By Casmir Igbokwe
The viral pictures and videos of the deaths and destruction in Oyigbo area of Rivers State drew me to tears, even as most Nigerians are yet to get over the shooting of peaceful protesters in Lekki toll gate area of Lagos. What this and other killings in Nigeria indicate is that the right to life is not sacrosanct here.
The account of what happened and is probably still happening in Rivers State is variegated. It depends on who is telling the story. The leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, blamed Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State for the killings. In a statement, IPOB’s media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, noted that Wike and all those who were allegedly involved in the killings in Oyigbo or Obigbo, as some people call it, wouldn’t go free and that vengeance was coming.
IPOB said, “There were riots and disturbances all over Nigeria. Nigerian Army and police have killed and continued to kill hundreds of young people and, in retaliation, young people attacked police stations. To single out the inhabitants of Obigbo for extermination is a vicious and evil undertaking and a calculated attempt by Wike to please his Fulani masters and Britain that tried but failed to exterminate the Igbo race between 1966 and 1970.”
A civil society group, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), supported IPOB’s claims. According to the group, security men killed over 50 people and injured over 80 others in Oyigbo. It said the figures were conservative and that many others disappeared and hundreds held in secrecy. It even listed the names of some of the murdered residents.
Intersociety added, “The governor was visiting Obigbo to assess his military deployment and curfew same day and two young residents barely emerged from their houses to hear what their governor has come to tell them when soldiers sighted them and opened fire, killing them instantly. They were shot at forehead, forcing the brain-box of the late Chinwendu to bust and emptied at the centre of the road…It must be noted that soldiers took away bodies of most of those killed.”
Governor Wike threw the blame back at his accusers. The problems in Oyigbo, he said, were the handiwork of IPOB. He alleged that IPOB killed six soldiers, four policemen and destroyed all police stations and court buildings in the area. In interviews and statements, Wike declared that he never ordered the military to kill the Igbo, describing the allegation as balderdash and politically motivated.
The Oyigbo crisis was triggered by the #EndSARS protests, which swept across the country last month. What started as peaceful protests against police brutality and the atrocities committed by the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police later snowballed into needless vandalism. Hoodlums in different parts of the country hijacked the protests and unleashed havoc on public and private properties.
In Lagos State, for instance, the High Court in Igbosere, some police stations, and many other private and public properties were vandalised. Even the palace of the Oba of Lagos was not spared as the hoodlums invaded it and took away his staff of office. Some policemen were also killed. This same scenario happened in many other states of the federation.
I must confess here that I am not a fan of IPOB. I abhor killing of any type. If actually the allegation against the group is true, I condemn it totally. Nobody has any right to take the life of anybody, not to talk of soldiers. But the questions are: Why was the Rivers State vandalism attributed to IPOB? And how did Wike know that the youths the soldiers killed were members of IPOB? Do these IPOB members wear uniform or name tag? Was similar destruction in other parts of the country also the handiwork of IPOB?
The truth is that many innocent youths may have been killed in the name of IPOB. Wike may not have control over the army or even the police but, as the Chief Security Officer of his state, his words and actions matter a lot. His utterances apparently emboldened the security men to commit what looks more like ethnic pogrom in Rivers State. It is the same military-beyond-my-control attitude that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu exhibited in Lagos State. He claimed he had no control over the army, but he reportedly invited them to intervene in the Lekki crisis.
Nevertheless, my fear is that there is often ethnic and religious undertone in many of our actions in Nigeria. When the Lagos carnage happened, there were attempts to tag the culprits as Igbo youths. There were threats on the lives of Ndigbo in Lagos. But for the quick intervention of prominent Yoruba and Igbo leaders, the Igbo would have received the IPOB treatment in Lagos.
Besides, I don’t think that southerners alone suffered the atrocities of SARS. But certain northern elements see the protests as attempts to overthrow the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. The Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore Fulani socio-cultural association issued statements disparaging the protests and saying the protesters were planning to overthrow President Buhari. While accusing former Lagos Governor, Bola Tinubu, of sponsoring the protests, the group also claimed the protests were attempts to intimidate the North to give up its right to rule beyond 2023. Northern governors and leaders toed the same line with Miyetti Allah. According to them, some anti-democratic forces hijacked the protests with the aim to overthrow Buhari.
