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The game Changer: Pro-Biafra protests and the escalating violence


“I would rather urge the Igbos and other progressive-minded Nigerians to insist on having a country that will offer all citizens equality and guarantee them justice, peace and stability.”

As you have known all along, I had taken a professional position on the IPOB, Kanu, and pro-Biafran protests. I saw it as a lawyer and a social critic. I analyzed the cases as I saw them evolve. I also have been analyzing other cases such as the case of Dokpesi, the case of Metuh, etc, strictly as a lawyer.

I had assumed that the Nigerian State would discharge its obligations under international law and would observe and honor its constitution as it addressed the complicated matters raised by these controversies. I was increasingly disappointed to see the way the Nigerian government has reacted to the challenges. It would appear that the government threw away the constitution of Nigeria and decided to proceed on the jungle track.

Despite all that, I have continued to maintain my distance, limiting myself to merely commenting in the media. Thousands of people have called upon me, privately and publicly, to intervene in the matter in a more direct and robust manner. I could not respond to those calls for two reasons – first, they were borne out of sentiments rather than a clear understanding of the role of a lawyer in a case, and second, such calls were largely based on some romanticized and unrealistic views of what I could achieve as an individual.

However, it has been impossible to stay completely away when there is a glaring need for help, and that help does not seem to be coming from the places one would have expected them. For instance, the continued indiscriminate arrests and detentions and persecution of those who merely protested were things I could not totally turn away from. 

That was why I volunteered to represent free of charge in Enugu State 10 pro-Biafran protesters who were arrested and thrown into prison for “constituting public nuisance”, an euphemism for state-sponsored persecution. While on that assignment, 27 additional people were arrested on similar charges. 

This expanded the list of people we represent to 37 within one week. (I am happy to report that through our intervention and the intervention of some lawyers, with us as the lead, nearly all those arrested have been released and the remainder will be released on Monday).

I was contented with playing such minimal role; that is, seeking to help those arrested and detained and making sure they regain their freedoms. However, the events of the past few days have caused me to desire to expand my role here. What happened on Tuesday in Aba was for me a game-changer. 

When I saw the video clips of Nigerian soldiers squatting in battle formation and taking aims with battlefield weapons at unarmed civilians and killing them like guinea fowls in a hunting season, something in me snapped. How could that be? In this time and age – how could it be that Nigerian troops are shooting at and killing civilians with such wanton abandon?

That for me was the game changer. I am now prepared to challenge Nigerian Government and the Nigerian military leadership on these atrocities. I will do my best to seek to hold them accountable. Nigerian Government must identify and punish the commanders and soldiers responsible for these crimes against humanity. My effort in this regard will be pursued strictly within the law – local and international. These atrocities cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. I have therefore started collecting evidence to be used against those responsible for these horrendous crimes.

One more thing to say for the avoidance of doubts: I have never supported the idea that the portion of Nigerian territory, which the IPOB defines as Biafra, should break away or secede from Nigeria. I do not see a justification for secession. In fact, I do not think it is a wise idea, even if it were something that could be accomplished without opposition. My reason is clear: The Igbos have invested too much in Nigeria to abandon it. It is like a farmer leaving his farm in the middle of a farming season. 

I would rather urge the Igbos and other progressive-minded Nigerians to insist on having a country that will offer all citizens equality and guarantee them justice, peace and stability. I have to state this because there is no need for anybody to confuse my position or my philosophy in this matter. I am responding purely from a humanitarian standpoint. It is a crime and the height of injustice for Nigerian soldiers to be shooting and killing unarmed civilians – whether it is in Aba or in Zaria or in Ogoni.

I will challenge the Nigerian Government. I am using this opportunity to call on those who believe in non-violent resistance and in constitutional and diplomatic challenges against Nigerian Government on these issues to come forward and let’s join hands to demand for justice.

Emeka Ugwuonye

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