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August 21, 2018

As October 1 draws near

As October 1 draws near
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Conventionally, October 1 means the first day of the tenth month of the year in the Gregorian calendar. And ironically, it is the month of the introduction of the calendar by Pope Gregory (X111) in 1582. For some, it is their birthday, or perhaps pertains to some joyous occasion in their lives. But for the SouthEasterners, particularly the Igbos in northern parts of Nigeria, October 1 has lots of negative and apprehensive implications.


In the interest of the international community, and for those ignorant of the ugly developments in Nigeria, the Northern Youth Forum met in one of the northern states called Kaduna, and on June 6, issued a stern warning to over eleven million Igbos residing in their states to vacate the North before October 1, 2017 or face forceful eviction and possible harm. The ultimatum came days after the stay at home exercise in the Southeast by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to commemorate their fallen heroes in the South East on May 30, 2017. The Biafran people are simply asking for freedom, and emancipation from years of manipulative and exploitative rule. Put in the perspective of the old Israelites, the Biafran people want to go from Nigeria. The question is, “Is the northern youths’ declaration intended to facilitate this move? The answer is no. The northern youths’ approach is rather to get the Igbos forcefully evicted; just throw them out. Send them home by force. If they fail to leave, frustrate them, if possible annihilate them. This seems to have become the fate of the Igbos as it recalls for them their post-civil war experience in 1970.


Before getting back to the October 1, one might wonder two things here: 1) what constitutional rights the northern youths have to eject the South-easterners from the north. 2) what actions the Nigerian government has taken to address or reverse this utterance. On the first issue, at least till this moment, Igbos are still legal citizens of Nigeria. Igbos have the same constitutional rights to reside in any part of Nigeria. They are not contravening any immigration laws by residing in the North. The issue is that the North seems intimidated by the very industrious nature of the Igbo tribe since Igbos are practically sprinkled all over the world in possibly a dominant way. The second issue is that the Northern Youth Forum is being vindictive. They are using this ultimatum as vendetta: “If the Igbos are agitating for freedom, and still have most of their people in our lands, then let us frustrate them”. The “let us frustrate them” philosophy has always been a ploy used in Nigerian politics, and one major reason why the Biafra agitation is growing. The Nigerian political system grossly disfavors the Igbo tribe, and works to the benefits of the North. Since the Igbos still thrive in their educational endeavors, businesses and professions, they are an ongoing target. They ought to be frustrated.


What actions have the Nigerian government taken? Clearly, the body language of the President Buhari-led administration is Hausa. It seems supportive of this ultimatum though in a mischievous way. Sincerely, the approach of the Nigerian president towards the Biafra agitation is at most described as disappointing. The lack of openness to dialogue and engagement can be said to be an undiplomatic approach for a viable solution to an issue of national interest. Sad to say, that is what brought Nigeria to this current state of pity and quagmire, and has attracted international opprobrium. For instance, on his return after a hundred days of medical treatment in the UK, Mr. President stated in his address that the issue about Nigeria’s unity is “non-negotiable”. Part of his statement reads, “I was distressed to notice that some of the comments, especially in the social media have crossed our national red lines by daring to question our collective existence as a nation”. Non-negotiable? Come to think of it. Even a husband cannot tell his wife in the house that her agitations are non-negotiable, not even parents to their children in today’s world. What about a president to his fellow citizens? For your information, the Igbo of Nigeria is about 18% of its total population of about 177 million Nigerians, that is approximately 32 million people. But Biafra is not just the Igbo agitation, and Mr. President says, it is non-negotiable. I see that as some form of administrative suicide.

Back to October 1. From the foregoing, October 1 is like an Octopus for the Southeasterners and particularly for the Igbos in the north. In its original sense, October 1 used to be the most celebrated day in Nigeria. It is the day Nigeria gained her independence from the British rule. As a child, we used to dream of this day of independence. We rolled out in well ironed school uniforms for march past and parades, enjoyed the best ice cream, met fellow students from other schools and reminisced the story of freedom told us by our parents who experienced the colonial masters from Britain. October 1 stood for freedom at the time.


