Recently, the Association of South East Town Unions, ASETU, petitioned the United Nations and President Donald Trump of the United States of America over the level of insecurity in Igbo land and the influx of people from the northern part of the country at a time the nation had banned interstate movements and curfew put in place. The association raised the alarm that Igbo land was under siege.
In this interview, the President General of ASETU, Chief Emeka Diwe speaks on the reasons for the petition.
Your association, ASETU, recently petitioned the United Nations and President Trump of the United States of America. What prompted this action?
Every genuine Igbo person knows what the town union stands for. It is inseparable from the people. It is the closest administrative unit to the people at the grassroots covering every square kilometer of Igbo land and directly feels the heartbeat of the people across all social, political, economic and demographic cleavages. Because the unions operate from the grassroots, they know virtually every member of the community. When strange faces enter the community they know and monitor them. So in the wake of COVID-19 lockdown and ban on interstate travels, we noticed a large number of youths of Northern Nigeria extraction coming down to the South East and making their way into the various villages. We were alarmed. What was their mission? Our inquiries showed that they were entering every part of Igboland, we became suspicious, more so coming at a time the Federal Government had placed curfew and State Governments banned interstate movements. We were curious, for us the strange movements portend grave danger. As I am talking now, our land is under siege.
In the middle of the night strangers, mostly from the northern part of the country were moved into our region in a coordinated manner. Once they moved in, they would take refuge in various locations, notably forests and never to be seen again. This is worrisome. So there was urgent need to raise the alarm, to alert the world before it was too late.
Again, recall that it was during the period of Ramadan. Therefore it was bizarre and irreconcilable for northerners who are mostly Muslims to move in droves to our land during the Ramadan period. And very strange too, why would those movements happen in the night even when there was a dusk to dawn curfew throughout the country. As grassroots leaders, we understand very well the migration patterns of the northerners here to the East. Experience has shown that those who are here usually travel back to the north during elections and their festivals, like the Ramadan. Not the other way round. Then it was Ramadan season, which usually took them home, yet they were nocturnally moving into the East in their numbers. It was suspicious and any cause that could have prompted them in defiance to Ramadan to move into our land must be very serious. We could not explain the unbridled incursion into Igboland when our land boundaries are supposedly shut. We are certainly not safe in the South East anymore. Far beyond the health crisis, we are more fundamentally worried about the mission of these young men and who their sponsors are. Why did they arrive during dusk to dawn curfew? What explains the silence and docility of the law enforcement agencies in the face of this anomie? How did they beat all the security checkpoints from the North to the East? Where were they taken upon arrival? Who prepared the ground for their arrival? Why are they usually healthy and able-bodied young men? Indeed, there were many questions to ask.
Since this was about internal security, why involve the international community?
We did this because we have been left to our fate. Ever since we began to lament and plead for the Nigerian authorities to come to our help in the hands of the bloodthirsty herdsmen terrorizing our rural people, nothing has happened. Who has responded to us? Are we supposed to keep silent and perish? Is it better to take the laws into our hands? This is an existential issue of life and death. We have exhausted all internal channels. The marginalization we face in Nigeria is of a kind that has never been seen anywhere else in the world. The three arms of the Federal Government, namely executive, legislature and judiciary are all headed by just one ethnic group. All the boards are headed by them. Oil is in our land, yet almost all the oil blocks are owned by them. In our land today, there is scarcely any significant federal project. All ports in our land have been shut down. Almost all the heads of the security agencies are from this same ethnic group. Every position that is strategic to life and death is in their hands. In short they have taken everything from us, and now our lives are no more guaranteed. For all of these, we have raised more than proportionate internal concerns yet nothing happens to address those issues internally.
Our people have died enough. We cried out when Ozuitem community in Bende area of Abia State was invaded and attacked by the herdsmen but nobody did anything. People were slaughtered and property destroyed. A month later, another community in the same Abia State, Ndi Okereke Abam in Arochukwu council, was equally attacked by the herdsmen, nothing was done. In early hours of April 6, 2019, the herdsmen attacked farmers’ settlement in Anambra West Council Area of Anambra State. They set the farm houses ablaze, killed the men and raped the women they captured, yet nobody came to our rescue. Can we keep beating about the bush while our people are being taken to slaughterhouses day after day? What about the dastardly attack on Umuawa-Ibu community in Okigwe council area of Imo State. It started since 2015, a year and three month old baby of the family of Mr. Edwin Okorie was kidnapped by these herdsmen. In 2016, the community again witnessed another disappearance of a young man, Ekene Odoemana, he was aged 50 years. In all these cases, we cried to high heavens, petitioned here and there and complained everywhere, yet the authorities never cared.
But the police said they were investigating the cases…
Investigating what, that was a ruse to douse tension. Nothing has ever been done in reality. In Enugu, on June 14, 2019, the same herdsmen attacked a commercial bus carrying traders, mainly women returning from the market along Agbani-Ugbawka road in Nkanu East council area and abducted three young women after they had robbed the traders. The internal outcry over these atrocities has become deafening. These herdsmen also butchered a whole family and a Catholic seminarian on apostolic work in Nkanu. The story is the same in Ebonyi and Imo States where herdsmen have unleashed terror in Oguta, Ohaji-Egbema and Orlu, as well as other parts of Igbo land. Even the international community has rated these herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terror group in the world, yet the Nigerian authorities have kept mum. Despite these atrocious acts, the authorities have looked the other way, maybe to create a scenario that would elicit retaliation from us, so that they would criminalize and annihilate us, and exonerate our predators. So we felt it was safer to raise early alarm to the international community. Remember that Nigeria is a signatory to a number of international treaties, charters, protocols and conventions on human rights. When citizens of Nigeria are slaughtered in cold blood and the authorities look the other way, it is a violation of those charters.
For almost a decade, our people have endured the agony of murder, rape and molestation in the hands of Fulani herdsmen, a minority group that appears to be sacred cows because they control all state apparatus to unleash violence on us. Our people at the grassroots whose livelihoods depend almost entirely on their farmlands have had those farms ravaged by the herdsmen and their cattle.
As I speak to you, there is hardly a single herdsman standing trial anywhere in Nigeria for these killings and atrocious acts; hardly can you find one in detention or even one being prosecuted. Our people now feel their lives do not matter anymore. This is what keeps fanning the embers of secession in the youths.
Today in Nigeria, one ethnic group controls all the arms of government, security establishments and the rest. Where is the much touted Federal Character principle? How can a multi-ethnic formation like Nigeria sustain this level of insensitivity? As elders and leaders of these vulnerable people at the grassroots, if we keep quiet, it is a stain on our collective conscience. In any case, the two Chambers of the National Assembly have been written in respect of our petition on this ugly development. All we care about is the peace and security of our people. That is the least they deserve. Our people have been at the tearful side of Nigeria’s history since independence. Yet this is the country our forebears fought with all they had to build. The undying spirit of the Igbo man is the life of Nigeria, and the injustice against Ndigbo underscores everything that is wrong with Nigeria.