By Obi Nwakanma
Last week, US SEAL Team 6 sneaked into Nigeria under the cover of darkness, and rescued an American citizen, Philip Walton, held in the north of Nigeria after he was kidnapped from Niger Republic. It was a precise and clinical operation.
The US Commando team viciously decommissioned and terminated six armed men and took the American without harm.
US President Donald Trump quickly announced this with glee to the world. The Nigerian authorities, too shame-faced to utter a word, have remained silent, about how a foreign Army could operate in Nigeria without let, and the Nigerian military and intelligence services only got to know after the facts.
Two principal issues are very important here and they really raise the question of whether Nigeria is actually still a sovereign country, or whether it is just the last husk of a failed nation rapidly devouring itself from inside-out. The first important question raised by this American rescue operation is, where were the Nigerian National Defence Forces – The Army, the Navy, the Airforce and the Secret Services?
The American rescue operation throws light on the volatile situation in the Nigerian Saharan corridor at the Niger-Nigerian border. The Sahel is an active military zone. All known actors in the world are operating there – Americans, the French, the Chinese, Russians, the Janjaweed, and their current mutation, those Islamic militants who are intent on restoring the Ottoman Empire, the ISIS and its affiliate, Al-Qaeda in West Africa.
These groups are linked by one goal: The restoration of the Ottoman Empire to drive a global Islamic renaissance. Nigerians must certainly know that Uthman Dan Fodio, the first Caliph of Sokoto, was a General of the Ottoman Empire. As a result, the ‘Caliphate of Sokoto’ remains a key frontier in the grand design, and an active operational anchor of this world campaign.
Al-Qaeda in the deserts, in other words, is active in the Sahara and, because you have many of their fighters, alleged to be surreptitiously inserted in the Nigerian National Defence Forces, a segment of the Nigerian Army can be said to be an active, but unofficial partner of this Islamic movement. This is simply why the fight against Boko Haram is half-hearted.
Most intelligence services of the world know this, and are keeping an active eye on the Nigerian military services. But the fact is also simple: The Nigerian Armed Forces are increasingly divided. It used to be said that the only ‘national institution’ left in Nigeria was its Army. But this is not currently true. The Nigerian Armed Forces have since been politicized. Military historians might, in fact, say that it did not fully survive the consequences of the Nigerian civil war.
But it was held together, to some extent, by some extant memory, and by the post war booty called Nigeria. So, under military rule, the Armed Forces – particularly the Army – could still mobilize professionally. Under that Army, Nigeria mobilized and formed the impressive ECOMOG that kept peace in West Africa.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s when Eastern Europe was imploding into civil war, in the post-Soviet years, the Nigerian Army formed the regional military bulwark that kept peace in West Africa. It settled the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, and prevented external military intervention by the ‘International Community’ in West Africa. Nigeria, deploying what were relatively efficient Armed Forces, stabilized West Africa. Truth be told, that was the one grand achievements of the Babangida administration. But, today, the Nigerian Armed Forces are as complex as the fragments of the nation it was legally created to defend.
True, the Nigerian Armed Forces have been used to suppress Nigerians, and sometimes carry out with excessive force, the containment of flashpoints of protests, like the Odi and Zaki-biam killings authorized by President Obasanjo, and the Bodo killings in Ogoniland under the Abacha regime. In fact, before all these were the October 1990 killings of over 80 people in Umuechem by the Mobile Police, the paramilitary arm of the Nigeria Police. There is a history of brutality to which the Nigerian military and the Nigeria Police have been put to use in the active violation of the human rights of Nigerians, which sometimes results in killings that have never been accounted for.
The killings are egregious because, for one thing, the Nigerian Armed Forces were not established to kill Nigerians. They were established to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria. One cannot make this point any clearer. The deployment of the Nigerian Armed Forces to internal security operations must follow clearly laid down constitutional procedures. The situation must also be extraordinary.
The military does not deploy on a whim. This is why the reports of the current, wide scale killings of civilians – innocent Igbo in Obigbo (they now call it Oyigbo) – a border county between Rivers and Abia states, just 10 minutes’ drive into the city of Port-Harcourt, and less than 15 minutes’ from the city of Aba, is disturbing. It further raises questions about the legitimacy of the Nigerian military. The #ENDSARS protests were in part the result of the use of high-handed methods against Nigerians by SARS.
