As at the time of writing this, the military is still occupying a part of Rivers State territory that borders Abia State. This part of the state is called Oyigbo. Few days before writing this, the traditional ruler of the community cried out calling on the governor to call the soldiers to order. He said that individuals are now unleashing soldiers on other persons to settle personal scores.
There have been barrage of unpalatable stories of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the military in this occupied territory and the gory tales of extra judicial killings of civilians often categorized as IPOB members. In all of this, there is no doubt that the innocent has paid the ultimate price. The Ohaneze Ndigbo and some Igbo leaders visited Rivers State some weeks back to ascertain, according to them, whether the news they read on social media about what may be described as ethnic cleansing against the Igbo in Rivers State is true. They left with assurances that the government of Rivers State is a responsible government that would not engage in such acts of ethnic balkanization.
Only few days ago after the Port Harcourt visit, the same Ohaneze Ndigbo has raised the alarm that Oyigbo is not an occupied territory and called for a stop of the targeted killings. Wike severally has denied any ethnic cleansing going on in Oyigbo. But his actions recently lead credence to the fact that the army may be in Oyigbo to wipe out the remnants of the IPOB members. And in doing this it does not matter the method that is used. The NBA set up a panel to visit Oyigbo and hold a public hearing on the atrocities alleged to have been perpetrated by the soldiers. This public hearing was called off at the last minute. I personally got disappointment and so were the victims and other individuals who were ready to testify before the panel.
At the ceremony marking the beginning of a new legal year, governor Wike let he cat out of the bag when he said in his usual boisterous manner that anybody who has any complaint should channel it to the judicial panel of inquiry set up by the state government, even when he knows that the term of reference of the panel does not include the activities of the army in Oyigbo after the #endsars protest. Funny enough, the same governor was in a programme where he accused the Buhari administration of abuse of the criminal justice system. He also berated the federal government for acts of unconstitutionality which he says will erode the independence of the judiciary. Talk of political chivying! This is the same governor who would not allow an independent inquiry over the alleged killings by the army in his state. Talk of it, what is independent judiciary?
It is nothing but independent panel of judges. Yet, Wike did not allow an independent panel of professionals to hold a public hearing on the alleged extra-judicial killings by the army in his state. Yet, at every opportunity, he calls out the federal government for one misconduct or the other. In my personal judgement, there is no sincerity of purpose in anything Wike does. When you project yourself as holy in order to paint the other person black, that is not the hallmark of sincere leadership. You are ready to talk ill of the other person, but are not ready to submit yourself for scrutiny. Leadership should be transparent.
The NBA inquiry stopped by Wike would have been an opportunity for him to clear his name and show leadership of purpose. But he behaved as if he has skeleton in his cupboard. The governor says that anyone who has suffered any injustice or brutalization in the hands of the army in Oyigbo should take advantage of the Rivers State panel of enquiry on police brutality. This is a panel whose legality is shaky. Can the state government sanction the police or army that is under the federal government? I am one of those who believe that nothing worthwhile will come out the panel.
As of today, Oyigbo is a captured territory. Normal life is yet to return to the place. Several shops and businesses are still closed. People are afraid to open their businesses for fear of the military presence. Livelihoods are being affected. It is agreed that criminals should not operate anywhere in Nigeria including Rivers State. Rivers State government by its action simply fueled the crisis that followed the endSars protest. How? Immediately the crisis developed, the Rivers State government like any responsible government, imposed a 24 hours curfew in Oyigbo and other areas of the state.
At this point, the military took over and these places were relatively peaceful. But when the government relaxed the curfew in other areas and refused to relax the one imposed on Oyigbo, this gave the impression that the government was out to deal with the people living in this area. It was at this point that the military turned brutal and the cries of anguish started. So what should be the solution now? The government should lift the curfew imposed on Oyigbo and let normal life return to the place.
The military should be asked to leave the place since their stay is overdue. Igbo lives also matter. The governor should treat all peoples equally since we are equal by creation. Every life matters. The governor does not believe in playing politics with human life and he should not be seen as doing that himself. Oyigbo is part of Rivers State. The indigenes say that they are Igbos and this should not be a reason to maltreat them in Rivers State. Governor Wike says that he is not Igbo. But the whole of Rivers State is not Ikwerre.
After all, our government preaches unity in diversity. Igbos are not trouble shooters. IPOB is not Igbo. Their membership cut across ethnic groups. Governor Wike has paid the bereaved families of the security agents that lost their lives in this unfortunate imbroglio N22 million compensation. This shows that the governor cares about lives. He should act properly as not to be seen as hating the Igbos who are part of his state.
––Chimezie Elemuo, Aba Road, Port Harcourt