We are watching a reality show, like no other, playing out on the streets. It all began like a peaceful procession at first. We haven’t seen Nigerian youths in action in a long time as a nation. Here they were, before our very eyes, in the open obviously determined to change their circumstances. The colours, the banners, the drums and other instruments simply created the look of a carnival.
But it was the conduct, strategy deployed by the youths in catching global attention, that made the idea of a protest exciting.
Nigerian flags fluttered in the wind as columns of youths swept through major streets across the country. We even got to enjoy the national anthem and to appreciate its symbolism.
At every stop; at every opportunity; these young Nigerians sang the National Anthem with such passion, such sense of patriotism as they delivered their message.
I still recall how those words coined by the one who provided us with an anthem rekindled “memories of our heroes past”, and strengthened belief in the oneness of a great nation. I wondered, now that we are bent on having a new constitution simply because the military offered it, if we would go ahead to change our national anthem too.
The transition on the streets was not totally unexpected. There had been fears that another column of ill-conceited Nigerians might hijack the process. They did when no one was looking.
Like a thunderstorm, violence, looting, arson and destruction descended upon the nation. In one clean swoop, peaceful protests were replaced by violent demonstrations. There was turmoil everywhere as order broke down, forcing security operatives to contemplate sterner measures in order to protect the nation and themselves.
The nation hasn’t recovered ever since. Not even, a presidential broadcast has arrested the drift although critical steps are being taken to guarantee security. The Inspector General of Police has given the appropriate indication of what to expect if those on the streets causing havoc do not back down.
Many years ago, during the ill-fated Biafran war, Okon Okon Ndem was the golden voice of Biafran propaganda. But the circumstances have changed. Kanu has taken up the role of the Propagandist-in-chief of IPOB and the leader of the Biafran revolt.
While Nigerians shiver as a result of widespread unrest across the country, Nnamdi Kanu has emerged as the lead actor in an unfolding drama.
On one hand, Kanu is the decorated field marshal and Commander-in-Chief, dishing orders in a multiplicity of ways, including radio. On the other hand, he is the desk officer saddled with responsibility of receiving briefs from men in the field.
Curiously, for some reasons that are inexplicable, Rivers State is being projected as the tactical headquarters of IPOB. Oyigbo which is seemingly peaceful now appears to have fallen under the axis control of the movement. Most of the horrific accounts recorded in Rivers State in terms of the loss of human lives and property occurred there.
Governor Wike did not hesitate. He reacted swiftly, proscribing the activities of IPOB.
IPOB responded. It ordered members of the movement to hunt down the Governor of Rivers State and beat him. I was shocked.
As a person, I do not agree most of the time with Wike. I may never agree with the way he runs the affairs of Rivers State too. Yet, I do not agree that anyone should act in a manner so contemptuous of civility; so contemptuous of the Rivers State of my birth. What was playing out between Wike and Kanu had nothing to do with our local politics. It had everything to do with the integrity of the Rivers people. Kanu insulted the good people of Rivers State, I told myself. He did not insult Wike. In saying those hurtful words, Kanu hurt the pride of the Rivers man.
Mujahid Asari Dokubo has cautioned Kanu and urged the Igbos to rein in the big masquerade that’s presently dancing in the town square before his actions damage ties between the people of the East and the rest of the country.
Asari was bitter with Kanu for daring to act condescendingly on matters relating to the safety of Rivers people. Hurt by the audacity demonstrated by a person of Kanu’s standing, particularly his attempt to address Rivers people like mere vassals.
What makes Kanu think that Rivers people have no right to dream dreams of their own? What makes him think we can not aspire to have our own country?
Rivers State has a population approximately the size of Ghana’s. Do we have to be tied to the apron strings of a Biafran demand if the issue is the hunt for our own country?
This is why we think that Kanu went too far this time. He should never have done it. We advise him to think again. In doing so, Kanu should take cognisance of history. History defines the present and points the future, but it reminds everyone of a past.
From our point of view, Kanu’s threat to get his hirelings to beat up the Governor of Rivers State was an obvious attempt to poke his fingers into the eyes of every Rivers man.
Let’s state without equivocation that we know who we are. No one can tell us who we are. We know what we want. So, no one can tell us what to do about our destiny.
We are a State. We have a clear vision of where we would like to be. We know what is right, what we should tolerate as a people and what we shouldn’t.
More importantly, the Rivers people do not want to be caught in the vice-grip of violence and instability.
Marriages are usually struck between families. We have not publicly consented to any marriage, and we do not believe that we have found a suitor.
Accordingly, it is our view, in line with conventions, customs and traditions, that no husband has a right over a wife he has not married. Kanu and his co-travelers should take notice of this.
Dating back to when the State came to be in 1967, the pursuit of ethnic harmony, the resolve to manage our challenges and our diversity; the resolve to turn these symptoms of weakness into strength; these have constituted the major ingredients of our gradual emancipation.
Our fathers fought against domination. They fought for autonomy. They had dreams of a quest that would give their offspring access to universal freedoms, including the right to develop at their own pace.
We may not have a perfect union. No such perfect union exists anywhere. As a State, we have always hoped to have a strong voice; hoped to be masters of our own environment; and hoped to reside in peace with our neighbours.
It is apparent that the State Government anchored its reaction on the disturbing scenario that was beginning to emerge at Oyigbo, as well as parts of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas.
As Rivers people, we deserve to inherit the unique responsibility – that inalienable right – to define the notion of how our society should run. To this extent, the Rivers State Government had a right to make pronouncements which outlawed the activities of IPOB.
There is an African adage which says you don’t say while on a visit to the home of the eagle that the eagle with only an eye is like a blind bat. This adage simply acknowledges the fact that a visitor cannot deny a house owner of respect.
It equally warns one who would dare to embark on such an excursion of the bumpy ride which may lie ahead when dividing lines are crossed.
We hope that Kanu would recognize these facts when he goes on air next time to talk about Rivers State. We are not trees. We are humans and we don’t equally live in zoos, especially zoos that may be designed by men like Kanu.
As Rivers people we would forgive this affront, but may it never happen again. Kanu, you slapped us. You had no right to do it. You had no right to contemplate the idea of renaming our State capital and no right to rename Oyigbo.
We hope that all who are residing in the midst of Rivers people would respect the principled positions taken for the purpose of protecting our people and their integrity.
Wike must ensure that the proscription of IPOB activities in Rivers State is enforced. This call is consistent with the feeling of a great majority of Rivers people.
Let me turn attention to the agitators. We urge all those who are sold to the Biafran agenda, but who are resident in Rivers State, to respect the will of the Rivers people as reflected by the ban.
The reason is that Rivers people wish to live in peace; wish to protect public infrastructure that have cost our State so much to develop; and promote law and order.
We are not Barbarians. We are cultured people who had the opportunity of seeing the white man before many others in this country did.
Talbot in his two books on the Niger Delta and Tribes of Southern Nigeria acknowledges in his journey through Okomoko on the way to Igbodo what his impression was, and tells the story of an organized set of people who had their own institutions.
That’s who we are. We were never governed as part of the Igbo nation known to our people as “Isoma” when the British took control. The bulk of the Etche nation, safe for those who returned from the Aba Province and Owerri Province, were part of the Degema Division of old. Thereafter, we became part of the Ahoada Division. At times, I am perplexed by the urge by some in our midst to swallow us; and define who we are. We hope that Kanu would slow down and take a closer look at the history of those whose territories he appears to be interested in.
Solomon had asked people, at a time of great reflection, to learn the way of the ant. Kanu should learn the ways of the ants and be wise.
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