Given the unfolding events in our country, I believe that this is the time for deep introspection and sober reflection. I am not a member of IPOB, I have never attended any IPOB meeting and neither am I Igbo.
I am however deeply concerned about what is going on in our country, what the Igbos are being subjected to and what I consider to be the greatest assault on the human rights and civil liberties of the Nigerian people since the military left power in 1999.
A violation of the constitutional right of freedom of association and freedom of speech affects not just those that have been targeted but each and every one of us. An act of injustice against one is an act of injustice against all. What affects the part also affects the whole.
If you beat my neighbors child it is as good as beating mine and consequently I have a duty to defend that child.
That is the essence of humanity and chivalry: to speak up for those that are being persecuted, to defend the defenseless, to fight for those that are too weak to fight for themselves and to be the voice of the voiceless.
We must cultivate the discipline and courage to defend the right of others to be different and to think differently from us and to express contrary views.
We may not all agree with the style, language and objectives of IPOB but we surely have a duty before God and the law to defend, uphold and affirm their right to express themselves in any way that they deem fit providing they do not threaten or hurt others whilst doing so.
This is the very essence, foundation and indeed cornerstone of freedom and democracy and if we allow the government to take that away from us and to get away with what they are doing without a stiff challenge we are finished as a people.
It is IPOB today, but tomorrow it could be OPC, Ijaw Youth Council, Ohaneze, Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, Arewa Youths, Arewa Consultative Forum, Northern Elders Forum or indeed anyone else.
I have never heard of a “terrorist” organization that has not killed or threatened to kill anyone and that has totally rejected the idea of violence and an armed struggle.
I have never heard of a “terrorist” organization whose only aspiration is to have a referendum to determine whether or not their people should or should not remain in Nigeria.
I have never heard of a “terrorist” organization whose only objective is the peaceful and lawful exercise of the right of self-determination.
I have never heard of a “terrorist” organization whose only crime is to take objection to the stripping away of their historical and cultural identity and to speak out against the willful marginalisation and mass murder of their people.
I have never heard of a “terrorist” organization who believe in passive and non-violent resistance and who consistently emphasize the importance of peaceful opposition.
Saying that IPOB is a terrorist organization is like saying that Mother Theresa is the Marquis De Sade. It is like saying that an angel from heaven is a demon from hell.
It is like saying that Little Red Riding Hood is the hungry and ravenous wolf. It is like saying that Snow-white is Jack the Ripper. It is like saying that Florence Nightingale is Aleister Crowley.
It is like saying that the Apostle Paul is Anton La Vey. It is like saying that John the Baptist is Atilla the Hun. It is like saying that Desmond Tutu is Ghengis Khan.
It is like saying that John Knox is Adolf Hitler. It is like saying that Martin Luther King is Osama Bin Ladin. It is like saying that Nelson Mandela is Ali Al Baghdadi.
It is like saying that Mahatma Ghandi is Abubakar Shekau. It is like saying that Amnesty International is the Fulani Herdsmen. It is like saying that Medecine Sans Frontier is Boko Haram.
It is like saying that Human Rights Watch is ISIS. It is like saying that the white dove of love and peace is the savage, cruel, blood-crazed and cadaver-eating vulture from the seventh circle of hell. It is like saying that ice is fire.
It is like saying that a believer is an infidel. It is like saying that a peaceful preacher is a violent blasphemer. Such a designation and categorization is unhelpful, inappropriate and unfair.
It is a damning and specious lie that has been put out by a Federal Government that is paranoid, weak, bereft of ideas and scared of its own shadow.
It is a desperate attempt to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. It is childish nonsense and it does not make sense. Finally came the most absurd allegation of all: that IPOB is being funded by “treasury looters”, “disgruntled” and “destabilizing” elements “in the opposition” and by France.
Some assertions are so asinine that they ought not to be dignified with a response and this is one of them. I urge IPOB to go to court and have the order that has designated them as a terrorist organization set aside.
I also urge President Muhammadu Buhari and his Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to remember that when they exercised their right of freedom of speech three years ago and openly defended Boko Haram by saying respectively that “an attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the north” and that it was “unconstitutional” and “unlawful” to ban them no-one threatened them with arrest because the government of that day had the presence of mind to recognize the fact that the right to express one’s opinion, no matter how reprehensible that opinion may be, is enshrined in the constitution.
The Federal Government should take a queue from that and stop trying to manufacture a crisis where there is none or kill a fly with a sledgehammer.
They should also consider declaring the Fulani militants and herdsmen, who have been described by the International Terror Index as the “fourth most deadly terrorist organization in the world” and who have killed more innocent Nigerians than any other terrorist organization in the last two years, as the malevolent, vicious, murderous and bona fide cowards and terrorists that they are.
By Chief Femi Fani-Kayode