AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI: THE URGENT NEED TO GRANT AMNESTY TO NNAMDI KANU/IPOB

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Dear Mr President, permit me to make this passionate appeal to you concerning the Biafra Separatist leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The issue of separatist agitation has now become a household movement in Nigeria and today similar movements are in all the geographical zones of Nigeria, In the Southeast, there are the IPOB, Movement for Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and others, in the Southwest, there is the Yoruba Nation, Niger Delta Front and others are in the Southsouth while the Boko Haram and Middle Belt Movement are in the North.

To genuinely understand a problem and proffer a lasting solution, one unequivocally needs to take a holistic look at the present order-the impoverishment of the vast majority of the Nigerian populace, unwanton abuse of human rights and wholesome alienation; others include unabated insecurity, unmitigated corruption, internal colonisation and the likes. These are conspicuously prevalent within the breath and length of Nigeria. And all these tend to provoke the agitation call.

In addition, the South easterners have been bearing some peculiar challenges that emanate from primary marginalisation. No wonder the agitation drum is sounding much louder there. The truth of the matter is that generally in the Southeast, they perceive peculiar marginalisation at a much higher degree than other zones. Different groups within may differ in their modus operandi in addressing the marginalisation problems. The IPOB for instance chose to include the induction of a security outfit to fill in the vacuum of insecurity in the zone while others in the name of one Nigeria chose to depend on the almost nonexistent Federal security agencies in the zone for their security need. But the common denominator between the IPOB`s approach and others` is MARGINALISATION.

Grievances of the Vast Majority of the Southeasterners

Prominent among them are:

  1. Leadership Factor
  2. The Perceived Threatning Statements by President Buhari on Igbos During an Interview with Arise TV network and the Lopsidedness in Appointments
  3. The Withdrawal of Police Escorts to VIPs in the S East
  4. The Possible Way Forward

On the leadership factor, corruption stands out very clearly. It is now an open secret that the greater number of our past and present political elites amassed and are still amassing questionable wealth at the expense of the masses. As our corrupt leaders acquire and display the ill-gotten wealth from the citizen commonwealth, the masses including the university graduates are subjected to abject poverty; these group of Nigerians perambulate and gallivant the streets because of the alarming rate of unemployment in Nigeria. A number of them as a last resort take to criminality-armed robbery, kidnapping and the like. To make the matter worse, the basic amenities being guaranteed in the International Bill of Human Rights are nearly nonexistent. Little wonder the agitation matter becomes more aggravated. It is true that the agitation call started before your Administration, but it is also very correct that the level of unemployment and the call for alternative governments (separatist agitation) has reached a much higher level. And it is very sad that the much talked about marginalisation has been experienced since the end of the civil war. Rather than being abated, it has now reached a crescendo. The situation could have been under control if the so-called “3Rs”–reconstruction, reconciliation and reintegration policy by the then President, RTD General Jack Gowon were implemented.

It is very important to recognise that it was a tragic error to have abolished History subjects and the teaching of the Biafra war in Nigerian schools; worse still the leadership went as far as erasing the Bight of Biafra from the Nigerian map. How can the young generations of Nigeria and the unborn ones be denied the knowledge of History subjects and that of the Nigerian civil war and expect them to be good citizens when our leaders, past and present have not shown the way by their actions and inactions? It is not in doubt that the most powerful countries of the world today-the USA, Russia, Great Britain, China etc make History to be compulsory in their schools irrespective of students area of specialisation. For people to overcome their ugly past mistakes, knowledge of their history becomes incredibly relevant. Removal of history and non-inclusion of the teaching of the Biafran crisis in schools is gravely being felt by both Igbos and non-Igbos. How do we expect to progress as a nation when a basic ingredient, history is missing in the school curriculum due to a deliberate act of our leaders? It is commonly agreed that knowing your history enhances the prediction of the future as a society.

The Threatening of Igbos at Arise TV Interview

I still remember vividly that at your inaugural address, there was this attractive clause, “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. But the vast majority of Igbos perceive a high degree of your departure from the said clause in your appointments. In the composition of the National Security Council that is saddled with the responsibility of advising the President on matters relating to public security, for instance, 9 out of the 11 members are from a particular section of Nigeria and in your kitchen cabinet, there is none from the Southeast; all tend to push the nepotism you are being accused of too far. And consequently, this heightens the lopsidedness that is a flagrant violation of the country`s constitution. Any objective mind would want to know if there is no competent and morally upright Igbo to be appointed to such positions despite the Federal Character provision in the constitution.

