We are quite terrible with history in this country and as George Santayana aptly puts it, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Since the Nigerian army violently crushed Isaac Adaka Boro’s twelve-day revolt in 1966, the Nigerian state has found it expedient to employ brute force to suppress any legitimate expression of frustration and dissent and this has led to more violence for which the Nigerian state has shown absolute lack of capacity to manage –
Even with the return to democratic governance in 1999 with the attendant freedom of expression it guarantees, Nigerians are now realising that the Nigerian state was unwilling to listen to any legitimate agitation and was determined to employ maximum force to crush any form of dissent. Gradually and with time, non state actors have come to understand that the only language the Nigerian government understands is that of force. It was this realisation that led to the Niger Delta insurgency; and by 2005, violence became the chief means by which power and resources were negotiated in the region. We are all witnesses to how these youths used violence to successfully negotiate multi billion dollars amnesty programme and pipeline protection contracts starting from 2008 to 2014.
But alas, the Nigerian state has learnt nothing from such bitter experiences and has continued to use crude violence and force to respond to peaceful agitations. The unspoken message to these groups and individuals being continually mowed down and massacred by the army is that peaceful demonstrations or protests never pay. The only chance they have of being taken seriously is by engaging in armed and violent confrontation with the state.
It was the same message that was passed to the band of radical but peaceful Islamic movement- Boko Haram – between 2008 and 2009. The army and police pursued a brutal, deadly and illegal crackdown on the group that peaceful elements within the group were either wiped out or lost their voices and the apostle of extreme violence and terror – Shiek Ibrahim Shekau – and his like took over. We are yet to comprehensively defeat the insurgency and the country cannot recover quickly from the destruction and damage the group has caused and is still causing the country.
But just as our military continue to fight the Boko Haram insurgents with no sight on victory, the government is willing to open up another unnecessary war front in the South East. This is most irrational and counterproductive. By declaring a largely peaceful group a terrorist organisation and proscribing an entire people’s right to free speech and association, the Nigerian government is steadily and quickly pushing the group to embrace violence. At the strategy meetings of these groups, there are bound to be voices pointing out the successes recorded by violent groups in the country and how seriously the Nigerian state responds to the demands and agitations by the violent groups and may be pushing for the jettisoning of the non-violence method. As the Nigerian state continues with its brutal crackdown on these peaceful groups, such hardline voices within them may eventually be gaining grounds and may soon displace those urging for the continuation of peaceful struggles. Is the country ready for another war front? History suggests we are not.
We call on the people of influence and goodwill to prevail on the government to rollback its brutal crackdown on agitators for secession in the Eastern region of the country.