Reminder of the 1966 pogrom in the north: To thy tents o’ Igbo?

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Return home for Biafra actualisation, MASSOB tells south-easterners in northern towns •Ndigbo will defend themselves against massacre this time – Civil war survivor By Vincent Ujumadu & Anayo Okoli LAST week’s ultimatum given to Igbo people resident  in the northern part of the country, by a coalition of Arewa groups to leave the region within three months, was  received with shock in many segments  of the country.

To many Igbo people, the threat was a reminder of the events that led to the 1966 massacre of the Igbo in  northern cities and, in  anger, they vowed that never again would they allow such a situation to repeat itself. Not even the clarification given later by the groups that their action was to allow Igbo to go and concentrate on the actualization of the Biafra Republic could convince Igbo people that the northern youth groups were not merely messengers of elite northern oligarchy. The northern coalition had, at a meeting held  in Kaduna, on Tuesday, delivered the threat which they tagged ‘Kaduna Declaration’. In it, they asked Igbo to leave the North and urged northerners living in Igboland to return home. No sooner  than  that threat come that  statements from the Federal Government and  some northern governors, came out openly to condemn the quit notice to Igbo. The 1966 program had  led to the declaration of the Biafra Republic by then Lt. Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and the  civil war that lasted  almost three years. Although it was stated clearly at the end of the war that there was ‘no victor and no vanquished’, Igbo people still feel they are being treated like the defeated side in the battle. They point to what they describe as unfulfilled promises made to them since the end of the war in 1970, which perhaps was the reason for the setting up of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, by Chief Ralph Uwazurike. MASSOB and later the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, have been driving the agitation for Biafra, culminating in the May 30 sit-at-home ordered by IPOB in remembrance of 50 years of the declaration of Biafra by Ojukwu. However, as IPOB and MASSOB were still basking in the euphoria of the success of the sit-at-home order, the northern youths dropped the bombshell of the quit notice to Igbo from all parts of the North. Anger In many parts of Igboland, the reaction on the quit notice was received with anger, with most people, especially those who knew about the 1966 killings, saying never again would they allow the North to engage in another  killing orgy of the Igbo as they did 51 years ago. Mr. Ignatius Okafor, an Onitsha –based businessman who said he escaped being lynched on his way back to the Igboland in 1966, with his parents, now late, said he did not go back to the North after the war, but that his siblings did, adding that all of them have invested so much in the North that Kaduna, where they reside, has become more or less their home.

According to him, if any northerner thinks he would carry out a repeat of what happened in 1966, such a person should have his head examined because most Igbo people in many parts of the North are prepared to defend themselves with the last drop of their blood there. Another Igbo, who fought the civil war on the side of Biafra, Chief Everest Nnajiofor, said the North should not think that the situation that favoured the region  during the 1967-1970 war was still in place, adding that events of the past 50 years had also made more tribes in Nigeria to feel as bad as the Igbo people feel and, therefore, would not support the North in the event of another war. He said, for instance, that the Middle Belt people were as unhappy as the Igbo and, therefore, would not join the North to do what they did to the Igbo between 1966 and 1970. Besides, he added, the past frequent killings of Ndigbo in the North anytime there was a misunderstanding had turned out to be a blessing of sort because it made Igbo to evolve ways of defending themselves in any part of the North anytime there was trouble. “Igbo have seen themselves as stakeholders in any city in Nigeria and are no longer prepared to just abandon their investment for unserious people and run back home to start life all over again. If anything happens from now, our people will stay there to either resolve the matter, or fight for their right,” Nnajiofor said. ‘Dire mistakes’ Also speaking on the quit notice, a coalition of human rights organizations in the South-East have called on the Federal Government and security forces, as well as  elected people in the national and state assemblies, public office holders and other key political actors in the zone not to repeat the dire mistakes of 1966 by taking for granted the anti-Igbo  notice issued by the Arewa groups. Their Chairman, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, and his colleagues said it was  common knowledge that the present security forces and agencies in Nigeria, particularly their command structures, are ethno-religiously lopsided and composed in favour of the Hausa-Fulani Muslims, a situation  which, according to them, has widened the country’s citizens’ policing protection ratio and security, safety and protection disparity among the country’s six geopolitical zones.