That freedom is almost reversed today. For some, October 1, 2017, should be deleted from the calendar. It portends death alarm. The history of the northern threats against the Igbos in the past shows that they have always made due their heinous threats. They have masked in several monstrous, carnivorous forms- Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, Jihadists. The Igbos have always been the preys. So, for most of the Igbos in today’s North, October 1 is the day they march to their grave in an untimely manner. Such persons are not willing to leave. They plan to embark on their regular businesses as usual but ready for no other than to see to its logical conclusion. For some, October 1 signifies panic attack. Those in this group are in a state of constant insomnia. They imagine it’s going to be dicey. They might lose their property. They plan to hibernate in the area and perhaps resurface at some point. Those in this group think that things would calm down in the end. For some still, October 1 is a day of blame and regrets. Those here feel they are going to take all the blame from their brothers and sisters, kinsmen and friends for not heeding to the Hausa threats, for not vacating the north as quickly as they could. For some others, October 1 is a day for forced exit from their businesses, forced withdrawal from of their children from schools and departure to an unfamiliar home. This group is already leaving the north tactically. They have conveyed most of their properties and children home, perhaps intend to take the night bus to the east on September 30th. For others, still, October 1 is a day that marks a tribal war between the dare devil Hausa- Fulani hegemony and the already victimized Igbos. The air of uncertainty looms large.


But another question is, “Why don’t the Igbos vacate the North for peace to reign?” This is mostly the opinion of those who view domiciling from an impersonal perspective. I have had time to speak with many Igbos in the North, and wondered the rationale behind their continued stay. Think of a parent with seven children. Such family has lived all their lives in the North. Their business, education, properties, etc., are all located in the North. They have no investment in the Southeast, have no home, and not guaranteed any shelter back home. They have nothing to live on if they return. Someone wakes up and unwarrantedly commands them to leave. It may sound easy to say, “Why not come back”, but the intricacies of coming back are overwhelming. Importantly, they have the constitutional rights to reside in any parts of the country of their choice. They are citizens with legal rights and privileges. Friends, it’s like someone from Florida living in Texas, or a person from Indiana moving to Michigan. So, why should they be forced to leave? They can only leave if Biafra is legitimately established as an independent nation.


Why this article at this time? First is because October 1 is fast approaching. Just perhaps, for the international community to be aware of the various shades of Nigeria’s October 1, and to recognize the threats against human life in Nigeria today. Unfortunately, crimes against humanity in Nigeria are given less attention by the international community. It’s as if human lives in Nigeria don’t matter anymore. The mainstream media’s attention is focused only on Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I guess that Nigeria’s oil is not flowing as before. Insidiously, there is pogrom in Nigeria on a daily basis. There is genocide on a daily basis. There is constant killing of innocent persons in Nigeria on a daily basis, mostly because of ethnic affiliation, especially if they are Igbos. The difference between what is happening in Nigeria and the 1994 Rwandan genocide is that the Nigerian approach is very tactful, systematic but deliberate. People are hungry but no longer worried about hunger. They have no light but no longer complaining about that. They have terrible road networks but have come to live with such. Millions are unemployed but poised to make a living. Now, they are being killed, tortured in their numbers because they want to dialogue for the sake of their freedom.


Let the international community consider Nigeria before it is late. North Korea is considered a threat because it is perceived to devalue innocent lives. On Thursday, April 7, President Trump ordered a military strike on the Syrian government airbase in response to alleged chemical weapons attack by the Assad-led government that killed dozens of civilians. President Trump said he was disheartened at the killing of innocent civilians and helpless women and children. Worse things are happening in Nigeria now. Innocent (particularly Igbo) people are dying in Nigeria. They have no powers of their own, they have no hope.


If not nipped in the bud, October 1 may represent a day that everyone kept quiet to an impending doom in a nation with over a hundred and eighty million lives at stake. October 1 might mean ACTION or INACTION for the Igbos in the Northern part of Nigeria.

Fr. Vincent Arisukwu, writes from the USA.



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