IPOB/Fulani Herdsmen: One Nation, Double Standard

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Samuel Adakole

Was I surprised that the Federal Government (FG) declared the unarmed pro-Biafra agitators, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a terrorist organisation? No! I am only surprised that many Nigerians were surprised.

Was I also surprised that the same FG dares not as much strongly rebuke and condemn the atrocities of militant Fulani herdsmen rated by the Global Terrorism Index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, surpassed only by Boko Haram, ISIS, and al-Shabab? Never! I was rather surprised that most Nigerians were surprised that herdsmen were not declared terrorists despite plundering, raping, killing, unleashing maximum destruction in mostly the Middle Belt and southern parts of the country.

For those who were surprised, the highly Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, cleared their surprises. He said: “All I know is that IPOB has engaged in terrorist activities, viz: clashing with the national army and attempting to seize rifles from soldiers, using weapons such as machetes, Molotov cocktails and sticks, and mounting roadblocks to extort money from people, among others”.

On the other hand, Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, lectured Nigerians on difference between a criminal activity and a terrorist activity.

Hear him: “Yes, some Fulani herdsmen are a criminal gang. But IPOB, like Boko Haram, has a territory they have carved out to themselves. They have shown the willingness to invade other neighbouring states. They have raised concerns in neighbouring Kogi and Benue states (more than the Fulani herdsmen)”.

Can we now see why Fulani militant herdsmen, who invade and feast on people’s farmlands and livelihood; who sack communities, burn down their houses, kill natives in their thousands, and occupy their ancestral lands with audacity will continue to get away with it jollily for a long time to come? Then, a government, which made security of the country its prime campaign promise gleefully tells us that these are foreign Fulani herdsmen- as if that is not the more reason they should dealt with as terrorists.

We now know why the Fulani herdsmen brazenly display deadly weapons like AK47 riffles in broad daylight. After all, even the Presidency just told us that IPOB’s sticks, stones, and machetes are deadlier than those riffles.
We now know why the FG mobilises the firepower of the Nigerian Army and Air Force to bombard cattle rustlers in parts of the north, while not bothering to contain herdsmen, who kill at the drop of a hat. In fact, it took the Presidency almost eternity to condemn the massive genocide in Southern Kaduna, which the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan put at 808 lives in 53 villages as at December 30, 2016.

Our minds are now open to why the Committee for the Containment of Cattle Rustling in Nigeria (CCCRN) set up by the Inspector-General of Police recently launched a device for tracking stolen cows, but does not see the need for well-resourced intelligence to apprehend the supposedly invisible killer herdsmen.

We now also know why the massive destruction of lives in Agatu, Benue State went unchallenged by security forces while the Minister of Internal Affairs, Lt. General Abdurrahman Dambazzau (Rtd), quickly hopped into Mambilla, Taraba State, once the indigenes said enough was enough of the destruction inflicted by Fulani herdsmen excesses.

We now know why the security agencies dared not invite, for questioning, the Arewa Youth coalition, which issued a quit notice to fellow citizens and bared their intent to criminally convert their properties. They claimed arresting the almighty Arewa Youths would worsen the already tensed atmosphere in the country. But the atmosphere was conducive for pythons to dance in the East rather than the Sambisa Forest. It was also okay for the military to show force in front of Nnamdi Kanu’s compound and Abia with their armoured tanks at a time the North East is boiling over with Boko Haram killings.

IPOB? Oh! What a hopeless set of terrorists. That was exactly why President Muhammadu Buhari regaled the 72nd United Nations General Assembly with the need to get the government of Myanmar to halt what he called “a state-backed programme of brutal depopulation of the (Muslim) Rohingya inhabited areas in Myanmar on the bases of ethnicity and religion”, while the military invasion and reported atrocities in Abia and South East are state-backed population boosting and infrastructural development programmes.

The Amnesty International gives a glimpse of alleged state-backed killings in the South East this way: “The Nigerian security forces, led by the military, embarked on a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence resulting in the deaths of at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters in the South East of the country. “Analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs and 146 eye witness testimonies relating to demonstrations and other gatherings between August 2015 and August 2016 consistently shows that the military fired live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse crowds”. See https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/peaceful-pro-biafra-activists-killed-in-chilling-crackdown/.

While every reasonable and patriotic Nigerian must condemn the excesses of IPOB and its leader, especially the invective and irresponsible utterances of Nnamdi Kanu, we cannot shy away from discontent they try to project. We cannot run away from the reality of the utterly discriminatory 5 percent and 97 percent policy of the Buhari government that has reduced Igbos to third class citizens. And in a situation where the Igbos feel they cannot get justice and equity, can we rightly discountenance their inalienable and internationally recognised right for self-determination?

Meanwhile, it is certainly not in Nigeria’s interest and quest for direct foreign investments, to be saddled with the ugly image that comes with hosting two terrorist groups- Boko Haram in the North and IPOB in the South.
Again, it negates the spirited and patriotic efforts made by the South East leaders to reign in the group and their excesses. It is a slight on the governors and leaders of the region, who had recently proscribed the activities of IPOB and the appeal by the South East National Assembly Caucus to the group to suspend all agitations to allow Igbo leaders to engage the FG on their concerns.

In branding IPOB a terrorist group after its night raid that has left the whereabouts of Kanu and his parents unknown, it appears the FG might have unwittingly driven the IPOD underground that could get radicalised and transformed into another faceless monster.

In proscribing IPOB, I am afraid also the FG has only addressed the symptoms, leaving the disease to fester. Even if IPOB does not transform into something sinister; even if the name dies today, what is the guarantee that the group will not simply melt into the pro-IPOB faction of the Movement for Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) or a myriad of other pro-Biafra agitators or simply change its name?

Importantly, should it not bother the FG that an overwhelming bulk of pro-Biafra agitators are people whose parents probably did not even witness the war? Yes, just 15 to 20 years. Shouldn’t the FG be worried about the level of frustration as well as indignation and bitterness towards their fatherland that propels such young people to confront armoured tanks and machine guns with stones and machetes?

My thinking is that even if the FG proscribes these pro-Biafra groups and designate them terrorists a million times; even if they eliminate all the current agitators, the likes of IPOB will continue to sprout from time to time until the real issues inflaming them – issues of inclusion, equity, fairness, and justice – are sincerely addressed.
It will never be enough to say that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable without making the country a happy marriage where every section is so proud of and happy to remain in.

The truth remains that a man denied justice and equity will never be interested in peace. If he is not asking for justice yet, then he is only buying time.
–––Adakole writes from Benue