It took the profuse pleadings and admonitions from my younger brother on me not to come home for the funeral ceremonies of one of our departed ‘mothers’, for the full import of the uncertain security challenge in my Orlu Senatorial District, my Imo State and entire South East to cascade on me. You see, we grew up in a setting where some women were adopted as mothers by functions of age and merit. Those that nurtured and mentored us were regarded same way as we held our biological mothers.
The deceased fell into this class. I owed her the obligation of last respects. But here was I, being advised to shelve the visit, because of the hazy climate of the time. The temptation was to ignore the advice but three frightening developments in the last week brought home the message succinctly.
First was the molestation of Nollywood actor, Chiwetalu Agu, by soldiers in Onitsha, Anambra State, followed by the near assault on one-time Enugu State Commissioner for Information, Igbonekwu Ogazimorah, and, lastly, the invasion of the Izombe community, Imo State, by the soldiers. These sordid experiences summarise the tetchy atmosphere in the South East, an area that, ironically, five years ago, was rated the most human security secure geopolitical zone in Nigeria by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its 2016 national human development report. We shall look at the three incidents, briefly.
On Tuesday, Chiwetalu Agu, was released by the Department of State Services (DSS). Agu was first arrested by the Nigerian Army on October 7, 2021, around Upper Iweka in Onitsha, Anambra State, for wearing a suspected Biafra outfit while distributing bread and other items to the poor.
The Army had accused him of soliciting support for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). He was subsequently handed over to the DSS for investigation and prosecution. His main offence was putting on an attire that bore Biafran symbol. For this, he was manhandled and was forced to squat on bare floor by the soldiers.
Ogazimorah, narrated his experience in his Facebook social media page. His crime was that he drove in a Jeep, up to a barricade at the DSS state headquarters, along Park Avenue, and immediately he saw soldiers standing, civilian men and women kneeling on the tarmac – likely earlier victims – he stopped and contemplated his further moves. That swelled the anger of young, lanky soldier, apparently below 25, who almost killed him (Ogazimorah). The ugly episode took place at about 8.37pm on Park Avenue, GRA, Enugu.
Part of Ogazimorah’s chilling encounter with the soldier ran thus:
“You no dey talk, banza,” he (the soldier) shouted.
“Gun cocked, as he called another soldier, likely superior and demanded, ‘make I waste this banza”? The noise made as the gun was being cocked? Nerve shattering. “Likely it had not been serviced for some time. But I did not need to be told it was, nevertheless, lethal. Even if it was not, it was not for me to ask or test the youthful enraged soldier.
“The superior came, looked me over and scolded me for trying to use the road. ‘Idiot, you never hear (sic) say we dey close this road by 8pm? Turn and find another road’, he cursed, imperiously”.
That was Ogazimorah, a senior journalist, lawyer and former commissioner, being humiliated in a state he had served, by soldiers presumably sent to restore peace in the South East. If you have even the most rudimentary understanding of Hausa language, you would not take kindly to being referred to as “Banza”, a derogatory dismissal of one as a bastard. No one in the North, no matter how lowly placed, takes the expression lightly. To cast such despicable label on someone whose other offence was that he was seen driving a big car, shows the level of disdain and tag of criminality currently hanging on every man and woman in the East.
That of Izombe in Oguta Local Government of Imo State is more horrendous. Mere misunderstanding between the youth and soldiers over crude oil bunkering activities was all that it took for anarchy to be unleashed on the people.
By Friday last week, three people were feared dead, including two army men. In retaliation, the soldiers sacked the entire community. At the end of the madness, over 30 houses were burnt down, reports said they included the palace of the traditional ruler of the Aborshi-Izombe community, Pius Muforo, in a fit of rage and vengeance.
You would need to feel the lamentations of the state governor, Hope Uzodimma, to appreciate the extent of damage on Izombe.
“I am pained – I shed tears with what I have seen. A calamity has befallen Izombe. The wealth created by my brothers and sisters are burnt”, Uzodimma reportedly cried as he visited the community. That, says it.
It is difficult to live with these ugly trends in the South East without one having his psyche massively assaulted. Now, it must be emphatically stated that whatever genuine, legal and orderly strategy aimed at bringing peace in the region should be supported. There is no Igboman, with his senses intact, that can endorse the chaos and lawlessness currently going on in the zone.
The reign of the unknown gunmen must cease. All the hindrances to the people’s movement must be dismantled. The Igbo are naturally builders, not destroyers. We welcome and accommodate strangers among us. We must return to those finest attributes that define our entrepreneurial spirit. The violence in the South East must stop!
But in achieving this, there must be the human face of the law. It is perhaps only in Nigeria that we seek to terminate violence with violence. And it has always backfired. There is nohow we can sincerely situate the present radicalisation of some elements in IPOB without blaming the military highhandedness on the organisation at a time it merely went about its activities in organised protests.
The South East has had enough of unwholesome experiences. Being caught in the web of the gunmen menace and the brutality of the soldiers is not what any right-thinking person would wish for any section of the country. Fighting insecurity should not be reduced to the point of molesting innocent citizens.
Criminals thrive in hideouts. Security agents should go for them, smoke them out and not the present indiscriminate assault on any person from the South East. It is time to relax the militarisation and siege factor in the zone.