Militarizing the East

By Obi Nwakanma

Last week, the first part of my column on Nigerian universities was published, and I’d planned to continue with the subsequent parts this week. But it appears that this has to wait for something more urgent this week. I promise to return to Nigerian universities, but the more urgent issue this week is what now seems to be the military invasion of the East: the so called “Operation Python Dance II” authorized by the President.

I am still not sure who advises President Buhari on his Eastern policy, but here is what is obvious: whoever is crafting Buhari’s internal domestic policy, particularly with regards to the East, and its general implication on national security, is either ignorant, subversive, or both, and is doing disservice both to the Buhari presidency and to the corporate integrity of the Nigerian state.

President Buhari is trapping both himself and Nigeria in the first stages of what will finally prove to be a very long, costly, and unwinnable war, and this brings me seriously to this question of Buhari’s credentials as a military General who ought to understand operational strategy and Warcraft; as well as his patriotism as a Nigerian, not to talk of his role, as the head of her federal government.

The decision to authorize a military operation in the East in this so-called “Operation Python Dance II” is not only, in my view, unconstitutional, it just simply is ill-advised, and it is setting the stage for that moment we all so pray not to come; that tipping point that militarizes the East, and turns it once more to a war zone.

It seems that President Buhari is nostalgic about war, and the events in which he participated between 1967 and 1970 did not teach any lasting lessons. But there is that Igbo saying: “oji oso agbakwuru ogu, amaghi si ogu wu onwu” – they who embrace war very quickly often do not understand that war means death.

The leaders of the East have expressed outrage about this operation. Many regard it as the president’s final brazen declaration of war against a zone that opposes him politically. He apparently did not consult the governors before unleashing the military on the five core Eastern states, where there is no large scale disturbance of the kind that should warrant the large scale deployment of the Nigerian Armed and Security services. The East is largely peaceful, but it does seem that the President needs an excuse to subvert the Nigerian constitution and unilaterally declare a state of emergency in the East, and establish overt control of that zone.

The President is sworn to defend Nigeria, and this move would have made sense, and the President would have been within his constitutional obligations, only if a war had been declared in the East, and the National Assembly had given him the powers to use troops to quell insecurity unmanageable by the police. But Buhari obtained no such powers or authority before moving materials of war and troops into a cognate part of the federation.

This President appears to be fighting a personal war against the South East using the resources of the federal government. It is an illegal and unpatriotic use of presidential power to fight personal vendetta. Nigerians must rise as one to stop this to forestall sending very many innocent Igbo youth, and lots of Nigerian military and security personnel, in the long run, to untimely death.

The President may be too distant from the current reality to understand that resistance in the East may be different this time from the civil war of 1967-70. It would be informal, long drawn, and will be more by guerrilla tactics than formal military confrontation. It would be Mao rather than Montgomery. It is likely to be street by street, and is unlikely to be confined to the East. This fight may envelope Nigeria.

Let me work through my speculation, and one does this by summoning the history of other conflicts, which I implore the Federal Government of Nigeria and her strategists to pay careful attention to, and pull back, before we spin irretrievably to this looming, totally pointless conflict. Here is how this is going to pan out: at the first stages of this military occupation called “Operation Python Dance II,” the government will establish overwhelming presence and authority in the East, and will initially subdue the population.

But the effect will wear off quickly because years of military rule, and benign military occupation of the East after the war has hardened the population against the use of military terror. Heightened application of terror by the Nigerian military and security personnel; the stops-and search; the seizures; the curfews; the purloining and stealing from the people; the heavy toll will also begin very slowly to erode any initial support for, or fear of the Nigerian security services, and there will be increasing build-up of what we call “resistance confidence.” There will be a slow arming of the wider population who will begin increasingly to be recruited to the cause of Biafra activism, both in sympathy to the cause, and out of the survivalist instinct to defend themselves, their communities, their neighbours, their dignity and shared interests. This is the normal human response to these conflicts, and it will be increasingly subterranean.

The Federal Government would by then have created some martyrs for the cause, who will be celebrated in songs, art, and rituals, and which would give greater fire to this resistance than anything that this government would have imagined, because always, an oppressed people are often in deep need of heroes – particularly the heroic dead.

These people will fight from the grave. The Biafra movement, currently relatively disorganized will become more sophisticated as more strategic people join their ranks out of frustration, fear, anger, or even dare; as more sympathizers provide them operational capacity, both logistical and material, and ultimately, the voice of moderation will be silenced in the East, and the only voice that will make sense to anybody in the East will be the voice of resistance.

People will communicate by whispers and by signals. Young engineers and technicians will become more inventive with materials around them; may fashion their own weapons, and turn small places into small units of communication to form a vast network of small radio stations and a broadcast system that will be difficult to dismantle.

It will be mobile and easy to operate on the go; and they will operate at very cellular levels. They will finally form the Biafran Legion (“The Egwugwu”) under the banner of the rising sun, but the difficulty for the Federal Government will be that this Legion will operate informally; organized as loose, independent units; there will be no discernible central command, just a central idea which is what the Buhari presidency is currently instigating; the Legionnaires will train right under the nose of the government; every sacred grove; every primary school; every community center; every night in the East will be deployed for the training of a guerrilla force that will engage the occupying Army in mosquito sting attacks.

They will very easily, given the distribution of Igbo communities around West and Central Africa and around the world, create safe houses; secret operational bases; systems of exchange; smuggling routes; and tactical command posts to stage any acts of subversion. These groups will act in shadows using the old Igbo military philosophy of “Olua Ogbalaga” – deployed effectively by the Ekumeku, and other Igbo legions during colonialism. They will expand their operations over every part of the East – including what we now call the “Niger Delta” – and meet up with dormant resistance groups in these areas; they may then begin to engage in massive sabotage.

Because of the vital nature of Eastern Nigerian economy to the economy of Nigeria, they will force a very strategic economic meltdown, that will affect every system of exchange in Nigeria and West Africa, and this will have real impact in a global economy. I predict that what we may be about to see is the Nigerian equivalent of the Irish Republican Army – the IRA – and all this because President Buhari, and the APC government are hell-bent on subduing the Igbo whom they feel are in opposition to them.

This policy of militarizing the East will have a blowback that many have not thought about. And I also really wish that the Biafra activists should understand that they are about to turn the East once again into another theatre of war. It is imperative that both the Federal government and the Biafrans step back from this precipice.

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