After Nigeria’s visiting ex-deputy senate president, Attorney Ike Ekweremadu, was allegedly roughened in Nuremberg, Germany, by some members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, the organization made bold to claim that their members attacked the legislator in response to the role he and such other senior Igbo public office holders in Nigeria, as Chief Nnia Nwodo, the President-General of Ohaneze (the apex cultural organization of the Igbo), Governor Engineer David Umahi of Ebonyi State, Governor Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, former Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State and Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State supposedly played during the Python Dance II Operations in the South East of Nigeria in 2017.
During that Operation Python Dance, the army raided parts of Umuahia, the capital of Abia State and home town of the leader of the secessionist group, Nnamdi Kanu, whose whereabouts became unknown until he surfaced in Israel months later.
On 18 September 2017, the federal government followed up the Python Dance exercise by proscribing the IPOB under the Terrorism (Prevention) Act of 2013 as a terrorist organization. The Python Dance was meant to be a special military operation designed to get rid of criminals and hoodlums from strategic and specific locations in the country. But in 2016, the Nigerian Army launched the operation in the South-East following protests by IPOB members who demanded to secede from the country.
Why the operation was named “Python Dance” remains largely unknown, but it is common knowledge that the python is a dangerous snake found around the tropical regions of Africa and Asia which swallows up animals and even human beings when it is hungry, if they come its way. Pythons can also be found in rainforests, savannas and deserts.
The Nigerian army carried out this Operation Python Dance twice in the South East in 2016 and 2017, and each time, it was a sad narrative of the death of the cream of agitating Igbo youths and the attendant sorrow and anguish of parents and family members who lost their dear ones in the exercise. The second operation became even more controversial because it was widely believed it targeted members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), an organization that peacefully and non-violently agitated for the liberation of the Igbo from a Nigeria they considered feudalistic and not in consonance with the republican nature of their lifestyle.
Sometime before the general elections of 2019, the Nigerian Army again announced its plans to start the Python Dance III in all parts of the country to checkmate security challenges during the elections. Nigerians were then busy with political campaigns for the elections which were scheduled for February and early March.
Despite this fact, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff went ahead to explain to a bewildered country at the flag-off ceremony of Operation Python Dance III in Maiduguri, Borno State, that the exercise would run from 1 January 2019 till 28 February 2019, which in effect covered the period of the 2019 elections. Buratai said he was delighted to be in Maiduguri to flag off Operation Python Dance III. He confirmed that Operations Python Dance I and II had successfully taken place in 2016 and 2017 respectively in the South East of the country and that it had “yielded positive results” in checkmating security challenges in the region at the time.
According to him, Operation Python Dance III was significant because for the first time it was to be conducted simultaneously across the country. It was also a reassurance of the resolve of the Nigerian Army and indeed the entire Armed Forces of Nigeria as well as other security agencies to ensure that law and order were maintained during the 2019 general elections.
Buratai advertently or inadvertently hit the hammer on the head of the nail when he told Nigerians that the Army would continue to conduct internal security operations in combating criminality and other security challenges in the country, in line with its constitutional mandate of “military aid to civil authority.” The point is that the army has continued to insist on usurping the job of the police. Go to any city in Nigeria today and you will see the army manning checkpoints. It should never happen. Their primary concern should be the borders of the country and their safety, not internal security. But that is not what is happening.
To be fair, there had actually been varying degrees of national security challenges at the time, especially the ones that had to do with ethnic militias. The emergence of ethnic militias had begun with the formation of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) in the mid 1990s, followed by the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MASSOP) after the military senselessly murdered key Ogoni agitator and environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa, during the General Sani Abacha regime. Other ethnic militias which later sprang up included the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, (MASSOB), Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, Arewa Peoples’ Congress (APC), Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), among several others.
There were smaller groups of organizations and structures which were not as established or well funded as the major ethnic militias but could as well have threatened national security at the time. Many observers were also worried about such ethnic or sectarian crises as were frequently happening in places like Jos and Maiduguri, incessant communal clashes, pre and post election violence, cross-border banditry, official corruption, domestic violence and anti-social behaviours, hard crimes like armed and bank robberies, youth restiveness, unemployment, smuggling, food insufficiency, kidnapping and hostage taking, terrorism, suicide bombings, cyber crime and internet frauds, and the menace of Fulani herdsmen across the country. Other subtle threats to national security included subversion, psychological warfare, economic sabotage and espionage.
