IPOB As Poisoned Chalice, By Dele Agekameh
IPOB has become the poisoned chalice, not just for its followers and Biafran supporters in general, but for all Nigerians.
The python has really continued to dance in the South-East region of Nigeria. Last Wednesday, the acting chief judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, heard the attorney-general of the federation, Abubakar Malami, on a motion ex-parte banning the activities of the group known as Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), pursuant to provisions of the Terrorism Act 2013 (as amended). The motion was granted, thus signifying judicial and executive endorsement of the controversial “pronouncement” by the military.
None of the prominent voices that criticised the military after its earlier pronouncement of the group as a terrorist organisation did so out of the belief that such a move would be unjustified. Rather, the critics, like Bukola Saraki, the Senate president, raised technical legal issues about how such a proscription should come about. Now that the legal hurdle is out of the way concerning the proscription, we ought to set our minds on how best to proceed while also trying to anticipate the possible reactions of the group to this development.
Officially proscribing the group presents both good and bad news for the country. The good news is that the move, which was preceded by a similar action by the leaders of the South-East, indicates a move forward from the initial situation where the door for sympathy and open tolerance of the many dangerous actions of the group was still open. The bad news is that the problem of identity crisis which the group appeared to have been struggling with has now been settled by the government.
Nnamdi Kanu, the self-acclaimed “supreme leader” of the group has all along been trying to sell the group as a non-violent movement, while his rhetoric at other times encourages violence from his supporters. His claim of non-violence is also negated by the contemplation and actual setting up of a “Biafra Secret Service”, while openly soliciting for funds and arms from Nigerians at home and abroad. The fear now is that any pretences of non-violence have effectively been thrown out of the window since the group has been outlawed. Forthwith, any IPOB activity now will be criminal, and will be met with the force of the state. In this case, the scales may have just been tipped towards a violent movement, if the group desires to remain active.
As some have opined, the madness of the group may, in fact, be methodical. It is one possibility we cannot write off. Kanu may be irrational and criminally eccentric, but his actions can be viewed through an altogether different lens or prism. It would seem that the federal government has played right into his hands. It is a classical play made by terrorists and other questionable organisations around the world, to hound the state into responding violently, capture the acts and use the images to garner sympathy at home and abroad. With IPOB already writing to the international community about a non-existent genocide against Igbo’s in Nigeria, we may have to come to terms with the reality that the group is ready to strategically sacrifice lives to generate sympathy from the international community.
…it is imperative for the government not to repeat the same mistakes it made, especially with Boko Haram. Having proscribed IPOB, careful monitoring to prevent it from growing into a mammoth is needed.
Many criticised Odumegwu Ojukwu, the late Biafran hero, on the use of the same tactics during the civil war, when he refused to accept food and supplies from Britain and other federal government friendlies, while Igbo’s were dying of starvation. Inducing the security forces to wield their big sword is not beyond IPOB. Right now, the whereabouts of Kanu and his parents are said to be unknown and there is fear that they may have been harmed by soldiers. For a group populated by desperate and angry young people who have shown a penchant for violence, an extended period of uncertainty about Kanu’s whereabouts may be dangerous for the region. With or without their head, IPOB’s options just became very limited and the security forces need to be prepared to act, within the confines of the law though.
One cannot expect that the group will simply disband and abandon their cause. The dangers of a fully militant IPOB is that it may be as difficult to put out as Boko Haram or the Niger Delta militants which, even with the amnesty programme, cannot be confused for being disarmed or disbanded. These groups are funded by deep-pockets who see advantage in keeping them operational, and any such people in the South-East who shied away because of the relative ‘openness’ of the group before now, may find a more secretive IPOB easier to engage and use as they deem fit.
History is replete with legitimate and recognised bodies using clandestine groups as secret tools in manipulating outcomes. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) was formed many years after a failed civil war by the original Irish Republican Army. It later became the unofficial “terrorist arm” of the Irish Republicans and was finally proscribed as such by the UK government. The IRA plagued the British for over 30 years, enjoying underground support from the government of the republic and secretly from other NGOs and individuals because the PIRA’s activities suited their interests. The present situation is much different but one can draw parallels and find lessons there.
This is why it is imperative for the government not to repeat the same mistakes it made, especially with Boko Haram. Having proscribed IPOB, careful monitoring to prevent it from growing into a mammoth is needed. The government has disclosed that a lot of funding for IPOB’s activities come in from France, so further work needs to be done in the light of recent events to warn that any association with the group is tantamount to criminality.
Right now, the name IPOB has been soiled and there is no coming back from it. The group has been successfully demonised, with the help from its members, and it is left to be seen if the dog that has been given a bad name can indeed be put down.
The South-East leaders also have the most important job to do. First, they must be sincere about their motives. As much as the Biafra question is a sensitive issue in the East, they cannot let those sentiments get in the way of comprehensively dealing with the IPOB situation. Although most people outside the East would prefer that the entire Biafra question be put to rest, the South-East governors need to draw a line between the traditional Biafra campaign and Kanu’s hate-propelled brand. They must ensure that the people in the East understand where the line falls.
The Terrorism Act is very thorough about association with declared terrorist organisations. Every individual in the crowds that troop to receive and visit Nnamdi Kanu is now in danger of breaking the law. This includes Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and Femi Fani-Kayode, who have been known to fraternise with Kanu. Now that the government has made its declaration, what would be its response if these large crowds continue to gather in the name of IPOB?
Right now, the name IPOB has been soiled and there is no coming back from it. The group has been successfully demonised, with the help from its members, and it is left to be seen if the dog that has been given a bad name can indeed be put down. IPOB has become the poisoned chalice, not just for its followers and Biafran supporters in general, but for all Nigerians. The group has been backed into a corner from where it can only attack or submit and its reaction will resonate around the country, for good or bad.
It is obvious that the country can scarcely deal with another militant group. Boko Haram has the advantage of being drawn from locals who have superior knowledge of the terrain, so also with the Niger Delta militants. That is why the security forces should be well ahead and on top of strategies to curb the utilisation of such advantage in this particular case. While these warnings may seem like an overkill, they are made in the hope that for once, we will not let history get past us and repeat itself. How Nnamdi Kanu metamorphosed from a protester in London canvassing for the protection of the Nigerian state over the menace of Boko Haram to a hate-spewing bigot, remains a mystery, but we cannot and should not let more peaceful Biafra dreamers and sympathisers be sucked into the net of IPOB.
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