International Human Right’s Day Under the Auspices of Igbo Civil Coalition: An Overview of Human Rights in Alaigbo
by Rev. Fr. (Dr.) Francis Nwaiwu
I am delighted and privileged to be here on behalf of my Bishop, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia and to be part of the activities marking the International Human Rights Day. The theme is supposed to be Human Rights in Ala Igbo: an overview. He has been asked to speak specifically on the Python Dance 2. However, I want to look at the Python Dance differently and relate it to the theme. So, I take the liberty to reformulate my title to Python Dance, the burden of Ala Igbo in our democracy.
Nigeria as we know is a federal Republic on paper, consisting of 36 federating states, but with a highly centralized government. Alaigbo consist of the present states that make the Southeast. If some parts of Southsouth states belong to this geographical community is an open question. This is one of the burdens of Alaigbo (We don’t know who belongs and who does not belong.)
Nigeria is, no doubt, a democratic country; so, we claim because our leaders come to power through popular mandate or through the ballot box.
There are many forms of government, depending on who rules. In the case of oligarchy, it is the oligos, the selected few. In the case of Aristocracy, it is the aristos the best citizens. In the case of plutocracy, it is the plutos, the rich. In the case of monarchy, it is the monos – the important one. In most cases, it is the king or queen as the case may be. In the case of democracy, it is the demos – the people. This Democracy has been translated as “Ochichi onye-kwuo-uche-ya”. In other words, a regime of free speech. I have also some people translate it as “Oha – kara – si”, which means the people have spoken, or “thus say the people”.
Democracy is not necessarily the best depending on where you are. It is, no doubt, the commonly preferred form of government because it is demos – the people – who are both the rulers and the ruled. However, all these forms of government have the same objective namely; the common good.
The “Common Good”, according to the 2nd Vatican Council Documents Guadium et Spes, is understood as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily”.
In a democracy, the people, who are the beneficiaries of the system, reason that they cannot all come out together to make rules and thus prefer to decide on an issue or make their own laws in a village meeting. The people want to rule themselves. They can’t entrust ruling to one man for fear that he turns out to be a tyrant or a dictator. They cannot also entrust it to a few people for fear of an oligarchy who might be tempted to cater for their own interest to the detriment of the many. In the matter of power in pursuit of common good, they want to trust nobody but themselves. The most realistic way to do it is to select peoples’ representatives by way of voting and election. Representative system makes regular election necessary in democracy in order to enable the people to renew or to withdraw their mandate as they see fit.
Democracy is not always just about elections and government of the people; it makes some fundamental presuppositions. It presupposes certain kind of group spirit (sportsmanlike ethos) – certain cast of mind; certain perception of life and faith in public goodwill. Democracy is, in fact, a way of life.
It presumes some kind of morality, a consciousness of right and wrong and a consciousness of human equality. I will not go into the issue of human right because I know, as an International Human Rights Day occasion, some experts will dwell on it. But I shall make just a passing remark to expatiate the context of the recent Operation “Python Dance” II carried out by the Nigerian Army.
Democracy recognizes and guarantees some basic freedoms of the individual and the equality of each and every one. It is from these assumptions that flow what we call Human Rights: right to life, property, speech, religion, conscience, political association; right of all to pursue happiness in a way that protects other people’s right to do the same. This is what democracy encapsulates. The goal of democracy is realization of the common good. This is arrived at through the selection of representatives in election. Democracy is, therefore, a journey that demands discipline and trust.
(No wonder, in the Second Republic, Sam Mbakwe, the then governor of old Imo State in 1970’s, called the British to come back and take back Nigeria.)
Human Rights are the right of a human being in society. They are inherent in the person and deriving from his/her personhood. Man has rights because he is created in God’s image. According to the psalmist, he is created little less than a god with glory and honor you crowned him. He is a child of God, redeemed and adopted and able to call God, Abba and is heir of the Kingdom. He is a person endowed with rational nature. He is the crown or king of creation; a subject of rights deserving to be touched with respect. (Fela Kuti – Craze man want dash me human right. How you want dash me my property. Human right na my property.)
“The human person alone in the world would have no human rights since rights have meaning only in the context of other human beings. Adam had no human right before he lost his rib, and then had someone to blame or to complain to.” – (Okere).
Your freedom or rights end where the freedom or rights of the other begin. This is where democracy and the rule of law come in.
