In the recent past, self-determination groups have sprung up in Nigeria. The self-determination groups include IPOB, MASSOB, YELICOM, Arewa Youths, Niger Delta Republic and Republic of the Middle Belt.
Of all these groups IPOB and Boko Haram have been designated as terrorist organisations by the federal government. This development in relation to IPOB is unfortunate. Boko Haram is an armed organisation which has attacked and occupied Nigerian territory hoisted its flag and appointed local authority governments.
It has abducted and abused Nigerian women, kidnapped and imprisoned many and killed over two hundred thousand people. It is still involved in guerrilla warfare against Nigeria yet the Federal government is negotiating with them. No member of Boko Haram captured by the military is under trial. Members of this Federal government are on record for condemning the previous government for brutal murder of Boko Haram members and condemning the retired Chief of Army Staff for zealous prosecution of the anti-terror campaign. Members of the sect who confess to a change of mind have been received along with their abducted female partners in the Presidency and rehabilitated.
The declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation is in my view hurried, unfair, and not in conformity with the intendment of the law. Whereas I am not completely in agreement with some of the methods of IPOB like its inappropriate and divisive broadcast, the uncontested evidence given by the Attorney General of the Federation in an interlocutory action claiming that IPOB attempted and/or actually snatched guns from law enforcement agents are, if proven, merely criminal offences. They do not constitute enough evidence to meet international law definitions of a terrorist organisation. Happily, the United States Embassy in Nigeria only three days ago shared this conclusion and asserted that the United States Government does not recognise IPOB as a terrorist organisation. This same unarmed IPOB that is being stigmatised by the Nigerian government had its members murdered in Asaba, Nkpor, Aba and Port Harcourt simply for having public demonstrations without the federal government ordering a judicial inquiry. Instead, after I called for one and Amnesty International provided evidence that 150 of them were killed, the Chief of Army Staff set up an inquiry composed of serving and retired army officers thus abandoning the rules of natural justice which prescribes that you cannot be a judge in your own court.
The Igbos in Nigeria feel the treatment of IPOB as unfair, discriminatory and overhanded. They see the move as an attempt to encourage a profiling of Igbos in the international security arena.
We know of other self-determination groups in Nigeria that are armed and have destroyed government and private sector installations and wells that government prefers to negotiate with rather than label them as terrorist organisations.
Fulani Herdsmen otherwise called the Fulani militants have ravaged farms in Middlebelt, South West, and South Eastern Nigeria killing several farmers in the process. In January 2016 they killed 500 farmers and their families in Agatu in Benue state. In Enugu state, they murdered more than 100 farmers in Ukpabi Nimbo in April 2016. Photographs depicting them with automatic rifles trend in the entire world media, yet not one of them is facing criminal charges, nor is Operation Python Dance being conducted in the areas where they ravage and kill and the Federal government describes them as criminals and not a terrorist organisation notwithstanding their classification by the Global Terrorist Index as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world (see British Independent Newspaper, 18th November 2015). The London Guardian Newspaper of 12th July 2016 indicated that Fulani herdsmen killed one thousand people in 2014.
Let me seize this opportunity to once more thank the Royal Institute of International Affairs for inviting me as President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo to speak here today. In Nigeria, Ndigbo whose social cultured organisation I lead are, notwithstanding their historical experiences in Nigeria, the most loyal ethnic group to the concept of one Nigeria. We are the largest ethnic group other than the indigenous group in any part of Nigeria. We invest and contribute to the economic and social life of the committees wherever we live. We are proudly Christians but very accommodating of our brothers of other religious persuasions. We are grossly marginalised and still treated by the Federal government as second-class citizens. No Igboman, for instance, heads any security arm of the Nigerian Armed Forces. Our area is the most heavily policed as if there was a deliberate policy to intimidate us and hold us down.
Our endurance has been stretched beyond Hooke’s gauge for elastic limit. The deployment of the Nigerian Army under the guise of Operation Python dance to the South East was unconstitutional under S. 271 of the 1999 Constitution.
Deployment of the army is only allowed in circumstances of insurrection, terrorism and external aggression not in killing of priests, or fighting kidnapping. And in those circumstances where they can be deployed, leave of the Senate must be sought. This brazen impunity in dealing with matters which concern the South East is provocative.
The Arewa Youths Council by issuing a quit notice for Igbos to leave Northern Nigeria and declaring a Federal Republic of Nigeria without Igboland had committed serious infractions of the law. First by declaring a new Republic of Nigeria which excises the South East unilaterally, they were committing treason. By issuing a proclamation for Nigerians to leave any part of Nigeria forcibly they were infringing the fundamental rights of innocent Nigerians, as guaranteed by the Constitution to live and do business anywhere.
By commencing an inventory of Igbo property in Nigeria for seizure by October 1st, 2017, they were attempting conversion. By proclaiming a mop-up action of those who did not comply with their order by October 1st, they were, without doubt, inciting genocide. Yet in spite of all these orders to arrest them by the Kaduna State Government and the Inspector General of Police were not enforced nor were they prevented from holding court with Governors and leading elders from the North.
The only hope for change in Nigeria today is the rising call for restructuring pioneered by the Southern leadership forum, supported lately by ex Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, former President Ibrahim Babangida and leaders of the Middle belt including Dan Suleiman and Prof. Jerry Gana.
Our expectation is that now that our President is fully recovered and back to work, he will address the situation by constituting a nationwide conversation of all ethnic nationalities to look into the 2014 National Conference report and the trending views on this subject matter so as to come up with a consensus proposal that the national and state assemblies will be persuaded to adopt.
To continue to neglect a resolution of this impasse will spell doom for our dear country.
Our argument is further reinforced by a two-year extensive study by the UNDP titled, JOURNEY TO EXTREMISM released in September 2017 which indicated that exposure to state abuse and marginalisation not religious ideology are better predictors of radicalisation.
It also indicates that those living on the periphery of their country with less access to education and health services are more vulnerable to be recruited into violent extremist groups. In Nigeria, millions of unemployed graduates from universities waiting for up to 10 years without gainful employment are restive, agitated and veritable cannon fodders for escalating restiveness.
In conclusion, I hope that the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the British Government and British interests associated with Nigeria will continue to offer useful advice to our polity that will lead to an early resolution of our situation.
I thank you for your kind attention
John Nnia Nwodo
Chatham House, London