We recall that it has been 50 years since the declaration of the State of Biafra and the ensuing 3 years civil war that led to unprecedented bloodshed. The civil war left deep scars on the landscape and conscience of Nigeria. The civil war in a profound way negatively changed the dynamics of Nigeria’s economic, political and social development. We also recall recent events which have reopened the wounds and scars of the war and brought back the issues of Biafra and societal justice. 50 years after the unfortunate event presents an opportunity for resetting the buttons and re-ordering our national priorities on the basis of respect for the fundamental issues of federalism, justice, equity, and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
We welcome the stronger together idea of the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo and the Nigerian Dream – to create a country that provides reasons for its citizens to believe in it, a true Federation that does not discriminate or marginalize in any way. The pertinent question of “what if we had spent all the resources, time and sacrifice we put into the war, into trying to forge unity?”; and the aphorism of the truth that the spilling of blood in a dispute is hardly ever worth the losses. Now is the time to walk the talk and to start rebuilding the country on the basis of these profound ideas.
It is imperative to state that Nigeria is a signatory to a plethora of regional and international standards including the treaty components of the International Bill of Rights vis, the Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Nigeria is also part of the heritage of the standard setting Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The rights protected by these standards include the rights to life, human dignity, personal liberty, fair hearing, freedom of expression and the press, freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, right to the freedom to worship God in accordance with ones dictates and the right to property, etc.
We therefore find it strange in the context of the emerging dialogue, the recent warning and threat by the Inspector General of Police calling on Police formations in the South East to be on red alert and to crush peaceful expression of human rights and fundamental freedoms including the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of movement, speech, etc. In all civilized societies, the Police and other law enforcement agents provide security cover for groups organizing protests and marches and only seek to disperse them, if they become violent or engage in the abuse of the rights of others. We note with regret the extra judicial killings and gross abuse of rights reported and recorded by members such as IPOB, MASSOB and BIM in their previous outings and validated by credible international human rights groups.
Nigeria since the aftermath of the civil war has been run on the basis of discrimination against merit, intelligence, hard work, integrity and honesty of purpose in wealth creation. The continuation of a quota system that discourages merit and entrenches a morality of the depths rather than encouraging backward parts of Nigeria to seek to improve their lot clearly demonstrates a failure of governance. We recall the recent exclusion of the South East in the new railway corridor; marginalization in key federal appointments, among others. We have moved from the pre-1966 independence federal structure to a tight and controlled unitary structure where supposed federating units hardly breathe and have ample space for innovation.
On the basis of the foregoing, we demand the following from the Federal Government and its agencies:
- To start the process of restructuring Nigeria to a true federal structure where the federating units are given the space to develop at their own pace. Great consideration should be given to the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report.
- To spend more time and resources strengthening the bonds that holds us together by righting the wrongs of history through giving life to the memory of those who lost their lives in the unfortunate civil war. The Federal Government is hereby called upon to declare May 30 every year, the date of the Biafran event as a public holiday in honour of the millions who died and as our way of collectively saying never again to avoidable bloodshed.
- To reorder Nigeria to a nation of equal opportunities, on the basis of merit and capacity. The quota system can run side by side with a meritocratic framework that seeks to get the best out of hardworking and gifted Nigerians for the accelerated growth and development of the country.
- To bring to justice the security officials who have engaged in extra-judicial killings of innocent persons who were exercising their fundamental rights to expression, assembly and speech as members of IPOB, MASSOB and BIM.
- To provide security protection for all persons wishing to exercise their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly, association, movement, expression and of the press including those who want to demonstrate in commemoration of the Biafran event. If the relevant authorities fail to do the needful, we shall be compelled to press charges before the municipal courts and escalate same to the International Criminal Court (ICC) with respect to the reported extra-judicial killings and gross abuse of fundamental rights of persons exercising their fundamental human rights.
- To correct all the shortcomings and marginalization of the South East in the scheme of governance in Nigeria, including appointments to federal agencies and the extant plans to revitalize the Nigerian Railway system.
We further call on the International Community and Human Rights Organizations to put pressure on the Nigerian Government to ensure that perpetrators of gross violations of human rights against any Nigerian of any persuasion are brought to justice.
Centre for Social Justice
Barr. Benedict Ezeagu
Save Nigeria Group
Barr. Princewill Akpakpan
Lawyers of Conscience
Barr. Okere Nnamdi
Kindgom Human Rights Foundation
Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike
Civil Liberties Organisation
Mr Chris Nwadigo
Peoples Rights Organisation
Comrade Dede Uzor O. Uzor
Campaign for Democracy
Barr. Mathew Edaghese
Access to Rights Initiative
In Commemoration of Biafra at 50: Lessons and Moving Forward