It is within the context of this Nigeria that is a civilian democratic government, which supposedly guarantees freedom and protection of human rights, that we want to situate the Operation “Python Dance” II.
Since the Civil War, the people occupying the geographical space known as Alaigbo have been treated as enemies of the nation that they helped to build. The grievances that spiked the antagonisms which led to the war are still yet to be addressed. Some Nigerian citizens are still being regarded as rebels who are yet to be crushed in a Civil War that supposedly ended nearly half century ago.
For whatever reasons – true, false, imaginary, or even exaggerations – they have been branded and stigmatized. They have become an easy target of national hatred and opprobrium, and they have been victims of countless riots and massacres with no consequences, at all, for the perpetrators. Decades after the Civil War’s conclusion, the war is still raging on in other forms.
The Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in her last plenary session in Jalingo, Taraba state made the following observation in the wake of Operation “Python Dance” II:
“Our country is currently passing through a phase that is marked by tension, agitation and general sense of hopelessness and dissatisfaction. This, we believe, is as a result of years of injustice, inequality, corruption and impunity. There are agitations in many sectors of the country against the one-sidedness in appointments to key institutions and sensitive national offices; against marginalization and unfair distribution of resources and amenities. There are also cases of selective application of law.” (Our hope in Despair Towards National Restoration – 7th to 15th September 2017)
In April 2017, one of the great Southeast lawyers and civil rights activists, Olisa Agbakoba, whom I admire so much for his courage, filed a N1 trillion suit against the Federal Government for the total neglect and abandonment of the Southeast zone. The application, which was filed at the Federal High Court Enugu, has a long list of demands against the Nigerian government in a Fundamental Rights Class Action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria for himself and on behalf of the Southeast zone on grounds of discrimination, pursuant to Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution.
The first on that list which seems to summarize his demands is: “Total neglect of the Applicant’s Geopolitical Zone by the 1st Respondent in terms of infrastructure and general federal presence thus making the Applicant to feel not being part of the 1st Respondent”.
Even though the list is not exhaustive, but the recurring words hovering around the application are: neglect, discrimination, no sense of belonging etc. This is the crux of the matter, and the burden of Alaigbo. These are the bases for the agitations.
One of the great attributes of democracy is the recognition of the right to speak; to speak out, the right to agitate, and to demonstrate in order to be heard. It is within the context of such agitations that the bloodthirsty python was unleashed by the incumbent President and Commander-in-chief of Nigerian Armed Forces to dance in the streets of Umuahia, Aba and parts of River State.
Operation “Python Dance” II
We don’t know exactly the intendment of the expression, or what it seeks to transmit. However, we know that a Python is a huge or large predator snake. Its size and strength are intimidating. It confidently goes after its prey, taking the full advantage of its size and strength, knocks it down, strangulates it and then literally swallows it whole.
When it comes out of his abode for anything, its sheer size, which it is very conscious of, intimidates the other mammals out of the way at the risk of their lives. The code name of that operation is ominous.
According His Lordship Most Rev. (Dr.) Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, who issued a very balanced statement on the military operation – may God bless him:
“There were agitations which indeed heightened tension in the country. These agitations boarded on discrimination, marginalization. Based on the purported imbalance in the country, there were calls for restructuring and even out right secession. Our country is a democratic government where agitations are part of the process.
In her reaction, the authorities assumed the constitutional responsibility of the police and the 82 division of the Nigerian Army, armed with armored personal carriers, tanks and assault rifles, were deployed to the Southeast zone of the Country, namely Ala Igbo, under the code name Operation “Python Dance” II.
The public was informed, that the military operation was to last from 15th September to 15th October 2017. According to them, the operation was being undertaking in order to check criminal activities that have become prevalent in the zone.
Unfortunately, before its official commencement date, Afaraukwu in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State, the hometown of Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader, was quarantined and turned into a theatre of deadly violence. Heavy armored trucks were displayed in the show of force which instilled fear and panic into the community and its environs. As the Operation unfolded, it became a tale of terror, bloodshed and tears.
Hapless and armless IPOB members, who fell into the net of the Nigerian Army in Isiala Ngwa Local Government Area of Abia State were subjected to unimaginable cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The gory video clips that went viral on the Internet portraying young men compelled to swim in a muddy pond vividly revealed the abysmal contempt of human dignity exhibited by the Nigerian Army – our supposed Army.
