Nigeria, an amalgam of several hundreds ethnic nationalities with diverse cultural, religious and cultural affinities is indeed an interesting irony.
Political historians often ascribe three dominant ethnic nationalities as the foremost among the hundreds of others just as the three are listed as Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.
Of the three so-called dominant ethnic nationalities, the Igbo speaking people are easily identified as one group that perhaps has witnessed more than a fair share of political misfortune because of the three-year fratricidal civil war that was fought between 1967 to early 1970 as a result of the inability of the then federal regime to protect the Igbo of South East Nigeria from the organized pogrom and genocidal killings that took place across Northern Nigeria soon after the first military overthrow of government in which the political leader of the Northern Nigerian region Sir. Ahmadu Bello and the first and only Prime Minister of post- independence Nigeria- the Bauchi state-born Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Belewa was unfortunately slaughtered by elements from the then Nigerian Army which actively took control of government.
There was this irrational and fallacious conclusion that since greater percentage of the top military elites came from the South East so the first overthrow of government was carried out to favour the South East. This illiterate perception fuelled the pogrom of Igbo people in the North without the Federal military government, then headed by the Plateau state-born General Yakubu Gowon, doing anything to put a stop to this genocide. This impunity gave rise to the civl war.
But when the military cum political authority in the then South East Nigeria felt rightly that the Federal regime did very little to protect the lives and property of the persons of South East extraction living in the North, it decided in consultation with the respected civil society leaders to seek for self government which resulted in the declaration of full blown civil war that lasted three years before the South Eastern region of Nigeria was forced back to the artificial amalgam called Nigeria.
Sadly, after nearly five decades since after the civil war, the South East Nigeria shows abundant evidence of a part of a country that is clearly neglected and overrun because the Federal regime under General Yakubu Gowon never bothered to rebuild the infrastructure that were severely destroyed when the South East was pummeled by the overwhelming Federal military might with the active connivance and assistance of the government of the United Kingdom among numerous others.
Coupled with the fact that the states that make up the South Eastern Nigeria have been so unfortunate to always have elected or appointed political leadership that lacks commitment to utilize the resources of the people to implement and effectively build enduring public utilities and infrastructure but always pocket the public fund, the marginalization of these South Eastern states have become even more pathetic.
The deliberate sabotage by the federal regimes of successive administrations against the South East Nigeria invariably means that there is total absence of federal presence in the entire area which effectively denies the region of any significant presence of industries and sources of employment generation. The only federal presence in the south east are the decrepit federal prison facilities and the equally derelict Nigeria Police stations and military formations making the South East look like a place under military occupation.
The youth that have grown up to experience the crushing poverty occasioned by the total lack of industries and other modern infrastructure which are in large quantity in other places like Lagos and Abuja, have now believed that the South East is still being punished for the collective decision made by our forebears to save the Igbo population from the coordinated pogrom and genocide in the streets of Northern Nigeria which ultimately resulted in the declaration of war by the then military tyrant -General Gowon in which over three million people made p of civilians-old men/women and children were massacred by the Federal forces.
This heavy casualties suffered by he South East during the thirty months war was caused essentially by the policy actively implemented by the then war-time General Gowon’s dictatorship which denied the civil populace access to relief materials from the international community.
Under this atmosphere of suspicion by the youth that the South East is being systematically marginalized, many of them rallied round Chief Ralph Uwazurike-led non-violent Igbo Ethnic self-government crusading movement for the sovereign state of Biafra [MASSOB] to press home a peaceful and constructive agitation for the South East to be given political independence.
MASSOB’s peaceful agitation for self determination is supported by all globally acclaimed international humanitarian laws including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] under part one article one which recognizes the right of all peoples to self government/determination including the right to freely determine their political status.
This important aspect of the International Bill of Rights known as the International Covenant of civil and Political Rights is a multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 16th 1976. This important global statute commits its parties including Nigeria among one hundred and sixty six others and the 74 signatories to respect the civil and political rights of individuals including the right to life; freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and speech and right to due process and fair trial.
But the resolve of some of these youth of South East extraction to peacefully agitate for self government has being consistently resisted by the federal government even as the same federal government sees nothing wrong with other self determination groups in the North and the South West.
During the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led so-called civilian government, the double standard of always arresting members of the Movement for the sovereign State of Biafra for persecution increased even as groups like the Odua Peoples Congress [OPC] and Arewa Peoples Congress [APC] which preach self determination are never harassed by the Nigerian state. Majority of South East people see Obasanjo as an Igbo hater.
Obasanjo’s pseudo-dictatorship it was that arrested Chief Uwazurike and key members of MASSOB and clamped them into detention with frivolous charges of treason and belonging to unlawful association.
But aware of their legal rights as protected by the extant international humanitarian laws, the key leadership of the group challenged this legal charade but because of some reasons unconnected with inexplicable suspicion of the Igbo speaking people, the judicial institution in Nigeria has not appreciated the need to throw out these unsustainable charges which offend all known international laws which Nigeria is a signatory.
Few months after the MASSOB hierarchy challenged their persecution by the Nigerian state, the administration that succeeded the Obasanjo-led federal administration negotiated with a well armed group in the oil rich Niger Delta States to drop their arms and desist from waging war against the Nigerian state even as numerous financial inducements were awarded to these formerly well armed Niger Delta militants. The repentant militants from the Niger Delta have undergone series of overseas training to build their capacity to obtain gainful employment opportunities.
The Umaru Musa Yar’adua-led federal administration never saw reason to terminate the legal persecution of MASSOB whose members are non-violent even when the same Federal Government negotiated with those armed militants that waged war against the Nigerian state for deliberately marginalizing these crude oil rich Niger Delta communities. After President Yar’adua died in office and was succeeded by Goodluck Jonathan, this legal persecution of MASSOB has continued. Ironically, Jonathan received the highest percentage of votes from the South East in he 2011 election but yet his administration has not seen reason to end this legal anarchy against MASSOB leadership whose members are non-violent. Does this mean too that Jonathan is also an Igbo hater?
But under the watch of the current federal administration has risen a more viciously armed Boko Haram extremist group that has clearly declared war against the Nigerian state and for two years now. Over 5000 persons have lost their precious lives to the dare devil activities of this terrorist group without the current Jonathan administration finding any practicable panacea to this disturbing attacks.
With billions of tax payers money down the drain as defence budget the Federal administration has yet to find better and effective solution to the war declared against the Nigerian state by this Northern-based terrorist organization.
The current Federal government which has continued with the prosecution of the unarmed MASSOB members for treason is currently negotiating with the well armed Islamic terrorists to grant them amnesty even when it is known that their terrorism have resulted in the highest percentage of civilian casualties in peace time Nigeria.
Out of the blues, the Nigerian Supreme Court which gave judgment on a pending appeal by MASSOB has okayed the trial of these unarmed MASSOB members for treason even when it is clear that they were well within their democratic right to seek self determination peacefully. This is a clear case of double standard for the nation’s highest court to fail to do justice to this matter by dismissing it as frivolous charges.
Curiously, the main question that arise from this double standard is why the federal Government is bent on going ahead with this judicial anarchy of putting peaceful agitators to trial while at the same time negotiating with well armed rebel group to accept amnesty?
President Jonathan must order his Federal Attorney General to end this needless persecution of MASSOB hierarchy except this government wants to perpetuate the thinking that it pays more dividends to take up arms as the best way the Government can negotiate with the group rather than encourage constructive democratic agitations supported by international humanitarian laws as currently spearheaded by MASSOB.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, is head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com.