The recent assault on the immediate past Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in Nuremberg, Germany by members of the Indigenous People of Biafra was totally misplaced, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo
One is not really sure if anybody, including the victim, former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, saw the assault by IPOB members at the second annual cultural festival and convention organised by Ndi-Igbo in Nuremberg, Germany on Saturday, August 17, coming.
This is because of the roles Ekweremadu was seen to have played in the past in advocating justice for Ndigbo and defending their interests in the first four years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which most Igbo described as the most challenging for the South East since the end of the civil war.
The question to ask is, if Ekweremadu who has been a Senator since 1999 actually deserved the treatment that was meted out to him by his countrymen at an occasion he was duly invited to? It will therefore be apt to holistically look at the agitation of the Igbo nation vis a vis the role of Ekweremadu in this regard.
The Igbo hit their lowest ebb, politically, with the defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan having put their eggs in one basket as it were in 2015. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is the dominant party in the South East, also lost its majority status in the two chambers of the National Assembly.
It was in this bad state that Ekweremadu, who his people fondly call Ikeoha Ndigbo (strength of his people) and his party (PDP), joined forces with like-minded Senators in the Eighth National Assembly to pull a fast political move that returned him as Deputy President of the Senate for a record third time to the relief and jubilation of the Ndigbo and also the PDP.
Nevertheless, the Igbo watched as political patronages were distributed largely to their exclusion in line with what they decried as strict application of the principle of 97 and five per cent as canvassed by President Buhari in far away Washington DC in the United States of America (USA).
President Buhari had during a state visit to the US told bewildered Nigerians in the diaspora that there was no way he would extend the same patronage to the people who gave him 97 per cent votes in 2015 polls and those that gave him only five percent votes in apparent reference to the South-south and the South East zones.
It was also at this time that the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, arrived Nigeria and was later picked up by the Federal Government. Ekweremadu had led South East Senate Caucus to meet with President Buhari to find a political solution, which the President reportedly rejected, insisting that Kanu’s trial must run its full course.
Kanu’s incarceration, coupled with Igbo’s perceived exclusion, fanned separatist sentiments and Biafra agitation, which Kanu represented through the South East, became charged with series of protests in the zone that resulted in alleged extrajudicial killings of many unarmed Igbo youth.
The Amnesty International’s “State of the World’s Human Rights” (2017/2018) report put the number of extra-judicial deaths of pro-Biafra activists between August 2016 and August 2017 at 150.
Meanwhile, while many Igbo elites had sympathy for IPOB, though not to the extent of secession, they could not speak up openly over the alleged rights abuses so as not to earn them retributions, including possible treason charges.
However, a few of them like Ekweremadu braved the odds, making them the face of the resilience and indomitability often associated with the Igbo. In one of those instances, the Enugu-born Senator took the Federal Government up in the aftermath of clashes between IPOB members and security agencies in Anambra and Delta States, which resulted in scores of death.
Coming under Order 43, Ekweremadu had said at a Senate plenary: “The security agencies must apply caution in trying to quell disturbances. We have had so much of bloodbath in this country under different circumstances and we cannot continue to lose young men and women, because the future of this country belongs to them.
“It is important that this Senate rises to condemn any act of killing, especially with the one that concerns the major part of our future, which remains the youth. We are now in a democracy and people should be entitled to speak their minds and to assemble under responsible circumstances. I just wish to bring to the notice of the Senate for us to take note and possibly, the states involved to set up enquiry to find out what led to these clashes”.
Also during the Operation Egwu Eke (Python Dance), a military operation launched by the Nigerian Army in the South East in 2017, Ekweremadu, as the highest ranking Igbo public office holder, not only interfaced with the security agencies and the Presidency, for which he wrote a formal letter.
In the letter entitled, “Rising Tension in the South East: Re: Appeal to Call Off Operation Egwu Eke” and dated September 14, 2017, Ekweremadu appealed to the President to call off the operation to lower the tension occasioned by Operation Python Dance “to take immediate steps to avert another civil war in Nigeria”.
The five-page letter read in part: “The peace of Nigeria has never been this fragile since the end of the civil war. As President and Commander-in-Chief, you would agree with me that there is need for caution. I am afraid, Your Excellency, that the government is embarking on yet another huge misjudgment today by adopting a military option to the Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB challenge.
“Therefore, I most respectfully appeal to you to order the immediate withdrawal of the military from the South East as their presence can only and is indeed already amplifying tension in the region”.
Ekweremadu never left anybody in doubt as to where he stands on Nigeria’s unity. He once noted that his role was to deescalate tension and end the protests that had led to the deaths of Igbo youths.
In his position paper at South East leaders meeting at the height of the tension, Ekweremadu, after passionately examining the pros and cons of secession, its political, legal, and economic implications, said the Igbo could find justice and blossom again in a just restructured Nigeria that allows them to vent their potential, stressing that “the Igbo must continue to emphasise restructuring.
“We are in full support of the clamour for the restructuring of the country and call on the federal government to start a dialogue with Nigerians on the modalities for achieving it”, the communiqué stated.
