Visiting Enugu: How IPOB is Destroying Eastern Nigeria
By: Deji Yesufu
October 2018 I was in Enugu to promote my book, VICTOR BANJO. I used the trip to also familiarize myself with Eastern Nigeria – since I had never been to that region of Nigeria before. My friends who hosted me ensured that I had the best time ever and when I returned, I wrote a glowing article – particularly extolling the efforts of the State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, in his efforts to fix the old capital of Eastern Nigeria. That article was my honest observation of Eastern Nigeria. Four years down the line, all of that has changed.
I was in Enugu this week on official duties and the city I met was a far cry from the promising situation of 2018.
I stayed on the outskirt of the town this time and as we drove to the hotel, our driver informed me that just last week there had been some killings on that very road. Unknown gunmen had attacked a detachment of security operative and opened fire on them. Four persons were killed. The situation had become so common that the person telling the story relayed it without any sympathy for the dead. We arrived the State on a Sunday. Our work was to commence the following day, a Monday, but we were told that there was a sit-at-home. When I enquired as to who is enforcing this, I was informed that it was the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – a separatist group protesting the continual detention and prosecution of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu had been kidnapped by the Nigerian government outside the country and brought into the country to answer to charges brought against him years back – which he had avoided answering to, after he escaped from Nigeria. IPOB insist Kanu must be released or else the country will know no peace.
A friend told me that usually many parts of Enugu refuse to heed the sit-at-home order. After a few weeks of observing it, children soon returned to school on Mondays. But to remind the people and cower them into obedience, unknown gunmen suddenly emerge and kill people. People get scared and they return to observing the sit-at-home again. At the hotel, I was told that one day a man had just finished an early morning duty and was returning to his home this early Monday morning. He was met by gunmen and shot dead. People heard of his killing and retreated to their homes once again. IPOB insist Kanu must be released or else the country will know no peace.
When I pointed out to a driver of a car that conveyed me in one of my trips, that the killings were obviously being carried out by IPOB folks to enforce the sit-at-home order, he asked me how do I know this for sure. He said he was an IPOB person because he has sympathy for the course of Biafra. He explained that even though he was IPOB, he was not given to violence neither does he support the killing of innocent people. Since he was driving me and I couldn’t tell what his temperament was, I said to myself: obviously IPOB people have different modus operandi. There are those who carry arms to enforce their beliefs and there are those who are pacifist.
When I asked to know what the State Government is doing to ensure security in the state, I was told that Ugwuanyi has entered into the second term curse that usually befalls many Nigerian governors. In the first term, they sell themselves to the people with their good works. In their second term, they have no one to please so they begin to plan for retirement into the Senate. The insecurity in Eastern Nigeria has also worsened situation and since the support that IPOB has emerges from the grassroots, the state government is careful not to loose popularity with the people. The governor finds himself in the unenviable middle of pleasing IPOB and also obeying the Federal Govt under whom they receive their monthly allocations.
Despite the lockdown on Monday, I was able to make it to work but the whole place was deserted. However I had with me a young man, who had defied the lockdown to be at the office. I asked him why he had not joined others and stayed at home – why was he risking his life. The young man explained that most of the people staying at home were government workers. He said because he works for himself, he must go out and work or else he will not eat. He even told me that he had been at the spare part market that morning and was able to get the item he sought. “And the boys opened their shop?” “Sure”, he replied. In other words, to remain at home on a Monday morning was to court hunger. That sums up the varied reactions I got from the Monday lockdowns.
I titled the final chapter of VICTOR BANJO “Can This Happen Again?” That is: can Nigeria witness a civil war again and the overarching response is “yes”. Then I counselled young Igbo men to try and demystify Nnamdi Kanu. Right now he has become a cult like figure among them but a few things will demystify him. Nnamdi Kanu should articulate his arguments in a book. Let him convince the world that his sessationist agenda is worth pursuing. If he is able to bring his ideas to the world of academia and they are accepted, perhaps his following will grow beyond motor park touts. I say this because most of those who know this man and have listened to him know that he doesn’t have a solid argument for his ideas. He has simply keyed into the discontent of a region to sell his agenda. And he’s doing well at it.
As the Igbos seek to demystify Kanu, they should also consider honestly the positives in their remaining in Nigeria. As it remains, what is truly Biafran in geography is a landlocked area of Nigeria with no access to the sea and that has almost no natural resources. Second, the Nigerian nation has heard the cry of the Igbos on marginalization long enough and I’m positive that if they put forward a worthy candidate today, Nigerians will vote for him. They could start with putting a formidable party behind Kingsley Morghalu and the rest will be history.
Lastly, Igbo land must appreciate the fact that their greatest enemy are not the rest of Nigeria but themselves. Because except a people hate themselves, they will not reduce their work days to four while the rest of the country has five. Igbo land is the worst for it in the face of all these lockdowns.
I left Enugu a sad man. There is deep fear in the hearts of people in that city. You don’t know when next unknown gunmen will strike. You don’t know who’s next. And where there is insecurity, there can be no growth; no development. The Igbo people will need to identify who their friends and who their enemies really are. IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu mean no good for Eastern Nigeria except retrogression.