All these situations had grave implications for the socio-economic and political growth of Nigeria. There was therefore the need for serious efforts to be made on the part of security agencies and the civilian population, especially the private sector, to close ranks and cooperate in areas of information gathering and intelligence sharing if the country was going to be in a position to proactively contend with those challenges.
On the one hand, the Nigerian government believed that the Python Dance in the South East, the Crocodile Tears Dance in the North East and all the other “Dance Operations” the military exercised were on-going efforts to find lasting solutions to those challenges and that they would be useful in overall national security. But it also meant, even if subtly, that not only was the military in charge of the external security of Nigeria’s sovereignty, they were also in charge of its internal security. It effectively meant that the country’s democracy was totally at the mercy of its military generals. And this has been the one and only major problem ever since the army dabbled into governance in 1966.
As would be expected, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the planned introduction of nationwide military Operation Python Dance III ahead of the 2019 general elections. The party saw it as a ploy by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to use the military to rig the elections.
The Young Progressive Party (YPP) was also not comfortable with the plan. They did not support the proposed nationwide Operation Python Dance III because, according to them, it would heighten tension and anxiety in the land as the elections were around the corner.
Why had they not done it before this time?
Every Nigerian knew that the people dreaded soldiers and so when they saw them on the road in large numbers, marching and chanting songs in their uniforms, they would begin to tremble because of the already existing apprehension among the people, a Young Progressive Party chieftain said at the time.
National Chairman of Action Alliance (AA) and legal adviser to the Coalition of United Political Parties, Barrister Kenneth Udeze was of the opinion that the nationwide Operation Python Dance III would raise concerns of a needless militarized Nigeria. It would raise more questions than it could provide answers to, as Nigeria was struggling with insecurities. He suggested the military should go and ‘dance’ in areas where the country had more serious security issues.
He reminded Nigerians that Python Dance was first launched in the South East in 2016 to combat criminal activities. In 2017, the government came with it again as Python Dance II. To all intents and purposes, it was a controversial programme. The IPOB and NUJ Abia State were attacked unjustly by soldiers, thereby reducing the scheme to a mere political project to cow opponents. If they now decided they wanted to do it all through the country at a time Nigerians were preparing for elections, from January 1 to February 28, anyone could easily draw conclusions.
Many well meaning Nigerians spoke against the proposed Python Dance III, but a few were in favour of the military plan.
The highlight was when Chief Malcolm Omirhobo, a Lagos-based human rights campaigner, asked a Federal High Court in Abuja to declare as unlawful and unconstitutional, the declaration of Operation Python Dance III across the nation. The applicants in suit FHC/ABJ/CS/01/2019 were Omirhobo and the Board of Incorporated Trustees of Malcolm Omirhobo Foundation. The Attorney General of the Federation, the National Assembly, the Inspector General of Police, the Nigeria Police Council, Police Affairs Commission and the various Nigerian Service Chiefs were joined as respondents.
The applicant sought the court’s declaration that the commencement of a nationwide Operation Python Dance with effect from January 1 to February 28, with the military to tackle internal security challenges during the conduct of the country’s general elections was illegal and undemocratic. According to him, it violated the fundamental rights of the applicant, as well as those of the Nigerian public to life, dignity of human person, personal liberty, family and private life, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of movement.
The applicant wanted the court to declare that it was the primary responsibility of the police force to tackle internal security challenges such as kidnapping, terrorism, militancy and proliferation of arms and not that of the Armed Forces or military. He sought a declaration that the use of the military to perform the functions of the police in the conduct of the 2019 elections was illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. The applicant sought the court’s order, compelling the respondents to respect the fundamental rights of the applicant as well as those of Nigerians, by allowing the Police Force to perform its statutory role of enforcement and maintenance of law and order.
