Monday, September 24, 2018

Umuahia 9/14 and the silence of the grave

Umuahia 9/14 and the silence of the grave
September 14
01:20 2018
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BY FRANCIS OBORJI
“Again, one should like to appeal to South East governors: please choose a common date within this month (September) or next for public ‘state-burial and mourning’ of all those individuals killed during the infamous Python Dance II in the region last week. The people and our land need this spiritual exercise for healing and cleansing. … Let us also begin to treat our wounded and the dead – victims of military brutality and violence with some degree of respect and decency. It is an aspect of our African culture and tradition that we need also today for true nation-building after an incident of this kind.” – Francis Anekwe Oborji (from the article, “Python Dance Killings: Biafra and the Conscience of the World” (September 19, 2017).

It is now almost a year since we penned down the article from which we took the above quotation. The article, which went viral in the traditional and social media all over the world, was published at the wake of the Nigerian military codified “Operation Python Dance II”, in Southeast Nigeria in September last year 2017.

The event of what happened at Umuahia and environs, especially on September 14, 2017, the fate of Nnamdi Kanu and his pro-Biafra youth movement since then, is still very fresh in the mind of many people. Thus, our present article is not about it.

What is of paramount importance for us in the present article is the aspect of healing and reconciliation – the call to organize befitting burial for the victims, and treat the wounded of that military carnage in the Southeast, which we advocated in that article of last year. Unfortunately, after a year of that event and of our said article, nobody appeared to have listened.

Our call to find a way of organizing a decent burial for the dead and to provide medical treatment to the wounded victims of the Nigerian Military Python Dance II carnage in Igboland last September 2017, has been totally ignored, is very tragic and painful indeed. In fact, if the Southeast governors, in particular, had done what was expected of them, it would have been totally, superfluous for the members of IPOB to declare September 14, 2018 a ‘sit-at-home’ day in the Southeast. It could have been unnecessary for any group indeed, to talk of protesting again against anything in Igboland on this matter.

Just as if the Southeast governors had chosen a common a date for an annual remembrance of the victims of the Biafran war (1967-1970), it could have been superfluous also for the different pro-Biafra Igbo youths to have chosen their own separate date on May 30, for the same event. That no clear marked “Cenotaph” or “Epigraph” of recognizable standard is erected anywhere in Igboland or Nigeria as such, to honor the victims of Biafran war is a great indictment to all those who have been on the leadership echelon since the end of the civil war.

There is nothing wrong in people remembering and honoring their dead ones. This is especially, when those dead members of the community are victims of man’s inhumanity to his fellow humans. That there is no known national or regional Cenotaph, and a common date and arena to honor the victims of the Biafran war in Igboland or anywhere in Nigeria every year, says a volume of the caliber of people that have been piloting the leadership affairs of Nigeria and Southeast region in particular, since the end of the Biafra war.

Similarly, that the Southeast governors never thought it wise to organize a public burial for the Igbo youth killed by the military during the Python Dance II operation in the region last September 2017, is a serious indictment on all us, especially, the governors themselves. No matter, the differences they maight have had with Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB group, the fact remains that those children killed by the military through rascality and impunity, are our children.

Those Igbo youths are citizens of Nigeria. They didn’t commit any offence known in law to have warranted the treatment meted to them by the Nigerian government and military. The government of Nigeria has been trying in all ways possible to link the IPOB members with any violence but all to no avail. The group does its activities in lawful and well organized manner not only in Nigeria but in other parts of the world where Ndigbo live.

Yes, they seek self-determination of their people but they do so in a civilized manner. What they have been asking for is for God to grant them opportunity to organize a referendum through the legal means to ascertain the position of the people of the area about self-determination. They never carry arms or harass the public. That the federal government has chosen violence and military intimidation in dealing with these Igbo youths, beats the imagination of civilized people.

