The International Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law (Intersociety) has written to the duo of Gov Samuel Ortom of Benue State in North-central Nigeria and the State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Garba Mukaddas, alleging “widespread and coordinated attacks and threats of annihilation against the resident and ancestral Igbo populations in the state.”
The letter, since dispatched to the duo, was dated 2nd October 2019 and signed by Intersociety Board Chair Emeka Umeagbalasi; lawyers Obianuju Igboeli, Head of Civil Liberties & Rule of Law; Chinwe Umeche, Head of Democracy & Good Governance; and Chidimma Udegbunam, Head of Campaign & Publicity.
The letter was copied to the Sec Gen of Amnesty Int’l, UK and the group’s Country Director in Nigeria as well as the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, USA.
Others that received copies of the letter are Prof Anthony Ejiofor, President of World Igbo Congress, USA; Prof Justin Akujieze, President of Ekwenche Research Organization, USA; Prof Uzodimma Nwala, President of Ala-Igbo Dev Foundation, Enugu; Barr John Nnia Nwodo, President Gen of Oha-Na-Eze Ndigbo, Enugu; Mr. Peter Obi, former Gov of Anambra State; His Honour, Mr. Oseloka Obaze, renowned diplomat and former SSG, Anambra State; Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, Minister of Foreign Affairs & (nominal) member, Nigeria’s National Security Council; and Prince Emeka Onyeso (Oba Agbala-Nze N’ Nri Ancient Kingdom).
The rest are Mr. Tochukwu Ezeoke, President of Igbo Ekunie, UK; Comrade Aloysius Attah, Chair, CLO, Southeast Zone; Barr Justus Uche Ijeoma, ED, the Int’l Human Rights & Equity Defense Foundation, Onitsha; Mr. Emeka Diwe, President, Association of Southeast Town Unions; the Southeast Based Coalition of Human Rights & Democracy Organizations; Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State and Governor Dave Umahi, Gov of Ebonyi State & Chairman of the Southeast Governors’ Forum.
Intersociety said in the letter: “The ancestral Igbo Communities facing acute Government neglect and threats of annihilation in the hands of Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen and their splinter “bandits” in Benue State are majorly found settled in Ado, Oju, Obi and Okpoku Local Government Areas of the State while the resident Igbo population under coordinated ‘indigenized’ attacks including abduction-for-ransom and other sundry extortions at gunpoint; armed robbery, torture and killing in captivity or threats of same are largely found in Gboko, Adikpo-Kwande, Ukum, Zaki-Biam and Katsina-Ala Local Government Areas of the State.
“The Igbo People in Benue State are presently made up of ‘Igbo People of Benue’ or ancestral Igbo People of the State and ‘Igbo People in Benue State’ or resident Igbo Population in the State. The former are those who migrated to the area on their own and those excised or carved into the State as a result of ‘politics of State and Local Government creation and boundary adjustment’ particularly in the exercises that took place in 1968 and 1976. The latter, on their part, are those who reside in the State for purposes of doing business and office work. A fraction of others are those who reside in the State for purpose of schooling. The population of Igbo People in Benue State is independently estimated at one million or more with indigenously locatable 300 villages or more.
“The two sets of Igbo Population are facing ‘indigenized’ violent attacks (i.e. armed robbery and abduction-for-ransom perpetrated by ‘local gangs’, notorious political thugs and other criminal elements of the State origin) and ethno-religious violent attacks (perpetrated by invading Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen and their sister “bandits” or ‘business kidnapping variant of the terror Fulani Herdsmen’). The third form of the attacks is the structural violence or acute Government neglect including communal under-development, insecurity of lives and properties, political segregation and exclusion, etc.
“By the account of then President of Benue Igbo Development Union, Nweke Cedrick Ifeanyi in an interview with the Nation Newspaper of 10th April 2014 (Agony of Igbos In Benue State), “the Igbos in Benue State particularly those in Ado, Oju, Obi and Okpoku LGAs of the State (settler Igbo communities) were in existence before the advent of Christian religion in Nigeria, but today suffer total neglect and abandonment by the Government of Benue State. Owing to this, the Federal Government should set up machinery immediately to return them to their kith and kin in the Southeast, particularly Ebonyi State, which is the closest State”. According to him, “the Igbo (settler Igbo communities) found in Benue are: Umuezeokoha, Umuezeoka and Oriuzor (offshoots of Nri), as well as Umuoghara, Amaekka and Amaezekwe who are originally of Ezza, Izzi, Ezzamgbo and Effium Clans in Ebonyi State. These are the people who would have been in present-day Ebonyi State but due to the fact that the Nigerian government then carved us into Benue in order to use our population to suppress our Eastern population. If you are to calculate the number of Igbo-speaking villages in Benue State, you find out that we are more than 600 villages because three of the biggest markets in our area are all in the Igbo-speaking part”. The three Igbo markets are: Inikiri Ichari, Iddah, Iduokpe, ….”
Intersociety made the following demands from Governor Ortom:
•Stop all forms of discrimination against the two sets of Igbo Population or settler and resident Igbo Population anywhere in Benue State
•Capture the two Igbo Populations in the security mappings and strategies of the State
•Protect the Igbo businesses and their operators throughout the State esp in the aforementioned areas of the State
•Practically disassociate the Government of Benue State and its machineries from the ‘indigenized’ abductions, killings, torture and extortion of the Igbo citizens in the State
•Go after the perpetrators with full weight of the law and avoid aiding and abetting vicariously, if any, of the criminal activities and other atrocities of the so called “local gangs” and “political thugs” and others who may most likely be perpetrating the criminalities using the cover of Government or as leading or ruling political parties.
•Capture the ancestral Igbo communities in the State’s special security and safety arrangements or policies as captured in the Benue State Anti Open Grazing Law, among others
•Draft adequate security and intelligence operatives in those ancestral Igbo Communities.
•Install or encourage the installation of CCTVs and other detective devices particularly in the business and residential areas of key Igbo business men and women in Benue State as well as inside their cars and the sacred places of worship
•Carry along at all times the Igbo Union in Benue State and their leaders and assist them in ensuring that their businesses are safe and not ruined
•Reverse the present ugly trend in the ancestral Igbo Communities in terms of acute Government neglect and ensure provision of safe water, good health and electricity facilities, shelter, access and tarred roads, etc
•Ensure inclusion of the ancestral Igbo Communities in the State’s socio-political arrangement or alternatively liaise with the Govs of Ebonyi and Enugu States so as to meet the National Boundary Commission for purpose of returning them to their original home lands and Local Government Areas in Enugu and Ebonyi states.
•Order for coroners’ inquest into the recently unearthed bodies from the mass graves and ensure more searches for possible discovery of others for purpose of ascertaining how, where and when they were slain and who killed them and who they are.
•Set up a Judicial Commission of Enquiry into the kidnap of not less than 50 Igbo citizens particularly leading business men and women in the State as well as the loss of over N277m paid as ransoms.
•The consequences of leaving the above mentioned criminalities and associated atrocities unaddressed are dangerous and far-reaching including ruination of the economy of Benue State, victim-citizens’ reprisal radicalization and earning the State local, regional, national and international investment pariah status.