In view of his constantly standing up for his people, it was therefore surprising that IPOB members could choose to attack him action, predicated their action on Ekweremadu’s alleged support for Python Dance and proscription of IPOB, which unfortunately has been widely faulted and condemned.
Surprisingly, Ekweremadu, the man in the eye of the storm, appears unruffled by the ordeal or the threats by IPOB to attack more South East leaders. He also claimed to have no regrets speaking up for Igbo.
Speaking to reporters upon arriving Abuja from Germany, he said he had forgiven his attackers and moved on.
“Let me just say that the leaders he (Kanu) was mentioning were responsible for getting him out of jail in the first place. What we will do in this circumstance is to leave him to his conscience, the verdict of history, and possibly the repercussions of ingratitude. But I hope he won’t go to the extent of attacking any of the South East leaders anywhere.
“Again, I regret nothing I have done in defence of peoples rights. First of all, I am a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. My job is to speak out when there is injustice anywhere. We have problem in the North East. I have visited the North East.
“I visited the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps there. I donated money. I sent relief materials. We had problem in the South-south. I visited the creeks and saw the environmental challenges there for myself. So, I have always spoken out on matters that concern Nigerians no matter where they come from. I believe in justice for all. It had nothing to do with IPOB”, he said
The attack on Ekweremadu however elicited condemnation by all and sundry including the leadership of the Senate, which called for a comprehensive probe of the incident.
Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, in separate statements expressed concern at the mob action at the function that Ekweremadu was officially invited to.
According to Lawan, the German authorities should identify those involved in the despicable act so that the law can take its course against them.
“It is incredibly absurd for anybody to blame the distinguished Senator for the violent criminal activities in his home base, the purported reason cited by the mob for the bewildering attack.
“Senator Ekweremadu, like all his distinguished colleagues in the Ninth Assembly of the Senate, is concerned about the insecurity and other challenges in that area and other parts of Nigeria. Senator Ekweremadu has also been at the forefront of the patriotic efforts to find lasting solutions to the challenges.
“The barbaric attack on Senator Ekweremadu at a forum to which he was invited to contribute to charting a course for the progress and happiness of Ndigbo debase our values as civilised people. It is most reprehensible and should be condemned by all right-thinking Nigerians,” Lawan said.
On his part, Omo-Agege averred that the assault was not only a dastardly exportation of irrationality, but an aggressive international affront against the image of Igbo and Nigeria.
The Deputy Senate President expressed shock over the undeserved assault and called on law enforcement agencies in Germany to investigate and bring to book all those involved in the vicious attack.
“Senator Ekweremadu honoured the invitation of patriotic Igbos in Germany, who wanted him to deliver a keynote address at the event organised to commemorate the New Yam Festival but some aggressively discourteous elements hijacked the effort to perpetrate a disgraceful assault that seeks to deepen the portrayal of members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) as enemies of democratic norms and values in which the majority must always have its way after the minority must have had its due say in all matters.
“What they did is not only a violent assault against the good image of the Igbo race across the world but an aggressive attack against the traditional norms of a people known to be hardworking and respectful of meaningful contributions by leaders such as Senator Ekweremadu.
The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, in condemning the incident declared: “This is not how to repay a man, an outstanding leader of men, an unpretentious Igbo leader. He has given his all even going as far as deploying his means to arrange for the bail of Nnamdi Kanu, not minding the repercussions to his illustrious political career”, he said.
On his part, President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, maintained that “This violent, rude, impertinent, divisive and discourteous style of IPOB or IPOB-instigated miscreants is damaging to our cause”, adding that “Ekweremadu negotiated the sureties and securities for Nnamdi Kanu’s release on bail; he does not deserve this picketing and disgrace; a disgrace to him is a disgrace to Igbo race”.
To public analyst and columnist, Majeed Dahiru, the assault on Ekweremadu, is a humiliation of the entire Ndigbo ‘worldwide’. Describing the Senator as the biggest political masquerade in Igbo land today, he warned that, “A community that strips naked its biggest masquerade in the market square only demystifies its strength, perpetually rendering itself vulnerable to external attacks”.
Also condemning the attack, House Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, described the incident as a “show of shame and ingratitude,” by IPOB members.
Okechukwu, who had accompanied Ekweremadu to the event expressed sadness over the level of “indiscretion” meted out to Ekweremadu, who he described as “a humble, but rugged fighter.”
A prominent Igbo socio-cultural group, Igbo Bu Igbo (IBI), also condemned in strong terms the attack on Ekweremadu. The group described the attack on Ekweremadu as “a callous act of ingratitude” considering that Ekweremadu was in the forefront championing the cause of the Igbo.
The group’s Chancellor, Dr. Law Mefor, and the Secretary General, Mazi Chidi Omeje, in a statement, lamented that, “The unfortunate, unprovoked and crass attack on the Senator has created the wrong notion that the Igbo cannot conduct themselves in decent manners. We reject such a notion as that is not who we are”.