Moreover, that the response of the government to such a demand for self-determination through the legal means of referendum is to proscribe and declare the Igbo youth movement a ‘terrorist’ group, remains the greatest embarrassment of it all. It jeopardizes as well, the whole government approach to the Biafran question.

Is this not the major reason why no other country in the world had agreed to join the Nigerian government in declaring the IPOB a ‘terrorist’ group? Till date, the group carry their activities without molestation and as usual in other countries of world where they operate. It is only in Nigeria the government says it is a ‘terrorist’ organization, without any concrete evidence or reason to justify it.

The question therefore, is why has Nigerian government declared as a ‘terrorist’ group a non-violence movement like the IPOB, but refused to do so with the Fulani herdsmen militants group, who go about with AK47, killing innocent citizens, destroying farmlands and sacking natives from their villages? This is the height of double standard which the present federal government has entangled itself in this matter.

During the Python Dance II military carnage in Igboland last September 2017, those Igbo youths were tortured, killed by the Nigerian military in the most inhuman way, never seen in recent history. Nobody of conscience will see such a terrible thing happening in our time, in the 21st Century, and keep silent. Accept or reject it, those Igbo youths shed their blood for what they rightly believed was a good cause for the Igbo nation. This is independent of whatever opinion one wants to maintain over this matter.
Again, mind you, I am not a member of this group and will never be tomorrow. I am not also a fan of Nnamdi Kanu. I don’t know him, nor have I ever met him in person or any of his IPOB group member. I do not share also in his ideas of pursuing the question of Biafra and Nigeria checked history. I have my own vision of Nigeria and the Biafran question, which I have made known clearly in series of my previous articles on this platform.

However, I write on these issues of national importance, because this is my country and fatherland. I cannot see evil happening in my country and land, and just fold my arms. My writings are therefore, part of my disapproval of what I judge as ineptitude and weak leadership as well as gross neglect of basic tenets of governance taking place in Nigeria today.

My writings on these issues of national importance are my little way of contributing towards rebuilding Nigeria as a modern nation state that will be a home to all its citizens irrespective of our differences in culture, ethnicity, religion and philosophical persuasion. They are my own little way of contributing towards Nigeria’s rebirth, and of bringing about the total reintegration of all ethnic-nationalities as equal citizens in all facets of national life in the new Nigeria of our dreams.
This is because, as things are today, the present class of elites and politicians running the affairs of the country, have alienated many citizens from the Nigerian state. Physically and mentally, a good number of Nigerian citizens today feel alienated from the Nigerian state.

If we do not discuss and address this situation of alienation, at least as intellectuals, that means, many of us have decided to play the ball on the side of the alienator of our people. It means that those who are on ‘the-know’ have chosen to keep silence while ‘evil’ takes over the leadership of the land. But this will be a great disservice to the people and nation; that is, if all of us fold our arms, allow things to continue the way they are going now without doing something from our own small corner to change it.

Therefore, my taking to writings on these issues of national importance, are my little ways of contributing to nation-building in Nigeria and Africa. It is my believe that if Nigeria succeeds, it will be a success story not only for Nigerians, but indeed for all of Africa and the world in general. In other words, on the greatness of Nigeria as a nation state, lies the greatness of Africa as a continent that commends world respect.

Honoring the Victims of Violence
Following the level of what was reported in the traditional and social media of the victims of the Python Dance II military killings in the Southeast Nigeria last September 2017, one was expecting some heroic leadership on the part of the Southeast governors, especially, the governor of Abia State, the epic center of the carnage. Southeast governors could have in this case, shown the leadership, and led the people in giving those our children killed by the military, a fitting burial.
In this way, we should be cleansing the land and atoning for the blood of the innocent. This is what the government has not yet done. There is no gain-saying the fact that the blood of those Igbo youths killed by the Nigerian military last September 2017 at Umuahia are still crying for a befitting burial and a place to rest in peace.