To ensure that their atrocities were not reported in the media, the military invaded the Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia State Chapter on 12th September 2017 without the slightest provocation and traumatized the journalists carrying out their legitimate duty.
The military operation rose to its highest level of terror and brutality with an invasion of the ancestral home of Nnamdi Kanu on 14th September 2017. As recorded, heavily armed Nigerian soldiers massacred armless and defenseless IPOB youths and made away with their corpses, ostensibly to cover their tracks. The continuous shooting of heavy machine guns by the Nigerian Army on that fateful day caused panic among the peace-loving and law-abiding residents of Afaraukwu community and made them to flee to neighboring towns for safety. The violent faceoff between the Nigerian Army and the members of the IPOB in Umuahia triggered off the bloody skirmishes recorded at Aba in Abia State and Oyigbo in Rivers State, respectively.
Given the rising tension at the time, the government of Abia State imposed curfew on some parts of the State to prevent the complete breakdown of law and order. We thank God that the grisly video clips of brutality and indignity disseminated in the social media did not escalate the violent conflicts into a national conflagration.” – (Bishop L.I. Ugorji)
The Meaning of Python Dance for Ala Igbo.
This is the Operation “Python Dance” II that wrought mayhem and death to the Southeast zone of Nigeria. The Southeast has had many sad points in its history: the 1966 massacre; this was carried out outside the zone where the Igbo were living and doing their legitimate business. The Civil War was an all-out war situation, but the Operation “Python Dance” II was a situation where our army usurped the constitutional responsibility of the police by marching into the zone like a conquering alien force and killed innocent and unarmed young people in cold blood. This makes this reptilian asphyxiating dance the saddest point in the history of the South East and Nigeria.
The Operation “Python Dance” II is an aphorism for everything that is wrong with our country and with us as a racial group. It shows how expendable the people of Alaigbo and in a country they call their own. It is the climax of the burden of Alaigbo. We are dealing with a situation where there is a conspiratorial unwillingness to integrate Ndiigbo into the mainstream and at the same time, a vicious block to let them out and allow them to seek out their own destiny.
Another burden lies in a kind of deafening silence that greeted the event by a section our political elite. This silence signifies a kind of endorsement of the so-called Operation “Python Dance” II.
We have our legitimate representatives who were duly elected in the form of our governors; senators; Federal House of representatives and representatives of the State Houses of Assembly. The tragedy of the unwarranted deadly military operation is that in the face of this gory, bloody and unjustified massacre of innocent unarmed young people, none of these politicians came out to speak out either to condemn the killings, to speak for the people and to condole with the bereaved families or even to give hope to the traumatized and low-spirited people whom they represent in government of the day.
That is exactly what leadership is not about. It is not about being politically correct or being on the side of the more powerful, on ”the advantaged” side. Leadership is about standing with your people. Yes, there were, no doubt, isolated cases of people speaking out, but most of them were ambivalent. However, it is interesting to note that the majority of those who spoke out forcefully came from other geographical zones. (The funerary dirge in the social media).
We all may not necessarily agree on the style and methodology of this unarmed group, but the content of the message is different. The message resonates to everybody. But the fundamental truth is that they gave a dog a bad name to kill it. With this type of hand offish treatment on Nnamdi Kanu: is Alaigbo worth fighting for? Fani-Kayode, in one of his writings, quoted Harriet Tubman who said: “I freed 1000 slaves, but I would have freed more thousands only if they realized that they were slaves”. I wish these our leaders know that, in spite of their lofty political positions, they are all slaves with us.
The Israelites, when they were in captivity in Babylon, lamented their plight through the Prophet Daniel. This cry sums up the situation and feelings of the people of Alaigbo:
“We have at this time, no leader, no prophet, no prince, no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense, no place, where we can offer you the first fruits and win your favour?” (Dan.3.38.). This is what we lack, and that is why we are constantly hounded, humiliated, abused, taken for granted and have lost all respect. We have lost any stake and have no political calculus in the contraption called Nigeria.
A society that is used to humiliations and that has lost respect, soon loses its own self-respect and sense of rights. That is exactly our situation today. “O judgment thou hast fled to brutish beast and men have lost their reason”. We, as a people, seem to have lost our own self-worth. This is reflected in the kind of leadership we have today.
