Can Benjamin Okezie Kalu’s fantasy stop ethnic agitations?
The contemporary political history of Nigeria is replete with inconsistencies and cocktails of incoherent sloganeering that are fashioned to appear like realities, but are mere facades and fantasies that are only set out for self aggrandizement.
One of the most unbelievable but sad things that happen in Nigeria, is the uncoordinated leadership recruitment process that throws up all kinds of opportunistic political office grabbers that comfortably masquerade and dance around the world of media of mass communication as patriots or statesmen.
But in reality, these persons thrown up into the political firmament as political leaders, are actually not in those offices for any altruistic tendencies.
This is exactly how the new infant terrible of Igbo politics at the centre, Mr. Benjamin Okezie Kalu was thrown into the mix as the deputy speaker of the Federal House to make it look like the Igbos were not totally wiped off the current political organogram at the centre with the erstwhile Lagos state’s governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the president and ironically, he managed to wangle his way into becoming the sole determinants of the leadership of the National Assembly.
The current Deputy Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives in Abuja, Mr. Benjamin Okezie Kalu, has actually crowned himself as the defacto national political leader of the Igbo speaking nationality within the ruling political class at the centre known as the All Progressives Congress (APC). He is the top most ranking office holder from the Igbo states at the centre. How ironic!
It is probably with this mindset that he has set for himself, a task to resolve the ethnic agitations and the campaigns for self determination in the South East of Nigeria. Ordinarily, this task, if it is well intentioned and well structured, is a noble idea. But the formation of the peace restoration initiative is devoid of historicity.
The truth is that the violence that sparked off in the South East actually was ignited and instigated by the immediate past President, Muhammadu Buhari who deployed soldiers made up of mostly non-igbos, to the Igbo states, in his attempt to use the sledge hammer to kill off the popular waves of agitations for self determination otherwise known as ethnic agitation.
Buhari’s soldiers have so far killed hundreds of Igbo youths under the guise of hunting for members of the Indigenous peoples of Biafra whose leader is the half British, half Nigerian citizen from Umuahia Abia state: Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu has been in secret detention of the Department of State Services since he was abducted from Nairobi Kenya and bundled back home by security operatives sent to the East African nation by the then President retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari. The current government has rejected all entreaties to release Nnamdi Kanu even after the court of Appeal quashed all the charges instituted against him by the last government.
Besides, the hardline approach of the military that applied military force to crush members of IPOB championing secession from Nigeria and the restoration of Biafra, also forced some persons to take up arms and commence widespread campaign of attacks targeted at strategic national security assets located in the South East of Nigeria and some police operatives have also been killed in the ensuing melee.
The whole of South East has also suffered economic hemorrhage occasioned by the unilateral declaration of sit-at-home orders compelling businesses to shut down every Monday in the Igbo states.
There is no gainsaying the fact that hundreds of Igbo people have lost their lives in the campaigns of carnage that are going on in the Igbo homeland by the security forces on the one hand and a bunch of unidentified gunmen on the other divide.
The security forces often attribute the attacks against the police to the members of the Indigenous peoples of Biafra but the official spokesman of IPOB Emma Powerful, has consistently denied the link of his group to the violence. Recently, a High court in Enugu ordered the deproscription of IPOB as a terrorist group.
Already, as I write, the Army is waging a regional wide campaign against insurgents. In Anambra state, the Army has reported that it has invaded the camp of some armed insurgents.
The Army in a statement issued on Tuesday said that during the operation, the troops cleared and destroyed the alleged IPOB/ESN camps.
“One of the terrorists was naturalized while others escaped with gunshot wounds and one pump action rifle was recovered,” the statement reads.
The Army further stated that on Saturday, troops on patrol along Orsumoghu-Ukpor Road in the Ihiala Local Government Area of the state came in contact with the “irredentists”.
The statement noted that “due to superior firepower, the criminals were forced to abandon their location. Items recovered include 27 rounds of 7.62 x 51mm ammunition, three locally made hand grenades, two handheld radios, one pair of police uniform and fragmental jacket and charms”.
The Exercise Golden Dawn III of the Nigerian Army was recently flagged off in the Southeast region “to complement the security architecture of the region during and after the Yuletide period”.
The General Officer Commanding, 82 Division, Nigerian Army, Maj. Gen. Hassan Taiwo Dada, enjoined members of the public to support the Nigerian Army and other security agencies with credible information through the Emergency Telephone Line 193 to enhance the fight against terrorism and other criminal activities in the region.
General Dada also encouraged citizens to go about their normal daily activities and businesses without fear of intimidation.
