by Onyiorah Paschal Chiduluemije
The recently increasing but clearly unprovoked assault on the rights, freedoms and sensibilities of the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria by President Muhammadu Buhari-led government does not only deserve condemnation in the strongest terms, but also, and more importantly, it has come to a point that members of the International Community and all other foreign elements (whom Major General Mahummadu Buhari is always willing to confide in them about what he does here or intends doing for Nigerians, whenever he travels out of the country) really need to advise this seemingly quasi-military government to swiftly nip in the bud this gloomy trend before it begets something untoward.
Of course, it is no longer news that the people of the South-East did unambiguously, and reasonably for that matter, show by their preference for the candidature of the erstwhile President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and, also, by their voting pattern – during the just concluded 2015 Presidential election – that Major General Muhammadu Buhari was not, and still is not, that detribalised Nigerian they would wish the most populous black country in the world to parade as their President. Rightly or wrongly, and willy-nilly, this is one of the ways of construing the enormous support and solidarity shown by the people of the South-East to former President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 Presidential contest. Good enough, this position had been well articulated by Ohanaeze Ndigbo – the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization – when it reportedly declared in the aftermath of the 2015 Presidential election that the Igbo did not, and still do not, owe any apology to President Muhammadu Buhari, or even his Hausa-Fulani (Northern) enclave, for massively voting for Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. And for the benefit of those who care to know, this is simply the beauty of democracy: of a system which allows certain percentage of a population (call them the minority if you like) to bare their soul, while the remaining scores of others (call them the majority if you still wish) move on to have their way.
Nevertheless, it is pertinent for Mr. Muhammadu Buhari – who is wont to confess to being a converted democrat – to realize that this seemingly unalloyed support and decision of the vast majority of the Igbo people to cast their votes en mass for Dr Goodluck Jonathan, instead of him Buhari, was and still is nothing but a quintessential instance of democracy in action. Hence it is immaterial quibbling about whether he (Jonathan) won or lost, after all.
Therefore, however embittered President Mahammadu Buhari might have become over this enormous show of support for Dr Goodluck Jonathan by Ndigbo, this does not imply that the Igbo must be singled out for persecution or be exposed to what currently seems to be an emerging brand of state sponsored terrorism being apparently unleashed upon them by President Muhammadu Buhari’s Security apparatchiks. In specific terms, the Igbo refusal to cast their votes for Muhammadu Buhari in the just concluded 2015 Presidential election MUST be a reason for the latter to single out the former for unwarranted persecution.
Now to the crux of the matter, it is no longer news that no fewer than seven members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – an interest group agitating for a complete autonomy of Ndigbo from their present “geographical expression” called Nigeria – were reportedly killed, leaving no less than 30 other members with various degrees of injuries arising from gunshots directed at them by a team of (Muhammadu Buhari’s) Naval personnel assigned to Onitsha naval base.
According to media reports, this murderous attack was maliciously carried out by officers of the Nigerian Navy in a bid to register their hate-driven aversion to a peaceful “evangelization” procession organised by the IPOB group with a view to merely sensitizing the public on the nature of their cause and demands.
Though the Nigeria Navy was later reported to have denied killing members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (sequel to a 14-day ultimatopum reportedly issued to Muhammadu Buhari-led government by the youth wing of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo wherein it demanded that an investigation be carried out on the matter with a view to fishing out and prosecuting the officers responsible for the killing of these unarmed civilians), it is somewhat difficult to write off the reasonable thinking in some quarters that the shedding of the blood of these innocent and unarmed Igbo sons appear to pander to the morbid fascination of the power that be in Abuja. For one, true or false, the thinking of this school of thought seems to derive its validity from the conspicuous indifference shown thus far by President Muhammadu Buhari to this legitimate demand for a probe into the circumstances, the veracity or otherwise, surrounding this reported brutal murder of these hapless civilians of Igbo extraction, by men of the Nigerian Navy.