There is still ‘silence of the grave’ in Umuahia and throughout Igboland for what happened in the Southeast last September 2017. Added to this is that some unmarked mass graves of some Igbo youths of pro-Biafra movement killed during the Python Dance II military operation have recently, been reported discovered in some hidden forests in Abia State.

This confirms why we must do everything humanly possible to accord them befitting burial and respect due to the dead. This is a cultural and religious obligation, we all owe to dead members of our community and land, who walked on the face of this mortal earth.

Thus, I wish to repeat once more the appeal I made in my previous article on this topic last year September 2017, after that incident at Umuahia. In that article, I had appealed to the government, to please, look into the cases of those victims of military brutality in South Eastern Nigeria. Unfortunately, instead of doing the needful, the Nigerian government responded with their usual ‘narrative of lie and denial.’

Very troublesome also, is how the media seemed to have been cowed and put into silence on this matter. If ordinary citizens have been silenced, the journalists, I think, should not be afraid of saying the truth about what happened at Umuahia on September 14, 2017. Here I am thinking of those journalists at the NUJ Abia State headquarters, Umuahia, that caught the military with their camera on that September 14, 2017? Nobody heard again from those journalists.
When the military sighted them and suspected the journalists might had seen what they didn’t want the public to see, the soldiers went in immediately to the NUJ headquarters at Umuahia, beat up the journalists and destroyed their camera. However, in normal circumstances, in spite of the military intimidation, those journalists could have at least, since then, granted an interview and tell the world what was that thing they saw, captured with their camera that made the soldiers to be annoyed with them.

Again, government officials, during the Python Dance II military killings and disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu, decided to toe their usual line of ‘narrative of lies and denial.’ This is the most tragic of it all. In matters of this kind, everyone should know that ‘narrative of lie’ or ‘denial’ is not a viable strategy. Because, at the long run, as they say, “conscience is an open wound, and only truth can heal it.”

Moreover, no matter how you try to suppress or hide truth, it must surface one day. Falsehood and lies do not have long duration. They are vices. Like all vices, falsehood and lies must one day give way to truth. Truth is immutable and always triumphs over falsehood and lies.
What happened at Umuahia on September 14, 2017, will continue to hurt the nation just like the atrocities of the Biafran-Nigeria War (1967-1970). Until there is a serious effort on the part of all to achieve a true healing and reconciliation, these evils of the past will always follow Nigeria, even to the grave. History tells us that in a matter of this kind, to suppress the truth is like delaying the doomsday.

In other words, what we expected the government should have done after the Python Dance II military killings in Igboland last September 2017, was to have invited Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB pro-Biafra youth group to a table of dialogue, with sincerity and frankness. We expected that the Nigerian government and Southeast governors in particular, could have initiated a constructive and open-mind dialogue with the group. That by now the government and IPOB group could have jointly organized a decent burial for the dead, and provide medical treatment to the wounded victims of the Military Python Dance II carnage in Igboland last year September 2017.
In fact, up till now, nobody knows the fate of those IPOB young men and women we saw in the social media in the late hours of September 14, 2017, being tortured and humiliated in mud pool by the army at the roadblock at Isialangwa along Aba-Owerri-Port Harcourt high way. Did any of them survive the torture and humiliation? Nobody has told the public either of their whereabouts, till date.

All other victims of that military brutality that were carried out secretly last year September 2017 in Igboland, not captured by the social media or journalists, the army and police are yet to tell the public whether those individuals were identified and their bodies restored to their respective families. They are yet to tell the public whether those wounded and injured pro-Biafra Igbo youth were sent to hospitals for adequate medical attention.

Painfully too, is the fact that one year after the Python Dance II killings, the public is yet to know what happened to those dead bodies of IPOB members that littered around the home of Nnamdi Kanu as result of the army and DSS shootings and invasion of the place. The whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu and his aged parents are also still shrouded in mystery since the military invasion of their ancestral home on September 14, 2017.

In other words, by keeping silence and suppressing this obvious truth about the incident, does Nigerian government think that there will come a time when the victims and Ndigbo in general, will forget it? It is very unfortunate, if the government thinks that way.