The question for the Deputy Speaker is that what steps has he taken, to monitor the operation of the military in the South East to make sure that innocent Igbo youths aren’t killed under the guise that they are members of IPOB? Also, does mere membership of IPOB attract punishment by extrajudicial execution? Has IPOB not been depriscribed even after a competent court of law said so? And why have the thousands of detained members of IPOB still languishing in detentions? If inthe last four years, the security forces have blamed IPOB for all attacks against the strategic national security assets in the South East, how many of these suspects have been convicted by any competent courts of law?
So, these are some of the few issues that confront we the people of the Igbo states and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives now claims that he has set up an initiative to solve these deep seated problems of systemic, systematic, institutionalised and racist discrimination of the Igbo people in the national political scheme of things. He has been very loud in the media about his new found idea and he has recruited some paid writers who are all over the news waves, praising the Deputy Speaker to the high heavens even whilst his idea is jus a mere political fantasy and at best, colourful sloganeering initiative.
But since the office of Deputy Speaker has huge budgets and the man has the liberty to spend as he so desires, he has started campaigning about his initiative which he believes will be the magic wand, as it were to end all the security related conflicts in the East.
To make agitations and clamour for social justice by the Igbos, to disappear overnight, is it achievable by mere media propaganda?
Whilst there is no ready made answer to the last question, the Deputy Speaker has visited the vice president who endorsed the initiative as the best non-kinetic approach to conflict management in the South East.
The man has also taken his campaign to the businessman from Anambra Prince Arthur Eze whom he met in Abuja for a problem about the South East even when Arthur Eze has a magnificent mansions in Ukpo, Anambra state abd Enugu, in Enugu State.
The acclaimed billionaire businessman, Prince Arthur Eze, has also endorsed the adoption of a non-kinetic approach preached to him by Benjamin Okezie Kalu and other initiatives being implemented towards tackling insecurity in the South-East region of the country.
Arthur Eze gave his support when he received on a courtesy visit to his house in Abuja, a delegation led by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu.
The delegation under the auspices of Peace in South-East Project (PISE-P) visited the oil magnet to inform him about the initiative and invite him for the official launch of the project, holding in Bende local government area of Abia State on Friday, December 29, 2023.
The PISE-P, is being sugar- coated and decorated by media spin-doctors as a comprehensive five-year peace-building and development initiative designed to address the complex socioeconomic challenges and security issues facing the South-East region of Nigeria, was developed in response to the growing impact of agitations, economic decline, and security threat in the region.
The media minders of Okezie Kalu said this particular non-kinetic approach is built on eight pillars for sustainable development. They include education, agriculture, commerce and industry, infrastructural development, culture and tourism, sports and entertainment, as well as governance and leadership.
Addressing the delegation, Chief Eze stated that the project was timely, urging all stakeholders to embrace it to find a lasting solution to the problem of insecurity in the South-East.
He applauded the Deputy Speaker, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Kalu for the laudable initiative, assuring him of his support and presence at the official unveiling.
The businessman also commended President Bola Tinubu for all the appointments given to the Igbo, describing him as a good man.
Earlier, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Kalu, told Chief Arthur Eze that the project was essentially to the benefit of Ndi Igbo. He also appreciated Eze for his philanthropic gestures.
The first impression you get as an Igbo person observing these series of media generated contents concerning this idea by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives meant to address the underlying concerns of the people of South East on the raging realistic case of systematic marginalisation in the distribution of strategic political offices at the centre and the building of tangible, substantial and sustainable national assets in the South East, is the wrong approach by the proponent of this non-kinetic approach to resolving the conflicts in the East.
First and foremost, the Deputy Speaker’s office alloted to South East is a grave injustice because the Igbos are amongst the only three most dominant people in the entire country.
So why should for instance, the Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri get the three juicy slots of Vice President, Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives and Deputy Senate President, the Yoruba has the office of president and all other strategic national offices including chief of staff to the President, Customs, immigration and police chiefs in addition to holding the office of chief of Army Staff, minister of budget and the economy, the CBN governor, the chief tax officer of Nigeria, Telecommunications ministers and the Interior minister.
But the South East that has similar big population like Hausa and Yoruba, only got the paltry office of Deputy Speaker? Other positions given to the South East are mere junior ministers in very inconsequential places aside the ministry of works which Ebonyi State got. So the Deputy Speaker should start by addressing the Federal imbalance affecting the igbos under the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Secondly, the Deputy Speaker has not told us what he intends to do to attract substantial national investments into those core economic thematic areas he mentioned like agriculture, commerce, industry, roads infrastructures and job.
How will his non-kinetic approach work and who funds those key projects that would empower the Igbo agitators and keep them busy?
