By Henry Umoru &Johnbosco Agbakwuru
IN what appeared like a mortal blow to the existence of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, state governors in the South East geopolitical zone, yesterday, proscribed the activities of the separatist group and other aggrieved organisations.
The development which came on a day the Nigerian Army gave seven reasons for declaring the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB a terrorist group, was said to have been informed by the prevailing security situation in the zone and its attendant consequences.
Consequently, the governors urged all aggrieved groups in the region to articulate their position on contentious national issues and submit to a committee which comprised of governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and National Assembly members from the zone.
The decisions were among the outcome of a meeting of South East Governors Forum held in Enugu with the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 82 Division of Nigerian Army, the Deputy Senate President, Sen Ike Ekweremadu and the President General of apex Igbo socio-political organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo.
Compliance in respective states
Chairman of South East Governors Forum and Ebonyi State governor, Mr. Dave Umahi said all governors were asked to ensure compliance in their respective states, adding that IPOB leader was invited but failed to attend.
A communiqué issued at the end of the forum restated the commitment of the governors, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and National Assembly members to an indivisible Nigeria.
The communiqué reads: “We also restate our desire for the restructuring of Nigeria where all national issues will be discussed and amicably settled to achieve justice and fairness for every Nigerian. We reinstate our earlier position that the November 18, 2017, governorship election in Anambra State must hold.
“Accordingly, we appeal to Mr. President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw the military in the South East zone, while the Police perform their traditional role of maintaining law and order.
“We have also planned for an exchange of visits between the governors and to re-enforce the confidence of Nigerians in this respect. In keeping with our earlier position, we wish to assure Nigerians that full investigation is ongoing on all allegations of killings, maiming and other unlawful conduct in the South East zone within this period.
“The governors and the security agencies are in agreement that appropriate action will be taken against anyone found culpable. We advise all residents of the South East to go about their normal businesses as the government of each state is committed to protecting everybody and we advise all our people in the South East to be law-abiding.”
On its part, the Army said the activities of IPOB in the South East had become a national security threat, adding that labeling the group a violent one became necessary to avoid national security challenges.
A statement by the Director of Defense Information, Major-General Paul Enenche said the Army’s decision was taken after due professional analysis of the activities of IPOB and recent events, stating that the group’s claim of being non-violent was false.
The statement came as the Rivers State governor, Mr. Nyesom Wike flayed the activities of IPOB in the state, saying that the state would not tolerate any attack on other Nigerians residing in the state.
Also, the Northern Elders Forum accused the apex Igbo socio-political organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo of being sympathetic to the actions of IPOB, saying the ongoing military operation in the Southeast was in order.
Formation of Biafra National Guard
The statement by the Army reads: “The Independent People of Biafra which has posed to be a security challenge in the country, has been metamorphosing from one stage to the other.
After due professional analysis and recent developments, it has become expedient to notify the public that the claim by IPOB actors that the organisation is non-violent is not true. Hence, the need to bring to the public, awareness about the true and current state of IPOB. In this regard, some of their actions, clandestinely and actively, that has been terrorising the public among others include: The formation of a Biafra Secret Service, claimed formation of Biafra National Guard, unauthorised blocking of public access roads, extortion of money from innocent civilians at illegal road blocks, militant possession and use of weapons (stones, molotov cocktails, machetes and broken bottles among others) on a military patrol on September
10, 2017, physical confrontation of troops by Nnamdi Kanu and other IPOB actors at a checkpoint on September 11, 2017, and also attempts to snatch their rifles and attack by IPOB members on a military checkpoint on September 12, 2017, at Isialangwa,
“From the foregoing, the Armed Forces of Nigeria wishes to confirm to the public that IPOB from all intent, plan, and purpose as analysed, is a militant terrorist organisation. Therefore, parents and particularly unsuspecting residents of the South East and other Nigerians should advice their wards to desist from joining the group.
“The Defence Headquarters restates its commitment to handling all the security challenges in the country and further assures all Nigerians of the protection of lives and property.”
Steer clear of River State—Wike
Explaining the reasons for berating IPOB, Wike, in a state broadcast yesterday, said the activities of the group in Rivers had become an issue of grave concern.
His words:”The Rivers State Government is seriously concerned about the recent activities of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, particularly the attack on Nigerian citizens living in Rivers State. Rivers people fully subscribe to Nigeria’s corporate existence and its indivisibility. As a people, we shall continue to support the unity and peaceful co-existence of all ethnic nationalities and work towards actualizing our collective aspirations for a just, inclusive and progressive nation. Rivers State belongs to all those who live in it. We heartily welcome any Nigerian who wishes to reside here and go about with his or her lawful businesses.
