Proscription of IPOB: It’s not over
The Federal Government’s management of the Indigenous People of Biafra’s (IPOB’s) political challenge has remarkably reshaped the colour and points of discussion of the complex nature of Nigeria’s diversity in recent weeks. And how the denouement will affect the delicate balance of forces and fault lines in the volatile polity is still hazy as leaders at all levels are rebuilding bridges to defuse matters arising.
Curiously, in an obvious response to the palpable threat, which authorities have claimed IPOB militants posed to security in the south-eastern states of the federation, the Federal Government has proscribed the organisation.
The proscription, first pronounced by the governors of the five south-eastern states, said they acted to protect the overall interest of the people of that zone. Perhaps in reaction to questions about the legality of that proclamation, the President promptly signed a proscription order. The said order now has the imprimatur of a court. Attorney-General of the Federation secured the order in a Federal High Court in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Indeed there was some tardiness in the entire affair. Pictures of military brutality on social media to unarmed young men, written and oral reports from people in the zone whipped up sentiment against the ‘occupying’ soldiers.
Sadly too, there have been discordant tunes from different arms of government. The first fiasco was recorded by the military high command when it was reported that it had declared IPOB a terrorist organisation. Of course, the military hierarchy does not have the power to proscribe an organisation in a democratic state. Which was why the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki bluntly dubbed the declaration a nullity because it did not follow a due process. The military high command has since cleared the air by saying that it did not declare IPOB a terrorist organisation, because there are laid down legal procedures for such a declaration to be made. This smacks of avoidable mediocrity too in high places. Throughout the period of high tension, the National Assembly remained on vacation even as the security challenge assumed a national security dimension. What kind of National Assembly is this even in a time of a national emergency?
In dealing with the IPOB menace we must not only ask what made the rise of Nnamdi Kanu possible. We should also ask when it started. What were the elders doing when the whole nightmare started as the proverbial handshake? What was the Federal Government doing when the agitation started gathering momentum? If it is true that some ‘disgruntled corrupt politicians’ are egging the group to violence as alleged, why have they not been arrested and prosecuted? That too is evidence of failure of intelligence.
As the nation is smarting from the IPOB ambush, the military high command has curiously announced that it would deploy soldiers to the south-south and south-west zones to curb excesses of militancy in the areas. There are fears that the strategy of the presidency may hurt democracy, in this regard. For example, using the heavy force of Nigeria Army to threaten and arrest unarmed persons is questionable. It is our view that the regular police ought to have been deployed to deal with the menace that the IPOB has become. Besides, if the IPOB promoter, Nnamdi Kanu has broken the terms of his bail, he ought to have been re-arrested by a court order. The irreverent Kanu was not in hiding. A coded operation by the Department of State Security (DSS) if he refused to honour a court summons would have helped to avoid the apparent invasion of the South East by the military. It is on record that in the aftermath of the declaration of the republic of Biafra in 1967, then Head of State declared a ‘Police Action’ against brothers to rein in the recalcitrant Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu. It was when the initial action failed that the military moved in to deal with the armed rebellion.
Therefore, this newspaper supports a view that Kanu may have been lionised through mismanagement of this security challenge. He would have been an unlikely hero if the nation’s security and legal forces and stakeholders had not been indolent and slipshod in their actions and reactions. By incarcerating Kanu and failing to release him after several court orders, the Federal Government had inadvertently raised his profile. He became a symbol of the struggle, which the largely nascent youth-followership did not fully understand. To show the level of demagoguery which now follows Kanu, he claims to ‘bless people’ in the image of a messiah.
Besides, the judiciary failed the nation when the relevant courts tarried in revoking the bail, which terms Kanu had allegedly violated. Since his release, he has been larger than life. It has been pointed out when the law rules, no citizen is above the law of the land. “Be ye ever so high, the law is above you” Lord Alfred Thompson Denning once noted.
It is therefore unsettling that the IPOB proscription order seems to be going in the same direction of increasing the profile of Kanu. Kanu the vituperative, rude, divisive and culturally insensitive citizen is gaining international recognition as the Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed has noted. It must be pointed out too that elders in the southeast who remained silent in the face of obvious extremist actions of Kanu failed their people and the country. Where were the leaders and great politicians in the zone when Kanu openly desecrated the cultural and religious symbols of the Igbo people in their ancestral home at Nri?
Kanu’s tactics are reprehensible. By claiming that IPOB has its own security organisation, its army and other paraphernalia of an independent state, has challenged Nigeria’s sovereignty. No nation’s leader can take such a situation lightly. Also, by attempting to form a parallel state in the southeast, issuing orders to and threatening elected officials, he has challenged the very essence of our nationhood and tenets of democracy.
Yet, Kanu is a metaphor for the intense dissatisfaction with the current political arrangement and structure of the country. So, instead of using a sledgehammer there should be some dialogue. Experience has shown that such movements once started never fizzle out. Echoes of the Nigeria-Biafran War, which ended in 1970, have re-surfaced some 50 years after. And here is the thing, in a working democracy, no powers should foreclose an open discussion on the structure of the country. This is where the current administration must have a re-think and open different channels of communication with the people. There must be engagement with the people. This will be in line with the African method of consensual conflict resolution. In the midst of the prevailing chaos, the presidency, for example, did not deem it necessary to call a meeting of the Council of State where past and current leaders would chart a proper course for the nation. It is not too late to do this.
The truth is that we cannot run away from strategic discussions and plans that will ensure a proper federal structure to enhance governance capable of reducing over dependence on the centre.
This newspaper believes strongly that we do not have to split this country before we can restructure it to run as a federation where each of the federating units can run efficiently with the endowments in their domains. That is why there should be latitude for proper and frank discussion of terms of association to guarantee a win-win situation for all stakeholders.