In sane societies, especially under democracy, the cardinal principle and pillar of governance is the rule of law. It is, according to dictionary definition, “the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws.” Wikipedia highlighted the principles that underline the rule of law, to wit: “Adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.” This means that the law is supreme, no matter who is involved.
When the rule of law is subsumed in any society, it is a foundation for anarchy, wherein mayhem, rebellion, mob rule, turmoil and disorder prevail. It is a situation which any country would not wish for because, in the circumstance, might becomes right and the strong oppresses the weak.
Looking at the things happening in Nigeria today, it is tempting to conclude that the nation is steadily drifting to ochlocracy and the rule of gun. Across the country, from Borno to Zamfara, Kaduna to Nasarawa, Benue to Rivers, Taraba to Abia, Oyo to Ebonyi, killings and arson have become the order of the day. Now, no day passes without reports of killings, attack on police stations and offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). There is an audacious display of raw power by people who are wielding sophisticated weapons and getting away with their misdeeds. The way it is, no part of the country is safe. Like Thomas Hobbes postulated, life is now “nasty, brutish and short.”
The South East situation is giving some of us worry, for obvious reasons. This is a geopolitical zone that has been peaceful and devoid of violence, even when some youths, under the aegis of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), are agitating for equal rights, justice and fairness in a divided nation that is no longer living true to its creed of “one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity,” as affirmed by the National Anthem.
The resurgence of violence and arson in the South East runs counter to the characteristics of a people who crave peace and freedom, which are the pillars on which enterprise, the mainstay of southeasterners, thrive. These days, whenever news of attacks on police stations or INEC offices breaks, the question that readily comes to mind is this: In whose interest are these violence and arson? Many have said that the latter-day insecurity in the South East is the handiwork of a Fifth Columnist. The authorities have tried to put the blame on members of IPOB. Incidentally, nobody has been able to show proof either way.
The truth, however, is that violence cannot be in the interest of the South East. No matter who is involved in this security breach, it is obvious that attacks on police stations will create a situation where security agents could be chased out of the streets, leaving the zone lying bare of policemen. Also, the burning of offices of the INEC would weaken the electoral umpire and could lead to the non-conduct of elections. Either way, whether it is attack on policemen and police stations or torching of INEC offices, this will not favour the South East.
If policemen withdraw from the streets of the South East or any part of the country, there will be a state of disorder. What would happen, therefore, is that those who have the instrument of violence would take over the scene and the rule of gun would be in place. Also, if the relentless attacks on INEC buildings persist, the conduct of elections in the zone would be threatened. If elections hold, they would never produce the desired result. There would certainly be voter apathy owing to insecurity. If INEC conducts elections that would have only a few people, or if it refuses to conduct elections because of insecurity or lack of facilities, the South East would be the ultimate loser.
I had said it before, when IPOB threatened in 2017 to stop the then governorship election of Anambra State, that non-conduct of any election would never be victory for any agitator in Nigeria. Whether governorship election holds or not, there must be a state governor. Where election holds, a winner will emerge from whatever is taken as the exercise, even if only a few people participate. Where election does not hold, the Federal Government has the authority to appoint an administrator to govern the state. Therefore, if agitators in the South East are responsible for the attacks on police institutions and INEC facilities, which I doubt, they should think twice, knowing that, whatever action they take, “men are going to die” and the South East will lose. If it is an orchestrated plan by the Fifth Columnist who wants to give the South East a bad name in order to hang it, the South East also loses. This is why southeasterners, in government and out of government, should use everything at their disposal to stop these pernicious attacks forthwith.
At present, soldiers have been deployed in the South East. Freedom is no longer guaranteed. Knowing the military for what it is, the rules of engagement in such operations would not conform to the rule of law. There have been reports that people are arrested at random and branded members of IPOB. Many of such people are innocent. The military sees everybody in the South East as guilty until proven innocent. In this frenzy, nobody would rule out the tragedy of some of those arrested becoming victims of extrajudicial killings, especially when there is no record of their arrest or where they have been taken.
The authorities should step up their game to arrest the ugly situation in the South East, as in other parts of the country. I do not understand why those who are causing this havoc in the South East are having seamless operations. The precision and audacity with such they operate give them away as professionals, not amateur. It is suspicious that none of the gunmen has ever been caught in the act. It is only when one of them is caught in the act that we will have full knowledge of who they are. The practice of arresting just anybody and branding them ‘gunmen’ flies in the face. The authorities should go beyond the fixation that the attacks are being carried out by IPOB members. A dispassionate and open-minded investigation would yield better results.
Believe it or not, security agencies have not really lived up to expectations in the effort to stop the latest wave of insecurity in the South East. The criminals are not holding any territory, as in the North East. They only come out, attack and disappear. Security agencies are making them look invincible. No matter what they say, one would not be convinced that a police headquarters, as in Owerri, would be attacked and there would be no resistance, casualty or arrest of the attackers, if the security agencies were really working. It is unbelievable that a prison was attacked, prisoners were freed and facilities totally destroyed and there was no response from security agents. There was also no casualty on the side of the attackers. And there was no arrest of any of the attackers. This is quite suspicious.
Where has intelligence gone? If the country’s intelligence system is activated and working, what did those in authority do with whatever information given to them before any criminal attack occurred? It is not enough to send legions of soldiers to make South East a “police state.” It is cheap to always say that IPOB is destructive. Even if the witch cries in the night and the baby dies in the morning, this is not proof that the witch has done her worse. IPOB will gain nothing attacking institutions in the South East. I do not think those who support IPOB are stupid and would adopt a strategy of cutting their nose to spite their face. The security agents should look deeper.
However, my charge to IPOB is to also join in the effort to arrest the criminals terrorising the South East. The South East should remain safe for business and human existence. The geopolitical zone should not be left vulnerable. If this happens, the South East as a zone and Igbo as a people would be the losers, heads or tails.