By Casmir Igbokwe
Usually, whenever a corporate or government personality is in the eye of a storm, his spokesperson employs all sorts of fallacies to defend him and his actions. If you are not observant, he may lure you to believe that his mother is the only living virgin in the whole world.
This is the case with the media aide to the Chief of Staff, Government House, Rivers State, Mr. Jackson Owhor. He took up a space in the Daily Sun of Tuesday, November 17, 2020, to engage in what I may call leaving the ball to kick my leg. His bold title reads, “Oyigbo: Casmir Igbokwe joining IPOB to spread falsehood”. In his article, he excoriated me for using “Daily Sun to deliberately dish out false narrative about the hijack of #EndSARS protest in Rivers State by hoodlums to unleash mayhem on government institutions, the citizens and their properties.”
Hear him: “It is shocking that Casmir Igbokwe is shouting to high heavens over targeted killings of Igbos in Rivers State, based on dubious videos and propaganda being sponsored by IPOB on social media, while shutting his ears to credible information from the sitting governor of Rivers State. The activities of Casmir Igbokwe are more worrisome because he is taking undue advantage of access to the media to misrepresent the situation of things in Rivers State. Our worry is that the activities of the likes of Casmir Igbokwe, who, for parochial reasons, have opted to use the Daily Sun to misinform the public, may sooner or later drag the name of the newspaper into the mud.”
In my over two decades as a professional journalist and media manager, and over three decades as a writer, nobody has ever accused me publicly of spreading falsehood. I had wanted to ignore the Rivers government agent and his tantrums. But on deeper reflection, I decided to reply him to put the records straight.
Recall that I wrote a piece titled ‘Wike and Oyigbo killings’ in my column in the Daily Sun of Monday, November 9, 2020. In the article, I did note that the account of the crisis in Rivers State was variegated, depending on who was telling the story. IPOB, for instance, had blamed Governor Nyesom Wike for the killings. According to the group, there were riots and disturbances all over Nigeria. It then wondered why the inhabitants of Oyigbo, or Obigbo, as some people call it, were singled out for alleged extermination.
On his part, Wike exonerated himself and threw the blame back at IPOB. According to him, IPOB members killed six soldiers, four policemen and destroyed all police stations and court buildings in the area. He denied ordering soldiers to kill the Igbo, as he described the allegation as balderdash and politically motivated.
A civil society group called International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) also supported IPOB’s claims. According to the group, security men killed over 50 people and injured over 80 others in Oyigbo. It claimed many people were still missing and hundreds of others held in secrecy. What makes Intersociety’s claims appear plausible is that it listed names of some of the murdered residents and noted that soldiers took away the bodies of most of them.
The group even gave an update last Thursday, alleging that it had uncovered more deaths totalling over 60. It said between 90 and 100 others were injured. Queen Nwazuo, it claimed, was shot and killed by bullets allegedly fired by soldiers in front of her shop at Umunchi Junction, Ehi Road, Oyigbo, about noon on October 23, 2020. For want of space, I can’t list all the other names here. Could this civil society group, whose leadership is made up of mainly lawyers, have fabricated these names and the exact places where they were killed? Or is it a case of Rivers State Government and the military, as Intersociety put it, “stopping at nothing to ensure that the truth concerning the massacre never sees the light of day”?
After looking at these different accounts, I had noted: “I must confess here that I am not a fan of IPOB. I abhor killing of any type. If actually the allegation against the group is true, I condemn it totally. Nobody has any right to take the life of anybody, not to talk of soldiers. But the questions are: Why was the Rivers State vandalism attributed to IPOB? And how did Wike know that the youths the soldiers killed were members of IPOB? Do these IPOB members wear uniform or name tag? Was similar destruction in other parts of the country also the handiwork of IPOB?”
I asked these questions knowing that there were attempts to blame similar vandalism in Lagos on Igbo youths. Thank God for the quick intervention of prominent Yoruba and Igbo leaders, the Igbo in Lagos would have been attacked as well. All these happened because hoodlums hijacked what started as peaceful protests against police brutality and the atrocities committed by the now defunct Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police in October.
Rather than provide answers to my posers, Mr. Owhor committed more blunders in his attempt to malign me. In his piece, he said “the hoodlums, suspected by the police to be members of the Indigenous People of Biafra…” Why did he use the word ‘suspected’ if he was sure that the vandals were IPOB members? One of the policemen killed was said to be an Igbo man. Does it mean IPOB now goes about killing Igbo, which it claims to be fighting for?
Besides, Mr. Owhor quoted Ebonyi Governor, Dave Umahi, as condemning IPOB and warning Igbo to be wary of the group. Again, who does not know that IPOB and South-East governors, especially Umahi, are sworn enemies who may not say anything positive about the other?
Wike had also claimed that he had no control over the military. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State said a similar thing when the Lagos version of the protests snowballed into the alleged killing of peaceful protesters by soldiers at the Lekki tollgate area of Lagos.
At one point, the military said soldiers were not at the Lekki tollgate that Black Tuesday. At another point, the narrative changed that they were there but on the invitation of Governor Sanwo-Olu. The army also claimed they didn’t fire live bullets at people. Later, the story changed that they fired into the air but not live bullets. After an extensive investigation, the international news medium, CNN, reported that some people were actually killed and that live bullets were fired at Lekki tollgate. The live bullets, it claimed, were made in Serbia. Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, discredited the report and threatened to sanction CNN.
Nigeria is a nation where truth is scarce, where peaceful protesters are termed terrorists and terrorists given amnesty. We are continuously in search of this truth. And whenever we find it, people like Owhor will lose relevance. May God forgive him and others like him for they know not what they are doing!