Last week, when the video of the attack on former Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, in Nuremberg, Germany, by some people believed to have sympathy for the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), trended, my first reaction was that it could not be true. I could not imagine that Nigerians living abroad could physically attack a visiting fellow Nigerian and a senator of the Federal Republic, for that matter. It was, indeed, unbelievable.
When, however, it was confirmed that the attack was true, with leaders of IPOB not only justifying the action but also further threatening that the same fate awaited South East governors and other Igbo dignitaries whenever they travel abroad, I could not but shudder. How could some Igbo, no matter how angry they are, get involved in mob action? First, such behaviour puts them on the spot. Second, it would make the host country to look at them as dangerous people. Third, it could provoke close monitoring and scrutiny of the activities of Igbo in Germany and elsewhere, which could lead to victimisation.
Ekweremadu was invited to an event in Germany. He left his city of residence in Nigeria and travelled to honour the invitation. He went to the venue of the event in Germany, but instead of a warm welcome, he was confronted with an ugly situation. In the video, I saw the former Number 5 or Number 6 citizen of Nigeria being chased around by some people who should, ordinarily, respect him, as if he was a common criminal. I saw someone grab his shirt, which was eventually torn. These people hurled pebbles and shouted at him. Luckily, the former Deputy Senate President escaped into a car that ferried him to safety.
Indeed, that was a close shave. Ekweremadu could have been seriously injured in that mob action. He could have been killed abroad by a mob made up of people from his ethnic group in Nigeria. Now, it is possible that Ekweremadu’s attackers will be thumping their chests for that mob action, which they may consider a humiliation of the senator. They may be bragging that their action sends a signal as to what they could do. However, they may not know that, by that singular action, they have disgraced the Igbo nation, depicting south easterners as unruly, irrational and unreasonably viscous. They have rewritten the profile of IPOB, changing it from a non-violent organisation to one that is dangerous. They have, indirectly, justified the Federal Government’s action against IPOB.
IPOB had always said its agitation for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra was non-violent, like other groups similarly campaigning for the same cause. Over the years, this posture has been maintained, as the groups would call for sit-at-home or boycott of some things, without exhibiting force. This is why, when the Federal Government proscribed IPOB and classified it as a terrorist organisation, many people rose in condemnation of the action. With a mob attack and a threat to also descend on other Igbo leaders whenever they travel abroad, IPOB is making those who earlier said it was non-violent look stupid. The argument of non-violence will no longer be sustained.
The reasons IPOB has given as justification for the Nuremberg mob action is laughable. They said Ekweremadu and other Igbo leaders in their “bad books” did not speak out when the military authorities declared and executed Operation Python Dance 2 in the South East. For them, that was a grievous and unforgiveable sin. The argument is funny indeed. The truth is that some Nigerians living abroad are not abreast of events and happenings in the country. Therefore, they talk and act ignorantly. That is the case with the IPOB members in Germany.
When the Operation Python Dance 2 was put in place, some of the people IPOB has branded saboteurs spoke out, declaring that it was causing tension in the South East, especially when there was nothing tangible that warranted it. Also, when IPOB was proscribed and called a terrorist organisation, there was wild condemnation by Igbo leaders. Those who condemned it that time had their say, but the government had its way. Nobody should blame those who had no power to stop the action. In a country, where there is a government, the will of the authorities prevail, misgivings of the people notwithstanding.
Indeed, it is funny that IPOB and its members in Nigeria and abroad are fighting those who are not really their enemies. Ekweremadu, South East governors and other Igbo leaders are not the enemies of IPOB. These are people who cry out over the plight of the Igbo nation at various times and want a change. Where they differ with IPOB is that changing Nigeria, to give the Igbo their due and to have a country where merit, fair play, equity and justice reign, will not be achieved through the break-up of Nigeria, but within the federal entity called Nigeria. They have the right to pursue whatever agenda they want the way they deem fit. It is not for IPOB or anybody whatsoever to define how they should do that.
These IPOB members shouting from the rooftops and those who are justifying the mob action against Ekweremadu should tell us how IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, got bail when he was in detention. Obviously, they do not know about interventions at top level by some of the people they are hounding to make this possible. Do they think it just happened that Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and others emerged to sign the bail bond for Kanu? Or that the respect for the bail granted by the court just happened? Certainly, many of those IPOB are branding saboteurs and many others played one role or another to make it happen. Even before this happened, many Igbo leaders visited Kanu in prison. I could recall that former Abia State governor and serving senator, Orji Uzor Kalu, visited Kanu in prison. Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Prof. Pat Utomi, Mr. Emeka Ugwu-Oju and others also visited him in prison and demanded his release. Other prominent Igbo leaders called for Kanu’s freedom. All these did put pressure on the authorities and Kanu eventually got bail and regained freedom. Would IPOB take glory for this?
To say the least, I see low thinking in the IPOB and pro-Biafra groups’ actions. It is not by threatening people that things can be achieved. Programmes need tack, pragmatism and intelligence to make them work. Mob mentality and the tendency to attack and classify those who differ in opinion and methodology enemies is defeatist. Such behaviour or misbehaviour could only alienate those who could be of help.
As editor, a leader of one of the pro-Biafra group once threatened to pronounce a fatwa on me in the South East because my newspaper published a report about some unbecoming actions of members of his group. It was a threat misplaced. As a leader, what the man needed do was to look into the matter highlighted by the newspaper and call his members to order, as such action gave his group a bad name. Rather than do this, he felt I was their enemy.
IPOB and its members should reexamine themselves. Some of the things they do can only make things more difficult for the Igbo. Being adversarial and believing that it is the only way to achieve a goal is an old tactic. Hounding people as a way of achieving an aim is anachronistic to modern day agitation, where high intelligence is required. IPOB cannot be the only body that is right, while others are wrong. The group should stop any such plan as attacking Igbo and other Nigerians abroad or any other action that gives the impression that Igbo have mob mentality.