By Uzoamaka Eze
Reuters, the world’s largest multimedia news provider, in reporting the statement made by President Buhari on June 1, 2021, has labeled Igbo people in the South East; Rebels. While President Buhari threatened civil war, Reuters is trying to inflame it by tagging the people, rebels. “Nigeria’s president threatens rebels amid rising violence in southeast”. Rebel in political understanding is when a group of people take up arms to oppose the government or system of government which may involve the use of armed force to defeat or bring to justice.
In politics and equally in information management, choice of words is used to describe, propagandize or to politically manipulate the unsuspecting citizens. When riots and looting erupted last year in the United States, the media used peaceful demonstration to describe it. When the Fulani herdsmen continued to wreak havoc across Nigeria, the media called it clash even though it could pass as invasion on the communities visited. Clash is a word that can elicit minor action or otherwise be taken as civil clash but invasion connotes serious action that may involve armed push back by the military.
Stereotype or labeling is used to give easy-to-remember names and, as well, direct action or inaction towards the target following the description of the situation. So, using rebels to describe South East and passing that to the world, is to create disaffection for the Igbo people and form the narrative that Igbo people are the ones who are taking up arms against the government. It denigrates the legitimacy of the agitation and undermines the peoples’ frustration towards the system that had no reason to declare war on them on false propaganda. They are marginalized systemically for long where their political aspirations are capped to some offices and appointed to certain ministries, and are considered second fiddle and even as far as regarded as minority – evidenced as the way the region is represented on the map and also the least in number of states and federal representation.
In 1967, it was a BBC correspondent that first labeled the coup; “Igbo coup open to Northern reprisals” and alleged that “all the young majors seemed to be Igbo” which “Northerners interpreted the coup as an Igbo-led conspiracy to subjugate the north and impose Igbo domination.” Sunday Times of London in its editorial titled, “Can Ironsi Hold Nigeria?” alleged that “According to reliable evidence, Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi, head of the military government, has a list of seventy further notables (apart from the Sardauna of Sokoto and the Prime Minister) who have disappeared, largely Northern leaders again…” The media label and manipulation of information led to the counter coup that had 30,000 Igbo killed in the north, 2,000,000 Igbo people rendered refugees and about 3 million Igbo people killed in the ensuing 30-month war.
President Buhari had threatened that, “There must be zero tolerance for all those bent on destroying our country by promoting crime and insurrection!” then he reminded the South East people in another tweet(deleted by Twitter), “Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand.” By this statement, the president is informing the Igbo youths as according to what The Guardianwrote on June 3, 1967, “In so far as it would be a northerners’ war, one of its main objects would be revenge against the easterners for having dared to challenge federal, which is primarily northern, authority.” Incidentally, today’s federal authority is primarily northern.
President Buhari who has been bringing down the hammer on the Igbo youths since he came to office in furtherance of the marginalization of a people whose grouse with the country is to be treated equally as they seek for a system where freedom and justice will reign as they go about with their trade. The same president in his tweet on May 5, 2021, appealed to the bandits to release the students they kidnapped. He said, “I again appeal for the release of the students of Greenfield University & all other citizens held in captivity.”
Bandits, Boko Haram, Kidnappers and Herdsmen have been killing and causing insecurity in the country and have enjoyed negotiations from the political and religious elites of the north including ransom paid for the release of their victims. Boko Haram insurgents are reintegrated on the basis of being repentant.
When such double standard is employed in the system, it keeps fueling calls for civil protests and agitations will continue.