Opinion: Everything President Buhari has gotten wrong about IPOB

by Anthony Ademiluyi

The right to self-determination is as old as mankind. All through history, people have been bound by the idea of a better life than they currently have through the idealism of living in a homeland where their shared culture reigns supreme.

For centuries, England was the colonial master of Ireland. It was so bad that the Irish satirist, Jonathan Swift wrote an evergreen piece ‘Modest Proposal’ which was an expose of the horrors the Irish faced living in England. This was the remote reason behind the formation of the Irish Resistance Army (IRA) which pressed for the independence of Ireland. It morphed from using an intellectual, non-violent approach to full-fledged violence which made the English cede with some parts of the country which is today known as the Republic of Ireland.

India at independence in 1947 witnessed the most bloody of pogroms as the cry for the creation of Pakistan led to the deaths of millions during the first partition under the leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Agitations continued and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were further carved out.

The rise in popularity of the mafia in Italy was as a result of the determination of the people of southern Sicily to take their destiny into their own hands against the raw oppression of the north. The quest for their homeland led to the spread of its tentacles to the ends of the earth even though the reality of a physical homeland is still a pipedream to this day.

The crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine has its roots in the 1914 Balfours Declaration which unilaterally allocated the Israeli homeland to its present location without any consultations with the Arabs. The 1948 dream of an Israeli homeland was as a result of thousands of years of agitation especially in Europe for a place of their own after the Jerusalem sacking which was the root cause of the massive dispersals.

Ever since the civil war ended with the famous ‘No victor, no vanquished’ statement by General Yakubu Gowon, the south-east zone is still being treated as a conquered territory. There is the dearth of federal presence there and the federal government appointments don’t tend to be in their favour. In the defunct Second Republic, apologists of the Kaduna mafia opined that the easterners had no right to complain since the vice-presidency was ceded to the zone that barely less than a decade ago was threatening to secede and should be more than grateful. I humbly beg to vehemently disagree, as the position which Alex Ekwueme held was powerless to effect any real change beyond being a constitutional spare tyre. No sensitive appointment in the then Shehu Shagari led cabinet was manned by easterners. The position of the vice-president was so powerless that it couldn’t influence the award of a single contract. In 1982, the then ruling NPN sensing its unpopularity, decided to bring back the Biafran warlord, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu from exile in Cote d’Ivoire. They made it a condition that he must join the NPN as they wanted to make inroads in the south-east especially in the then Old Anambra State. The then FEDECO smartly fixed the gubernatorial elections before the senatorial and after Chukwuma Christian Onoh won the gubernatorial, the then moved against Ojukwu by backing the NPP candidate, Alex Onwudiwe whom the Ikemba Nnewi said he had never even heard of his name. The biggest Igbo symbol was effectively kept out of the nation’s highest lawmaking body – the Senate.

The Igbos rose to economic pre-eminence from the sheer dint of hard work and not because any favourable economic or political policy affected them. The few good roads and amenities that work in the east are largely built from the collective efforts of the entrepreneurs in the beleaguered zone. The zone is still largely treated like a conquered fiefdom and ruthless politics by successive administrations is being played with their welfare.

It is not surprising that separatist groups will rise up to the occasion and whip the emotions of the hapless masses to conjure up dreams of a better homeland where they will get a fairer deal. The movement for the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra (MASSOB) was the first to rise up during the Obasanjo administration. Ralph Uwazurike who cut the picture of a populist leader was really gaining grounds in the south-east and his message of hope resonated well with the emotionally battered hoi polloi. The wily Obasanjo broke the group when Uwazurike was detained for 24 months in 2005 and consigned it to irrelevance by the time he was out.

Nnamdi Kanu began IPOB from exile in a similar manner to how Lenin spearheaded the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 from Switzerland. He took advantage of his stay in the UK to rapidly spread his message and in no time broke his bones by making a name for himself. The Buhari ‘junta’ made a monumental blunder by arresting him for a long time and making a hero out of him rather than just letting him return in peace to the UK.

Buhari took it a step further by recently proscribing the group adding that it would not entertain violence in the pursuit of self-determination. IPOB was denounced as a terrorist group putting it in the same category as the dreaded Boko Haram. I find all these laughable as its akin to killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

The critical issues bordering on marginalization should be thoroughly addressed. Which Igbo man is holding an influential position in Buhari’s cabinet? Dr Ibe Kachikwu with his brilliant resume was removed as the Group MD of NNPC and is now just a junior minister who doesn’t have the final say on petroleum matters. The last NNPC appointments had no Igbo name despite their famed competence and the fact that Abia and Imo are oil producing states.

The operation python dance was a great assault on the right to freedom of expression which makes the Buhari administration not much different from his first outing in 1984. I am sure George Orwell must have had Buhari in mind when he wrote his masterpiece ‘1984’ as the brutality witnessed in the fictional Soviet state is rearing its ugly head here.

Beyond a needless proscription, issues like integration should be on the front burner. How can the east be brought into the mainstream of things in the country? How can they be treated like first-class citizens?

The Heavens will not fall if a referendum is conducted on whether the south-east should remain or not. Ours has been a forced marriage by Lord Lugard and so no real nation has existed. There was a referendum in 1960 which saw the southern Cameroun secede. Why can’t another be conducted if our being together is laced with so much pain? Must we please our long departed colonial masters? A referendum was held which saw South Sudan secede. Did the earth collapse when Scotland chose to stay in the UK in 2014 with talks of a possible referendum anytime soon?

The church was once proscribed by the heartless Roman empire but today its part and parcel of daily existence. You can’t cow a determined people for long. The proscription amounts to nothing as long as the core issues get failed to be addressed.

Enough of the mindless intimidation and brutality by the Buhari government!


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