Python Dance - The Oppressor and the Oppressed People of Biafra
HUMAN RIGHT IN ALA IGBO: AN OVER VIEW.
Written By Rev Fr. Dr. Francis Nwaiwu
I am delighted and privileged to be here on behalf of my Bishop Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, the Catholic Bishop of Umuahia and be part of the activities marking the International Human Rights Day. The theme is supposed to be “Human Rights in Ala Igbo: An overview”. He has been asked to speak specifically on the Python Dance 2. However I want to look at the Python Dance differently and relate it to the theme. So I take the liberty to reformulate my title to “Python Dance, The Burden Of Ala Igbo In Our Democracy”.
Since after the civil war, the people occupying the geographical space known as Ala Igbo have been treated as enemies of the nation that they helped to build; the grievances that spiked the antagonisms and war are still yet to be addressed. They are still regarded as rebels yet to be crushed.
For whatever reasons: true, or false, or imaginary, or even exaggerations, they have been branded and stigmatized,they have become easy target of national hatred,opprobrium, and they have been victims of countless riots and massacres with no consequences at all. Decades after the civil war, the war in other forms is still raging on.
The Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) in her last plenary in Jalingo, Taraba state made the following observation just at the wake of the Python Dance:
“Our country is currently passing through a phase that is marked by tension, agitation and general sense of hopelessness and dissatisfaction. This we believe is as a result of years on injustice, inequality, corruption and impunity. There are agitations in many sectors of the country against the one-sidedness in appointments to key institutions and sensitive national offices; against marginalization and unfair distribution of resources and amenities. There are also cases of selective application of law”. – (Our hope in despair towards National Restoration 7th to 15th September, 2017)).
In April 2017, one of the great South East lawyers and civil right activists Olisa Agbakoba whom I admire so much for his courage, filed a 1 trillion suit against the Federal Government for the total neglect and abandonment of the South-East. The application, which was filed at the Federal High Court Enugu, has a long list of demands against the Nigerian government in a Fundamental Rights Class Action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria for himself and on behalf of the South-East Zone on grounds of discrimination, pursuant to Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution.
The first on that list which seems to summarize his demands is: “Total neglect of the Applicant’s Geopolitical Zone by the 1st Respondent in terms of infrastructure and general federal presence making the Applicant feel not part of the 1st Respondent”.
Even though the list is not exhaustive, but the recurring words hovering around the application are: neglect, discrimination, no sense of belonging etc. This is the crux of the matter, and the burden of Ala Igbo. These are the basis for the agitations.
One of the great recognitions of democracy is the recognition of the right to speak; to speak out the right to agitate, and to demonstrate in order to be heard. It is within the context of agitations that the Python was unleashed to dance in the streets of Umuahia, Aba and parts of River State.
The Python Dance:
We don’t know exactly the intendment of the expression, or what it seeks to transmit. However, we know that a Python is a huge or large predator snake. Its size and strength is intimidating. It confidently goes after its prey, taking the full advantage of its size and strength, knocks it down and strangulates it then literally swallows it.
When it comes out of his abode for anything, its sheer size which it is very conscious of, intimidates the other mammals out of the way at the risk of their lives. The code name of that operation is ominous.
According to His Lordship most Rev. Dr. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji who issued a very balanced statement on the operation, God bless him:
“There were agitations which indeed heightened tension in the country. These agitations bordered on discrimination, marginalization. Based on the purported imbalance in the country, there were calls for restructuring and even out right secession. Our country is a democratic government where agitations are part of the process.
In her reaction, the authorities assumed the constitutional responsibility of the police and the 82 division of the Nigerian army, armed with armored personal carriers, tanks and assault rifles were deployed to the South East region of the Country, namely Ala Igbo under the code name Operation Python Dance II.
The public was informed that the military operation was to last from 15th September to 15th October 2017. According to them, the operation was being undertaken in order to check criminal activities that have become prevalent in the zone.
