By Azuka Onwuka
Why is it virtually impossible for Nigerian security agencies (especially the Nigeria Police, the Nigerian Army, and the Department of State Services, which is the intelligence agency) to have an engagement with any dissenting group without it leading to deaths? Some decades ago, Afro-beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, sang about the Nigerian security agencies, noting that they “bring sorrow, tears and blood”, which he called their “regular trademark.”
In spite of the number of years that have elapsed since then, that same scenario still subsists. Over the weekend, it was reported that two people died in the face-off between the police and the Shiites, officially known as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria. Just slightly over a week ago – precisely two Sundays ago – it was reported that some members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) were an altercation with the DSS, which led to the death of some people. IPOB said 21 of its members were killed. The DSS said two of its men were killed. The media said at least six corpses were found at the scene of the incident in Emene, Enugu.
What was the cause of the problem? Some newspaper accounts said that some members of IPOB were having their weekly prayers, meeting and martial arts training within the premises of Community High School, Emene that fateful Sunday morning, where members of the community gather for sports. Then a team of operatives of the DSS visited the venue of and used force to disperse them, killing some of their members. Members of the IPOB, in anger, went after the fleeing DSS operatives, captured one of them and killed him. The DSS called for reinforcement from the police and the military, who arrived the scene and responded with gunfire, worsening the casualty figures.
Since then, the security agencies and IPOB have been accusing each other of being the aggressor. IPOB claimed the DSS opened fire on its members who had no arms. The DSS claimed that it was on patrol when IPOB members attacked it and killed its men. The police claimed that they merely responded to the distress call made by a sister agency that was attacked by IPOB members. Curiously, the DSS and the police are armed agencies, while IPOB is not an armed group; yet it was IPOB that allegedly attacked the armed groups and killed their officers!
The media response of the DSS and the police was in consonance with the way the security agencies respond whenever an incident that results in fatalities occurs. Whenever there is a face-off between Nigerian civilians and the police, military, and other security groups in Nigeria, the press statement from such a security group is usually that such civilians were the aggressors. One wonders if anybody believes such press statements.
The belief was this flippant killing of civilians was caused by the dictatorial mindset that governs military juntas. However, this aberration has continued under different civilian administrations as if it is the standard way of engagement between security operatives and the civilian populace. Even the citizens have adjusted to it and accepted it as the norm. When civilians are gunned down by any arm of the security forces, most citizens blame the victims and find different reasons – no matter how weird – to justify such killings.
Nigerians have accepted the message that the life of a Nigerian is worthless and can be dispensed with anytime without any consequences. The reason this sore has continued to fester is because of the decades of mental conditioning that has taken place in Nigerians. It is not surprising that when someone dies or is killed in France, the USA, the UK or Canada, the Nigerian government sends a condolence message to such a country, but when dozens of Nigerians are killed under avoidable circumstances, there is silence from the Nigerian government. Similarly when a citizen of the UK or USA or France is killed or even dies in an accident or from an illness, many Nigerians discuss it and mourn with the concerned country. In some circumstances, some Nigerians even organise protest marches right here in Nigeria in solidarity, but when some Nigerians are killed needlessly by agents of government or some criminal elements, many Nigerians carry on as if nothing happened.
Given this scenario, one wonders why IPOB does not seem to realise that it needs to change its strategy and save the lives of its members. The Nigerian government – civilian or military – has no value for the life of a Nigerian. It is worse if such a Nigerian belongs to a group that is not a threat to the fire-power of Nigeria. Nigerian government acts like a bully. Bullies persistently attack the weak but flee from the strong. Because IPOB uses non-violence to pursue its cause, the Nigerian government enjoys to attack it. But when Niger Delta militants used violence against Nigeria, Nigeria begged them to drop their guns and get amnesty. Nigerian government as well as some state governments has appealed to bandits, murderous herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists to drop their weapons and get amnesty. Some state governments like Kaduna have confessed that they have paid money to bandits in their bid to have peace in the state. Nigerian government has been spending money in the so-called de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of “repented Boko Haram terrorists.” Ironically, at the drop of a hat, it opens fire on unarmed IPOB members with the excuse that it is securing Nigeria.
No matter how unfair it is and the undemocratic way it was secured, IPOB is designated by the Nigerian government as a terror group. Even though it sounds weird that IPOB is only a terror group in the eyes of the Nigerian government of Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), as long as Nigerian law is concerned, IPOB is an illegal group that should not operate within Nigeria. Until a court of law overturns that, it remains so. Therefore, it is wrong for members of IPOB to gather anywhere within Nigeria for now. Since IPOB claims to be a non-violent group, it must adhere to that.
Therefore, it is foolhardiness and not bravery for IPOB members to continue to gather physically and wear IPOB materials within Nigeria. The social media and other internet facilities exist for meetings and other activities. There is also the option of adopting a new name for now. But continuing to gather physically and make themselves casualties of the Nigerian government is another form of suicide, because shooting unarmed civilians is not new to the different security agencies in Nigeria.
When Mr Nnamdi Kanu, Director of IPOB, was arrested and detained in 2015 by the Buhari regime and refused bail, most of us condemned that undemocratic action of over-ruling the decision of the court. We noted that Buhari was breaching with impunity the Constitution he swore to uphold. Eventually Buhari accepted to allow Kanu’s bail to stand in 2017 and he was released but with certain conditions. When Kanu started breaching the terms of the bail, we also condemned that, noting that no matter how stringent the bail conditions were, as long as he accepted them and came out of detention, it was incumbent on him keep them. He could, however, go back to the court to ask for some of the conditions to be relaxed. But Kanu decided to continue to breach the conditions of his bail, forgetting that he had no army. With that, he played into the hands of Buhari who was looking for an opportunity to deal with him. When Kanu’s home was stormed in 2017 by the military, it was surprising that he escaped alive. But many of his members who “guarded” his residence with their bare hands were killed.
Any group which hinges its cause on non-violence has no other option than to use the instrumentality of the law, no matter how slow the process is. Once such a group breaches the law, it loses the moral right to prosecute its mission. IPOB should stop giving the Nigerian government the chance to kill unarmed civilians.
— Twitter @BrandAzuka