By Gozie Irogboli
On the 11th of September 2017, the Nigerian Army began a military manoeuvre codenamed Operation Python Dance 2 in South East Nigeria ostensibly targeted at curbing the rising spate of crimes and violent agitation in the region. Armoured carriers, tanks and other military hardwareswere rolled out in the streets of Aba and Umuahia and within two days of this show of force, there were violent clashes between the army and the unarmed citizens as the country home of Kalu the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was invaded by the rampaging soldiers leaving in its trail “sorrow, tears and blood” as hapless citizens including journalists were harassed, tortured, abducted and killed.
The video footages which captured the gruesome manner with which this operation was carried out went viral on the social media attracting reaction from different quarters. The government has made an attempt to justify this gruesome killing of hapless citizens they are under obligation to protect and hastily classified IPOB as a terrorist organization. The South East governors on their own, rather than condemn this unnecessary show of force by the army, also toed the line of the Federal Government by proscribing IPOB activities in the region.
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In the last couple of days, the trending story in the main stream media and the social media centered on this unwarranted invasion of Mazi Kalu’s country home by the Nigerian Army acting on the orders from above. While men of good conscience were unequivocal in condemning the actions of the authorities, some Nigerians seem to support it. As horrendous and as terrifying as the footages are, there are some who have made farcical and risible comments trying to justify the actions of the government. No doubt, Nigeria has some citizens whose senses of justice are blighted by ethnic prejudice, whose eyes are blinded by ignorance and whose consciences are benumbed by unreasonable hatred for others.
Meanwhile, many reasons have been put forward for this invasion. The Army claimed the operation was targeted at containing the rising spate of crime and violent agitations in the South East Region. If this is their aim, the operation should have begun in the North East where BokoHaram is operating or in the Middle Belt Region where the Fulani herdsmen menace is the order of the day or other regions of the country where kidnapping, cult wars and ritual killings are prevalent and not in the South East that is relatively peaceful.
Mazi Nnamdi Kalu alleged in a telephone conversation with a sympathizer said that the aim of the army was to provoke IPOB into arm struggle so as to find cause to classify them as a terrorist group. The hasty conclusion of the authorities after the invasion seems to support this assertion.
Some people from the South East have alleged that the intention of the government was to instigate genocide against Ndigbo in order to accomplish the purpose of the Northern youths that had given eviction notice to Ndigbo living in the North. Already an argument about the propriety of the military invasion of South East has claimed the lives of 2 innocent citizens in Jos as confirmed by the State Governor Rt. Hon. S. B. Lalung, and in Asaba, Port-Harcourt it is the same tale of woe as there are observed tension and skirmishes between Hausa communities and IPOB activists.
Perhaps, it is also the intention of the government was to assassinate Nnamdi Kalu and declare him wanted as insinuated by the story making the rounds in social media credited to some Northern elements that they imprisoned Awo, nothing happened, killed Saro-Wiwa, nothing happened, killed Abiola and his wife, Nigeria did not break up and if they kill Kalu nothing will happen.
Yet, some others believed that the intention of the government was to instigate crisis in the South East so as to find reason to declare a state of emergency in the area, and intimidate them into stopping the agitation for Biafra.
It is not out of place to say that you do not blame anybody who may have misinterpreted the motive of the government for the Operation Python Dance 2 especially given the frosty relationship between Ndigbo and Buhari who has never concealed his contempt and hatred for the Igbo nation. Chief Fani Kayode in a widely syndicated interview on social media during Mazi Kalu’s thank-you visit to him said that Buhari confessed to him that he has deep-seated hatred for the Igbo man. Again, during the build up to the 2015 general election it was said that Buhari claimed Ndigbo hated him because of his role during the civil war and that given another chance, he would kill the Igbo again and shortly after his election, he declared his infamous 97% to 5% dichotomy and followed it up by sacking Igbo people with tenured appointments that has not elapsed, selectively retiring and sacking Igbo officers in the army under spurious guises, non-appointment of Ndigbo to positions of authority except the ministerial appointments which is a statutory requirement and totally excluding Ndigbo from the affairs of the country. Earlier in his administration, he had made a surreptitious attempt to relocate Boko Haram prisoners to the South East but failed when the move was criticized for obvious reasons. He sacked Igbo people with ambassadorial positions among whom were Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu whom he claimed to havesealed the unity of Nigeria with, with an excuse that they were not career diplomats. Last year, he submitted a request to the National Assembly for an approval to borrow $30 billion for projects in Nigeria and none of the said projects is for the South East Region. And only recently, the 15 member NNPC board was reconstituted without a single representation from the South East, an oil producing region.
