Ali Okechukwu, Deputy Superintendent of Police, and Public Relations Officer of the Anambra State Command of the Nigerian Police Force, Awka, denied it all. The Joint Task Force had not shot at protesters, and has not killed anyone among the peaceful demonstrators in Onitsha calling for the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and a referendum for the secession of Biafra from the federation of Nigeria.
The police denial of any killings seems rather odd because, floating since Wednesday on the internet, and the wider blogosphere, are very gory images of protesters shot and killed by the Joint Task Force, comprising the police, the Navy and the Army, deployed in Onitsha to quell the protests. Among the dead, lying in the pool of her own blood on the streets, and now circulating internationally is the picture of a young woman, Anthonia Nkiruka Ikeanyionwu, killed on Wednesday.
Newspaper reports indicate that Nkiruka was returning from the Asaba end of the Niger bridge which had been blocked by protesters, when JTF Operatives began to shoot at the crowd. In a bid to escape the hail of bullets, she made to run into a restaurant but was shot by one of the JTF squad. A beautiful, innocent, young woman was thus summarily dispatched to untimely death. Who gave the orders to shoot at a crowd of peaceful, non-violent protesters? This is the questions that Nigerians must collectively ask.
The members of the National Assembly representing Anthonia Nkiruka Ikeanyionwu in the House of Representatives and the Senate, must compel a Joint House Investigations on Police Conduct on this matter, and bring those who have exerted needless violence on an unarmed civilian population to justice. This is a democracy, not a military dictatorship. People have a right to protest without the deployment of armed personnel to shoot at them with life bullets.
Mr. Solomon Arase, if he did give the order to shoot, must be forced to resign for irresponsible leadership of the Police Force at this very critical time requiring sensitive approaches that are more mediatory than confrontational with a public geared towards increasingly public protests of their condition. Miss Ikeanyionwu, has officially become the first martyr of this new Biafran movement that is evolving right before our very eyes. Her death will create new myths of personal and fearless sacrifice, and she’ll soon become a great heroine, celebrated in poetry, protest music, and drama. The Police has drawn the first blood, and is likely to draw again, and again, and in the long run, compel the protesters to defend themselves militarily too.
It is after all the right and obligation of every citizen to arm and rise against an oppressive government. We know exactly how this has played out in other places and at other times: in the Niger Delta, the relentless brutality of the JTF and the police led the youth to re-strategize and arm themselves, and begin a fight that took the late President Yar Ardua and Jonathan to quell. Nigeria’s security forces do not seem to learn anything from their history of engagement with radicalized movements. The killing of the leaders of the Boko Haram, we now know, triggered a re-strategizing, which saw the expansion of the operations and missions of Boko Haram which has since dug-in, in the North East of Nigeria. If the Federal government continues to play into the script of the organizers of the IPOB, it will have to face a situation similar to the Irish Republican Army, the IRA. This is exactly where I predict the IPOB to evolve towards.
And I should sketch the grounds of my speculation. As discontent grows in the East with increasing economic and social pressures, and we are already seeing the clear signs in a state like Imo State, where Governor Okorocha has basically lost legitimacy, the new Biafra movement will morph into the shadow government of the East. They will acquire legitimacy by doing two things, and these are glaring: filling the vacuum of grassroots governance, the most important segment of government, long abandoned, and long neglected by preceding governments. Already the IPOB is establishing Provincial Committees alongside the old Biafran provincial structure, and are appointing provincial administrators.
Currently these provincial administrators are pro-tem, but as the movement grows, and begins to train its members more strategically, they will appoint more competent people as provincial Administrators and Divisional Officers who will organize the grassroots, mobilize, and administer the new movement. Two, if they are smart, as I think they are, they will quickly dust up the old Biafran organizational programs: the Relief Committees, the Divisional and Town Intelligence Committees, the Education Committees, the Security Committees, the Research and Production Committees, the Town Development Committees, etc, and deploy these widely at the grassroots to carry out the kind of direct services that governments have long forgotten to provide the people in the last 35 years.
They will effectively become the real government in the East by circumventing the current political order, and they will take charge and act from the position of strength. Their inevitable control of the Eastern states will be decisive in forcing Nigeria to a referendum. The IPOB will accomplish this as it moves toward clearer organisation, along the IRA model, and as it builds upon its strength. This, admittedly, is the best case scenario, because IPOB and MASSOB are very fascist organisations. The Igbo must be very wary of fascism.
The depth of Igbo discontent should not warrant blind support for any movement that arises spouting “Biafra!” Part of what the Igbo should do at this very crucial moment is to re-examine this question, through their own town Unions and conduct their own referendum about their relationship with Nigeria. Do the Igbo want out, or do they want a better Nigeria? The Igbo themselves must put it to vote through an internal plebiscite. Until IPOB and other pro-Biafra organisations have themselves done this, they presume only to speak for the Igbo.
The wind will go out of their sails once the economic, political, and social issues animating the current demand is dealt with. Part of the federal government’s difficulties is that it does not know who to talk to, and engage in the movement for Biafra. The Nigerian intelligence Services do not seem to have trained anthropologists, and sociologists who are trained to understand and interpret patterns of group behaviour. Otherwise, they’d have understood that Igbo have no permanent leadership. It is only in times of war or other emergencies that a single leader emerges among the Igbo, and at the end of such an emergency, that “leader” returns to his normal life as citizen. Northern monarchs, the newspapers report, have led a delegation to their “fellow monarchs” in the East to find a solution to this growing protest.
Frankly, the Eastern “monarchs” themselves have no idea what is going on, because these young folks do not seek their opinion, nor do their words amount to much among the Igbo. So, what is to be done? Well, the federal government must first release Kanu, and seek to open discussions with the young people he leads. This movement cannot be stopped with bullets, unless they wish to meet at Philipi with the young Biafrans. In which case, it is just as well to tell both the agitators for Biafra and the Federal government that the road to Philipi is really a straight line as the crow flies, and might be closer than imagined. It is also a bloody road. The president must act and call an end to the bloodshed, and the looming anarchy. It is not too late for every party here to pull back before Onitsha becomes Soweto.