Open Letter to Ndigbo, by Hassan Gimba
There was an outcry last week when Ebubeagu Operatives, a security outfit formed by the Imo State Government killed some suspected gunmen. Some people came out to say they were innocent youths who attended a traditional marriage in Awo – Ommama in Oru East Local Government area of the state. Such things will continue and this is why I see the need to repeat this epistle published on June 6, 2021 with the hope that reason will prevail in the South East.
Nwanne m, ndewo. My Igbo brothers, I find it necessary to send you this epistle – from a North Easterner to a South Easterner – knowing we are brothers, parented by the same nation. After all, different parts of one body we are. The ailing of a part affects the wellbeing of all other parts. Therefore, I feel your pain but the path some of you want to thread alarms me.
Once upon a time, in the North East, a terrorist organisation came with a mantra not dissimilar to what some of you claim: The claims that your tribe is being marginalised. The terrorist organisation in the North East, too, whipped up the sentiment that a system that brooked no opposition did not recognise its creed. And so they wanted their kingdom.
But nwanne m, let us face it. From 1999 to date (22 years), you have produced not less than three service chiefs and the current Chief of Defence Staff. At the last count, Nigeria had over 370 tribes. You also produced a secretary to the government of the federation, Senate presidents, deputy Senate presidents, deputy speakers in the House of Representatives and chief executives of various government bodies. All governors of your states have been Igbo. None but Igbo has represented you in the National Assembly and all ministers from your states have been you. Is there a ministry in Nigeria which an Igbo man has not headed? The Central Bank’s Governor is still your brother.
Whereas other Nigerians, especially northerners, find it difficult to own land or landed properties in the South East, major viable towns in both the North and South of the country have your brothers as major landowners. A lot of big businesses and the hospitality sector are Igbo-dominated as well.
Now, what position has Ndigbo not held? Even for the president, has every tribe produced one? At least, you have been vice president once and even president. And if you play the politics well, you can still get there. Considering these, one is wont to ask if there is another meaning to marginalisation, perhaps, that only you know?
Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, against civilians, in pursuing political aims. United States Department of State in 2003 defined terrorism as a premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, intended to influence an audience.
Please check the attributes of terrorism and a terrorist, you will realise that those holding your states by the jugular are terrorists. Simple. People complied with sit-at-home orders out of fear because non-compliance can invite death. Perhaps the only difference between the leader of the terrorist organisation in your area and that of Boko Haram is that Boko Haram’s Imam is in the trenches with his troops while your Mazi is with his family ensconced in the Whiteman’s land, feeding fat at your expense. Someone referred to him as a “made-in-China Shekau”.
What happened in our land is being re-enacted in yours now. Misguided elements among you are attacking security posts, breaking jails, destroying government installations, killing notable personalities or people termed “sabo” (saboteurs).
I can understand why the elders and the good people among you are mum. Terror mongers first try to demoralise security agencies and intimidate those whose words or actions can awaken the people. It happened to us in the North East. In the week Boko Haram killed over a hundred innocent people in Potiskum, they, on 18 October 2013, razed my house to the ground with their IEDs. They arrived there in the dead of night looking for me. I was not in town, and, by God’s Grace, they had not started abductions then; they did not harm my family.
And so our elders, out of fear for their lives, even called on the federal government to “leave us alone with our sons”. A time comes in the phase of terrorist acts when a government cannot protect the citizenry. Sometimes, people live or die as dictated by terrorists.
After shocking the security agencies into timorousness and inertia, the terrorists would turn on the civilian population that out of fear supported them at some point.
But the security agencies of a nation are not about an individual. Were they about that, then nations would not outlive the active lifespan of a human being. Security agencies are machines in motion individuals cannot halt. They are resilient, redoubtable, able to absorb shock, and they only know the nation. Chief among them is the military. The military, the world over, knows only their nation and they can do anything required for its survival. Thus a Musa in uniform will not hesitate to shoot an Ibrahim who has risen against the state. Do not then be surprised, my brother, if an Ikechukwu in the uniform of the Nigerian military shoots an Ogbonna who carries another flag other than the Green, White, Green.
