‘Let’s be careful not to start another civil war in Nigeria’
Human rights activist, Ankio Briggs, in this interview with Southeast Bureau Chief, Lawrence Njoku, spoke on pro-Biafra agitations in the Southeast region and way forward for the country. Excerpts
What do you think about the pro-Biafra group agitations and the military operations in the region meant to quell secession threats?
When it comes to actions and inactions of the Nigerian army Nigeria as it concerns the people’s right to agitate, there has to be something fundamentally wrong when the military is constantly used in things that have to do with human rights and in things that have to do with civil disobedience and actions by civilians, especially when these civilians are unarmed. In Nigeria, it has become something we are not surprised at; during the military era years ago, the present president himself as a military leader who came to power then by gun used much of the approach. The point is that you cannot force unity on a people; there is no way you can succeed with this war on the people because it is devoid of civility. The security agents have clearly been used to assault, terrorise and maim civilians on the highway for the simple fact that they were in a bus heading to where they believed Nnamdi Kanu resides; they were not armed and yet they have been abused.
This is happening under a man who claimed he is a refined democrat. It is unacceptable, it is victimisation and justifies the call by the IPOB that they are not safe in Nigeria and should be better off if they were left on their own. The agitation did not start today. It was what elicited the Nigerian civil war years ago. Several panels have sat and reaffirmed the fact that the Southeast is being marginalised and they had listed the various areas in which government should carry them along. There have been various groups saying the same thing, but the response all the while has been low and successive governments have not shown signs that the Southeast is part of the Nigerian project. Now if the people are still complaining, I think we should ask whether these complaints are genuine and if they are, what have we done? These assessments should have been done before you send soldiers to the streets to contain them. If for 50 years, a section of the country has cried over a particular thing, then something should be done to assuage them.
Is it possible to quell this agitation by force, what do you think should be done?
I am a non-violent agitator and it is expected and recognised by civility all over the world. The United Nations recognises the rights of indigenous people all over the world. The sort of action being taken against Nigerians is, to say the least, uncalled for. I don’t see this thing ending well. It is the comment and actions of the president that is creating these crises. He had referred to certain persons as five percenters and is treating them that way. It is not the best way to go about it. The best way is to listen to what Nigerians are saying because in a democratic set up, you do not have the right to oppress them.
What exactly are Nigerians saying?
There are several agitations in the country by various ethnic groups with each saying one thing or the other. It did not start today. The Southwest, is saying they want state police, regionalism, true federalism, we don’t believe in the 1999 constitution, go back to what worked in the 60’s and they have made that very clear. During Odumegwu Ojukwu’s time after the war, the Igbo felt they were not treated fairly though there was a declaration that there was no victor, no vanquished, but the position of the government so far did not indicate that. The way the Igbo have been marginalised shows very clearly that they are justified in their analysis. Now the injustice has gone on from government to government and the Igbo people have maintained the grumbling to the extent that you had the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Uwazurike and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) headed by Nnamdi Kanu. Uwazuruike wanted Biafra and Nnamdi Kanu is saying that he prefers a nation of his own. The President should listen to what the various groups are saying. The idea of not listening to them or sitting down to talk with them is dictatorial. Beating people up and arresting them will not make these things go away. The best way for the government is to listen. People are asking for restructuring and you don’t want to listen to them. It is not right. It is a bad sign of leadership. We are not practicing democracy when we start thinking and acting the way we are doing.
What are the likely implications of the military exercise in the Southeast bearing in mind that few months ago, a similar exercise was carried out in the zone?
The government should show force only when there is threat to the corporate existence of the country. That has not happened yet. If bona fide Nigerians who are equal partners in the Nigerian project are unhappy within it and expressed that unhappiness, it is not enough to call out the army. If the Federal Government is calling out the military with this show of force in the Southeast, where is the same show of force in Kaduna where herdsmen are attacking Christians, where is this show of force in Benue? Where is this show of force in Enugu to protect the people against invading herdsmen? You did not do that, yet you are doing operation python dance in Umuahia, Abia and concentrating in that place where Nnamdi Kanu is and actually going all the way to his home. You have invaded his home. This show of force is for Nnamdi Kanu. It is to shut one man down. What is going on in the Southeast is an abuse of power. It is a ploy to keep the people down. It is a ploy to kill the economy of the zone and a strategy to shut the zone out. It is a demonstration of hatred. The last exercise was towards the end of last year, less than one month after, you are doing another one, even with the troubles and complaints that trailed the very first exercise in the zone. It is a true manifestation of your disposition towards the people. It is indeed a systematic way to continue to keep the Southeast out of order and I urge those in support of this continuous act to desist in the interest of peace and stability.
The Army said there are increased kidnappings, armed robberies, as well as farmers and herdsmen clashes in the zone?
I get angry when government describes herdsmen’s invasion of people’s homes as clashes. There are no clashes. These people leave their various bases and walk all the way into communities, homes and farms and take hold of those places protected by security agents.
These are no clashes. It is an invasion. What is kidnapping? Is there any part of the country where they do not kidnap people including young girls? It is highly offensive and an insult on the intelligence of the people who you decide to punish unjustly on the guise of protection.
On the way out, First of all, I will call on the so called leaders and elders who claim to be talking to government on various issues that this is the time to actually show that they are talking to government. They should intervene and call government to order. What is happening is an abuse of human rights. The military has no business looking for kidnappers; they are supposed to be protecting us to ensure that other countries do not invade us. It is police that should look for kidnappers and if the police cannot do their job, then the Federal Government should allow for state police so that people can secure themselves. What the government is doing is wrong. Various groups have various demands and it is right for government to listen because they are part and parcel of the country.