This is principally why we have remained stagnant as a nation. There is no unity of purpose in most of the things we do. Many Nigerians have been calling for a national dialogue, where we fashion out how to live together as one country. Certain individuals and groups read selfish meanings into it.
It is usually the leaders who manipulate the minds of the people to achieve their selfish goals. Ordinary Nigerians have no problem relating with one another. Look at what happened in Onitsha, Anambra State, during the #EndSARS protests. Youths who were moving about destroying police stations got to Fegge Police Station, where the Divisional Police Officer, Chief Superintendent of Police Rabiu Garba was in charge. The protest turned to chants of praises for Garba. The DPO is from the North, but because he is a good-natured man, the youths spared him and his station.
It is important to note that the ray of bad governance does not blind one region or state alone. Every section feels the pulse of the criminality, insecurity and poverty ravaging the country.
Be that as it may, the killings in Rivers State and anywhere for that matter must stop. Let us remember that whatever position we hold today is ephemeral. Let us be conscious of our actions today because, tomorrow, we may be called upon to account for them.
Just last week, Kosovo’s President, Hashim Thaçi, resigned to face charges for war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague. Thaçi, who was guerrilla leader during the war for independence from Serbia in the 1990s, said he resigned to protect the integrity of the presidency of Kosovo. He, among several politicians, had been indicted for crimes such as murder, enforced disappearances, torture and persecution.
Nigerian leaders should bear this in mind. Today, they may escape justice at home but, eventually, they may be called to account for their crimes sometime and somewhere they may not even have envisaged.
Lekki shootings: Buhari, Buratai, Sanwo-Olu have case to answer
It is all Tukur Buratai’s matter. Please leave Sanwo-Olu out of it. The COAS is an expert at it: the Zaria massacre of Shiites, the IPOB humiliation in Abia, and his unending threats are clear examples. That is why the service chiefs remain: absolute loyalty to PMB, not to the Nigerian state.
– Col. R.N. Oputa (retd.), Owerri, +2348033206191
Dear Casmir, leaders should know that the law is not the Constitution but the interpretation of it. Justice Oputa applied consideration to an extent in his judgement days. If manslaughter is different from murder, rage demonstration should be treated differently from violent demonstration. Democracy is humane and never pushes its people to the wall. If the reason for uprising is just, shooting should not be used on demonstrators.
– Cletus Frenchman, +2349095385215
It is a pity that our trigger-happy soldiers did not heed the advice in Luke 3:14, which says, “And soldiers likewise demanded of him saying: And what shall we do? And he said unto them, do violence to no man neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” It is not only Buhari, Burutai and Sanwo-Olu that have questions to answer but Ahmed Bola Tinubu. There is no smoke without fire, because Tinubu is being accused as the person who ordered soldiers to kill peaceful demonstrators at Lekki with guns and bullets acquired with taxpayers’ money, before he vamoosed out of Nigeria. If he is innocent of the accusation, why did he run away and become a fugitive. It is only in Nigeria that evil leaders have immunity against prosecution by ICC. Otherwise, I do not see the reason why Yakubu Gowon should not be prosecuted for war crimes like the massacre of Asaba indigenous community in 1967 and elimination of millions of Biafrans with hunger and starvation, which he and his co-conspirator in the person of Obafemi Awolowo described as legitimate instrument of war.
– Mr. Chinedu Ekwuno (JP), 08063730644
Dear Casy, the Nigerian military has a history of committing genocide, from Biafra, Asaba, Odi, Zakibiam, Afaraukwu, Aba and this Lekki toll gate. Buhari’s speech was like a sore thumb to the victims and Nigerians. The Nigerian law empowers only the President to deploy troops when need arises but Lekki wasn’t an ideal situation. Lagos governor, without any security on ground declared curfew and the anarchy consumed the defenceless populace in the midst of this evil. Nigeria has become the most dangerous place to live in now with the present youth unemployment and evil leadership. Let them restructure the country.
– Eze Chima C., Lagos, +2347036225495
Casmir, Nigerians have been unlucky in leadership. Most leaders are selfish people who have no interest of the development of the country. They see themselves as tin gods to be worshipped. Any contrary opinion is classified as treason. This group of leaders can be seen in different arms of government and they pose a serious threat to the prosperity of this country. The National Assembly should restructure this country so that leaders are accountable to the led.
– Pharm. Okwuchukwu Njike, +234 803 885 4922
- Also published in the Daily Sun of Monday, November 9, 2020.