This is one of such statements of yours at the Arise TV. “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destructions and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war will treat them in the language they understand”. These statements imply that all Igbos are synonymous with IPOB, hence they are being perceived by Southeasterners that the President was insensitive and unmindful of their feelings and well being. The utterances meant for Igbos also imply that the Igbos as a whole will be subjected to another genocide and loss of millions of lives. It is crystal clear that not all Igbos are in the secessionist group, IPOB. I am not against their agitation as it is their right to do so under the International Bill of Rights and Nigeria is a signatory to it. The said Bill of Rights guarantees the IPOB or any other organisation to agitate within the ambit of the law.

To call a spade, a spade, there cannot be any Igbo who will applaud that you the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria was bold and proud to remind Igbos of how you participated in the programme that left over 3 million Igbos dead. It is like robbing soap into the eyes of Igbos. In spite of some constructive criticisms that trailed your threatening Igbos with their horrible civil war experiences, Mr President you are yet to tender a much expected unreserved apology to Igbos.

The withdrawal of Police escorts to VIPs in the Southeast to my mind was both a tragic and strategic mistake. First and foremost, the VIPs-Governors, Senators and others do not have the constitutional authority to control the Police/Army that is within the jurisdiction of the President and the Security Chiefs, besides the attacks on Police and other government structures were experienced in all parts of Nigeria and not only in the Southeast. A much better option in addressing such criminal activities under the circumstance would have been to reinforce the security personnel rather than withdraw from the already insufficient police personnel in the zone. In a nutshell, most Southeasterners feel that this singular action was a slap in their faces and considered it as strategically miscalculated. All the above-itemised factors to a great extent fuelled the agitation cry in the Southeast.

The Possible Way Forward

To convince the Igbos, other Nigerians and International Community that your Administration is seriously concerned with the burning issues in Nigeria, You need to demonstrate that you are a truly converted democrat through the adoption of a friendly approach to some of the highly volatile issues that are prevalent in Nigeria like the separatist agitations. If your leadership will start to recognise that all Nigerians have equal stake under the constitution rather than discounting some citizens as having less legitimate claims to the country, it will to a great extent assuage the ill-feelings being nursed by the IPOB, all Southeasterners and other agitating groups. Rather than applying the bulling or military approach, experiences of other countries show that a conducive environment and positive results are usually produced through dialogue, discourse and remedial actions.

Igbos being very enterprising, obviously would prefer a bigger community like Nigeria to operate than a much smaller one, meaning that should there be a level-playing ground where equity and justice will be enjoyed by all irrespective of one`s ethnicity, religion, gender etc, the secessionist s calls will most likely diminish if not absolutely diving into oblivion. And to realise peace which is fundamental for a genuine solution, this agitation issue must be addressed frontally. Prominent among the bold and difficult measures to be taken will include releasing Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader from detention and granting him and IPOB an amnesty.

It was fascinating to read your reconciliatory remarks about Igbos and your promises to them during your recent visit to Imo State. It is my prayer and hopes that the promises will materialise in practical terms as the entire Igbo race will profoundly appreciate it if you will take some pragmatic steps that will lead to the realisation of your promises to them. Such a step will include the already proposal of releasing Nnamdi Kanu and granting him and his group, IPOB an amnesty. It is within your prerogative to do so. Recall that on 25th June 2009 the former President, late Umaru Musa YarÀdua struck an amnesty deal with the Niger Delta Militants. The amnesty included automatic freedom from any form of prosecution and cash payments to militants who agreed to lay down their arms. This amnesty in the end produced the desired peace. As a result, the Federal Government, militants as well as the entire nation benefited. It is very interesting to know that during the former President Jonathan`s Administration, Jonathan commissioned a high-level team on 11th April 2013 to work on granting the Boko haram an amnesty, but Boko Haram`s leader, Abubakar Shekau flatly declined the offer when he stated, “Nigerian government is talking bout granting us amnesty, what have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon”.

The shortest and longest of this point is that if the notorious Bolo Haram had accepted the amnesty offer, they should have been pardoned by Jonathan. This brings to light the feeling of most Igbos and some other Nigerians that if the resources-expertise, finance and energy mobilised in rearresting the IPOB leader have been amassed to bring to book those most dangerous groups like Boko Haram, bandits and herdsmen, Nigeria would have been more peaceful. So Mr President, for peace and political stability, I urge you to do the needful grant an amnesty to Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. Former President YarÀdua experimented on an amnesty deal with the Niger Delta militants, the result as Tom, Dick and Harry in Nigeria could attest to has been monumental. And former President Jonathan tried to repeat the political feat of YarÀdua, but could not pull it through due to Boko Haram`s uncompromising attitude. I sincerely urge you Mr President and Commander-in-Chief to borrow a leaf from your 2 predecessors, YarÀdua and Jonathan. You will be writing your name in gold as this would-be singular act of magnanimity will most likely blot out the serious grievances the Southeast zone has against you. For the sake of fairness, equity and justice, listen to the voice of wisdom and grant amnesty to Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB.

By Chief Theo Okparaebo (KSC)

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