Oyigbo crisis and impact of visit of South-East governors and leaders to Port Harcourt
Many may not have known that Nigeria came very close to another civil war sparked in Port Harcourt. The South-east governors led by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and other Igbo leaders led by the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo who visited Port Harcourt in the week confirmed the situation openly.
At a stakeholders’ forum at the Brick House (seat of power) in Port Harcourt, Umahi stated that those who sparked the riots and killings that led to military invasion of Oyigbo had only one agenda; war.
He asked in very solemn note: “Do you bring war upon yourself to kill Igbos?” Reeling out figures by the fingers, he reminded everyone that there are 11.5million Igbos in Northern Nigeria and three million Igbos of voting age in Lagos.
His words: “We read in the social media and we came to see things for ourselves. We will go home and tell our people that all we read on social media was lie.” What he must have read was that the Rivers State government had ordered killing of Igbos in the state, especially Oyigbo.
Umahi said vicious rumour had set tension in Igboland that could easily trigger serious trouble back home and lead to ugly consequences nationwide. On this he warned; “We have 11.5million Igbos in the north, 3million voting age in Lagos, yet, somebody wants to start a war to kill Igbos. We lost 3million Igbos in the civil war, and most of them were those trying to escape, those running away.
He stated: “Who brings war upon himself? Do not support any criminal from our place. Imagine somebody saying Benue, Rivers, etc, must belong to Igbo land. Is it not madness? Do you force anybody these days to belong to you? Did you do a referendum to get their opinion where they want to be? These people are not speaking for us. They are merely destroying the Igbo race and assets. Is that how to help a people?”
Most Igbo leaders spoke and spoke from their hearts. There was no prepared speech. They all saw war close and came to blow off the candle. It was pretty close, they breathed.
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu: “Social media has come to destroy the nation. For example, somebody called me one night to say that social media had it all over that Tonimas Petrol Station in Aba was on fire. I was worried. I called someone who lives opposite it and the person told me he was standing in front of his house opposite Tonimas and that there was no single problem, no fire. See? They just wanted to set the stage to burn Ariaria Market.”
He said most of those who use mouth to climb Iroko tree in the form of social media influencing look horrible physically, looking unkempt and hungry. The governor said such people had no investment anywhere in the world and had nothing to protect.
He went on: “Governor Wike is God sent. We couldn’t have asked for more. He has capacity. If we did not trust his ability to protect people, we would not come.”
Mkem Okeke: Deputy Governor, Anambra State: “Igbos are everywhere, and so, if you kill people from other tribes that live in the East, what do you think will happen to Igbos outside Igboland especially in the north?”
Josephine Anenih: “Women will suffer most if killings start or war breaks out. Please, do not start war”.
Peter Odili: “We must learn to live together in peace because no human being chose where he was born. Every governor wants peace to govern his area well. Rivers people have endorsed all steps Governor Wike has so far taken to safeguard the state.”
The former governor was said to be on point. His followers are scattered all over the almost 100 political groups in the state. For the first time in many years, the Rivers people spoke with one voice. The governor’s strong actions on the Oyigbo crisis such as reaffirming the proscription of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and imposing a 24-hour curfew for one full week in Oyigbo received support across board.
John Nnia Nwodo: “I want to hear directly from you people, is anybody threatening you people? (The audience answered in the negative, nobody was troubling them.) You have said it yourselves that you do not have any problems in Rivers State.”
After listening to Governor Wike, he retorted; “We say, there is no bigger fighter than Governor Wike. We have heard him demand for restructuring, we have heard him demand Igbo president. We must follow him. He is leader of the entire region.”
Maduagu Adiele: Igbo leader, Rivers/Bayelsa: “Don’t believe what you read in social media. Governor Wike is doing well and is supportive of Igbos in Rivers State”.
The host, Governor Wike, switched into his natural elements, the combat mood. IPOB leadership had gone haywire on him for placing N50million bounty on an alleged IPOB leader in Eleme area of Rivers State. The leader of the group staying in London countered with N100million bounty on the governor’s head.
