By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA – The United Nations has called for the arrest and prosecution of a coalition of northern groups which had on June 6 issued a “quit notice” to Igbo living in the northern part of the Nigeria.
Though, the coalition had on Thursday announced the withdrawal of the notice, it however promised to pursue its other listed demands up to the United Nations. Part of the demands is that the government labels the Indigenous People of Biafra IPOB as a terrorist organization and the immediate arrest of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu as well as the conduct of a referendum to allow the Igbos have their “Republic of Biafra”.
However, in a statement issued Friday in Geneva, three UN experts urged the federal government to also take immediate steps to arrest those behind a song that seeks to disparage the Igbos.
The experts are Mr. Mutuma Ruteere, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and related Intolerance; Mr. Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, and Ms. Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“We are gravely concerned about this proliferation of hate messages and incitement to violence against the Igbo and their property, especially considering the previous history of such violence,” the experts said.
“The Government must be vigilant, as hate speech and incitement can endanger social cohesion and threaten peace by deepening the existing tensions between Nigeria’s ethnic communities.”
The ultimatum was issued on June 6 during a press briefing by the coalition. It had asked the Igbos to vacate the region on or before October 1. However, “mindful of the concerns generated by the clause in the Kaduna declaration that advised the Biafran Igbo to relocate from northern Nigeria and for northerners in the South East to do likewise, and our commitment to the unity of our dear country…and as a consequence of these vigorous engagements and as cultured people with a tradition of respect for our national values, leaders and elders, we are today pleased to announce the immediate suspension of the relocation clause otherwise referred to as the quit notice from the Kaduna Declaration”, the CNG had said in a speech read by its spokesman, Abdulaziz Suleiman on Thursday.
But the human rights experts noted that some local and national figures, as well as some media representatives, had publicly denounced any form of hate speech and incitement, but said other officials still needed to follow suit.
“We are deeply concerned that some prominent local leaders and elders have not condemned the ultimatum, hate speech and the perpetrators,” the experts stressed.
“We call on the Government, media and civil society representatives, and local and religious leaders, to reject and condemn hate speech and incitement to violence unequivocally and in the strongest possible terms.”
The UN experts said any incidents of hate speech and incitement to violence had to be investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted and punished. “This includes the people behind the ultimatum and those responsible for the creation, publication and circulation of the hate song and audio message,” they added.
Quit Notice withdrawal, not Enough -Atiku
On his part, former Vice President and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress APC, Atiku Abubakar has commended the Coalition of Northern Groups for rescinding the quit notice, but said the group must drop all its other demands if reconciliation must be total.
The former Vice President said in a statement by his media office in Abuja on August 25, 2017 that “at last, good judgment has prevailed.”
He however appealed to the Coalition of Northern Groups to go the whole hog and drop any other condition given to people of Igbo origin living in Northern Nigeria or anywhere else in the nation. “Reconciliation must be total or else it is pyrrhic”, Atiku said.
In the spirit of this rapprochement, the Waziri Adamawa also calls on other ethnic groupings that might have issued counter quit notices to accept this olive branch and rescind whatever notices or withdraw whatever statements they may have made.
The former Vice President also commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his national broadcast condemning such developments and urged other elders and elder-statesmen around the nation to likewise add their voices to the condemnation of evil and henceforth refrain from making statements that undermine Nigeria’s unity.
We can’t arrest Arewa Youths -FG
However, the Federal Government has explained why it cannot arrest members of the coalition, saying the group had already stated that they were misquoted by the media (not Saturday Vanguard).
According to the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau; “The group that called themselves coalition of Arewa Associations that held a press conference in Kaduna where they gave October 1 ultimatum to the Igbos to quit the north as a response to what they termed as issue of separatist agenda of the IPOB and claim that there are lots of incitement from the Igbos against the northerners to which the Kaduna State governor responded that they should be arrested for what they reported.
“Of course they later claimed that the media quoted them out of context. I am very much aware that the DSS invited all of them, held a meeting with them to which they made a statement to the effect that what was reported in the media was not what they said.
“They further wrote to the acting President indicating that they did not make inciting statement as to the issue of violence or forceful ejection of the Igbos in the north. However, it was on the basis of that, the northern elders called them to also reaffirm from them that what was reported is not exactly what they meant”.