“Unfortunately, before its official commencement date, Afaraukwu in Umuahia North Local Government Area of Abia State, the home town of Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader, was quarantined and turned into a theatre of violence. Heavy armoured trucks were displayed in the show of force, which instilled fear and panic into the community and its environs. As the Operation unfolded, it became a tale of terror, bloodshed and tears.
“Hapless and armless IPOB members, who fell into the net of the Nigerian Army in Isiala Ngwa Local Government Area of Abia State were subjected to unimaginable cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The gory video clips that went viral on the internet portraying young men compelled to swim in a muddy pond vividly revealed the abysmal contempt of human dignity exhibited by the Nigerian Army- our Army.
“To ensure that their atrocities were not reported in the media, the military invaded the Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia State Chapter on 12th September 2017 without the slightest provocation and traumatised the journalists carrying out their legitimate duty.
“The Operation rose to its highest level of terror and brutality with the invasion of the ancestral home of Nnamdi Kanu on 14th September 2017. As recorded, heavily armed Nigerian soldiers massacred armless and defenceless IPOB youths and made away with their corpses, ostensibly to cover their tracks. The continuous shooting of heavy machine guns by the Nigerian Army on that fateful day caused panic among the peace-loving and law-abiding inmates of Afaraukwu community and made them to flee to neighbouring towns for safely. The violent face-off between the Nigerian Army and the members of the IPOB in Umuahia triggered the bloody skirmishes recorded at Aba in Abia State and Oyigbo in Rivers State respectively.
“Given the rising tension at the time, the government of Abia State imposed curfew on some parts of the State to prevent the complete breakdown of law and order. We thank God that the grisly video clips of brutality and indignity disseminated in the social media did not escalate the violent conflicts into a national conflagration”. – (Bishop L.I. Ugorji:
The Meaning of Python Dance for Ala Igbo).
This is the Python Dance that visited the South East of Nigeria. The South East has had many sad points in their history: the 1966 massacre; this was carried out outside the zone the Igbos were living and doing their legitimate business; the civil war was a war situation, but the python Dance is a situation where our army usurped the constitutional responsibility of the police marched into the zone like a conquering army and killed innocent and unarmed young people in cold blood. This makes this Dance the saddest point in the history of Nigeria in the history of the South East.
The Python Dance is an aphorism for everything that is wrong with our country and with us as a people. It shows how expendable the people of Ala Igbo are in a country they call their own. It is the climax of the burden of Ala Igbo. We are dealing with a situation where there is a conspiratorial unwillingness to integrate them in the mainstream, and at the same time, a vicious block to let them out and seek out their destiny. Another burden lies in a kind of deafening silence that greeted the event by a section our political elite.
This silence signifies a kind of endorsement of the Python dance.
We have our legitimate representatives who were duly elected in the form of our Governors; Senators; Federal House of representatives and representatives of the State houses of Assembly.
The tragedy of the Python Dance is that in the face of this gory, bloody and unjustified massacre of innocent unarmed young people none of these came out to speak out either to condemn the killings, to speak for the people, or even to condole with the bereaved families or even to give hope to thetraumatized and low-spirited people whom they represent.
That is what leadership is not about. It is not about being politically correct or being on the side of the more powerful, on ”the advantaged” side. Leadership is about standing with your people.
Yes, there were no doubt isolated cases of people speaking out, but most of them were ambivalent. However it is interesting to note that the majority of those who spoke out forcefully came from other geographical zones. (The funeral dirge in the social media).
We all may not necessarily agree on the style and methodology of this unarmed group, but the content of the message is different. The message resonates to everybody. But the fundamental truth is that they gave a dog a bad name to kill it. With this type of treatment, hand offish on Nnamdi Kanu: is Ala Igbo worth fighting for? FaniKayode in one of his writings quoted Haret Tubman who said: I freed 1000 slaves but I would have freed more thousands only if they realized that they were slaves”.
I wish these our leaders know that in spite of their lofty political positions, they are all slaves with us.