However, whatever the insinuation, it is luminous that the intention of the government for deploying troops to the South East was ignoble and therefore condemnable. The government is blatantly biased in handling IPOB issues. When the previous government declared war against Boko Haram, the group that had taken up arm against the state, Buhari criticized it in aninterview aired by Liberty Radio on 2nd June, 2013 thus: “the declaration of a state of emergency to fight Boko Haram in 3 Northern States is a grave injustice against the North.” Also, Mr. Lai Balogun now Minister of Information speaking then on behalf of the opposition ACN as published in the Nation Newspaper of 10th June, 2013 criticized the government for proscribing the notorious Boko Haram sect saying that it is a violation of the constitution. In 2016, when the rampaging Fulani herds were unleashing mayhem across the nation, Gen. AbdulrahmanDambazau, retd, the Minister of Interior, while featuring on a Channels Television programme, “Question Times” declared thus: “This is a non-military issue that borders on law and order. It is not every security issue that you call in the military. It is the responsibility of the police to maintain peace. I believe that if we put the police in proper position in terms of discharging its functions, then there would be no need for military option. The police are equal to the task. If you have to deploy the army, then you are going above board. In any case, I do not even have the power to deploy the military for anything. It is only when the situation gets out of hand that you invite the military.” The same Minister was said to have declared that the coalition of Northern Youths that issued eviction notice to Ndigbo in the North were misquoted even after they have openly withdrawn their quit notice.
Thus, looking at the Operation Python Dance 2 issue dispassionately, taking into consideration the antecedents of this government, one can conclude that Federal government acted ultra viresby making unwarranted attack on Kalu when the case is still in court. The Federal government has turned a blind eye to menace of the Fulani herdsmen and ignored the threats of genocide by the coalition of Northern youths but chose to crush the group that are making peaceful agitations.It is really unfortunate. According to Amnesty International, over 150 unarmed IPOB agitators have been murdered by the government in past one year whereas arrested Boko Haram members are said to be de-radicalized and released. This is injustice in the extreme, gross violation of human rights, abuse of office and an affront to our constitution.
What happened during the operation was an act of terrorism by the state against the peoplecalculated to intimidate the people to suppress the agitation for a fair deal within the Nigerian state. It is an act of unbridled impunity and an abuse of state power. It is evidence of failed leadership. Leadership is about building consensus towards the achievement of common goal, not suppression of dissent voices. There are obvious channels for conflict resolution. It is only people bereft of intellect that rely solely on coercion as a means of settling conflict. In this era of multiculturalism leaders are expected to take decisions devoid of personal biases and ethnic prejudice in order to ensure social harmony and national cohesion. The military incursion in the South East was an attempt to trample on peoples’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the constitution and the UN charter on human rights.
The clash between the soldiers and IPOB was premeditated. During the briefing of service chiefs with Buhari upon his return to the country after his medical leave, he gave them express order to crush IPOB. Therefore, the claim by the authorities that IPOB members provoked the military by pelting them with stones is an afterthought to cover up illegality. If the IPOB activist did, what about the journalists that were manhandled in their press centre in Umuahia did they pelt the soldiers with their pens or papers?
By this act, the President has shown himself as a despot who brook no opposition and as an extremist who is “too rigid on national issues” as he had been previously accused. He has added another title to his numerous inglorious appellations as the “Pharaoh of Abuja”.
Indeed, the government has exhibited lack of tact in handling civil issues; for every step it takes against Kalu makes him more popular and emboldens his fanatical and incandescent followers. The government has shown to the world that Kalu is not safe in Nigeria and as for the court case;there may not be any need for it since the government has already pronounced him guilty without trial. The government that accused Kalu of violating the atrocious bale condition has gone ahead to act ultra vires by making an unwarranted invasion into Kalus’ home thereby giving him sumptuous reasons not to continue with the court appearances since his safety is not guaranteed by the government that has pre-empted court judgment by proscribing his organization and declaring him wanted.
Clearly, it is a huge joke to declare IPOB an organization that has never wielded any weapon a terrorist group. I laugh at the oddity of this declaration. The only terrorist groups are: those who by omission and commission created dichotomy in the country created a culture of impunity and lionized others to commit acts of violence on hapless citizens.
Kalu is a creation of the Nigerian state that has no regard for equity and rule of law. The fire of separatist agitation is stoked by the government that is insensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of the electorate that voted for change. The only thing that can stem the tide of the vociferous agitation is good governance which the current regime has denied Nigerians.
Since coming to power almost 30 months ago, the government has done nothing to better the lots of Nigerians. The president refused the call for restructuring, arrogantly dumped the report of the 2014 National Conference designed to restructure the nation, launched a nebulous anti-corruption operation targeted at perceived political enemies and chose to govern the country like a sole administrator. The government that promised change has created anarchy and disrupted social harmony, created misery and economic hardship. The government that promised security has created wide scale insecurity by its discriminatory policies. For the past two years it is just arrest and detention, noise, propaganda, confusion and impunity that has been elevated to an intolerable limit.
The government has at all times shown that it is ruthless, tactless, reckless and clueless.
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