Ebonyi State Governor and Chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum, Dave Umahi, says counter-secessionist groups may rise in the South-East geopolitical zone if the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra does not call its members to order and stop the threats and killings.
Umahi, who also described the agitation for Biafra as “madness”, said South-East elite do not want secession but want the zone to be treated fairly and equitably as other zones in the country.
The governor also vowed that the South-East zone won’t be turned to a killing field and grounded by secessionist agitators.
He said youths in the region, who shunned dialogue to make their grievances heard and resolved but chose the path of agitation to cause criminality, would be “isolated as criminals”.
Dave Umahi spoke on Wednesday as a guest on Channels Television’s ‘Sunrise Daily’ breakfast programme.
“At the initial time, it was an issue of ‘look, we are being marginalised. A lot of people keyed into that,” Governor Umahi said of the initial agitations in the region.
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“Then, along the line, it developed into violence. And then later, the same agitation has been hijacked by criminals, bandits and kidnappers.”
The Governor explained that the grievances of people in the region over the years had led to support for IPOB, which had said it was fighting against the marginalisation of the region. “A lot of people keyed in,” he said.
“If anybody had grievances with the centre (Federal Government), the person became a supporter of IPOB. If you sort anything at the federal level and you fail to get it, you become a supporter of IPOB.
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Those in the diaspora that went for greener pastures and they failed to get such become very bitter with the Nigerian society. And so, followers kept growing.”
According to the governor, the situation worsened when the conflicts with herdsmen came up.
“They were a couple of killings in the South-East and the people were a bit helpless and felt the governors were not protecting them,” he said, adding that though the governors did a lot to ensure that there was peace between the herders and people, residents were not satisfied.
“You see, some uninformed elements felt that the only way to solve the problem between us and herdsmen was to ask them to leave the South-East.”
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The preferred option for these elements, he explained, was not nationalistic because people from the South-East also live in the north.
“Then came the IPOB with ESN (Eastern Security Network), which is the militant aspect of IPOB, and they started to issue orders of threats,” the governor said.
So, along the line, the whole exercise has been hijacked. In the South-East, we no longer have kidnappers; everyone that commits one criminal act or the other claims to be IPOB.”
Governor Dave Umahi accused some politicians, who he did not name, of capitalising on the situation.
These politicians, he said, “began to import killers from outside the South-East to advance their political interests”.
The governor, however, stressed that the people were beginning to understand the situation and support for IPOB is declining due to the actions of the group and the level of violence in the region.
He added that once the issues of leadership and development that led to cries of marginalisation were addressed to complement efforts being made by the governors to tackle the situation, security will improve in the region.
‘Biafra Is Madness’
According to the governor, it is the failure of the Federal Government to treat the region equally that has led to agitations and calls for secessionist state, Biafra.
“This idea of Biafra, Biafra is madness,” he said, adding that most elites in the south east do not want Biafra.
“We don’t want Biafra. We only want to be treated equally like other regions in Nigeria,” Governor Umahi stressed.
Speaking of the sit-at-home order, which he says is mostly issued by people in diaspora, the governor lamented that the south-east people are complying only out of fear and not because they want to be obedient.
“If we had a policeman to everybody, nobody is going to obey any sit at home,” he said.
He, therefore, promised that governors from the region will continue doing what they can to safeguard the people because “we cannot have Biafra by the way they are going about it”.
‘MASSOB not violent, IPOB dishes out messages of killings’
On Tuesday, the Senate Minority Leader, who represents Abia South in the red chamber, Enyinnaya Abaribe said that aside from IPOB and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, there are more than 30 separatist organisations in the South-East.
But reacting on Wednesday on the television programme, Umahi said the two separatist groups he knows of are IPOB and MASSOB, adding that Abaribe spoke “from the point of his information”.
The governor stated that while MASSOB has never been violent, IPOB dishes out messages of fear and killings in the zone.
Umahi said, “The separatist groups, we know of IPOB, we know of MASSOB. MASSOB has never been violent and they are approachable and they tend to reason with us but this other people, IPOB, their command is never in the country and every one of them stays out and dishes out messages of bitterness and messages of threats and fear and killings and are not here with us to feel the pains.
“So, these are just the two groups that I can talk about but I fear that if IPOB does not call their people to order and stop these threats and killings and all that, other groups will rise up to counter it but there is no way South-East would be grounded, there is no way South-East will be sitting at home while other parts of the country will be doing businesses whereas we are the people that should be moving because we earn our living by moving.”
The All Progressives Congress chieftain also said it was not true that criminals from outside Imo, Ebonyi, Anambra, Abia and Enugu are the ones perpetrating the unprecedented orgies and bloodletting in the South-East including the burning of scores of police stations, offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission, amongst others of late.
“We are chief security officers in our various states and we understand what is happening; we know that it is our people that are killing our people and they started killing security men, they started burning houses, they started stopping people from moving freely and we started shouting,” the governor said.
Biafra agitation: Back story
Dissatisfaction over the Nigerian State and the quest for sovereignty had led the late Biafran leader, Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu (retd.), to declare the exit of the Republic of Biafra from Nigeria in May 1967. The Biafran territory essentially comprised the South-East region of Nigeria.
The declaration led to a civil war that lasted two and half years as the Nigerian State under the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, battled to unify the soul of the country using state powers and military might.
The war ended in January 1970 with the South-East region back in Nigeria but the civil war left a ghoulish imprint on the Nigerian history with squalid tales of deaths, blood, hunger, horror, sorrow and more deaths.
However, decades later, secessionist agitations resurfaced in the South-East. The agitations, this time, are being championed by MASSOB leader, Ralph Uwazuruike; as well as his IPOB counterpart, Nnamdi Kanu, amongst other known figures.
The regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had in September 2017 outlawed IPOB and declared that the activities of the group constituted an act of terrorism and illegality.
Before then, Kanu was arrested and jailed but was released from the Kuje Prison in Abuja after meeting bail conditions also in 2017. The IPOB leader later left the country and operated from overseas until he was re-arrested in June 2021.
The detained IPOB leader is facing terrorism charges before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja and his trial has been adjourned to October 21, 2021, for continuation of hearing.