If the Armenians, after hundreds of years still remembered the genocide and ethnic-cleansings their ancestors had suffered at the hands of the invading Turkish Othman soldiers, how does the government of Nigeria think that people of Southeast will ever forget what the region had been suffering from the hands of Nigerian state since the Biafran pogroms of 1966 till date?
Again, if the Balkans did not forget the humiliation of their ancestors at the hands of Russians, almost after a millennium, how can one think Ndigbo will just wishful forget millions of their people killed during the Biafran war by the army of the federal government of Nigeria? In a similar way, only a fool will think that the massacre of pro-Biafra Igbo youths last September 2017 by the Nigerian military at Abia State, will sooner or later whittle away. This is why all hands must be deck towards healing the wounds afflicted on the people of Southeast by these state sponsored violence against them.

Furthermore, another lingering question no one could ever succeed in suppressing is, “Are Nnamdi Kanu and his aged parents still alive?” If they are still alive, where is the Nigerian government and military keeping them? Again, why are they still been kept incommunicado without the government charging them to court? Otherwise, are we to presume that they have been killed during the military operation in their ancestral home that day? These are hard questions for the Nigerian government and military!
These are hard questions Nigerian government and military could hardly evade. The questions will continue to linger on and hurt us as a nation state not until they find an adequate answer. This is always the case in a matter of this kind. Unless something positive is done, the present Nigerian government and all its collaborators in the execution of the Python Dance II military carnage in Igboland in September 2017, will for many years to come, live with this scourge.
One thing is now obvious to all knowledgeable persons. The soul of Nigeria has never been the same again after the infamous Python Dance II military killings in the Southeast last September 2017. If Nigeria has been living on borrowed sleeves of what remained of it after the Biafran war (1967-1970), the scenario became complicated after the Python Dance II military carnage in the Southeast last September 2017.
Only an altruistic, capable, and patriotic leader can navigate the nation out of this mess. A religious bigot and ethnic irredentist dictator cannot do it, since he was the person that brought about the mess.

Military Might and Intimidation Is Not the Answer
The forgoing discussion shows why it is necessary that Nigerian government should not waste time any further in addressing the Biafran question. This time, not with military might and intimidation but through constructive dialogue, healing and reconciliation process.
Since the end of the Biafran war in 1970, Igbo resentment and discrimination in the Nigerian federation multiplied to the highest level. Ndigbo, as Chinua Achebe pointed out in his classical book, “There Was a Country”, felt they are being punished because of the war. Yet, they are expected to accept their fate as ‘second class citizens’ in post-war Nigeria, without questioning. In other words, the Igbos, in the postwar Nigeria were expected to carry on the business as usual, without dignity, freedom, and serene home to call their own.
You can now see why Nnamdi Kanu and his pro-Biafra youth group appeared to have gained prominence and acceptability among majority of the populace in the Southeast. Believe you me, if referendum is held today in Igboland, and people are asked what is their view about Nigeria and demand for a separate state for Igbo nation, there is no doubt that majority of Ndigbo will choose the later option.
This is the naked truth the federal government of Nigeria thinks, will be suppressed with military might and intimidation of the people from the region. But, as we noted above, that is a very wrong strategy. The government chosen strategy of evading the Biafran question through military might, intimidation, discrimination, and especially, through lopsided federal government appointments, have not helped the matter at all. Rather, it worsened it as the infamous Python Dance II military carnage last year 2017 had shown.
Using military might and intimidation to achieve national cohesion and unity had never worked anywhere in the world. It is a very dangerous response on the part of the government to a delicate issue of this kind. Similarly, threatening the Southeast region with another Python Dance (III) military invasion will only worsen an already complicated situation. It won’t work either in bringing about the supposed national unity and security. It is like pouring boiling water on a cancerous wound.
Furthermore, as noted earlier on, complicating the issue is the recent news reports and allegation by the IPOB leaders that they have discovered some unmarked mass graves within the area the incident happened last year in Abia State. That means that those Igbo youths, members of IPOB we saw at the video clips being tortured by the military on September 14, 2017, probably might have been brutally murdered after that and dumped in the said unmarked mass graves in Abia State. May God help us!
There are reasons anyone who holds the above view ought not be blamed. In the first place, the public is yet to know whether those who survived that inhuman military treatment on September 14, 2017 in South Eastern Nigeria, were treated in hospitals or not. If at all, they were given medical treatment after the military torture, how many of them survived and how many received the treatment in hospitals. Those who survived, where are there? Those who died, where were they buried? Did anyone notify their families or town leaders?
These are questions still seeking for an answer from the military and government, a year after the Python Dance military carnage in the Southeast Nigeria. The government should come clean on this matter. Again, “Conscience is an open wound and only truth can heal it.”
It is a waste of time thinking that it is through intimidation and military might, the Nigerian government can win the soul and heart of an average Igbo person. After the horrors of Biafran pogroms and now, the September 14, 2017 Military Python Dance II killings of Igbo youths, what is expected from a responsible government and leadership is sincere dialogue, healing and reconciliation with the Igbo nation. Suppressing the state sponsored violence and atrocities against the people will lead us nowhere.

