The attack on the immediate past president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu at the second annual Igbo cultural festival in Nuremberg, Germany, has continued to generate condemnations from different quarters across the country. CHIZOBA OGBECHE, in this report, looks back at the circumstances of the attack and the danger it portends.
Ike Ekweremadu was attacked by some Nigerians resident in Germany said to be members and sympathisers of the proscribed the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) for reportedly conspiring with the Nigerian government to proscribe the group and orchestrate the military operation, Operation Python Dance, in the South-east. This was believed to have been aimed at eliminating self-acclaimed IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu.
Ekweremadu was reportedly pelted with eggs and stones at a New Yam Festival in Germany before he was whisked away from the venue. A video clip of the attack had gone viral on the social media on Saturday. In the video, Ekweremadu was seen being violently questioned and manhandled by some young Igbo men over his alleged conspiracy with the federal government to proscribe the IPOB in the South-east as well as the killing of some of its followers.
The three-time deputy president of the Senate, who was dressed in the Igbo traditional attire commonly called isi agu, however, had his attire adorned with the Nigerian coat of arm, part of what is said to have angered the protesters as they tore and stripped him.
Operation Python Dance was launched by the Nigerian Army in the South-east in 2016, in the wake of protests by IPOB members demanding secession from Nigeria. During the operation, the army raided Umuahia, the Abia state capital, the hometown of the IPOB leader, who was then on bail for treason trial and subsequently escaped to Israel.
Though there was scepticism over the authenticity of the videos making the rounds, the Enugu state-born politician confirmed the attack, stating, “I attended the Second Annual Cultural Festival and Convention organised by Ndi-Igbo Germany in Nuremberg today where I was billed to give a keynote address along with the president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who, however, could not make it eventually.
“I was given a resounding welcome by Ndigbo in Germany and everything went smoothly until some men, who identified themselves as IPOB members, stormed the venue and began to complain about the killings in the South-east, stressing that there would be no Igbo event at the venue.
“I tried to engage them, but when they became unruly, I had to leave the venue. The organisers also invited the police and I was accompanied out of the venue.
“Much as I am disappointed in their conduct, especially as I am one of the persons who have spoken up on justice for Ndi-Igbo, the Python Dance, extra-judicial killings in Igbo land and elsewhere both on the floor of the Senate and in my written and personal engagements with the Presidency and the media as well as rallied the South-east Senate Caucus to secure Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s release with Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe taking him on bail to douse tension in the South-east, I nevertheless do not hold this to heart against them, for they know not what they do.
“I have received thousands of solidarity calls and messages from well-meaning Ndi-Igbo. I want to assure them that I am hale and hearty. I have also spoken with the Nigerian ambassador to Germany, Yusuf Tuggar.”
IPOB’s claims, threats
Barely 24 hours after the attack, IPOB claimed responsibility, even as the group warned on more attacks.
The group, which stated that it had ordered its members in 100 countries across the world to attack Igbo leaders “anytime they see them in any part of the world,” also offered N1 million for travel itinerary of South-east governors.
It listed other leaders marked for attacks to include Governors David Umahi of Ebonyi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, and Willie Obiano of Anambra states respectively.
The group also put on notice Ndi-Igbo leaders such as the president-general of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Nnia Nwodo, whom it accused of supporting the military operation in the South-east.
Spokesman of the group Emma Powerful in a statement said the directive to attack Igbo leaders was given by the IPOB leader and the attack on Ekweremadu was in obedience to the order.
The statement read in part, “Yesterday, being August 17, 2019, the Nuremberg IPOB family in Germany in keeping with the long-standing directive from our leader to hound all instigators of Operation Python Dance is glad to report that Ike Ekweremadu was confronted and duly hounded out of a so-called New Yam Festival event in Germany.
“Despite repeated warnings to the organisers of these jamborees that Enugu, Ebonyi, and other parts of Biafra land are under siege by Fulani caliphate and their collaborators within, they went ahead to invite a known traitor, co-conspirator and one of those that worked with Igbo governors to proscribe and tag IPOB a terror organisation while they never raised any voice against the murderous Fulani herdsmen.
“This should serve as a warning to Nnia Nwodo, Dave Umahi, Okezie Ikpeazu, Willie Obiano, and co that any day we find them in a public event abroad, they will be humiliated.”
The federal government described the attack as “an embarrassment to the country,” just as the South-east Governors’ Forum, the Ohaneze Ndigbo and the South-east zone of the People Democratic Party (PDP) condemned the attack.
According to chairman of the governors’ forum and governor of Ebonyi state, David Umahi, “They have no such spread and powers to track down South-east governors for attack anywhere in the world. They are too small. I don’t want to say they sound so cowardly, but they can’t see the governors to attack.
“If there is any issue IPOB holds against the governors, they should come home to settle it in Igbo land instead of a foreign land.
“What happened was a security issue which was within the purview of the federal government. Attacking governors in a foreign land is a wild goose chase. We love them because they are our children.
“IPOB cannot achieve Biafra alone, except with the collaboration of all stakeholders including the governors. They don’t need to attack the governors to achieve Biafra.”
Danger to Igbo solidarity
The Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo condemned the attack in a statement by its president-general, describing the attack as “divisive and dangerous for Igbo solidarity.”
“The assault on Ekweremadu by Igbo in Germany, described as IPOB, is disappointing, grotesque, and dangerous for Igbo solidarity. This violent, rude, impertinent, divisive and discourteous style of IPOB or IPOB instigated miscreants is damaging to our cause. It strengthens the case of those who describe them as terrorists and weaken our case against the infringement of our fundamental human rights.”