What percentage of the National budget of 2024 in the core economic areas such as roads, education, health and agriculture, are allocated to benefit the Igbo states?
He needs to provide these statistics so the audience determine if there is any remarkable improvement in the allocations that benefits the Igbo states apart from the small portion of budget that goes into rehabilitating the badly built Federal roads in the South East.
Is there a crude oil refinery owned by Nigeria in the south East even when South East holds choice crude oil deposits?
Are there dams in the South East? Are all the South East states already connected to the national grid and why did the Federal government not execute the relevant electricity power projects meant to improve power distribution to the South East from the national grid but an official of the Federal government is blaming local villagers who demanded compensation for frustrating the projects? Why don’t South East have a viable seaport?
The Deputy Speaker is yet to go to the root cause of the agitations in the South East and he has not asked questions why General Yakubu Gowon’s Reconciliation programme failed to impact the Igbo region in terms of reconstruction soon after the civil war. Was any kind of reconstruction work done to fix the extensively damaged infrastructures of the old Eastern region?
So his attempt at whitewashing the deeper issues of marginalisation of igbos is infantile and unproductive unless he is able to incorporate into his initiative, the compelling need for the Federal Government to set up a Marshall plan for the reconstruction of the infrastructures in the South East damaged by the might of military bombardments by the then Federal forces of Nigeria. What about accountability in such a way that those responsible for the killings of the Igbo youths are apprehended, prosecuted and punished for their crimes against humanity?
I have just read a scholarly opinion of a well grounded academic who correctly interpreted the larger questions that we need to answer so as to douse the tensions of agitations in the South East. I will honestly recommend that the Deputy Speaker take a look at the presentation that will be cited soon.
“The renewed ethnic agitations across the land and the northern youths’ call, have shown that the country has not made appreciable progress in the fight to address the major issues that led to the war,” this scholar said.
He is no other than the renowned economist and political scientist, Professor Ebere Onwundiwe, who coordinated a conference with the theme “Memory and Nation Building: 50 years after Biafra” in Abuja and sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Open Society Initiative for Africa (OSIWA) and the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation, said the new wave of ethnic agitation particularly from the Southeast, was due to failure to properly implement the post-war reconciliation programme of the Federal Government.
According to Onwundiwe, the mismanagement of the General Yakubu Gowon’s Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation (3Rs) policy, which the military government put in place to erase the scars of war, was the major reason for the resurgence of Biafra uprisings.
“It is well known that there have been so many protests, riots and recently, even terrorism in Nigeria since the end of the civil war. I think our leaders ought to be having a real epiphany right now with what is contemporaneously happening in the Northeast.
“This is because if you fail also to keep the promises of rebuilding that region after the devastation of Boko Haram, if you let the hopes invested in the promise of that rebuilding die like the Three Rs, especially reconstruction and rehabilitation, you can also be sure that the children in IDP camps today will grow up and ask questions. Their disagreements with the state then will intensify feelings of deprivation as IPOB members feel today. I believe that the issues generated by the national question that caused the Biafran war are still among us.
“Recall that Nigeria’s goal of the civil war originally was to preserve the country and keep it one. Was it not? Remember also that the common slogan then was “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.” The military defeat of secession only achieved that goal in half. The other half is the war of re-integration, which I posit can only happen in the battlefields of policy making and implementation where the most effective weapons are the soft tools of reason, justice and fairness.
“The history of the Nigerian civil war has become part of the history of Nigeria. Hence we saw a need for a national conversation on the country’s most weighty calamity since self-rule. The continued avoidance of such a national discussion of Biafra cannot be a very smart thing as doing so would amount to sweeping under the carpet, a significant portion of our national history.
According to him, “However it seems, I don’t believe this is a permanent condition. It is totally reversible. This is one reason I believe in one Nigeria and that Nigeria can win this battle of hearts and minds by plugging all the cracks on the wall of national integration for all Nigerians.
“The country cannot win this war by behaving like ostriches. By hiding its head in the sand and thinking that the system is fair to everyone and that all those protesting injustice such as IPOB and others are just noisemakers. That’s a great, great mistake. The system must listen to the truly wise among its elites not to the justice-impervious and muscle flexing among us.”
Deputy Speaker needs deeper consultations with the powers -that- be politically in Abuja, to extract commitments to do the needful in terms of reconstruction of the Federal infrastructures in the South East and the need to address the imbalance.
Whereas the Deputy Speaker is propagating his fantasy, his political party led administration in Lagos is busy demolishing houses built by the Igbos in Lagos on whimsical excuses. Why is his non-kinetic lecture not been taken to the aggressors destroying the hard earned housing assets of Igbos in Lagos?
Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and was National Commissioner Of The National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.