Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari has exhausted his patience with the boys in Southeast, who constantly flashed his mind back to harrowing civil war experiences. If there is one group against whom the man did not conceal his disdain, it was the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Buhari said the boys did not witness the civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. If they did, they would not band together to fan embers of civil disobedience. In any case, their leader Nnamdi Kanu would not stay behind in the event that his activities snowball into war. He would run away, the President alleged.
As early as December 2015, in his first media chat, the president stated categorically that Kanu did not deserve bail by the court, because according to him, his sins were too grave for him to be allowed to operate unfettered. The President said the young man had two passports, none of which he came into the country with. In addition, he came with equipment to enable him operate an illegal radio station. The fear was that he could not be trusted to abide by conditions of bail. He had been in detention since October 2015.
It was as if President Buhari knew Kanu too well, that he could not be trusted with parole. And so, after he was granted bail in April, grudgingly too, because he presented what appeared like some serious health challenges, Kanu betrayed the very terms of his bail. But that is not even the point here.
The road to this final clamp down on IPOB had been on the cards and was very clear to discerning minds. But Nnamdi Kanu was like the lost dog that failed to listen to owners’ whistle. The young man became too excited and had the world as his stage. Contrary to the condition that he should not be found in a crowd of more than 10, Kanu was the chief guest at tumultuous rallies all over the Southeast. He delivered speeches and even threatened to stop the governorship election coming up in Anambra. As a Jewish priest, men worshiped at his feet and when not presiding at religious ceremonies, he was reported to mount parades and inspect his brigade of guards. He would rail endlessly and mindlessly at everybody.
Whereas, it was clear, as daylight after president Buhari came on board, that IPOB ought to have changed tactics, simmer a bit like the earlier group, Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State Biafra (MASSOB), Kanu went on overdrive on his intention to create Biafra immediately. For a President who had not forgotten the miserly votes he reaped in the Southeast in the last election, a vibrant and thriving IPOB did not provide cherry leeway towards 2019. But Kanu didn’t figure that out. He didn’t seem to reckon that a trap had been set for him to walk into.
Matters got to a head when IPOB ordered a stay at home action on May 29 in the entire Southeast to commemorate 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra. The huge success of that action mesmerised all sections in the country. It was unbelievable, that an order from Kanu could carry so much weight, and it was peaceful, without harm being done to anybody. That got the security wondering and plotting the next move to cage IPOB. But Kanu wasn’t thinking. He got carried away.
While government position was not made known, it was the coalition of Arewa Youths who got rattled and gave the infamous Quit Notice for people of Southeast extraction (Ndigbo) to vacate the North beginning from October 1. Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, who was acting did his best to manage what was clearly a call to anarchy, when he held meetings with various groups to douse the tension. That helped a little, after which Arewa Youths were persuaded to drop their threat to force Ndigbo out of the North. The order was revoked, and if matters were left at that level where Osinbajo managed to place them, perhaps, the invasion of the Southeast by soldiers and the resistance put up by IPOB could have been averted. But that was not to be.
President Buhari returned from medical vacation of some 104 days in London to takeover from where his vice had pushed the peace talks. He arrived on Sunday, August 19 and made a nation-wide broadcast on Monday, August 21. The content of that broadcast is what set the tone for the last military deployment, which almost set Southeast on fire. The President made no pretense that Southeast was on his mind while in London. Of all the big issues that confront the country, he only remembered the visit paid him by late dim Odumegwu Ojukwu at his country home, Daura, and how they both romanticized the unity and indivisibility of Nigeria. He later met with service chiefs and the blueprint for military deployments were drawn.
From nowhere, Operation Python Dance was unveiled without any debate. Matters moved very fast and furiously and here we are; IPOB has been proscribed. Not only that; IPOB has been officially designated to be a terrorist group. Talk about giving a dog a bad name just to hang it. It is true that Kanu has been reckless and in great need of fatherly control. Our president is old enough to be Kanu’s father, especially since he remembers his pact with Ojukwu. If he truly wanted a peaceful Nigeria, Buhari could have summoned the young man and lecture him a bit about the civil war history and why we must not tread that route again. But that was not to be.
IPOB has not been the only youth wing of a socio-political organisation in the country. By whatever names they are called, every tribe and congregation of people has a youth wing that speaks for their people in times of distress. When the Southwest was trampled by the military, there was a coalition called NADECO that resisted Gen Abacha and his tanks. Later, there was the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), which assigned to itself the task of protecting and preserving Yoruba interests, culturally and militarily. The Arewa Youths who ordered the expulsion of Ndigbo from the North is the youth wing of all Arewa groups that seek to protect and promote the interests of the Northwest and Northeast. The Middle Belt groups also have their youth wings, all of which in peace times could be useful in articulating and advancing their people’s cultures and territorial integrity within a larger country that seems bogus and inefficient.
Obasanjo, as president had to deal with a number of these youth groups. He was able to contain the excesses of OPC at a time without having to proscribe the group and brand them terrorists. He also engaged militant groups in the Niger Delta, both with force and dialogue. But he did not proscribe them. Obasanjo managed the excesses of some northern governors who wanted Shariah law at all costs, and he also managed Boko Haram while in its infancy.
Yar’Adua, the late president had a one-on-one with Niger Delta militants, after which he pronounced amnesty for them. He did not proscribe the motley groups that inflicted collateral damage on the economy. President Jonathan was careful in dealing with Boko Haram. It was sensitive and every attempt to come down hard on them was misinterpreted by opposition elements as assault on Northern youth. It took a while for government to put the terrorist tag on the sect, whose activities were clearly, terrorist by every definition. Even the global community attested to it.
Nigeria is too complex and unsafe for any group not to have a youth wing. A vibrant youth group is a bargaining chip in times of distress. Until the federation is reshaped for more accountability, there will continue to be youth groups. The good news for IPOB is that there is still MASSOB. They should iron out their differences, so that Southeast does not suffer further distress.
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