They said: “There are deep worries concerning the likelihood of another anti-Igbo pogrom in  northern Nigeria on account of the said genocidal threat,  more so when, up till now, the Nigeria security forces, particularly the Army and the SSS, that go about hunting, haunting and hounding innocent Nigerians of non-Hausa-Fulani Muslim stocks, particularly those of the South-South and South-East, by killing, arresting, torturing and detaining them for months or more, have not gone after those that issued the genocidal statement. “We therefore call on all members of the international community, including inter-governmental and non-governmental actors and international personalities to take diplomatic notice  of the latest round of goings on in Nigeria with specific reference to the  genocidal threat and do that which is morally, legally and diplomatically necessary and expedient to compel Nigerian authorities and their security agencies not to resort to their usual lukewarm attitudes or fire brigade approach  in matters of this dicey nature. “The international community and the government of Nigeria and the South-East political actors must see and treat the northern  youths’ threat as early warnings that must be pro-actively and preventively handled so as to stop Nigeria and Nigerians from going the genocidal way of the Republic of Rwanda. “We restate that we have never called anybody to violence and that people should discountenance the elements of fear and threat introduced by the distortions of merchants of mischief. We wholeheartedly endorse the moves made variously by our leaders to allay those fears and urge people to be peaceful and law-abiding while, at the same time, resolutely insisting on having the right thing done by allowing the Igbo to have and move to their dream country in accordance with the universal fundamental right to self-determination. “We restate our determination and commitment to ensuring that the North will never partake in any contrived arrangement that would still have the Biafran Igbo as a component. “We reiterate our call on Nigerian authorities and recognized international bodies, such as the ECOWAS, AU and UN, to hasten the initiation of the process for the final actualization of the Biafran nation and with it the excision of the Igbo out of the present federation”. Mr. Abdulazzez Suleiman, the arrowhead of the threat, had  claimed that despite the “distortion” of their earlier statement, the feedback they got was that their message resonated with “peace-loving Nigerians who have been tormented and menaced by the irredentist proclivities of the Igbo  and are overwhelmingly desirous to put an end to it”. ‘Childish talk’ Former President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, however, dismissed the threat, describing it as a childish talk. He said that such a statement could only be taken serious if it came from  northern elders and urged elders in the North to react to the statement immediately so that other Nigerians would know their stand. “I see this statement as a demonstration of youthful exuberance. Let the  northerners also declare that they are leaving Nigeria. That is why I want the elders in the North to make a statement to either support or condemn the youths so that we will know those behind the statement of the Arewa  youths. Maybe they are no longer interested in one Nigeria,” Ikedife said. ‘Good omen’ A human rights lawyer and President of Voters Rights International based in Onitsha, Mr. Jezie Ekejiuba, described the ultimatum as a good omen for the Igbo. He said: “This is what Igbo are expecting from Nigeria. I am sure that the May 30 sit-at-home had shown them that Igbo want to be on their own. Igbo people have also come to realize that it is inevitable for them to be on their own. “They have been experiencing large scale marginalization and the federal character principle has become a non-issue and most people are, therefore, wondering the need for remaining together as citizens of one country. So, if Arewa people say Igbo should leave their area, Igbo people should not hesitate to do that. They should not, because of their investments in the North, die for nothing. Investment by Igbo in the North should not be a reason to want to lose their lives. They can still own such investments, after all, Igbo people have investments in other countries and they still manage them and so, they can manage their investments in Nigeria as foreigners.” He insisted that the threat by the Arewa  youths should not be dismissed with the wave of the hands, arguing that, as future leaders, the youths should be taken serious because they always speak the minds of their elders. “They are the ones that actually kill people whenever there is riot and that is why whatever threat they make should not be brushed aside,” Ekejiuba said. MASSOB Director of Information, Comrade Samson Edeson, echoed the view of Ekejiuba, commending the northern  youths for ordering Igbo people in the North to vacate  that part of the country, saying it is a welcome development. Edeson  said the threat came at the right time and urged Ndigbo in  northern Nigeria to return to Igboland  without further delay. Edeson’s statement said: “MASSOB is maintaining its earlier position of congratulating the northern youths for ordering Ndigbo to vacate Northern Nigeria. This is a welcome development. “A stitch in time saves nine. This is how it started in 1966 when the news got to our people that the North had perfected the plan to attack Ndigbo, and  our people wanted to leave the North right there at railway station and the same  northern elders and leaders went to the railway station and pleaded with our people to stay back. “They said that everything was under control and that security had been put in place, not knowing that these elders were working with our enemies. Our people went back to their houses, and, in the night of the same day, Ndigbo were attacked and