THESE are categories of Nigerians operating in our social space. The evangelists are those spreading the good news, even though others, including those in authority, may not see the news as good. But there is nothing strange about this; it was so in the days of Christ. Herdsmen are migrant cattle rearers who originally were harmless. Nowadays, however, they have become seriously armed and are a threat to their hosts. Militants are those in armed opposition to certain government actions and policies. They have some public sympathy because they are believed to be fighting for a just cause. Terrorists are at war with everybody and anybody including the government and those who think they are safe with them.
Now, these categorisations represent a kind of continuum, from the most harmless to the most harmful. And under normal circumstances, the society should be most concerned about the terrorists; but that is under normal circumstances.
In December, 2015, IPOBians (Indigenous People of Biafra members) in Anambra State were engaged in evangelism, informing people about their agenda when ‘the police people started shooting…We asked in surprise what we had done, because we were not with any gun, knife or weapon, not even a stone,” Chidiebere Nnaji, one of the surviving evangelists after the Head-Bridge massacre, said. It was from him I learnt that what IPOBians were doing was actually evangelism.
Many people do not accept their evangelism and are indeed hostile to the messengers and their messages. But like other evangelists, they were armed with flags, phones, tracts and Bibles. Those murdered in that deal-with-them season included Nkiruka Ikeanyionwu, Chima Onoh, Kenneth Ogadinma, Angus Chikwado and Felicia Egwuatu.
Two weeks later, those celebrating the release of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, were also shot by the same security forces. Of course, Kanu was not released because President Muhammadu Buhari, who knows more than the judges, felt that his offence was too serious to merit a bail! How come soldiers, armed from our common purse, murdered those IPOBians who were just evangelising?
I then recalled the order given by the then Delta State Commissioner for Police, Mr. Ekpoudom, that all MASSOBians be treated as armed robbers (Vanguard, November 9, 2005 Pg. 7). Of course, the self-appointed loquacious northern spokesman, Junaid Muhammed, recently referred to them as terrorists who were going to be demolished as is being done to Boko Haram. But even the most shameless liar must at least, admit that from MASSOB to IPOB, they have been non-violent; they only sing and hoist flags, flags which every kindred, company and society has!
There are also the evangelists in Zaria, who aggressively promote their message and who refused the army a free passage. I have watched the plea by the soldiers for passage; I have also compared Rufai’s reaction this time with his reaction when similar incident occurred in 2014. But that is not the issue here. The fact is that the soldiers attacked the evangelists. Within 48 hours of the ‘Shiite war’, government and their agencies, the Senate, House of Reps, National Human Rights Committee, had set up investigative committees while the NBA later weighed in.
For Kanu and IPOB, no nothing! A few Eastern based human rights groups were the only voices crying in the wilderness over the murdered peaceful demonstrators. The difference is clear!
As this was going on, it was time for the Bayelsa election. The Police deployed 9000 men while the entire security apparatus was on standby. But the election was disrupted, bloody and deadly because militants were in operation! Our security apparatus in Bayelsa became helpless; their guns went quiet and they even became victims in the process. ‘Generals’ and pirates were publicly negotiating vote-sharing formulas and nobody dared stop them. When the negotiation failed and war broke out, our own Generals were found wanting.
In the rerun of January 9, 2016, the militants still had a field day, operating unchallenged across land and sea. The security operatives forgot their rules of engagement, which they had been threatening to unleash on pro-Biafran protesters!
Tompolo has refused to obey court summons but he has instead overrun the media space, declaring his innocence, giving conditions for court appearance and even advising Buhari to “allow the people of the Niger Delta Region to know peace, otherwise he will not know peace as well.” (Daily Post, January 16, 2016)! After all, one government cannot order another Government around! Even the warrant for his arrest has not been affected as I write. A coalition of militants (there is a coalition for everything nowadays) has even declared that the government MUST negotiate with them or else…By the way, I thought these militants have been demobilised and rehabilitated!
We all know the story of the Fulani herdsmen, who have been unleashing mayhem across the land. Recently, they looted and burnt villages and murdered a DPO and 29 others in Adamawa state. Our security apparatus have been helpless, incapable or unwilling to take them on. Indeed, the atrocities of these so-called herdsmen appear not to be captured in our security radar. Instead of responding in kind to their ferocious murderousness, the government plans to import grass for them and continue to persuade them to adopt other means of raising their cattle. A group of people destroys farmlands, kills, kidnaps and maims, and the President’s strategic response is to persuade them! Of course, that should be expected; after all, we are willing to negotiate with bloodthirsty Boko Haramists!
The Nigerian government has over the years made it more attractive for people to express themselves violently. Whether it is OPC, MEND et al or Boko Haram, those who go violent get away with it while those who sing, dance, deploy flags or organise marches are shown the short end of the stick. That is why Tompolo is giving conditions for court appearance while Kanu who appeared in court has not been released despite several court orders. Boko Haram was merely rascally in the beginning but found that the government preferred brute violence and that is why we are where we are. IPOBians and KANUists and Zakkysts are mowed down while militants and pure terrorists have a field day or are begged to repent. What do you expect when maximum force is deployed against the armless and harmless while those who are armed and murderous are treated with kid gloves. Indeed, all men are equal…
Martin Luther King is of the view that those ‘who engage in non-violent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured’ (Letter from a Birmingham Jail April 16, 1963). That was more than 50 years ago.
That position is still valid today!
Dr. Muo is of the Department of Business Administration, OOU, Ago-Iwoye.