Biafran agitators have no base or home support, but on their own. There should be no need reminding them that their thoughtless criticism would give the Police and Army the impression that they (the security agents are free to continue to take the lives of these Biafran agitators, which they have been doing since 1999, with about 2000 killed. They have been so told by many other Igbo peoples and groups who felt outraged by their statement.

Rather, our thrust is to commend Umeh for the courage he has shown, speaking in favour of the Biafran groups. As that is being done, we would not hesitate to point out to him the necessity for more courage, since there are still many more issues to confront. Apart from calling for the unconditional release of the Biafran agitating groups, Umeh needs more courage to help inform Nigerians and Nigerian government that it is well within the right groups to agitate for Biafra.

It is necessary because self-determination is an internationally recognised right, which was explicitly recognised on September 13, 2007, by the United Nation’s Organisation (UNO). The world body declared through its United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (‘UNDRIP’) states: “indigenous peoples are equal to all other peoples, while recognising the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such, also that all peoples contribute to the diversity and richness of civilizations and cultures, which constitute the common heritage” he said.

Article 7 (2) of the declaration also states that “Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.”

It is equally important to ask Umeh to make his calls without adding the word “amnesty”, since amnesty is a legal term used for people who have been tried, found guilty of an offence, and pardoned. That was not the case with MASSOB and BZM members, because no court has ever found any one of them guilty, instead they were being detained from year to year in the past 14 years with multiple adjournments, a strategy being used to humiliate and break their spirit.

On another line of thought, Umeh should also find more courage to tell his APGA governor, Willie Obiano, to release the autopsy report of the corpses of Igbo youths found floating on Ezu River more than a year ago. The fact that it was his party’s government, from the time of Peter Obi as governor that has refused to release the report of the autopsy on the deaths of up to 80 people, should make Umeh move for the release of the report as he asks for the release of the Biafran agitators.

One of the reasons why Umeh should find the courage to speak of these other issues as have been enumerated is the fact that his party has had a hand in the murder of hundreds of Igbo youths in 2006. Indeed, it becomes imperative in view of the fact that Peter Obi, the APGA governor in 2006, gave a shoot-at-sight order to Nigerian Police and Military in which scores of Igbo youths were murdered and hundreds clamped into detention.

Umeh standing for his party was the one who showed so much disdain for a party that was about to register in Nigeria, because its logo was that of the rising sun.

Umeh should start doing this, and very quickly too, so as to counter insinuations that he was only pretending; spoke out just to cajole Ndigbo into seeing his party as being favourably disposed towards Igbo interest simply because the 2015 general elections is around the corner


Posted on July, 16 2014

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