Conclusion

One year along the line, following the infamous Python Dance II military operation in the Southeast Nigeria last September 2017, what has become obvious to many people is that we as a nation have learnt nothing from the mistakes of the past. The Nigerian government is still clueless on how to go about the question of Biafra and other security challenges of the country.
Military might and intimidation of innocent citizens is the only option Nigerian government has so far chosen to use in addressing such internal issues like the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon and the Biafra question. That means that the present Nigerian government lacks the goodwill and capacity to address the Biafran question as well as the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon.
Where on earth, today, in modern and democratic nation states, do the governments of such countries use military force in addressing such internal problems like the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon or the Biafran question? Does the British government, for instance, apply its military might in addressing the question of Scotland referendum? Not even the lingering question of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom has attracted any military solution or intimidation on the part of the central government in London.

Canadian government on its own part, had never contemplated of resolving the Quebec question and quest for a separate state with military might or intimidation. And so are Spain and Italy, among others, which have similar challenges. None of these countries had ever contemplated or attempted to resolve such a similar case in their land with military might and intimidation.
The question is, ‘Why can’t we emulate these civilized countries in the way our government deals with the Biafran question in Nigeria?’
The federal government of Nigeria should look for a better way of responding and dealing with the Biafran question. In this matter, the government is expected to be a promoter of peace and harmonious co-existence among the diverse people of the country. Nigeria is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. It is a heterogeneous nation state. Treating or rather trying to convert Nigeria into a homogenous nation state will always prove abortive.
Imposing one religious and cultural tenets of the President’s own ethnic-group on the nation will also be effort in futility. The Government of Sudan at Khartoum had tried that formula for many years in the Old Sudan but all to no avail. The countries of the Middle East, and Egypt in North Africa, with Muslim domination history, tried it also over the minority Christian communities over there, but never succeeded.

Favoritism of the state, of one ethno-religious group over the others destroys the foundation of the nation state itself. Moreover, relying on military might and intimidation for national cohesion, security and unity is not only childish but a sign of gradual degeneration of the government itself into a full tyrannical and dictatorial regime. Hitler tried it and how did he end? Idi Amin tried it and how did he end? So are other brutal dictators in recent history. This is 21st Century. We are not in the Medieval Era, nor are we under a Communist regime.
This means that Nigerian government should not allow itself transformed into a state terror against its own citizens. The government should not become a facilitator of internal conflicts and hatred among its own different ethnic-nationalities that constitute the Nigerian state.
The government should look for a better way of uniting the diverse people of Nigeria and of winning the heart and soul of all those who today feel alienated from the Nigerian state.

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