all of them got killed by the people who pleaded with them not to go back to the East. “The order to arrest these northern youths by Governor Nasiru El Rufai is just to deceive us. We cannot be fooled again and we want the South-East Governors not to  make the costly mistake by thinking that everything is under control. Remember that the meeting where the threat was made  was held in Arewa House, which is a government-owned structure. The northern elders cannot deny that they were not in support of the planned attack against Ndigbo. South-East Governors, as a matter of urgency, should relocate our people now.” ‘Ill-wind’ Also  speaking on the northern youths quit notice to Igbo, the leader of MASSOB, Comrade Uchenna Madu, described it as good news.” We pledge our total support towards this divinely approved quit notice “, he said. To the Methodist Archbishop of Aba, Methodist Archdiocese, Most Rev. Andrew Chile Okenwa, the Coalition of Northern Groups that issued the quit notice lacked knowledge of the weight of their utterances and the implications. Okenwa said, “I don’t take them serious, it is when they begin to apply the implementation and that would be frightening. Frightening in the sense that it may lead to a military coup, that will topple this government and it is an ill-wind that blows no man good, because it can go to any direction. “So I don’t think they mean what they say because they don’t know the implications. We are praying as a Church for a united Nigeria where justice and love reigns. We are not talking of disintegration. We are praying for unity, because God has united the world and Nigeria is not an exception”. But while the Ohaneze Ndigbo called for calm and caution, saying it would not react until it heard the position of the elders, its youth wing reacted angrily to the action of their Northern counterpart. They described the action of the northern youths as a “security threat and a crime against the Nigerian state”. The Ohaneze youths urged Igbo in the North to “to stay put wherever they were across the country” and “to defend themselves in the event of any provocation and attack from Arewa  youths”. The President of Ohaneze Youths Council, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said: “The ultimatum was a call for war and should be treated as such by security agents”, and urged security agencies not to handle the threat with kids gloves. “They are on it again and this is a sad reminder of the civil war. This is how it started as a joke and before we knew it, a coordinated and simultaneous attack was launched against the Igbos in the North. “This is a sad development considering efforts being made to unite this country; this is a sad commentary considering the sacrifices Igbos have made in this country. “We, however, wish to state unequivocally that Igbos are not cowards. We are not afraid of Alhaji AbdulAziz Suleiman, Yerima Shetimma and their cohorts. “Ndigbo want to make it categorically clear that we are ready for them; we are cannot be intimidated by their ranting. The era of taking properties belonging to Ndigbo by force is gone. We won’t let that happen again. “To this end, we are calling on our people in the North not to shift any ground; they should remain where they are; this country belongs to all of us. Any attack on our people shall receive commensurate reaction”. OYC, however, urged northern governors and the Northern Elders to call their youths to order and dissociate themselves from the threat against the Igbo, saying “failure to do so, we will take it that they are all equal partners to the threat”. “This is a drum of war coming from the North and should the Northern leaders fail to act accordingly, we shall be left with no option than to go beyond this stage”, the group said. “We call on the northern traditional and religious leaders headed by the Sultan of Sokoto to assure Igbo  of their safety in the 19 Northern States. “We are calling on the President General Arewa Consultative Forum to call Northern Youths to order; they must be compelled to tender unreserved apology to Ndigbo  and stop fanning the embers of disunity among Nigerians. “We will not leave the North for the northern youths after developing the North with assets and business investment worth over N44 trillion. If they are preparing ground for abandoned properties, they have failed. “May we all call on security agencies to provide protection to all the Igbos in the 19 Northern States and their properties? Anything on the contrary means giving a backing to this orchestrated genocidal plot against Igbos. “May we call on the Federal Government to assure Ndigbo that they are part of this country, by living up to expectations of protecting their lives and properties. Failure to do so, we shall be left with no option than to defend ourselves. “We also call for the immediate arrest of Yerima and his group; this is a crime against the State and it should not be treated with levity. “Rather than chase around un-armed Biafran agitators, the DSS should go after these men who have declared war on the Nigeria State. “In the meantime, our people should be careful and vigilant. They should not hesitate to report any assault on them. We are watching and waiting”. Reacting also, the MASSOB-BIM Zonal Information Director, Abia Central Zone, Anselam Ogbonna, said, “Igbo did not spring up from nowhere, they have homes. So it is not bad to sack or ask a sojourner to leave a city where he sojourned. So if the northerners feel that Igbos have overstayed their welcome, they reserved the right to ask them to go and build their homes and invest in their land, the South- East. “It is not totally bad, but the northerners should have it at the back of their mind that he who sacked a sojourner will someday look for his help, advice or assistance or even remember how useful the sojourner was to their community, when he was there”.

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