The Nigerian military is equally guilt. What is clear and undeniable right now is that Igbo men and women are being killed in Obigbo by the Army. There are reports of rape of women and house-to-house searches that target young Igbo men under the guise of searching for IPOB militants. Innocent young men and women have been swept up in this operation. Brutal, extrajudicial executions have taken place. But, again, the question is, on whose orders? Who ordered the military to target and kill the Igbo residents of Obigbo? For what?
Governor Nyesom Wike has been accused of issuing the order to target the mainland Igbo in Rivers State because, according to him, they are the kernel of support for the IPOB in Rivers State. He has, of course, denied ever giving the order to kill the Igbo in Obigbo.
He, in fact, said that the accusation was “politically motivated” and aimed at “distractions over IPOB activities in Rivers State.” According to Wike, the IPOB militants have been known to use Obigbo as a launching pad for its activities in Rivers State.
But if Wike denies giving the order, who did? In the last #ENDSARS protests, these IPOB fellows burnt down police stations and killed military personnel and police officers, according to the governor of Rivers State. Let us be clear: Wike is not denying that there have been widespread killings in Obigbo.
He is saying two things: One that he did not order the military killings even if he justifies it; two, that the killings are connected to IPOB activities or actions against security services. The interesting part of this is that the #ENDSARS protests nationwide saw young Nigerians angrily targeting police stations and other public facilities. No one accused a particular group of the destruction of public property. The military just went ahead and shot at protesters in Lekki.
Kabissa! It is different in Rivers State. Very interestingly, Governor Wike has ascribed the consequences of the #ENDSARS protests to the IPOB. This is toxic, and unacceptable. It is toxic because it provides a wicked excuse for targeting a specific group. This kind of generic targeting of specific groups led to the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda.
This is what Nyesom Wike is doing: setting up the Igbo for selective annihilation in Obigbo. This has consequence. Every young Igbo man or woman now is IPOB and is fair game. Many have been killed and tortured in an on-going, brutal operation by the Nigerian Army.
There are footages of blood-curling scenes of distinct military brutality which even the Nigerian press is a little too squeamish to publish. But the internet offers the ‘citizen reporter’ a platform to record and air hidden acts, so much so that truth can no longer be hidden. And the truth is that the Nigerian military has been killing particularly young Igbo residents of Obigbo and doing house-to-house mop ups in what is clearly now only a low intensity war weeks after the #ENDSARS protests. Now, no one can, or must, excuse anyone who targets police officers, destroys police barracks, burns down courts, and kills military personnel. If indeed Wike’s allegation against IPOB militants is true, it is egregious act, and it is called a crime. The perpetrators ought to face and account to the law properly.
But the Constitution provides for ways of dealing with that in a civilized society. It requires skilled police work which must use the Criminal Investigation Directorate of the Police Services to do slow, painstaking work; gather serious evidence, arrest perpetrators, and charge them to court individually. Wike is a lawyer and ought to know this. It is a crime to destroy public property and murder police officers. But in the same way, it is a crime to criminalize an entire population, and subject them to extra-judicial murder.
In the same way that the CID must investigate the alleged IPOB killers of police officers, it is equally obligated to investigate and arrest soldiers who order, and are involved in the extrajudicial killings of innocent Igbo in Obigbo. It is not the work of soldiers to levy war against Nigerian citizens. Their work is to defend Nigerians and the territory of Nigeria. But evidence shows the Nigerian military is doing the opposite.
Otherwise, it could not have permitted, or even tolerated a foreign team of soldiers, however friendly, to penetrate Nigeria and operate. And it would have contained the Boko Haram insurgency much like ECOMOG stabilized West Africa. A new Nigerian administration after Buhari must rebuild the Nigerian Armed Forces into a well-equipped, disciplined fighting force led by an enlightened and highly trained, and well-exposed high command: an Army leadership and personnel with high technical and philosophical education.
Not a rag tag Army which finds its mojo only by harassing and killing unarmed Nigerians. Only a cowardly Army gets its oomph by harassing and killing unarmed civilians when it cannot evidently defend Nigeria’s borders against only six well-trained Commandos. Meanwhile, these soldiers who have killed these unarmed Igbo in Obigbo must be brought to book.
It is important for the Igbo to keep a diary of these killings; record the faces of the killers and torturers; the numbers of the personnel carriers; the dates; and the names of victims, dead or missing, and the value of property destroyed; basically gather the evidence, keep the records, so that those involved in these heinous acts against unarmed civilians, just because they are Igbo, shall answer to a court either in Nigeria, or at the International Criminal Court, someday.