By Dons Eze, PhD
Since the dawn of the present constitutional democracy where every free citizen is supposed to have unfettered freedom to associate with whoever he wants, within the ambit of law, it has become customary for Nigerian security agencies to be sniffing for wherever Igbo youths are gathering with a view to attacking them.
It may not be possible to offhandedly enumerate the number of such instances, or to give the accurate number of people so far felled in such attacks, but suffice it to say that their number counts in dozens, while the casualty figures run into four digits.
Nigerian security agencies are usually apprehensive, or highly sensitive to any form of gathering by Igbo youths, whether it is for discussing common issues that affect them, or to engage in prayer session. They will put on their combat gear, arm to the teeth, and begin to hover around the area. Once they suspect any form of movement on the part of the youths, they will strike, open up arms, and begin to spray their bullets sporadically, thus descending on the people in cruel and ruthless manner.
The resultant outcome have been the littering of corpses of Igbo youths everywhere, severed limbs and broken heads of some lucky ones. This would be followed by indiscriminate arrests and detention of every Igbo young man found on the street. Many of these detainees would be tortured to death inside their cells, and later buried in shallow graves or thrown inside the rivers for the fish to feast on.
This unfortunate state of affair has become a recurring decimal, year in year out, or regular occurrence. In every major Nigerian city, particularly in the South East and South South geopolitical zones, in such towns like Onitsha, Awka, Nnewi, Enugu, Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe, Owerri, Abakaliki, Port Harcourt, Asaba, etc., it happens every now and then.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian federal government would not do, or say anything about these killings. They would keep their eyes and their ears shut, or would look the other way. Till today, we have not heard of any single security operative who was arrested or charged to court for extrajudicial killing of innocent Igbo youths. This makes some people think that perhaps, the government was privy, or might have sanctioned these killings.
Some people blame the Igbo youths for their present predicament, for being the architect of their own misfortune. They accuse the Igbo youths of irresponsible behaviour and of undermining the authority of the federal government, by openly challenging the authority of the federal government, asking for a separate country of their own.
But the Igbo in Nigeria appear to be in a precarious or difficult situation. They are made to believe that they belong to a country which, however, does not recognize them, a country where they are treated as second class citizens, which excludes them from occupying every sensitive position, and which denies them their rightful place in the scheme of things.
This has made many Igbo people become hedgy on issues concerning Nigeria, and putting themselves in a position of “monkey dey work and baboon dey chop”. They labour and put in a great deal of the country, their time, energy and resources, yet get nothing in return, and are hardly recognized or rewarded. This is demoralizing.
The Igbo youths, in particular, are equally not happy with this state of affair. They are pained that the Igbo have been schemed out from many good things in the country: that the Igbo could not hold any top position in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies; that the Igbo are not considered capable of being President of Nigeria; and that the country which they see as their own could not protect their lives and property.
For them therefore, the option would be to opt out of the country, and take their destiny in their hands, to begin to chart a separate course of existence, than their present state of enslavement. That is to say, to seek for a place that would give them comfort and accommodation, a place where they would be free to order their living, without let or hinderance.
But those who put them in their present state of hopelessness would not let them be. They continued to harass them, to bully them, to pursue them, and to chase them like rats, from pillar to post.
The Emene killings, a few days ago, was not surprising. It followed the usual pattern. The youths had converged at their normal place of weekly meetings. They were not touching anybody ot disturbing public peace. Everybody was going about his normal business. At least, many residents of the area who attended their Sunday services on that day, came back without anybody harassing them.
But some security agents, or rather some operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS), in their usual manner, were not comfortable. They became worried, apprehensive. Hysterically, they decided to invade the venue of the meeting, to disturb the boys.
We have not been told when it became a crime for people of like minds to come together to discuss issues affecting them. May be, it is because these were Igbo youths of whatever name called, and who are in a country that does not want them.
How does it look like that hundreds of people who once had taken up arms against the federal government, killed and maimed thousands of people, destroyed government property worth billions of naira, would later be addressed as “repentant Boko Haram members”, given redcap reception and government employment, while the other people who did not bear any arm, but merely calling for a separate country of their own, would be visited with the most cruel weapons? Is this not injustice, a case of one country, with different destinies?
Perhaps, we do not think it would be a crime if the federal government invites these “recalcitrant Igbo youths” to a meeting, listen to their grievances, and begins to address them. We believe that this would make a big difference, rather than always visiting them with iron rod.