National President of the Association of South East Town Unions (ASETU), Chief Emeka Diwe, has faulted the shoot-at-sight order given to security operatives in the region, even as he accused some people from the North of a well-orchestrated plan to bring another war to Igboland and slaughter the defenceless people. He also declared that only laws, not mere pronouncements by Southern governors, can effectively end open grazing, even as he spoke on a number of other issues in this interview with MAGNUS EZE.
Recently, Governors of Southern Nigeria met in Asaba and took some resolutions which they believe would address the challenges facing the country. What do you make of this?
It is interesting they have learnt to come together. The peoples of the South have been wilfully blackmailed and are unnecessarily divided amongst themselves, and it has led us nowhere. So, I think their meeting was a good development. However, some of the things they resolved to do are either belated or wrongly conceived. For instance, the issue of open grazing of cattle, which they only verbally proscribed. For over three years, we at the grassroots have been crying out over the activities of armed Fulani herdsmen and their cows, who are all over our streets, who overrun our farmlands, wreak havoc on our means of livelihood, rape our women and slaughter our people in the most brutal and reprehensible ways. Our poor, defenceless and vulnerable people at the grassroots cannot freely farm anymore in the face of this nightmare. Their crops are destroyed, and food insecurity has got to an unprecedented height. This is unbearable!
Throughout those years, we have persistently pushed for the proscription of open grazing by means of legislation, not just by word of mouth, and we have articulated and forwarded to all the governors and respective Houses of Assembly in the South East the proposals for the enactment of anti-open grazing laws. We have done so thrice in three years, held an all-inclusive security summit of the nearly three thousand town unions in the South East in Enugu, organised two other retreats in Abakaliki and Enugu respectively, over this matter. These very informed, well-spirited and expedient demands of ours were never granted.
Rather, in response, just recently, the South East governors began pronouncing that they have placed a ban on open grazing. This is not what our people want. Since the governors began to make the pronouncements, has open grazing stopped in the South East? The answer is no. Even as we speak, you still see herdsmen and their cows in their thousands roaming and grazing openly, ravaging everywhere. Open grazing, even in the most brazen, unbridled and audacious forms, is going on in our land right now.
So, the resolution by Southern Governors to ban open grazing can only be effective through anti-open grazing laws. We stand strongly on this. We need these laws, which will be enforceable, and on which strength defaulters can be arrested, prosecuted and appropriately punished. Anything short of anti-open grazing laws will not have any effect.
For some months, the South-East has come under attack by unknown gunmen, and this has warranted the army to order its operatives to shoot-on-sight anyone suspected to be involved in the mayhem. What’s your reaction?
If they would not arrest me or shoot me on sight, I would have said it simply means an official declaration of genocide against Ndigbo. This fuels the suspicion that there is a conspiracy to wipe out Ndigbo. No nation should make such declaration against its citizens. That is not the solution to the problem we are facing. To begin with, who are these unknown gunmen? The security agencies have not come out openly to tell us who they are and the factors that propel their activities. In some states of the South East, we hear the governors alleging that these unknown gunmen are political thugs and hoodlums recruited to create instability by those opposed to their governments. Other authorities have different views about the unknown gunmen. How then could the order to shoot on sight precede the unmasking of the criminal elements? Will it also be out of place to think that these unknown gunmen might be infiltrators from outside who may wish to create a condition that will ignite military action against us? Haven’t you heard about agent provocateur? Many things are possible in these very unacceptable happenings in our land. But no great question in history has ever been resolved by blood and fire.
The three things that are mostly needed now are intelligence, stake holding and soft security. We must begin by identifying what the issues are and the actors involved, and have comprehensive action plan to permanently address the situation. Rolling out military tanks and administering street justice on suspects will not help. When innocents are arbitrarily killed in the process, it will further fan the embers of anger, apprehension and possible escalation of hostilities.
How will the order by the Inspector-General of Police withdrawing police personnel from VIPs in the South East help in addressing insecurity?