The Israelites when they were in captivity in Babylon, lamented their plight through the Prophet Daniel. This cry sums up the situation and feelings of the people of Ala Igbo,
“We have at this time, no leader, prophet, no prince, no holocaust, no sacrifice, no oblation, no incense, no place, where we can offer you the first fruits and win your favour” (Dan.3.38.).
This is what we lack, and that is why we are constantly hounded, humiliated, abused, and taken for granted and have lost respect. We have lost any stake and have no political calculus in the contraption called Nigeria.
A society that is used to humiliations and that has lost respect, soon loses its own self-respect and sense of rights. –.” That is exactly our situation today. O judgment thou hast fled to brutish beast and men have lost their reason”. We as a people seem to have lost our own self-worth. This is reflected in the kind of leadership we have today.
Another Python Dance that has become a burden to Ala Igbo is the vicious marauding Fulani Herdsmen. These people are all over the place terrorizing people, killing, maiming, raping our women and destroying farmlands. In other zones, the representatives of the people, their Governors and state legislators are rising up to the challenge by speaking out and even enacting laws to protect their citizens from these marauders. What is the situation in Ala Igbo? Deafening silence.
When they visited Enugu State and almost wiped out a village, the Governor came but wept and declared prayer and fasting. They came to Abia State the Governor only sent some representatives to see what happened and nothing was heard about them anymore even though there are still skirmishes of these murderous herdsmen invading Abia State. In the state in spite of these, it is business as usual.
The Python Dance 11, is a quick reminder that we have not made much progress in national integration. It is a sadreminder of our need for leadership. Our great Chinua Achebe in his book, – the trouble with Nigeria, identified the failure of leadership. This is more lacking in Ala Igbo. We need a leadership that can help steer the course and destiny of Ndi Igbo.
The great Ikemba of Nnewi Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu once said in an Interview in Igbo “ Obuluna fa afurioyi n’anya, ka fa tuoni gi egwu” That is : As they don’t love you, let them fear you. Msgr. Professor Okere in one of his lectures pointed out that: “There is nothing worse than your enemy being in charge of you. That is the experience of Ala Igbo.
But as we say: Onye ajuru anaghi aju onwe ya”. (Somebody who is rejected by others should not therefore reject himself). This is precisely what we are doing. Our leaders today who are sitting at the saddle of the ship of State should execute good governance because you don’t expect them to give it to you. They should avoid being Python dancers on the people that elected them. “For that will be the unkindest cut of all”.
They engage in python dance against their people by their insensitivity in governance; when pensioners, civil servants teachers are owed several months in arrears of salaries.
They forget that by this, they gradually destroyfamilies and even snuff out life from the people who in trust voted for him. Infrastructural decay and neglect, unemployment risen to 2 and 3 digit are all images of Python dance. This is the worst form of Python Dance.
Challenge to the Coalition and Conclusion:
There is need to groom or mentor leaders who love Ala Igbo, who are courageous, and articulate; not self-serving leaders; not fare-weather leaders who prefer to stand on the winning side. We need leaders who are not afraid to stand with their people; who are ready when the occasion rises to speak out for them, leaders that they can trust and follow. (Nnamdi Kanu, had millions of followers who will die for him simply because he spoke from the heart, they believed in him and trusted him, and he stood by them. How many of our political leaders have such crowd?).
The challenge of this Coalition is to design programs that can attract such people-potential leaders. These can be in the form of memorial lectures of our past Heroes, our great leaders of the past. A nation that has no heroes is not worth its name.
Device a strategy to transmit the history of Nigeria and especially that of Ala Igbo, since our Government has deliberately removed history from the school curriculum. Yes, even though I hear it has been restored, but this is just half-hearted reversal.
From history, our young people will be able to know where and how it all started; where we got it wrong; where the rain started beating us or where we derailed “.
Remember, anybody who does not know or care about his history is bound to repeat it – George Santayana.
Above all, there is need for us now to be more circumspect, less loud, more prudent, and go to God on bended knees. “for If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face, I will hear from heaven and will forgive them their sins (2 Chronicles 7:14).
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