The Nation

Sectional amnesty: Challenge to Igbo leaders

rofessor Chinua Achebe rightly pointed out in his last book ‘There was a Country’ that “once a people have been dispossessed and subjected to dictatorships for such a long time as in Nigeria’s case, the oppressive process also effectively strips away from the minds of the people the knowledge that they have rights.”
I just want to believe that this is not what is happening to the Igbo alone in Nigeria. I can see that it is also happening to Nigerians of other ethnic belonging who have been so traumatised by their level of poverty and seeming helplessness that they have come to accept those as their destiny, in a land supposedly flowing with milk and honey.
Those who were stubborn enough not to accept the docility of suffering in the midst of plenty took to arms. They continued to sabotage government in various ways. They vandalised pipelines. They kidnapped both local and foreign staff of oil companies. At a time, even the step-father of the former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, was kidnapped and a ransom of £2 million was placed on his head.
Others who were not so stubborn, perhaps because they have not seen the usefulness of stubbornness after they suffered the effects of defeat following the Nigerian civil war were more contented with protesting peacefully in an attempt to bring to the attention of the authorities the neglect and infrastructural decay that have become their lot decades after the war was fought and a declaration of ‘no winner, no vanquished’ made by the then head of state, General Yakubu Gowon.
They refused to carry the gun. They refused to bomb anywhere. They refused to vandalise hospitals, secondary schools, universities, markets, military and police posts, or public offices as their counterparts in the North East and Delta Regions were doing.   It is true that the Igbo made their mistakes when they bungled the opportunities they had as Senate President and later settled for the number two post in the National Assembly because they could not hold their ground. Had those political leaders of the Igbo who had the opportunity of getting the Igbo back on their feet initiated laws that would have made Nigerian nationalism more central and less ethnic, obviously Nigerians would not have found themselves where they are today. Nigerian nationalism would have had a serious boost and building a strong and united Nigerian nation would have been on a more genuine course.
From the look of situations at the moment, I am sure the Igbo do not want to continue being seen by the international community as the football that other Nigerian ethnic groups will keep playing around for their personal and collective pleasure. I am saying this because I feel really sad seeing the way the Igbo seem to be regarded as second class citizens within established organisations in their own country. I feel sad knowing how much the Igbo have sacrificed to keep Nigeria united and strong and yet they do not receive the same level of collective respect other groups do. I feel sad that despite all the travails the Igbo have passed through in trying to keep Nigeria united and strong, they still cannot speak with one voice. They cannot speak as a tribe that knows what it wants in a united Nigeria.
Right now, some Igbo want Biafra. They want to severe from Nigeria because they don’t think Nigeria deserves them. Others don’t want Biafra. For them Biafra is dead and should be forgotten.
The saboteurs among the Igbo seem to be the ones who are “enjoying” the day – because they will gladly make “deals” with other ethnic groups who are carrying the gun – to share out the oil revenue they have from their land and continue to advocate for one Nigeria because it pays them to do so. Those who cannot have access to the sharing policies of the political class – and they are in the majority – protest for the actualisation of Biafra. They believe that the common Igbo man will have greater justice in Biafra than he has in Nigeria.
But these are not important at this point in time.
What is important is that the Igbo should realise when they are being insulted. The Igbo should recognise when others are taking them for a ride. They should feel the pain when they are being slapped derisively across the face. They should stand up and say ‘no’ with one voice.
Over the years since the incursion of the military into the democratic evolution of Nigeria, for example, ethnic militia movements of sorts have grown sporadically from all nooks and crannies of the country and not many of those gun-carrying militants have been arraigned before any court in the land even in the face of the wanton destructions they have caused.
Niger Delta has been notorious for its widespread violence, kidnappings for ransom and clashes between militant groups and the army which began in early 2000. In 2008, a Joint Task Force (JTF) was established to curb militant activities in the area. A year later, a Presidential Amnesty Programme (PAP) was instituted for the militants. And it has been running since then. The beneficiaries receive monthly stipends of at-least N50, 000 each. In August, PAP coordinator, Paul Boroh, confirmed that payments were on course.
Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force’s founder, Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubo was jailed in 2005 on treason charges after his group repeatedly threatened to carry out attacks on oil pipelines, causing a drop in oil production and a subsequent rise in oil prices. Asari-Dokubo was apprehended after he refused to endorse the leadership of President Olusegun Obasanjo. But he was released on bail two years later and he is regarded as a hero by the Ijaws due to his active agitation for the independence of an Ijaw State separated from the rest of Nigeria. The group’s strong agitation for the independence of the Ijaw people has also led to violence with other ethnic groups, particularly with the Itsekiri in Warri, Delta State.
Or are we talking of the Boko Haram menace? They have continued to kill so many innocent Nigerians. They have continued to hoist their “national flags” in the villages and local council areas they “captured” from Nigeria. Many Boko Haram insurgents have been in detention in Nigeria’s military cells for months, some of them for years. Yet, not one of them – except in very few cases – has been arraigned before a court of law in the land and charged with felony or secession. What does the Nigerian government call what the Boko Haram insurgents are doing in the Northern parts of the country? And what do they call what the likes of leaders of Delta militants are doing?
These violent, gun-toting insurgents are good enough, by the estimation of Nigerian authorities, to be granted amnesty despite all the blood they have spilled and despite all the people they have displaced from their ancestral homes. Boko Haram has not only killed innocent Nigerian men, they have killed innocent women and children. They have attacked schools, churches and mosques, government offices, even the United Nations Secretariat in Abuja. They have killed Nigerians in market places and rendered Nigeria the country with the greatest number of internally displaced citizens in the entire world. And yet here we are.
When money was voted for the purchase of arms to equip Nigerian soldiers to fight the insurgents, some public officers shared out the money among themselves and sent the soldiers on a suicide mission to go fight the heavily-equipped militants with bare hands. The soldiers refused to go and die for nothing. They were accused of military insubordination and incarcerated in prison. Even as we speak, they are still in detention. Since then, what have the people and their government done? Why would those innocent soldiers continue to languish in pain months after the sabotage of their superior officers has been established and condemned? Why has the government refused to grant them amnesty?
In other words, what lesson is the government trying to teach Nigerians by granting amnesty to those who maim and kill in the name of freedom-fighting and those who go about a peaceful demonstration for the same reason? The political leaders of the Igbo community should rise up now and speak with one voice: the Ike Ekweremadus, the Orji Uzo Kalus, the Emmanuel Iwuanyanwus and all the prominent Igbo Royal Fathers must make their positions known in this matter. Sectional amnesty is not the change Nigerians voted for and until something is done about its possible institution in Nigeria, it remains the challenge of Igbo leaders.

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Christian Voice