Another variant of “Python Dance” that has become a burden to Alaigbo is the vicious marauding Fulani herdsmen militia. These armed bandits are all over the place terrorizing people, killing, maiming, raping our women and destroying our farmlands. In other zones, the representatives of the people, their governors and state legislators are rising up to the challenge by speaking out and even enacting laws to protect their citizens from these marauders. What is the situation in Alaigbo today? Deafening silence.
When they visited Enugu State and almost wiped out a village, the incumbent governor came out to weep and to declare prayer and fasting. When the Fulani terrorist militia came to Abia state, the governor only sent some representatives to see what happened and nothing was heard about the incident anymore, even though there are still skirmishes of these murderous herdsmen invading the same Abia state. In the Abia, in spite of these, it is business as usual.
Operation “Python Dance” II, is a quick reminder that we have not made much progress in national integration. It is a sad reminder of our need for leadership. Our great Chinua Achebe, in his book titled the trouble with Nigeria, identified the failure of leadership as our national bane. This is lacking even more in Alaigbo. We need a leadership that can help steer the course and destiny of Ndiigbo.
The great Ikemba of Nnewi, Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu, once said in an Interview in Igbo – “Obuluna fa afurogi n’anya, ka fa tuo nu gi egwu”. That is: As they don’t love you, let them fear you. Msgr. Professor Okere, in one of his lectures, pointed out that: “There is nothing worse than your enemy being in charge of you. That is the experience of Alaigbo.
But as we say: Onye ajuru anaghi aju onwe ya”. (Someone who is rejected by others should not therefore, reject oneself too). This is precisely what we are doing. Our leaders today, who are sitting at the saddle of the ship of Southeast state governments, should execute good governance on our people’s behalf because we don’t expect them (our sworn enemies) to give it to us. They should avoid being the python co-dancers on the people that elected them into power. “For that will be the unkindest cut of all”.
They engage in python dance against their own people through their insensitivity in governance – when pensioners, civil servants and teachers are owed several months in arrears of salaries. They forget that, by this, they gradually destroy families and even snuff out life from the people who, in trust, voted for them during elections that brought them into the offices they currently occupy. Infrastructural decay and neglect, high youth unemployment are all imageries of python dance through socioeconomic suffocation. This is the worst form of “Python Dance”.
Challenge to the Coalition and Conclusion
There is need to groom or mentor leaders who love Alaigbo, who are courageous, articulate, not self-serving, not fair-weather leaders who routinely prefer to stand on the supposed winning side. We need leaders who are not afraid to stand with their people; who are ready when the occasion rises to speak out for them, leaders that they can trust and follow. (Nnamdi Kanu had millions of followers who died for him simply because he spoke from the heart; they believed in him and trusted him, and he stood by them. How many of our political leaders have the size of crowds that converge at the IPOB leader’s public appearances?
The challenge of this coalition is to design programs that can attract such people – potential leaders. These can be in the form of memorial lectures of our past heroes – our great leaders of the past. A nation that has no heroes is not worth its name.
Device a strategy to transmit the history of Nigeria and especially that of Alaigbo, since the unitary Nigerian government has deliberately removed history from the country’s school curriculum. Yes, even though I hear it has been restored, but this can only be just a half-hearted reversal.
From history, our young people will be able to know where and how it all started; where we got it wrong; where the rain started beating us or where we derailed. “Remember, anybody who does not know or care about his history is bound to repeat it” – George Santayana.
Above all, there is need for us now to be more circumspect, less loud, more prudent, and go to God on bended knees. “for If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, I will hear from heaven and will forgive them their sins (2 Chronicles 7:14).
When Nnamdi Kanu was hitting it so hard on the FG, Ohaneze become so relevant and important to the ruling class and the national media. Nwodo was sought after for interviews. Ohanaeze ranks thought it was about them, overrated themselves with the thinking they have arrived in the Nigerian scheme of things. They talked tough on Restructuring, the FG gave them a listening ear and was bending towards Restructure demands. They thought the Oligarchy tilting towards Restructuring was their making, not knowing it was about choosing the lesser evil.
Instead of giving their Malcom X (Nnamdi Kanu) a covering fire and continue to use him to bargain for Restructuring, they thought he was a stumbling block for their agenda. They thus proceeded to plan with the enemy and successfully knocked him off the way.
To their amazement, the Ohaneze relevance disappeared together with Nnamdi Kanu. No media remembers Chief Nnia Nwodo’s name; the geopolitical restructuring that was all over the place faded away into the thin ether overnight.
Freddie I. Ude