When Ango Abdullahi, a northern elder, alleged the other day that the most violence against northerners in the southern part of the country are perpetrated by the Igbo, he had the ground for his allegation prepared for him by the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Abdullahi and his brothers in the Northern Elders Forum came up with the charge a day after they had audience with Wike in Port Harcourt. The governor has lately been in the eye of the storm over the organised killing of many residents of Obigbo, mostly the Igbo, by the military allegedly on the orders of Wike.
Before the unfortunate turn of events, Wike has always come across to me as a man of courage. He is outspoken. He is unpretentious. You can safely say that he does not suffer fools gladly. Unlike most public office holders, he does not dissolve into anonymity when serious national issues present themselves for consideration. He does not hesitate to assume a position. He will always step out to be counted. In fact, I have had cause on a number of occasions to name him and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State as governors of courage. Their actions and positions on national issues always stand in contradistinction with those of the lily-livered governors of South East Nigeria who, owing to their complacency, have allowed themselves to be fully led astray by the governor of Ebonyi State, Mr David Umahi.
However, regardless of Wike’s fearless disposition, I have also had cause to say sometimes that he oversteps the limits of courage. In his bid to show that he cannot be cowed, he sometimes veers off into foolhardiness. Notwithstanding the occasional slips, Wike has, largely, stood out as a bulwark against the overbearing tendencies of oppressors in whatever guise they present themselves.
In fact, if there was any time the governor’s garrulous excesses got the better part of him, it was in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests which rocked the country in October. While the mayhem that the initial peaceful protests metamorphosed into lasted, some police and military personnel fell victim of the rage that swept through the land. In parts of the country where security operatives lost their lives, the governors of the affected states managed the situation with tact and maturity. But Wike disappointed. He was in the news everyday making statements that were unwarranted and uncalled for. He did not care a hoot about moderation. His intemperate overdrive got to its apogee when the governor came out on national television to say that the policemen and soldiers that lost their lives in Obigbo were killed by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The remark was tactless, inflammatory and inciting. I felt that it was unbecoming of a governor to indulge in such open air denunciation of a group even when the facts of the matter were debatable.
Under the tense atmosphere that we were in at that time, the Wike declaration exacerbated an already bad situation. I was thoroughly disappointed that the man I once held out as the conscience of his people has fallen into the pit of disrepute.
As should be expected, Wike’s impolitic remark sparked off a lot of rage. He had marked a certain group out for stigmatization. But since IPOB members did not have a mark of distinction, Wike unwittingly made unsuspecting members of the public resident in Obigbo targets of attack and elimination.
But what rankled the most was the lockdown that was imposed on Obigbo by the governor. Reports had it that the round-the-clock curfew afforded the military the opportunity to engage in selective killings of residents of Obigbo. With the label placed on IPOB members as the aggressors, we were told that Igbos living in that trouble spot were targeted for elimination. Wike has since denied complicity in the concert of blood enacted by soldiers in Obigbo. But his effort to extricate himself from the bloodletting did not work. The fact of the matter was that in the bid to run a negative profile of IPOB, Wike, unwittingly, ended up demonising the entire Igbo race and, consequently, fell out of favour with them. The governor complicated matters when he made remarks that clearly suggested that he was trying to distance himself from the Igbo as if he has no ancestral links with them. His disposition reminded us of the old, familiar tales that wafted out of Rivers State during and after the Biafran debacle.
Even though I chuckled disappointingly at Wike’s tantrums, I chose, for some reason, to treat the incident as if it never took place. But what has provoked this reaction is the recent interjection of Ango Abdullahi on this matter. Abdullahi, a northern irredentist, was in Rivers State last week with a group of northerners on a solidarity visit to Governor Wike. As an unrepentant ethnic bigot that he is, Abdullahi used the occasion to launch an attack on the Igbo race. His unsavoury remark had a ring of the familiar. It reminded us of the Wike story, to wit, that IPOB was responsible for the killings in Obigbo during the #EndSARS protests. Wike’s tale resonated with divisive elements in the north who always ride on the back of the Rivers man to get at the Igbo. It was a war strategy during the Biafran crisis. It worked because the authorities in Rivers State at that time were willing tools in the hands of northern forces who were up in arms against Biafra. The way it was then, the Rivers man saw the Igbo as a burden that he has to do away with. That was why Obigbo was rechristened Oyigbo. And that was why towns and villages in Rivers State that bear Igbo names were prefixed with an ‘R’ so that they will lose their Igbo meanings.
I do not think that this really worries the Igbo. The ethnic nationality is big enough and therefore not in need of territories to annex or conquer. But what worries is why the Rivers man, of all ethnic minorities in Eastern Nigeria, is always the willing tool that the north must use against the Igbo. Those who are interested in getting to the root of the matter will tell you that whatever took place during the war years in Rivers State against the Igbo was perpetrated by non-Igbo actors in that part of Biafra. But what made the difference was that willing Igbos of Ikwerre extraction like Elechi Amadi made themselves tools that were used to undo their people. Since the cessation of hostilities, Igbos who have found themselves in power have been navigating this difficult path with wisdom and tact. Peter Odili had no problem with Igbos of the south east while he was governor. The same thing is true of Chibuike Amaechi. But Wike has, unfortunately, failed where his brothers from the upland part of Rivers State succeeded. His failure in this regard has provided the Ango Abdullahis of northern Nigeria a launch pad to attack the Igbo. In fact, Wike is the architect of the vitriolic visited on the Igbo by Ango Abdullahi. Through his indiscretion, he has given bigoted elements like Abdullahi the reason to launch out. Wike should be mindful of his actions as he marches into the future because posterity is always watching.