Omirhobo also wanted an order compelling the police to take charge of the enforcement and maintenance of law and order in their various commands, before, during and after the general elections. Besides, the applicant sought an order of perpetual injunction, restraining the respondents from using the military to perform the duties of the police in the enforcement and maintenance of law and order before, during and after the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
Be that as it may, the fact remains that democracy or no democracy, the military still rules Nigeria today. That is one fact the leaders of IPOB must bear in mind whenever they decide on an action. They are young people but they must learn to read between the lines. The truth is that some of these Igbo elders are handicapped. Not that they don’t know what to do: but what sane man who has a stick or even a club would approach a blood-thirsty mad man who has a gun to tell him about his freedom when he knows he won’t let go?
It is difficult in many ways. Take the so-called senate presidency for example. Evans Enwerem was there. Chuba Okadigbo was there. Pius Anyim was there. Ken Nnamani was there. None of these Igbo men was seen as competent to complete his 4-year tenure without being kicked out. But when an ex-military officer, David Mark became president, he completed his 4-year tenure and was re-elected for another 4 years. It simply means that the military was largely in control of affairs and still ruling the country, whether they were in uniform or in agbada, as in the case of the incumbent President, General Buhari. So, IPOB should understand these situations in their appraisal of the Nigerian experiment and put them into consideration when they take decisions.
However, it is important Igbo leaders also realize the fact that freedom for a people never comes on a platter of gold. The Igbo have a proverb which says that if a man does not behave mad, his kinsmen would never marry a wife for him. So, I suppose that was the position the IPOB took when they confronted Senator Ekweremadu in Germany. They behaved like mad so that their kinsmen can marry their wife (Biafra) for them.
People fight for freedom their own way and this could have been the way IPOB thought best to bring its plight home to the elders. And, of course, if Igbo elders were hoping that Nigeria would let go of the manpower and mineral wealth and entrepreneurial dexterity in their land so easily, they would be day dreaming. It is with all these facts and figures in mind that we need to take a second look at the unfolding events between IPOB and some Igbo elders who may have lost their bearing with the youths in the quest for relevance in the Nigerian experiment.
The IPOB leadership accuses Ekweremadu, Nnia Nwodo, David Umahi, Okezie Ikpeazu, Rochas Okorocha, Willie Obiano and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of plotting to kill the Biafra dream. They accuse South-East political leaders of plotting to assassinate Kanu and kill the dream of IPOB through Operation Python Dance. As a result, they have ordered their members in 100 countries across the world to attack the governors of Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia and Anambra states alongside Chief Nnia Nwodo, if they are seen in any of the countries. The directive had been issued by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, according IPOB spokesman, Emma Powerful. The IPOB spokesman described the same Ekweremadu who played a major role in freeing Kanu from detention as a “traitor,” accusing him of being among those who got the pro-Biafra group proscribed, alongside the South-East governors. He vowed that IPOB would take similar action against the South-East governors and Ndigbo leaders, if they dared to attend any public event abroad. But, hopefully they now know better about the Python Dance and the proscription of a peaceful IPOB and not militant, blood-thirsty Fulani herdsmen being a political weapon of the ruling government than a compromising point for the opposition party.
Ike Ekweremadu said he was gravely disappointed with the conduct of IPOB members, especially as he was one of the persons who had spoken up on justice for Ndigbo and against the judicial killings in Igbo land and elsewhere. Ekweremadu said he had defended IPOB on the floor of the Senate, with the Presidency and the media. “I had as well rallied the South-East Senate Caucus to secure Nnamdi Kanu’s release with Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, taking him on bail to douse tension in the South-East. I nevertheless do not hold this to the heart against them, for they know not what they did. I have received thousands of solidarity calls and messages from well-meaning Ndigbo. I want to assure them that I am hale and hearty.”
The Federal Government condemned the IPOB members’ action. The Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, described the incident as an embarrassment to the country. She said some of the people who perpetrated the act had been apprehended and called on the German government and law enforcement agencies to ensure they faced the consequences of their actions.
Reacting to the development, Chief Nnia Nwodo told a local Nigerian newspaper that Kanu’s action reflected his disregard for the former deputy senate president who was instrumental in securing the release of the IPOB leader from detention. Nwodo said: “among every 12 persons, there must be a Judas. Senator Ekweremadu and I were supposed to be in Germany but because my visa was not out at the time, Senator Ekweremadu went on our behalf. The attack on him was unruly, uncivilized, a vitiation of his fundamental human rights and a sad story of where we are. I’m shocked that any true Igbo man could do this to Senator Ekweremadu. Without Senator Ekweremadu, Nnamdi Kanu would not have got bail. Ekweremadu was the one who networked with senators who went ahead to sign on Kanu’s behalf. I condemn it in its entirety. I think it is disrespectful and discourteous. I think it is a fundamental dent on our solidarity. I think that those who did it are not worthy to be called Igbo.”