‘’Therefore, we shall not tolerate any attack by any group on other Nigerians living in Oyigbo or any other part of the state. We warn troublemakers, who are bent on causing violence to steer clear of Rivers territory. Nobody should take our hospitality and peaceful disposition for weakness, as we are capable of dealing decisively with any situation that threatens peace in the state.
FG should initiate national dialogue on crisis
“We call on Rivers people to be vigilant and not to allow themselves to be used by anybody to foment trouble in our state. Do not hesitate to report any suspicious character or movements around your vicinity to the law enforcement agencies for immediate action. In as much as we may share common concerns about the structural problems of the country, we believe that dialogue, not violence, remains the best way to resolve contending political issues. We, therefore, pray the Federal Government to initiate a meaningful national dialogue to peacefully resolve the structural challenges that are threatening Nigeria’s stability and progress.”
Ohaneze supports IPOB agenda—NEF
Similarly, Chairman of NEF, Prof Ango Abdullahi, who briefed newsmen in Abuja, said the position of Ohaneze on the deployment of troops to the Southeast, confirmed earlier allegation by Arewa Youths that the group approved IPOB’s separatist agenda.
He said: “When our children reacted to what they considered continuous barrage of misinformation or sometimes insults and abuses from a source that has been doing, we were hoping that somebody, somewhere who held a position of respect would tell them to stay away from things that will agitate reaction from somewhere.
“Apparently this didn’t happen and Ohaneze that is supposed to be an umbrella body of Ndigbo has come out with open criticism of what is happening on the ground by criticising the federal government and by extension the Army for doing what they are supposed to do in terms of keeping peace in the country. I understand from what I have read in the papers that they have demanded that the military personnel be withdrawn from their areas. Their position is now a vindication of what our boys have complained about some months ago.
“Now that Ohaneze is coming out to say that, it suggests to me that all along that they have been behind or encouraged these agitations. Even before now we had indicators to believe that the elders, who we thought will restrain some of these things, were behind them. We saw what happened when Kanu got his bail. We knew those, who were behind the struggle for his bail. That was enough to that this young man must have had the support of his people including the elders.”
All parties should exercise restraint—Labour
On its part, the Organized Labour advised those agitating for self-determination and the federal government to exercise restraint and follow the civil way in whatever they are doing.
National President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, who said this, lamented that insecurity had become prevalent in Nigeria as a result of the agitation by IPOB.
“People must continue to exercise restraint and must use peaceful approach so that it does not escalate. We must continue to adopt the civil approach to quell agitations. We must continue to advance issues of peace and dialogue.”
Reacting to the development in a statement by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Comrade Emma Powerful, IPOB, denied being a terrorist group, saying it had often been non-violent in its agitations.
“IPOB under Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has never been involved in any act of violence or crime since the inception of this fight for Biafra independence.”
The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, said the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group indicated that the military was not ready to end the ongoing military operation in the South East.
The group in a statement by its leader, Comrade Uchenna Madu, said the development was an insult and embarrassment to the Igbo.
Madu said: “MASSOB wishes to remind the Defence Headquarters that a sitting Judge of Nigeria’s Federal High Court admitted and acknowledged that IPOB is a global reputable organisation. Nigerian Army’s show of force on the people of Biafra is a sign of jittery and fear of Biafra. The action of the Nigerian military against the people of Biafra is deeply assisting in dividing Nigeria.”
Talks for end to Python Dance ongoing—Ekweremadu
Relatedly, Ekweremadu urged the people of the South East to remain calm, adding that talks were ongoing with the Presidency and security agencies to end the deployment of troops to the region.
He said: “The military siege to the South East is uncalled for because there is no prevailing situation in the region beyond the Police, who are constitutionally charged with the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order, to warrant it in the first place. Instead, the show of force, Operation Egwu Eke appears to be creating problems and raising tension in the region.
“I want to assure our people that I have been engaging the Presidency and security agencies meaningfully on the issue. It is my hope that the Operation Egwu Eke or Python Dance will be called off.
Also, the Igbo Community Association in Kano State has dissociated itself from the activities of IPOB and its leader.
The President-General of the association, Chief Ebenezer Chima, made the position known at a press briefing Kano on Friday.
He said: “We want to state categorically here that we, the Igbo residing and doing business in Kano State, unequivocally state that we dissociate ourselves from the activities of IPOB and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.’’