Former Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, last weekend went to honour an invitation as a special guest at an Igbo event in Nuremberg, Germany. On arrival at the venue, some individuals, acting in the name of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), pounced on him. IPOB is the secessionist movement in the South East of Nigeria, which believes the Igbo are oppressed and has revived the agitation for an independent Republic of Biafra.
A short video clip of the incident showed the sound and the fury of those who wanted Ekweremadu to go back and those who wanted him to come in. After a minute or two of altercation, amid pushing, shoving and hurling of things at him, the former Deputy President of the Senate and now a senator, dashed into his car and left. It was near death situation. He could have been lynched.
Most Nigerians were dumbfounded because Ekweremadu is nationally accepted as a congenial personality. He could sometimes give tough speeches but he has the reputation of a believer in politics without bitterness. For that reason, shock and horror were expressed throughout the country at his being a victim of such a rough treatment. IPOB was, therefore, uniformly condemned for the incident, and we join our voice to that condemnation.
The irony is that IPOB, through its short history, has generally maintained a philosophy and posture of non-violence, which was why there was so much outrage when it was proscribed and declared a terrorist organisation by the Federal Government. Assaulting Ekweremadu and preventing him from attending an event he was invited were bad enough. Much worse was the threat of similar treatments for some Igbo leaders abroad. The offer of N1 million for the itinerary of South East governors travelling abroad issued by IPOB’s leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, was the most thoughtless statement ever issued by the organisation.
IPOB seems to have arrived at the fork on its road. Its action has left those who defend it, especially from when the Federal Government branded it a terrorist organisation, in a dilemma. Such people will not believe that a group touted as non-violent could exhibit violence openly and in foreign land against a Nigerian. IPOB behaviour against Ekweremadu is ironical, as the senator had, in the past, spoken against some actions targeted at the group, including when the military declared Operation Python Dance 11 in the South East.
As atonement, IPOB should apologise to Ekweremadu and the Igbo community in Nuremberg and Igbo people at home. It should also withdraw and apologise for threats to harass Igbo leaders and elders going abroad. This must be done soonest.
Igbo people are not unaware of how they have been treated since 1966. They are not insensible of their current situation. However, they want to negotiate their situation as far as it is possible. They do not want another war, even if we acknowledge that 2019 is not 1967. We acknowledge the grievance of youths and immediate concerns and some of the shortcomings of our leaders. The South East has yet to articulate a coordinated response to the security situation in the region. Pious expressions of peaceful co-existence with Fulani herdsmen does not change the facts on the ground that Igbo farms are deserted because no one knows what to expect in the farmlands that seem occupied by the herdsmen and their cows. The governors are apparently not in touch with reality in spite of their claims.
IPOB’s current strategy of disengagement has been difficult to support by many because it has no foundation or credibility. Grievance is not enough. It would only divide Igbo land, which puts our people in an even worse situation than their current privation and oppression. Igbo people survive and thrive on hope. They have no fear. What they tend to fear is precipitate decisions, illogical moves and irrational outbursts. They don’t like to plunge into waters they cannot see the bottom. We acknowledge that the present arrangements are wobbling but sooner or later there would be some clarity.
We understand the anxiety, the urgency, and the zeal of the youth for change. These virtues are needed to drive the development of Igbo land. But we wish the IPOB to better organise itself in a manner supportable by all Igbo people at home and abroad, young and old, men and women. To do so precludes the demonisation of Igbo leaders without good cause. It means respecting our elders. It means, above all, espousing Igbo ethics of honest labour, the thirst and hunt for knowledge and expertise, the commitment to justice, equity and fair play, respect for human dignity and the brotherhood of man.