While noting that Ekweremadu negotiated the sureties and securities for Kanu’s release on bail, the president said the senator did not deserve the violent attack.
South-east PDP’s take
National vice chairman of the PDP, South-east, Austin Umahi, in a statement by his media frowned upon the action of the group against Ekweremadu, saying he had been at the forefront of the struggle against the marginalisation of Ndi-Igbo.
Umahi, who called for the arrest and prosecution of the culprits, advised individuals or groups to speak out through the South-east governors’ forum, the Ohanaeze Ndi-Igbo, and other legitimate means within Nigeria, rather than resorting to self-help.
Pressure group tasks FG
A pressure group, Enugu West People’s Parliament (EWPP), in its reaction, called on the federal government to investigate, arrest, and prosecute “all who planned and carried out the attack on the senator.”
Addressing journalists in Enugu, the spokesperson of the parliament, Jonathan Ivoke, came hard on members of the IPOB, describing them as “miscreants masquerading themselves as those fighting for the Igbo agenda.”
He said, “Ekweremadu had urged the president to address the obvious marginalisation of the Igbo and this shows the extent of love he has for his people. It, therefore, means that an assault on him is assault to the entire Igbo nation. Let’s place it on record that Ekweremadu has done so much for his constituents, the Igbo nation, Nigeria and the West African sub-region.
“…Other Igbo in the Diaspora must take note of the threats of these miscreants masquerading as those fighting for the Igbo agenda and ensure that adequate security is provided in all genuine Igbo activities abroad.”
In his reaction, the presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 general elections, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, said, “If those who were involved in that crass action had given due thought to the role Ekweremadu has played in nation-building, they would have celebrated a man who has made sacrifices for their good.
“The physical assault on the immediate past Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, in Nuremberg, Germany, is an uncivilised and undemocratic action that I condemn in totality.
“No one deserves such mob action, least of all a man who is a specimen of what a democrat should be. He is a champion of the rights of the people of the South-east and Nigeria, and a patriot par excellence.”
Shehu Sani’s views
For Senator Shehu Sani, IPOB spanked the wrong horse with the wrong whip. Sani on his Twitter handle said, IPOB spanked the wrong horse with the wrong whip on the wrong track.
“The attack on Senator Ekweremadu in Germany stands unreservedly condemned. Whatever is the political or philosophical agenda of the people that attacked him, the strategy of physical assault or violence cannot lead them to success,” he said.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa’s opinion
Similarly, the chairman of the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, described the attack as “an embarrassment” to the country.
Dabiri-Erewa, in a press statement in Abuja, said, “It is also shamefully pathetic that an event which was nobly put together by the Ndi-Igbo community in Germany, whose members make up the majority of Nigerians living in Germany, to amongst other things provide a forum for the Diasporas and various stakeholders to network and to facilitate a better cooperation between German and Nigerian businesses, ended in such a disgraceful manner.
“We appeal to Nigerians to be of good behaviour wherever they find themselves because such incidents tarnish the image of the country.”
Sadly, the statement was silent on measures being put in place to forestall future occurrence of such incidents given that previous protests by Nigerians in the Diaspora had been peaceful.
The return of democratic governance has seen Nigerians in the Diaspora protesting to express their displeasure over political developments in the country. One of such protests was by a Nigerian pressure group on August 08, 2017, outside the Abuja House where President Muhammadu Buhari was residing following his medical vacation in London, calling for him to return home or resign as president.
The group was said to have been granted a permit for the protest as a follow-up to the series of protests held in the capital city, Abuja, in the past weeks. The “resume or resign” protesters were allocated a barricaded spot across the Abuja House where the president was residing, and they had mounted banners and posters with messages demanding his resumption of office or resignation.
Similarly, Nigerians in UK on April 10, 2018, protested against Buhari’s re-election bid on his arrival in London, barely 24 hours after the president declared intention to seek re-election in 2019.
In the same vein, there was a protest by concerned Nigerians in UK on February 1, 2019, over the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Onnoghen.
What next after condemnations
In the aftermath of the attack, there are concerns that if perpetrators go unpunished it could open a flood gate of similar attacks within and outside the country. Though media reports indicated that the police in Germany had arrested some members of IPOB, there appears to be a consensus of opinions that except the culprits are prosecuted others may want to borrow a leaf from their action.
According to an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Barrister Aguzie Obiekwe, except the perpetrators are brought to book the situation will deteriorate.
“The federal government must treat this development with dispatch. If you watched the videos by these IPOB members boasting that the government can’t do anything about the attack then you will understand that a monster that could overtake all of us is being bred. Posterity will not judge us kindly if we are not able to nib the situation in the bud,” he said.
Group petitions German chancellor
Worried that those who attacked the former deputy president of the Senate may go scot-free thereby emboldening others to carry out similar attacks, the Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy has urged the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to bring the perpetrators to book.
The group, in a letter addressed to the German chancellor through the German Embassy in Nigeria asked the German government to ensure the attackers were punished to serve as a deterrent to others.
Nigerian mission seeks prosecution
The Nigerian High Commission in Germany has said that Ekweremadu’s attackers would be prosecuted under the German law and if convicted they risked a 10-year jail term each as physical assaults are punishable by fines or imprisonments of up to 10 years.
The mission in a statement gave the assurance that the attackers would be prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others planning such assault.
It read in part, “The Embassy has requested a thorough investigation of this attack with a view to identifying the perpetrators and bringing them swiftly to justice in accordance with German law.
“This would deter future acts of violence against officials of the Nigerian government on German soil, particularly against the backdrop of threats by the proscribed IPOB to carry out similar attacks on more Nigerian dignitaries, especially those from the South eastern part of the country.”