The governor, fuming, said he would travel and would announce his itinerary to see how the man would fulfil the threat.
He went on: “No man will threaten me. Nobody should give Igbos a bad name. There cannot be Nigeria without the Igbos. But, you must not allow criminals to speak for you.
“Do not kill a soldier. They must revenge. South East people have competent people that can be anything in Nigeria and that speak for the Igbo and state what they wanted.”
On the vexed issue of locking up the Ikokwu spare parts market in Diobu, and rumours that a powerful leader has just bought up the area and is asking traders to move away, the governor said: “I used to think Ikokwu belonged to Ikwerre people but one day, one person emerged and said he bought Ikokwu area from Ahoada people. I was surprised. Now, people say I am driving traders away from Ikokwu when I do not even know the owners. But, what I know is that the place is full of bad people; vicious robbers, guns.”
Applause exploded when he told Igbos in Rivers State not to panic. “Be assured, this place is your place. I appreciate the support you gave me since 2015 and since 2016; I have been appointing Igbo persons into my government. If I am plotting against Igbo people, I would not put them in the State Executive Council.”
An Igbo, Emeka Onowu, a media man, was appointed commissioner of special duties right from Governor Wike first term. He has still been there to this moment. The governor picked an Abia-born journalist, Simeon Chibiko Nwakaudu, right when he was minister of education in Abuja, came down with the journalist to Rivers State to contest governor, won with him as his press secretary and made him his Special Assistant on Electronic Media, a position Nwakaudu retained to his death in May 2020.
The governor played prominent roles in the aide’s burial and pledged N50million for the upkeep of the family and promised to look into the affairs of the family. This brought huge applause in the rural Abia community and huge commendations from the Abia State government.
Origin of trouble
Nigeria was doing #EndSARS protest everywhere but some young men believed to be IPOB members allegedly went to the boundary between Abia and Rivers State, allegedly captured a SARS official and killed him.
Combined police teams came down the area and soon, some youths were arrested and clamped into detention with rumours of killings. Soon, after the second wave of #EndSARS protests in Port Harcourt, the suspected IPOB members braved all odds and faced police and soldiers, killing six soldiers and four policemen. Three police stations were burnt and looted.
There were also attacks on persons from northern Nigeria, leading to violent counter killings and burning of business places and markets in places such as Iriebe, Rumukwurushe (Phone market), etc. Pockets of attacks began to take place between northern enclaves and IPOB groups.
Some IPOB members were said to have moved from Oyigbo to Diobu to team up with local branches to launch attack on Mile One Police Division but this was rebuffed, but not without huge human costs as some young men openly chested bullets from police. Later, their potency evaporated and heads fell. The police won there.
Fear became rife of explosions in the north that could lead to mass attacks but Governor Wike moved swiftly to stop the attacks in Rivers State and doled out N200million to the 10 families of the soldiers and policemen. Late meetings took place every night until both regions calmed down.
Wike is said to have tried to separate IPOB from Igbo in casting his blames. He is believed to also hold down other tribes from going into full scale counter attacks and promised to rebuild destroyed assets. This helped to calm things down. A man from the north told this reporter thus: “Nothing will happen again. The governor has poured water on the matter”.
The governor also demanded that Igbo leaders stand up and begin to state the position of the Igbo on national matters and take over the narrative so that certain categories of persons would not be the official voice of Igbo land. This went very far.
The visit of Igbo leaders who also promised to visit Lagos and Abuja has been described as bold and timely, all prompted by Governor Wike’s actions. The decision of Igbo leaders to make bold statements on restructuring, peace, closeness of south-east and south-south, seemed to immediately guide Igbos around the world that began to look confused.
This way, peace was restored and hope was created that certain political actions would be taken to address the pains and yearnings of people of the south-east and south-south regions such as restructuring and national balance to reduce tension and rebellion.