by Sam Hart
“We are grateful to God for intervening in stopping what could have been the greatest bloodbath known in the history of mankind”
The above were the remarks of Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu when he visited the Press Centre of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Umuahia on Sunday, 17/09/17 to commiserate with them over their altercation with soldiers.
Why would the Governor make such a claim? What was he talking about? I’ll explain.
Sunday, September 12, 2017, the peace of Abia State was suddenly shattered seemingly out of nowhere. Soldiers drafted to Abia State in preparation for the commencement of a military exercise codenamed Operation Python Dance II decided to parade around the city of Umuahia in their full fearsome might complete with heavy equipment and armoury and the resultant effect was chaos that would last for a week- one that is only just thawing.
In the cause of the parade on Sunday, skirmishes ensued with locals who felt intimidated by the display. Next day Monday, the phalanx marched to the home of Nnamdi Kanu, the Major Domo of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and almost inevitably, a confrontation ensued between Kanu’s supporters and the troops on parade. Tuesday, similar confrontations occurred at Ubakala and Aba as the Pythons were still dancing and were rubbing people who were not used to seeing pythons dance in the open the wrong way.
As soon as the crisis spread to Aba, all bets were off. The crisis took a new dimension that required deft moves and a masterful yeoman’s job.
Rumours soon began to circulate of Hausas being attacked and killed by Igbos in Aba in retaliation for Igbos allegedly killed by the soldiers. Soon, tempers were high nationwide and leadership became imperative to avoid a national bloodbath.
Governor Victor Okezie Ikpeazu at this point shone his brightest as a leader. He took personal charge. He ensured that northerners in Abia State were safe and kept in constant touch with his colleague governors in the North assuring them of the safety of their people while pleading for the protection of Igbos in the North.
Governor Ikpeazu immediately imposed a 4-day dusk-dawn curfew on Aba thus curtailing the ability of mischief-makers to congregate and implement their mischief which is usually at its peak in the dead of the night. The Northerners in Aba were equally herded to a safe location where they were kept protected. The few that got injured before the curfew was imposed were treated with the Governor footing the bill. They were dissuaded from returning to their states and told to wait until tension died down and because of the sincerity of who they were dealing with, they remained.
Kudos must go to the Governors of Northern Nigeria at this point under the leadership of Alh. Kashim Shettima. They met and agreed to take steps to foster peace and ensure that no harm befalls any Igbo in the North and by all genuine accounts, no life was lost.
Imagine if this was happening under intemperate Governors?
- The youths of Aba would have had free reign to unleash havoc on the Hausa Community.
- The Northerners would have mounted trailers and returned to the North with their dead to tell tales of death and destruction of lives and property.
- Upon their arrival at home, Northern Youths would have hit the streets in search of Igbo people to kill and burn their properties in retaliation for those killed in Aba.
- The tension would soon spread all over as whenever there is crisis in the North, virtually every non-Hausa is labelled an Igbo person and thus, a candidate for attack.
- Inevitably, corpses of those killed will start returning home to different parts of Southern Nigeria and even more violence will be unleashed on Northerners in other locations and the cycle will continue.
But to the glory of God, all that was averted.
Governor Ikpeazu would always preach that the reason why he cannot toe a hard line on any issue concerning the North is first and foremost because of the number of Abians in the North. While there may be 1,000 Northerners in Abia State, there are conversely, over 2 Million Abians spread across the Northern States of Nigeria.
While the investment of Northerners in Abia State may be N20M collectively, that of Abians in the North and Abuja will be in the region of N100Billion including hotels, malls, housing estates, residential houses, cars and landed properties.
What that then means is that the effect of crises against Northerners in Abia State will leave Abians and Igbos at great disadvantage because of their exposure in the North. Abians and Igbos own properties and businesses in the North compared to itinerant Northern Traders in Abia State. The reprisal damage would have been devastating.
It is not cowardice. It is a leader toeing a line that is beneficial to the greater good of the greater number of his people.
Monday, September 18, 2017, Five Governors of Northern Nigeria came to Umuahia to commend Governor Okezie Ikpeazu for his sterling leadership in ensuring that the crisis was nipped in the bud and that it did not escalate.
Speaking on behalf of the Governors of Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Plateau, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State who is also the Chairman of the Northern Governor’s Forum, thanked Governor Ikpeazu for the proactive steps he took towards securing the peace of Abia State and the safety of Northerners in Abia State.
The Northern Governors also briefed Governor Ikpeazu on steps they took to ensure the safety and security of Igbos in their States and together, all the Governors made a commitment to the unity of Nigeria and safety of all in their domains pending when an amicable discussion can be held on the Nigerian question.
Speaking on behalf of the Northern Community in Abia State, the Chief Imam of Aba noted that there had been several crises since their sojourn in Abia State but at no time have they ever felt as safe as they felt last week due to the personal involvement of Governor Ikpeazu and urged the Governors to thank him.
As peace and calm returns to Abia State, we cannot but give immense thanks to Jehovah God Almighty for His wisdom, guidance and protection throughout the tense period when the crisis lasted. Anything could have happened with one wrong step but God said NO and averted danger.
Kudos must also go to all the parties who played one role or another to avert the escalation of the crisis.
To God alone be the glory.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
Sam Hart is a media aide to Gov Ipeazu. He [email protected]