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Restoring peace to the South East

The South Eastern part of the country has in the past few months become a problematic region with insecurity rearing its head in the region. Until few a months ago, the region had been relatively peaceful, with occasional skirmishes between herdsmen and farmers, kidnapping and armed robbery being the major problems of the region. For years also, the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and its younger sister, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had been in the area, shouting their voices hoarse for the imaginary Biafran Republic. Since around the year 2000, when the founder of MASSOB, Ralph Uwazurike, started the movement, the groups have not been known to be violent.

Rather, they have engaged in advocacies and programmes aimed at achieving their goals, whether attainable or not. The same case is applicable to Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB, who though, more bombastic and acerbic in his utterances than Uwazuruike, was not known to encourage violence. But all that seemed to have changed since 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power.

The Buhari government, apart from labelling the group as a terrorist organisation, has gone ahead to attack members of the IPOB and innocent youths in the South East, under the guise of chasing away terrorists. It even detained Kanu for nearly two years until some prominent leaders intervened and rescued the IPOB leader from the grips of the government. He was granted bail by the courts and the rest is history as he escaped the shores of the country after an attack at his country home that culminated in the death of his parents soon after. While Kanu, Uwazuruike and their co-travellers, could be termed as irritants to the Federal Government, what no one foresaw is the mayhem that is now becoming the South East.

Peace has all of a sudden taken flight from the region with government facilities, public buildings and other property either razed, torched or vandalized. The height of the mayhem came when the country home of the Governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinmma, was torched in his Awo Omama hometown. That was few days after the police headquarters in the state and the Correctional Centre in the state capital were razed, with thousands of prisoners freed. Till date, the government is still searching for some of the escapees from that jail break.

Yet, all over the South East, almost no day breaks without a police station, office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or similar public facilities burnt. Several policemen have also lost their lives to what has now became a cliché in the region ‘unknown gunmen’. Perhaps, what rankles the most was the gruesome assassination of a former aide of former President Goodluck Jonathan and an All Pro-gressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Ahmed Gulak in Owerri, last week. He was on his way to the airport when misfortune hit him.

The police as usual, were quick to conclude that it was IPOB members that killed him. According to the police, they relied on the information provided by the driver of the vehicle boarded by Gulak to track the killers and subsequently eliminated them – a claim Uzodinmma faulted and alleged that Gulak’s death might have been a political assassination. While this was going on, there are still attacks by Fulani herdsmen in Ebonyi State, in which several people were killed. There are also reports of the arrests, murder and detention of Igbo youths by soldiers and police at will. Not long ago, there were viral video clips of soldiers and police shooting into the hostels of students of the Imo State University. There were also recent clips of security agents marching men out of a church in Enugu State, after tagging them ‘IPOB members’.

Certainly, we do not in any way support the activities of IPOB or any separatist group for that matter. We also do not subscribe to their ideals, no matter how lofty they may seem. We have always believed in a united, justice-based Nigerian nation. Therefore, we condemn totally, the razing of public buildings and killing of security agents by anybody.

By the same token, we object to the killing and intimidation of innocent citizens by security agents. We believe very strongly that the government has the capacity to identify the culprits in the mayhem unravelling in the South East and treat them as criminals. We do not rule out the possibility of fifth columnists in the ugly scenes playing out in the region. It deserves a thorough investigation by the government. We strenuously object to the blanket blame on IPOB and the tagging of all Igbo youths as potential IPOB/ Biafrans. The fact remains that there is rising criminality in the region, which should be dealt with appropriately.

It also behooves the governors in the region to investigate and find out what the true situation is. We cannot forget in a hurry that it was the extrajudicial killing of Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram that gave rise to the crisis in the North East that has festered since 2009.

Nigeria is still fighting the battle with the insurgents, with men and materials lost. Several Nigerians have also paid the supreme price over this singular indiscretion. We think that rather than the blanket arrests, killing and maiming by security agents now in the South East, a more circumspect approach should be introduced by governments in the region and the Federal Government. That is to properly identify criminals, be they Igbo or other tribes in the region, deal with them and effectively close the case. Nigerians deserve peace. South East also deserves peace. Nigeria cannot afford to have another North East in the South East.

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