1967 civil war still propelling FG’s handling of South-East agitation


Prof Oguejiofo Ujam is the Head of Department/Coordinator, School of General Studies, University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus. In this interview with RAPHAEL EDE, he discusses insecurity in the South-East and criticises the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), for claiming that the Indigenous People of Biafra is responsible for oil pipeline vandalism

The South-East has seen some murders in alarming degrees. Political figures have been kidnapped and executed. Is violence the answer to the Biafra agitation?

Yes, there are killings in the South-East and elsewhere in Nigeria. Many of these killings have been linked to herdsmen. Examples include the massacres at Ukpabi, Nimbo and Uzowani in Enugu State, as well as the gruesome murder of Dr. Nnamdi Ogueche, the then-secretary of the local government, and numerous others in Ebonyi and Anambra states.

I don’t believe there is any logic in linking the killings in the South-East region to the movement for a Biafran nation. Otherwise, could the recent murders at a Catholic church in Owo, Ondo State, and kidnappings in the South-West be linked to Oduduwa Republic agitation? If anyone tries to link the killings to agitation or Biafra, it is simply an incoherent conspiracy theory constructed by a tightly guided target of Nigerian security agents who either do not want to do their jobs or are attempting to create a climate of security confusion in order to destabilise the South-East and Nigeria.

In the past, South-Easterners defended themselves in a war against Nigeria in which they were not the aggressor. The wounds created by that war are still there and we are trying our best to heal them. So, I don’t think any South-Easterner will subscribe to violence as a means of creating a Biafran nation.

However, there is an angle, not being factored in by commentators and experts into these gruesome murders and violence in the South-East, especially in Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, and Imo states.

Recently, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), told the British Prime Minister that the IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, would have his day in court for his defence on things he said on British soil.

When I was in New Zealand for my doctorate, I got a little inkling of how serious the issue of national security is to the sovereignty of any serious-minded country. Security involves the citizens in many ways and the people are integrated into the security mapping of the country’s security agencies.

Now, coming to the South-East and the activities of the so-called unknown gunmen and other criminal franchises, some people have expressed the possibility of false flag operations.

I do not want to associate myself with the perception that some security agents who were embarrassed by the utterances of the IPOB leader on Radio Biafra may have decided to take the battle to the South-East where he hails to invest the group with vicarious responsibility.

Who do you think should be blamed for these killings and kidnappings?

It is more important to make sure that lives and property are safeguarded than it is to assign blame. However, as I already mentioned, neither the nation’s security personnel nor the entire federal security apparatuses have performed as effectively as was anticipated. Regarding the critical subject of intelligence gathering, it appears that the Department of State Services made a mistake. I’m not aware of the extent of cooperation between the DSS and domestic universities.

In the USA, for example, university experts are contacted for in-depth research to come up with potential scenarios that could lead to preventive measures at vital moments when exceptional security difficulties arise.

This lacuna may explain why the DSS seems to be busying itself with shadow chasing and second-guessing founded on fictitious theories in a bid to convince the commander-in-chief that the killings and abductions in the country are done by Biafran agitators.

It is also possible that the inter-agency rivalry in the system could be fuelling the faulty intelligence on which the military bases its strategies for kinetic and non-kinetic interventions. If the military is allowed to do its work, I do not think there should be reasons to blame or kill innocent citizens in the South-East geopolitical zone by any state security apparatus.

If I may ask how far did the military’s python dance go in addressing the proliferation of small arms as well as high calibre weapons by non-state actors in the zone? There is also the issue of bad eggs in the armed forces. Why should a police man at a road checkpoint be deceived by just giving him/her N100? It was very disappointing and distressing that two soldiers were associated with the abduction and collection of ransom from the Methodist prelate in Abia State.

Some people still enforce sit-at-home policies. What are the consequences of the stay-at-home? Aren’t the Igbo the losers?

Well, I must say there was a mishandling of issues relating to the Biafra agitation by the government. You see, that is why I blame different levels of government in Nigeria for not collaborating with universities to solve socio-economic challenges in the country. What is the sociology of Biafran agitation? Has it anything to do with deprivation and inequities?

