There is always an ugly side of any protest, thus the case of these two men from Akwa Ibom State who narrated their ordeals in the hands of their assailants is not an exception. In this piece, our correspondent reports on how they escaped death by the whiskers.
Saturday February 4, 2017 will ever remain indelible in the memory of Etim Ukpenetus, a native of Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State.
That day, he had set out his normal duties like every other day. But unknown to him, danger was lurking at the corner.
Weeks before that fateful Saturday, Ukpenetus had fled Akwa Ibom where he was almost lynched by the youths in his community for supporting the Nigerian government-outlawed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB).
Coming from a minority area in the old eastern Nigeria, his community saw his political view as well as membership of the self-determination group as not only an aberration but also against the political and development interest of his people.
According to him, running to Lagos was a way for him, to escape from his assailants.
Narrating his ordeal, Ukpenetus said running back to Lagos was a way for him to escape from his assailants. But to his surprise, while coming back from Alaba International Market in the state, some youths stopped him and asked if he was one of those that attended IPOB meetings at Ajangbadi ,a Lagos suburb four days earlier and he replied in the affirmative.
According to him, they had asked him, if he was stupid, and why should a man from his region be a member of IPOB that is advocating for Biafra Republic .
He said before he could respond, they began to beat him with rods and sticks, telling him that he is a disgrace to his people.
“They wanted to kill me for supporting IPOB .They said how can somebody from Akwa Ibom state be supporting Biafra; that we are from the minority and if Biafra is actualized, Igbo would be dominating us as they did during the first Republic .This is the third time they have attacked me .
In December, 2016 after IPOB gathering at Ikot Ekpene ,as I was going home ,some youths laid ambush and attacked me .They also attacked the members of our group at Ikot Abasi and after that I realized that I was no longer safe in Akwa Ibom ,So ,I had to run to Lagos..They would have killed me if not because of passers-by who saw them attacking me and came to my rescue”‘ Ukpenetus narrated.
Driving home his point with examples of other countries, Ukpenetus noted that Nigeria is not working as a country; that it should be divided into three regions as it was during the first republic .
According to him, countries like Brazil, China, Malasyia and Singapore that were at par with Nigeria in the 70s have joined developed nations while Nigeria is still a third world country .
He further claimed that if Nigeria is divided into three regions ,it would give the individual regions the opportunity to use its God-given resources to develop at its own pace.
Similarly, another Akwa Ibom indigene ,Jeremy Udoh said he had also escaped death by the whiskers weeks earlier, and that is Saturday January 28, 2017 to be precise when he was attacked in the early morning of that day along Volks-Iyan Oba Road also in Lagos .
Udoh said he was walking out when about seven youths armed with dangerous weapons like jackknives ,clubs and broken bottles ran up to him and stopped him
According to him, he said that they had asked him thus: ,Biafran man ,what are you still doing in Nigeria?
He said before he knew what was going on, they pounced on him and began to use their weapons on different parts of his body until he lost consciousness.
On opening his eyes, Mr. Udoh said he only realised that he had been hospitalised at Gbagada General Hospital with his mother crying beside him.
Udoh said, he could recollect that the people that attacked him were telling him that he could only run but he could not hide.
“They had told me that even if I run to Kano or Maiduguri that they would come there and deal with me They asked me why should an educated person like me and from Akwa Ibom be supporting Biafra.
“”My mother told me that when they were beating me and i fainted , they had probably thought that I had died ,that was why they left me ,which means their intention was to kill me .My life is now in danger and my family are living in fear because of these people.
Reacting to the gruesome attacks, Barrister Ifeanacho Amakiri, the president of Crusade for Equity and Justice, a human right organization in Nigeria described Ukpenetus and Jeremy’s fate as very unfortunate. He said that freedom of speech which is one of the fundamental human rights has become a crime in the country.
Barrister Amakiri alleged that, the government in power is doing everything to silence all the rights available to the citizens so that they will always have their way.
His words, “Ukpenetus and Jeremy are the victims of gross human right violations. I am appealing to the United Nations, the United States and Britain to investigate what is going on. People are no longer free to express their political opinions. People are no longer free to exercise their freedom of speech. Once you do any of these, the government would say that you have committed hate speech and would begin to persecute you. That is why IPOB ,which is a non-violent organisation has been proscribed and its members are maltreated.
Also reacting to the issue, an Ikot Ekpene Community leader, Obong (Chief) Edet Asuquoh said that as far as he was concerned, he was not in support of violence.
He however, said that they were not happy that some people would be holding political opinion that is contrary to the majority of their people.
According to him, Ukpenetus’ father served Nigeria meritoriously and retired as a very senior military officer and wondered why Ukpenetus upon his education and exposure should be holding political opinion and supporting a group that is seeking to divide Nigeria.
“I know Ukpenetus as a boy. His parents are devout Christians. Ukpenetus is well behaved and very bright as a student His father is one of our illustrious sons, highly respected. Ukpenetus is also of good conduct but I wonder what has put such opinion into his head and why he should be associating with a self determination group.
On freedom of association as enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, Chief Asuquoh said that freedom of association does not mean when your people are going right, you would be going left.
According to him, no single individual no matter his level of education or exposure could be wiser than his people.
“It is true that no right thinking Nigerian is happy with the way the country is currently being run. That is why there is anger everywhere. A lot of Nigerians have become disenchanted and disillusioned. But for us from Akwa Ibom State, Biafra is not a preferred option.”
When asked if that was enough reason to kill, he said “no certainly not. As an elderly man and a Christian, I am committed to life of non-violence .I am strongly opposed to bloodshed .Blood is sacred. Nobody must destroy what he cannot create.
“This must be the handiwork of miscreants. I want the Nigeria Police to investigate the series of attacks on his person and bring those behind it to book .Jeremy`s father is one of the leading lights in our community and Jeremy himself is not a bad person .The only thing is that we are not happy with his political opinion and his membership of a self-determination group”, the chief said.