One thing has become glaring through this directive of the IGP, which is that nobody in the South East is spared in this catastrophe. For some time, the elite in the region had tended to stay aloof over this issue. They had always thought it would not get to them, and that by being protected by dozens of security operatives, the masses alone would suffer insecurity. But today they have become the most vulnerable. This is the reason leaders must always work and address societal ills whenever and wherever they take root.
When these atrocities of the herdsmen began; we had wept to the high heavens but nobody could listen to us. Their failure to prioritise the matter and act on it was primarily because they felt they were not directly exposed to it, and their families also were well guarded. It is time for the elite, political and non-political, to wake up and realise that any problem which has a social character will one day affect everyone within the society, no matter how highly placed.
Do you think that Ebubeagu; the security outfit of the South East Governors will bring an end to the security challenges in the region?
Let me be clear, the easiest thing to achieve in Igboland is security. The reason is very simple: from inception, our people have always had a well-organised, effective and homespun framework for securing themselves. As you may have known, the republican character of the Igbo took expression in the organisation of village assemblies which were democratic in nature and which had structures that performed various functions. The age grades were primarily charged with enforcement of adjudications and security. These structures have in modern times evolved and become even stronger. Those village assemblies of old are the town unions of today, and the role of ensuring security in the various communities is vested with the capable and trusted youths organised as vigilante groups.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the name, Ebubeagu, and most importantly, the idea of a pan-Igbo regional security architecture is one of the earliest demands which we, as ASETU, made on the South East Governors. However, the way to go about Ebubeagu should be to rejig and up skill the existing community security initiatives and create a system where they are structured across various layers and federate at the top under one command.
If Ebubeagu is done in this way, it will retain the trust and confidence of the people. But divorcing Ebubeagu from the authentic communal security efforts will further sustain, if not escalate, the mistrust between the key political actors in the region and the youths who are increasingly restive and urgently in search of solutions.
Kaduna Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, was recently quoted to have said that the Igbo cannot get the Presidency come 2023 by insulting other people. What does this say about the feasibility of a President of Igbo extraction come 2023?
It will be inappropriate to speak of the politics of 2023 and the self-serving interests that underlie every rhetoric when our land is on fire. Security is the first purpose of political governance. How well has El-Rufai secured Kaduna people? I think that should be his first concern. It suggests total lack of regard for the lives being brutally taken away by bandits and terrorists to talk politics and speak about a faraway election now. Let us secure lives first.
But if records were to be set aright, which insult to a people can be greater than when the leadership of some cattle herders would sit somewhere in the North and declare that Igbo ancestral lands are theirs for the taking? Or when in a federation a part of the country would monopolise everything, including all security agencies? Or when Igbo businessmen who deal in alcohol are targeted in the North, and their businesses destroyed because of religion, yet in the distribution of the Value Added Tax from alcoholic products, Kano State alone gets higher VAT shares than all the states in the South East put together? Is that not an insult?
This is not to suggest that Igbo people relish disparaging other ethnic formations. No, we don’t. We are accommodating. There is hardly any wealthy Igbo person who does not have domestic staff of other ethnicities right within his household. Do other tribes bring us that close to themselves? It is the love and respect we have for everyone that makes us build and develop anywhere in Nigeria that we reside. The Igbo are the binders and unifiers of this country, the adhesive that holds Nigeria together. You find more Igbo men and women of means living in other parts of the country than within Igboland. They make matchless efforts to develop all corners of this country.
However, I have said it times without number in my previous interviews, that the only reason for the Biafra agitations you see today is the immoral, unjustifiable and criminal injustices and absolute marginalisation meted out to the Igbo, especially under the current political dispensation. An Igbo man identifies with the neo-Biafran cause, and perhaps sees himself as a Biafran, to the extent that he feels oppressed and marginalised in Nigeria. Psychologists describe it as frustration-aggression. Reverse these injustices and watch all agitations disappear within 48 hours. This is our collective challenge to Nigeria as Ndigbo. What our people undergo is agonising. I can tell you this without equivocation, because I head the Town Unions in Igboland, which are the direct managers of Igbo affairs, especially at the grassroots, and which are the functional and closest administrative units in all Igbo communities.