It is often said that the costliest peace is better than the cheapest war. No sensible government should be reckless in the use of naked force more than it deploys resources in peace building and social inclusion. It is not in all matters that you mobilise soldiers to the civil strife. A greater part of the challenge is what covert intelligence could address instead of releasing fresh trigger-happy recruits to the civil space. Who loses from the enforcement of the stay-at-home? I would say it is Nigeria.

Attempts to localise the losses in the South-East define the faulty social profiling, because do not forget that trading and other commercial activities across states help the nation’s economic wheel. The sit-at-home is affecting all Nigerians, especially the free flow of social and economic exchanges. I am surprised that the authorities have maintained a kind of obduracy by shunning the need for dialogue with the misguided young people pursuing the affront on social peace.

It seems that a 1967 mindset is still guiding the government in its relationship with South-Easterners. The Federal Government has nothing to lose by engaging with the youth and more to gain by understanding the underlying causes of the agitation. That is why I said the costliest peace is better than the cheapest war. Ego should have no place in nation-building. Former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had his eyes on the bigger picture when he sat down with Niger Delta militants.

The president attributed pipeline vandalism to IPOB. Is this accusation true?

It is unfortunate that the President has to make such a claim. However, I think the commander-in-chief was guided by the intelligence reports he received from his security chiefs. It is either the security chiefs wanted to tell the President what he wanted to hear or the President spoke from the mindset he had about IPOB. The President cannot be everywhere; whoever is ascribing pipeline vandalism to IPOB wants to cover up overt ineptitude in handling the security challenges. It is idle to blame IPOB, which claims to be non-violent for pipeline vandalism.

Of the three oil-bearing states in the South-East, only Imo State is known to be prone to overzealous youths in the oil communities and that predates the formation of IPOB. I will not be surprised if the Presidency harbours the secret notion that IPOB may have been responsible for the bomb attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train, during which some passengers were abducted.

It is obvious that the President was traumatised by the offensive rhetoric of Radio Biafra, but ascribing pipeline vandalism to IPOB seems far-fetched or done to call a dog a bad name to hang it. The last time I checked, IPOB’s demands are restricted to holding a referendum to determine the citizenship of the country and self-determination falls within acceptable international protocols.

What do you think of major parties’ failure to give the presidential ticket to the South-East?

It verges on covert conspiracy against the people of South-East. Leaders of the two major parties exposed their greed for political power and neglect of national unity. It was possible that the Peoples Democratic Party wanted to grant Alhaji Atiku Abubakar the right of first refusal instead of obeying the party’s constitution, which stipulates rotation of power. In the All Progressive Congress, the governors stated that power should shift to the South in 2023 without talking about which micro-zone should produce the presidential candidate. It is all politics and they say it is a game of numbers. Recall that Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change merged with Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, and a faction of All Progressive Grand Alliance to form the APC, which later won the presidency. Nobody expected that APC would pull that surprise defeat of PDP.

In a similar development, Mr. Peter Obi has just created what I may call a very strong political movement throughout the country by irrigating the Labour Party as a potential third force to dethrone the other two parties. At least the development has given Nigerians the opportunity to express their choice and determine the fairness of having a South-East person as President after 23 years of democracy.

Interestingly, the Labour Party is engaged in serious talks with some other parties. But, merely expecting a presidential ticket because you are from the South-East is not enough, because it is not enough on itself as a political strategy that will translate to high voting numbers. South-East will get winning numbers by building synergy with other zones and parties across the country.

Now that the Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, has clinched the PDP ticket. Has that addressed the marginalisation of the Igbos’?

No! Marginalisation is not only when an Igbo man is not in an important government position. Look at the state of federal roads and other infrastructure in the Eastern region. Why is there no train from Aba, Enugu to Benue and Kaduna? Why are the Eastern ports not functioning at an optimum level? Why must Igbo businessmen and importers go to Apapa and Tincan Island to clear their goods instead of Port Harcourt or Calabar ports? The answers to those questions define the marginalisation of the South-East.

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