Meanwhile, the South-East Governors Forum said the IPOB order directing its members to attack them anywhere abroad would not solve the problem of their agitation for Biafra. The chairman of the forum and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi said the governors had no problem with the members of IPOB to warrant such an order. “Attacking governors in a foreign land is a wild goose chase. We love IPOB members because they are our children. IPOB cannot achieve Biafra alone, except with the collaboration of all stakeholders including the governors. They don’t need to attack the governors to achieve Biafra.”
In my article titled “The Igbo must learn to speak with one voice” and published in the 7 March 2018 edition of the Nigerian Voice newspaper, I emphasized that what looked like a continuous confrontation between the IPOB and leaders of Ohaneze Ndigbo was becoming quite ludicrous and, therefore, disturbing. It was beginning to make the Igbo look like people who didn’t really know what they wanted after all. And those of us Igbo in the Diaspora were no longer finding all that funny.
First: it was important to consider the fact that everyone in Nigeria seemed to feel or to know that the Igbo could never speak with one voice again. Even on that one pressing issue of Biafra or referendum alone that every Igbo was concerned about, they had as the mouthpiece of the Igbo in general, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Realization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Biafra Zionist Front (BZF), the Biafra Liberation in Exile (BILIE), the Eastern People’s Congress (EPC), the Biafra United Liberation Council (BULC), the Joint Revolutionary Council of Biafra (JRCB), the Igbo Hebrew Cultural Restoration (IHCR), the Biafra Actualization and Defence Squad (BADS), the Biafra Revolutionary Organization (BRO), the Salvation Peoples of Biafra (SPB), the Biafra Liberation Crusade (BLC), the Biafra Peace Corps (BPC), the Billie Human Rights Initiative (BHRI), the Ekwenche Organization and the Igbozurume Organisation. Each of these organizations had a leader and an executive council.
Obviously, the idea of proliferating leaderships among the Igbo was not doing them any good. When other Nigerians see it, they shrug their shoulders and seem to confirm their suspicion that an Igbo would never like to be subjected to anyone else’s leadership. He is either the leader or he will make trouble – the sort of trouble that could bring an organization on its knees. So, if the IPOB is seeing itself as the only organization or the prime organization that must make Biafra happen, it is time its leaders have a re-think.
What would possibly do well to the Igbo today is that Ohaneze Ndigbo stays as the apex cultural organization of the Igbo. As far as it is well known, that is the only organization the federal government of Nigeria recognizes and the only one that can meaningfully dialogue with Nigeria if that becomes a viable option. Then IPOB and MASSOB should merge as the Youth Wing of Ohaneze Ndigbo. They should then incorporate all these other smaller organizations and possibly change their name if they consider that will help the cause. So rather than continuing to attack Ohaneze, Mr. Powerful should find a way to harness all the splinter groups into IPOB as the youth wing of Ohaneze. That is going to be tough. But it is not as difficult as it seems. All he needs do is to have a conversation with each of the leaders of these groups and try to convince them on the need for the Igbo to speak with one voice to Nigeria and to the world. And let us make no mistakes about it, the opinion of youths in any part of the world can be quite powerful, persistent and difficult to suppress.
Second: when it comes to hard bargaining with Nigeria, it is important that Igbo youths should trust their elders to represent them very well. After all, it is the future of Igbo people and Igbo land that is at stake here. By the same token, the elders must listen to and appreciate the concerns of Igbo youths and take them along in any negotiations. In such a way, their fears would be allayed and Nigeria would know that the Igbo are serious and united in their quest, be it for a referendum or for secession. The Igbo need to stop and think again the way everyone is going, before they slide into anarchy.
Chief Asinugo is a London-based journalist, author of ‘The Presidential Years: From Dr. Jonathan to Gen. Buhari’ and publisher of Imo State Business Link Magazine (Website: imostateblm.com)
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