EDITORIAL: No to criminalization of traditional beliefs

There have always been traditional beliefs and, by extension, worships. They were there long before Mazi Nnamdi Kanu or Chief Sunday Adeyemo,  aka Sunday Igboho, was born – indeed, long before their fathers even contemplated marrying their mothers. And they will be there long after the self-determination agitators – and their unborn generations- will have gone back to the Creator.

We hold the view that the concept of conversion or proselytisation was actually developed to deal with the challenge of getting Africans to disavow their own beliefs in favour of those of Europeans and Arabs. And although many did, indeed, disavow their traditional African beliefs and embraced Christianity or Islam, there are also very many others who did not. Even with proselytisation intensifying through the medium of technology and the razzmatazz of Western lifestyle, there are still many who subscribe solely to traditional African beliefs as the definer of their spiritual life. In Oyo State, for instance, traditional religious worshippers staged a protest in September last year, decrying what they described as ‘discrimination against their faith’, and demanding recognition of a public holiday in its honour.

The point, then, is this: there is nothing criminal in believing in any other religion outside of Christianity and Islam – the two most popular faiths in these parts. Therefore, there is nothing criminal in a man having a shrine in his house instead of say an altar bedecked with a crucifix. And there is nothing criminal in a man deciding to consult a native doctor instead of a priest or a marabout for his spiritual needs, whatever those needs – whether they be protection against the evil plots of witches and wizards, against gunshots in communal clashes, armed robbery attacks, police stray bullets or homicidal attacks, malaria fever, epilepsy, convulsion or poison attacks, name it.

It is in the light of the foregoing that we ask: under what Nigerian criminal law do security agents arrest traditional worshippers (native doctors) for allegedly acting as spiritual directors to those who identify themselves as ‘self-determination agitators’ but whom the government sees as ‘terrorists?’

About a month ago, security agents invaded the Ibadan home of Yoruba self-determination agitator, Chief Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho. Among the items taken from his home and gleefully displayed by security agents as his ‘illegal’ possessions on account of which he was declared wanted, were two or so pieces of traditional body armour, charms and other such items. What law did Igboho break by hanging traditional body armour on his wall instead of Muslim Tasbih or Catholic Rosary?

Or, consider the South East, where several innocent Nigerians have been taken in and sometimes killed by soldiers or police for the simple reason that they were identified as ‘native doctors’ to operatives of ESN, the security arm of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a non-violent self-determination group. ESN declared war not against the state but against killer herdsmen hibernating in South East forests from where they carry out sporadic attacks on farming communities, whose members are often remorselessly slaughtered by these demonstrably heartless herdsmen in such attacks.

Ironically, rather than go after the oft- AK47-wielding criminal elements, most of who are of Fulani ethnic extraction, Nigerian security agents would constantly deploy the most vicious arsenals of war, including helicopter gunships, against members of a mere volunteer security network under the name of ESN – who are just like ‘The Hunters’ in the South West and Civilian JTF in the North East – killing and maiming them all in the name of national security. Assuming that the status of ESN in the eyes of the public vis-à-vis the opinion of government, were not even as contentious as it actually is (ESN as terrorists to the army is ESN as saviours from killer herdsmen to South Easterners), what is the justification for arresting ‘native doctors’ on the suspicion that they provide spiritual protection to ESN members?


soldiers in Orlu, Imo State

Or, better still, under what law would soldiers or police officers arrest a man identified as ‘a native doctor’ for allegedly providing spiritual protection to his clients considered enemies of the state? In Nigeria’s evidence-based legal system, how would the state punish a man, with what evidence that is, on a charge of providing spiritual protection to his clients who happen to have a problem with the state? In other words, how does the system define or evidence spiritual things? Would a man be sent to jail because another said his swollen leg was the result of a ‘spiritual arrow’ shot at him by the accused?

And so, we ask again, under what law would soldiers arrest a man they identify as ‘a native doctor’ and proceed to torture or even kill him, as has routinely happened in the South East in the past few months, on the allegation that he provides or provided spiritual protection against weapons, to operatives of ESN? As outrageously biased security agencies single-mindedly strove (and continue to strive) to comply with President Muhammadu Buhari’s hateful order to them to shoot South East youths at sight, to kill as many of them as possible and end the irritation called Biafra agitation, we in AbeyaNews cannot but wonder what law protects such mean-spirited extrajudicial killing of citizens in peacetime Nigeria. But no matter.

At the last count, some 293 people, according to a report by SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical intelligence platform, had been killed in the South East between April and June this year, most of them obviously extra-judicially. According to the report, only 71 of those killed were identified as IPOB members. Given that IPOB members neither bear arms nor wear uniforms that identify them as IPOB, it means that many more members of that group and other innocent Igbo youths must be among the 293 killed by soldiers/police (extra-judicially), killer herdsmen and Unknown Gunmen (believed to have been instigated by National Intelligence), all of them possibly agents of the state from outside Igboland.

AbeyaNews deplores the pattern of labeling and elimination so evident, from the SBM Intelligence report, in the rather vicious way security agencies have carried out President Buhari’s shoot-at-sight order in the South East. It would appear that there was a deliberate attempt, within the period under review, to democratize insecurity in the country, which may explain how, within just a period of three months, the hitherto most peaceful part of the country, grossed as many body counts as 293, almost half of those of North East (655) which has been under the gun for the past 11 years.

We urge President Buhari to pull back and have a rethink. His egoistic war against the South East, whether he wants to believe it or not, is costing not only him but even more so the entire country, more than he knows or is prepared to give a damn about. He is like a man for whom the cosmic powers have set a trap into which he is inexorably walking, thinking that to pull back, to humbly make amends, perhaps even to apologise, is to show weakness. But he must be reminded that al-Bashir of Sudan was also once a strong man!

We in AbeyaNews say enough of this endless hunt for evidence – and excuse – with obvious intent to build a non-existent case against, and destroy, a people whose only crime is their peaceful agitation for a better life for themselves and their people! Agitation for self-determination, whether in the South East by Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, or the South West by Ilana Omo Oodua with Professor Banji Akintoye and Sunday Igboho as arrow-heads, is no crime – in fact our laws support it – and cannot be so atavistically treated as one by the Buhari regime.

The security agencies must stop their unprovoked, not to say cowardly, attacks on civilian population in the South East and the constant murder of innocent, peace-loving Igbo people. There is no strength in an army that conveniently trains its guns on its own civilian population, only weakness, which the Nigerian security apparatus has demonstrated aplenty. We fear that the end may well not be good for anyone.

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