And the military, as we found out in the North East, my dear brethren, treats lands they enter to flush terrorists as captured territory and the people as conquered subjects.
Ah, well, you may not believe it because you have what the North East lacks – a propaganda machine – and so you think yours will be different. Forget rabble-rousing journalists and bloggers and social media influencers with you who would want to push the narrative of the “unknown gunmen” (clandestine agents) or shout to the high heavens of being victimised. That never helps in such situations. In most civil wars, crushed sides almost always win propagandas. Please, try to study history, my brothers.
But anybody who can rejoice, hail and defend the carnage on innocent civilians or destruction of public property by “unknown gunmen” has lost the legitimacy to be called human. He too can kill given the slightest opportunity. His hidden name is “murderer”. Anyone trying to divert attention from actual perpetrators of dastardly acts, as in the killing of Ahmed Gulak by the terrorists, thinks everyone is as foolish as them.
These so-called propagandists who are not on the ground in your land, but live in other Nigerian major cities are quick, for instance, to attribute every crime on earth to their bogeyman, the Fulani, but dance around when their terrorists commit heinous crimes. These are people who will be “missing in action” when the army comes calling on your towns and villages to deal with the bloodsuckers masquerading as freedom fighters.
So I pen down this epistle for you. I want you to know that when the military went into our North-East towns to flush out the terrorists, we had checkpoints a few kilometres from one another. You have the luxury of riding on Okada now and the freedom to stay out at night. Now we do not have Okada and when it started, we must be home by 4 pm. When we come out the next morning at 6 am, we must get off the Okada or vehicle carrying us at every checkpoint and pass it with hands in the air in the manner of surrender. We were a conquered people, after all.
Among any occupying force, there are always the unscrupulous – those that view the conquered people as ATMs, commandeer movable assets, regard their women as fair game and prey even on older mothers. A soldier denied family life for long may not bat an eyelid playing catch-up with someone’s grandmother.
Though things are now getting better for us, we still do not have the sort of nightlife we used to have. Okada is no more. Though there are no such checkpoints again, we still have not forgotten the collateral damage that has taken from us some loved ones forever.
An occupying force out to flush out terrorists can break into any house. They do not knock and wait to be invited. They will ask all those in the household to lie down on their stomachs or face the sun. Youths can be killed on mere suspicion, women and girls violated and the dignity of parents torn in the eyes of their children. Parents will see their sons dragged off, never to be seen again.
An occupying force is always the law; seldom are they called to account. Even the armies of the so-called civilised countries have their vandals, not to talk of an African force that knows you for who and what you are.
When it became too much for us in the North East, some of our brave youths took it upon themselves to flush out the troublemakers from our midst so that we would know peace once again. And so the civilian joint task force, CJTF, through the courage of just one youth, was born. That always happens in such situations.
To the gullible youth that lends themselves to being used, the euphoria and sexiness of being called an unknown gunman and the surge of adrenaline while holding the gun can go to the head, but before long, other youths will join forces with the forces of good to hunt you down because, at the end of it all, people want peace and they will remove anyone making peace impossible.
Dear brothers and sisters, no nation just dissolves. And no leader of a nation will want history to record that his nation dissolved on his watch. We should not allow people leaving outside the theatre to prod us on a journey of no return while they are miles away, living in serenity with their families.
Few examples may suffice here, my brothers. Do you hear of the Tiananmen Square Massacre anymore except for reference? Chechen rebels at a time pushed Russian forces out of Chechnya. When the Russians went back and started destroying Chechen infrastructure, the rebels had no option than to surrender the territories. What did the Americans goading them do, save for rhetoric? Look at Ukraine too. No country interferes in another sovereign country’s domestic issues. Anybody telling you the US, UN, Israel will run to your defence is a bloody liar and your worst enemy.
I want to believe this epistle may shed light on the path some of your people want to take. My brothers, you have done marvelously well to pick yourselves up from the ashes of that terrible war 51 years ago. Do not allow power mongers to reverse all your gains by leading you by the nose into a cul-de-sac. A word, they say, is enough for the wise.
Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.