Right now, I am both physically and emotionally drained, just watching events in my beloved country. Today, I draw a sketch of what I see from the South East, my home region, where I was born and had all of my formative education. I have been living here for four years now and, therefore, am in a position to connect with the changes that have taken place and the ones that are taking place as we write.
Southeast Nigeria, in the heart of the Igbo ethnic group, has effectively entered into a Hobbesian state. Life in Igboland has become short, nasty and brutish. And, like the goldfish, there appears to be no hiding place for those who live and do business in the region, Igbos and non-Igbos alike. It does not matter whether you are a federal public servant working in the region, an out-of-work or unemployed youth, a businessperson who makes tons of money, and a farmer struggling to eke out a living through back-breaking subsistence farming. Violent assaults have been unleashed in the region and they touch everybody, man and woman.
Federal police and military officers are targeted, their stations are stormed by unknown gunmen who proceed to take away their guns and burn their stations down. More than 20 such assaults have been recorded since January 2021 with casualties climbing to two dozen. Although no one has been killed, the situation is much the same with the Independent National Electoral Commission, whose offices, sensitive electoral materials and operational vehicles have been torched.
Igbo youths living in the region have become hostage to federal security forces. Many are accosted along the roads and highways, picked up and driven to various destinations. Some are paraded as the “unknown gunmen” and many have not been seen for months since they were whisked away. There are unverified claims that the youths are being extrajudicially killed.
In many instances, it looks like conflicts are deliberately ignited in the streets. Once this happens, security forces instantly move in, arrest and pack people into vans and drive off into the sunset. Those who live to tell the story give us chilling sneak-peaks of life outside of the open spaces where they were picked.
There are executions on the streets. One young man in Enugu has shared a video of one such execution that he recorded. Ahmed Gulak’s killing led to the interception of a bus by security agents who proceeded to wipe out its occupants and burn them inside the vehicle. The authorities later claimed that they were the killers of Gulak, the Adamawa politician who was on a visit to Imo State. This story has been shot full of holes – just like the car they riddled with bullets.
Residents, both Igbos and non-Igbos, are relentlessly hunted down in their homes and waylaid on highways by bad people wielding automatic machine guns. Those who have money and others driving big cars are forcibly dispossessed of their money, cars and, sometimes, life. Others are abducted and taken deep into the forests, from where calls are made to their relations to put up ransom payments or else. Relatives and friends frantically search for and pay up millions of naira to secure them alive.
On our farms, subsistence farmers have lost the appetite for farm work and the South East’s farms are sprouting once again into jungles. In my part of the country, only the Fulani cattle herders are bold enough to even set up camps in the emerging jungles, from where they lay in wait for hunters and villagers foolish enough to venture forth. Stories of how village men are assaulted, and women raped by Fulani herders are common in the region. Old men and women without children or relations in townships shrivel up as hunger and malnutrition take a toll on their poor bodies.
It is easy to read what is happening and draw certain conclusions that lead to questions. First, good money is being violently sucked out of the South East into the northern region. The funds, now degraded into bad currency, continue to empower bandits, cattle rustlers, kidnappers and other robbers with ammunition and boldness they need to launch more attacks and inflict violent damage in the South East.
So, there you have it. By design or default, physical cash in the region is being violently drained and transported out of the region. Youths are being profiled as IPOB and they are picked up and transported into locations where people believe they come to harm. Security forces have demonstrated that they have the capacity to intercept, wipe out and burn the vehicle of anyone they profile as IPOB or political assassins. In a short while hunger and malnutrition will become widespread as village subsistence farmers flee their farmland to avoid confrontation with Fulani cattle herders, which will invite a foreign protection ring to unleash a bloody mayhem. Political positions have subtly been denied them, perhaps to ensure that there will be no insiders to push the envelop for development of the region and its constituent states.
In the face of all of this, who in the South East will be blamed for thinking that another subtle war is already underway in the region? We can draw parallels with the way that security agents, unknown gunmen, highway bandits and mercenary protection gangs from the Sahel are carrying on. This silent war has uncanny similarities to the “police action” that Col. Yakubu Gowon launched as head of a military junta in July 1967. The tempo of the current assault by security men in the South East heightened with the police action to restore peace in the South East region. As newspapers quoted him, the new Inspector-General wants peace brought to the region through violent suppression of any dissent.
What sort of response should the Igbo give at this time in the face of this clear and present danger to life and business in the region? Watch this space next week.
Life in the Zoo Republic
On, May 31, 2021, our Abuja neighbourhood transformer blew up. We were told that there would be blackout for a few days.
The next day, I immediately pulled out my gen set and found that it was not generating light. I also discovered that one of my car’s back tires was wearing fast.
So, I went out in search of my regular car and gen set technicians. They call themselves “engineers,” by the way.
My mechanic is Wale and his head boy is Ola, both from Osun State. The boys at the workshop immediately crowded round my car and began a mock remonstration.
“Oga, we never see you for long. Abi you travel?” I joked with them for a while and then invited Ola to look at the problem.
He took one look at the back wheel and said this was not something he thought they could handle. He then referred me to a filling station called AYM Ashafa. “Ask for Ikechukwu,” Ola told me. “Im go look am tell you wetin dey do am. Tell am say na Ola from Wale workshop send you,” he concluded.
The Alhaji who owned the station either leased or employed Ikechukwu, from Imo State, to be in charge of the service bay. I never asked which. I found Ikechukwu to be a personable young fellow that virtually everybody who stopped by was happy to spend time chatting with and laughing. He made his customers happy by exuding bonhomie and being very competent at his job – just like my man Wale and his boy Ola.
Ikechukwu fixed the problem in no time. I then left the station and went to see Mustapha, my reliable generator technician. You spend two minutes in his workshop, and you will be forgiven if you say that everybody in his neighborhood visits to play with him. “Engineer” Mustapha would be the first to greet people with lampoons.
Mustapha fixed the gen issue in no time and charged me N500 for his labour! N500. I paid him N1,000 and he began to hail me.
Friends, I spent almost four hours on the two tasks. And yet my day was so pleasant and my business so satisfying that I whistled happily as I drove back to the house.
That was the end of my day in the Zoo Republic on the first day of June 2021.