Nigeria’s Crisis: Gov’t Missteps, Not Ekpa, Fuel Sit-At-Home

Nigeria's Crisis Gov't Missteps, Not Ekpa, Fuel Sit-At-Home
Nnamdi Kanu and Simon Ekpa

Nigeria’s Southeast region stands on the brink, shackled by increasing unrest. Yet, the government’s narrative of blame towards Simon Ekpa, a prominent figure in a Biafran faction, serves as a smokescreen, obscuring the real instigator of the crisis – the government itself.

The flashpoint of this crisis is the continuous, illegal detention of the Indigenous People of Biafra’s (IPOB) leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. The Nigerian government, in an audacious affront to international law, extrajudicially renditioned Kanu from Kenya in 2021. This brazen dismissal of due process and human rights has only served to fuel the escalating tension.

Despite a unanimous judgment by the Court of Appeal in October 2022 discharging Mazi Nnamdi Kanu of all charges, the Nigerian government continues its relentless defiance, holding him in captivity. This blatant disregard for the judiciary’s ruling exposes the government’s autocratic tendencies and marks a dangerous precedent for the rule of law in the nation.

This belligerence extends beyond the courtroom, fanning the flames of conflict and contributing to the escalation of the crisis. The consequences are tragic and tangible, as the number of casualties continues to rise alarmingly.

The government’s decision to flout judicial directives serves to undermine its legitimacy and fuels the perception that it is a ruthless, autocratic regime. This disregard for the rule of law continues to embolden resistance movements like that led by Simon Ekpa, making it increasingly challenging for the government to restore peace in the Southeast region.

This crisis is a manifestation of the government’s refusal to respect democratic norms and the basic rights of its citizens.

Ekpa’s response to this oppressive regime is a series of ‘Sit-At-Home’ orders—an act of civil disobedience, signaling to the government and the world that Biafrans are prepared to take their future into their own hands. The orders outline a series of total lockdowns throughout Biafra, beginning from Monday, 31st of July to Friday, 4th of August 2023, followed by a two-day break during the weekend when all Biafran markets will be opened. The cycle will then be repeated the following week, with a final lockdown on Monday, 14th of August.

While this plan may sound drastic, Ekpa’s approach is nothing more than a desperate plea for justice. His demands are clear: the immediate and unconditional release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. His additional call to all oil companies operating within Biafran territories to halt operations during these periods further underlines the seriousness of the situation.

The majority of Igbo political representatives, save for Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo, have remained alarmingly indifferent to the escalating crisis, only adding to the sense of injustice and disenfranchisement.

This crisis is not the doing of Ekpa or the Biafran group; it is a result of the government’s oppressive practices, refusal to respect the rule of law, and disregard for human rights. Until the government commits to rectifying its missteps, the simmering unrest in the Southeast is unlikely to abate.

The onus is on the Nigerian government to seek a resolution urgently—to prioritise dialogue over oppression, peace over violence, and respect for human rights over authoritarianism. Only then can healing and progress begin, not just in the Southeast, but across all of Nigeria.

The consequences of the government’s obstinacy are heartbreaking. Reliable estimates from various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, indicate that hundreds of lives have been lost since the start of the conflict. Data suggests that between 2021 and 2023, an estimated 2,000 lives have been tragically cut short due to the unrest.

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Innocent civilians, many of them young people, have borne the brunt of the government’s ruthless campaign against the IPOB. These are more than just statistics; they are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, with vibrant lives curtailed by an oppressive regime.

Moreover, the economic implications of this conflict are just as significant. The repeated lockdowns, while necessary as an act of protest, have seen the Southeast’s economy take a significant hit. Businesses have shuttered, livelihoods have been lost, and the region’s economy has contracted, causing widespread hardship for the already struggling population.

However, the brunt of the blame lies squarely with the Nigerian government. Its flagrant dismissal of the rule of law, its wanton disregard for the basic rights of its citizens, and its inept handling of the conflict have created a situation where chaos reigns, and people are forced to fight for their basic rights.

It is crucial to remember that the root cause of this conflict lies in the government’s ruthless disregard for judicial processes and its blatant disregard for human rights. Its refusal to honor the court order to release Kanu is not only illegal but also represents a significant moral failure. It is this act, more than any other, that has fuelled the current unrest.

The government’s intransigence sends a clear message to its citizens and the world: it considers itself above the law. This is not only unacceptable in a democratic society; it is also a direct threat to the rule of law, stability, and progress.

It is high time that the government reevaluates its approach. Instead of escalating the conflict with heavy-handed tactics, it should seek a peaceful resolution through dialogue. The immediate and unconditional release of Kanu should be the first step in this process.

This crisis is a stark reminder that oppression breeds resistance, not peace. The Nigerian government must recognise this and act accordingly. Its citizens deserve better. They deserve a government that respects their rights, abides by the rule of law, and prioritises their welfare above all else. Until then, the echoes of protest will continue to reverberate throughout the Southeast and, indeed, the entire nation.

The historical record of bloodshed underlines the brutal nature of the Nigerian government’s campaign against the IPOB. In October 2017, during the so-called ‘Operation Python Dance II’, as many as 180 lives were lost in Abia State alone, according to a year-long investigation by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety). The military exercise, meant to maintain peace, mutated into an act of state terrorism that resulted in a chilling death toll.

The operation, targeting areas in Asa/Ogwe, Aba, Isiala-Ngwa, and Umuahia (Afara-Ukwu) of Abia State, led to the loss of at least 180 lives and caused around 140 terminal injuries. As per Intersociety’s detailed report, the Afara-Ukwu palace massacre accounted for 105 deaths, Isiala-Ngwa for 20, and Aba/Asa-Ogwe for 55. These figures are a grim testament to the brutal efficiency of the military’s campaign against civilians.

The orchestration of this massacre was reportedly directed by then-President Muhammadu Buhari after a meeting with the country’s service chiefs. Such actions point to a systemic failure of leadership, an unchecked militarisation of governance, and a shocking disregard for human rights, all hallmarks of an autocratic regime.

And yet, the situation hasn’t significantly improved under the current administration. President Bola Tinubu, despite promises of change, continues to perpetuate the same cycle of violence and repression. The government remains indifferent to the plight of the people in the Southeast, choosing to suppress their voices rather than listen to their grievances.

The lack of accountability for the bloodshed during ‘Operation Python Dance II’ is emblematic of the government’s broader failure to uphold human rights. Those responsible for the deaths of hundreds during that operation have faced no consequences, fostering a culture of impunity that encourages further abuses.

It’s clear that the Nigerian government, both past and present, has played a significant role in escalating the crisis in the Southeast. Its heavy-handed approach and dismissal of due process have fuelled the fires of discontent, resulting in an ongoing conflict that continues to claim lives and disrupt peace.

The current administration needs to acknowledge its missteps and make amends. Immediate actions should include honouring court orders, respecting human rights, and fostering an environment conducive to dialogue and peace. It’s high time the government prioritised its people over power, peace over politics, and justice over repression. Only then can the country hope for a resolution to the crisis and a future built on respect, freedom, and dignity.

Africa Digital News, New York