Meanwhile, this (indifference) is more so disturbing when juxtaposed with the recent and widely reported pronouncement credited to President Buhari on the issue of human rights violation by the Nigerian Military vis-a-vis the ongoing war against the Boko Haram terrorists. As a matter of fact, the media had quoted President Buhari as saying that he would not hesitate to deal with any member or members of the Nigerian Military found to have engaged in human rights abuse or extra-judicial killing in the guise of the fight against the Boko Haram insurgents.
Weighed against this backdrop, it arouses deep curiosity that this same President Muhammadu Buhari, earlier credited with the statement indicating his wiliness to swiftly move into investigation and possible prosecution of any member or members of the Nigerian military against whom charges of human rights violation are levelled, now appears docile and apparently turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the grave allegation of murder reportedly perpetrated by the Nigerian Navy in Onitsha, Anambra state, against non-violent and unarmed citizens of Igbo descent. And here, meanwhile, is the President of Nigeria who purportedly belongs to everybody and, therefore, belongs to nobody (?).
Obviously in an attempt to add insult to injury, the Imo state command of the Nigerian Police Force recently invaded the house of (Chief Ralph Uwazurike) the leader of the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and, at the end of the raid, reportedly arrested for onward detention many members of the Movement, whose only perceived offences stem from (i) their membership of this pressure group and (ii) their presence in the premises of their leader at the time of this invasion.
Like the case of a man being treated for the disease of the scrotum and he begins to develop at same time a novel case of swelling stomach, this exactly is analogous to the prevailing problem of the Nigerian Police Force: fast returning to the days of its degenerative condition of human rights abuse. Most unfortunately, at a time many Nigerians are still striving to find a place their hearts to forgive the Nigerian Police over its notorious role in the murder of Muhammed Yusuf, the then leader of the Boko Haram sect, and the attendant provocation of the current crisis of terrorism in the country, it is not in the least expected – though in the estimation of rational minds – that the same Police Force could be scouting for avenues to further foment trouble for both rulers and the ruled alike, and/or the country in general.
Now come to think of it, what fate is Nigerian Police Force wishing this already crisis-ridden and traumatized country of ours should any ill befalls the leader of the Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra in the course of this unprovoked assault on Ndigbo by the Nigerian Police?
Certainly, employing such adjectival words like despicable, odious, abysmal and unconscionable may not just be enough to describe and qualify the extent of alleged desecration of churches and items meant for worship (and God) by the men of the Nigerian Police Force during the recent thanksgiving services organised for members of MASSOB in order to mark the celebration of sixteen years of the group’s existence. Bearing in mind the sensitive nature of religious issues in the country vis-a-vis this deplorable action of the Nigerian Police, will it now be a misplaced thinking if the people affected (Ndigbo) begin to view this desecration as a deliberate and flagrant infringement on their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion and worship or, in addition, as part of the seemingly renewed attack on Christianity in Nigeria – which the rumour making rounds about the alleged plan to relocate Aso Rock villa church has not in any way helped matters either?
But be that as it may, the point must be rammed home for the government of the day, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, that there is a wide gap of difference between a violent group (as could be aptly found in the Boko Haram sect) agitating for autonomy from the federation of Nigeria and non-violent groups (as epitomized by the MASSOB and the Indigenous People of Biafra) equally agitating for the same autonomy. To this end, therefore, there is no justifiable reason(s) for the current state sponsored assault on the fundamental human rights of Igbo people legitimately demanding for self-determination.
By and large, much as President Muhammadu Buhari is still very much at liberty to carry on with his reward-and-punish appointment policy within the ambit of all relevant laws, it is imperative for him to know that this does not confer on him the unquestionable power to maliciously persecute Ndigbo for no just cause. A stitch in time saves nine.
Onyiorah Paschal Chiduluemije writes from Abuja and can be reached via (07012130204) facebook or twitter @onyiorahpaschal.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.