n September 27, 2010, a group of men and women of the Igbo heritage gathered in Owerri, the capital of my home state of Imo, to discuss the 2011 general elections in Nigeria. Among them were a former Vice President (Number 2 citizen at his time) of Nigeria, Dr. Alexander Ekwueme, a former President of the Nigerian Senate (Number 3 Citizen at his time), Senator Ken Nnamani, former governors of states in Igbo land (Achike Udenwa, Sam Egwu, etc) and so many others. The report that has now circulated around the world is that these citizens were forcibly prevented from entering hotels in Owerri to hold the event, including a hotel ballroom for which they had made the required payments. The force reportedly came from armed and uniformed security agents of Nigeria whose salaries are being paid from the commonwealth of the Nigerian citizenry. Chineke ekwe kwala ihe ojo!
I waited to hear from my president, and it came in the form of a denial of involvement from the Presidency via Mr. Ima Niboro, a Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity. The President’s man added that the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, frowned at the reported abridgment of rights of citizens to gather. Great!
Then I waited to hear from my governor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, and it came in the form of a television interview denial by him of his involvement, and another reported statement from Chief Press secretary to the Imo State government, Henry Ekpe. Great again!
I take my president at his words. And I take my governor at his words.
However, here are my problem and fear. If my president did not order security officers to prevent a lawful gathering of the Igbo in Igbo land; and my governor, who is Igbo, had no hand in the reported abridgement of citizens’ rights, who then authorized the deployment and presence of Nigerian security forces in Owerri to stop a gathering of Nigerian citizens on September 27, 2010? Is it possible that a foreign power, unknown to Nigerians, ordered the presence of security forces to prevent Nigerian citizens from gathering on the said date?
This raises not just security issues for Nigerians and the Nigerian state; it questions the very essence of the democracy we purport to practice. If an Ide Alex Ekwueme cannot gather with fellow Igbo on Igbo soil to discuss Igbo and national issues, what chance does a man or woman from any of our villages or from the Diaspora have to campaign and seek votes. Everything else anyone or any group professes to be Igbo interest is of no consequence if the Igbo cannot even gather to discuss among themselves. Not even in the immediate aftermaths of the Nigeria/Biafra was this kind of suppression visited on the Igbo.
It is said that the Igbo and Nigerians in general are not the types that are oriented to die for politics or for a struggle (especially since the war). Whoever stopped those Igbo sons and daughters from being able to gather at a hotel of their choice in a capital city of a state in Igbo land, may have given the Igbo something to finally fight and die for. Virtually all of us (Igbo and non-Igbo alike) were in various degrees of jubilation over the recent breaking of a brick ceiling not only by the ascension of an Ijaw brother as President, but also by President Jonathan in his appointment of General Azubuike Ihejirika as Chief of Army.
And now this?
Forget 2011 for now. Forget 2015 for now. In 2010 the Igbo and all Nigerians must demand to know how this could happen at the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s political independence and in the 11th year of a democratic dispensation that should be getting freer and fairer. And so I ask my president and my governor to help us understand fully what happened in Owerri on September 27, 2010.