…Condemn his approach, call for one Nigeria, insist on restructuring Nigeria
By Vincent Ujumadu and Dennis Agbo
TIME was when most Igbo people admired the courage of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the Umuahia –born leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, and the director of Radio Biafra, for boldly speaking out in defense of his people, at a time it appeared that the Igbo elite had chickened out despite the glaring cases of marginalization of the race in Nigeria.
Though the Igbo elite agreed with Kanu on most of the issues he had been highlighting and hammering on, especially the lopsidedness of appointments of the present federal government, it became a matter of who would bail the cat.
Prominent Igbo people kept quiet on the seeming predicament of the Igbo, but ostensibly for fear of losing their position in Nigeria, they could only murmur and agree with Kanu in closed circles, but condemn him anytime their positions appeared threatened.
Kanu became the darling of Igbo and non Igbo alike due to his courage, which explained why there was almost a unanimous call for his release from detention following his arrest by the Nigerian security operatives. It was also this admiration of his courage that informed the decision of the Igbo caucus in the Senate to agree to sign his bail conditions.
And since his release from detention, his popularity had soared such that he could be said to have been bestowed with the role of Commander –in –Chief of Igbo nation. He had been received and given audience by the Igbo elite since his return from detention and many people were already attributing the sudden call for the restructuring of Nigeria from even unexpected quarters, to Kanu’s activities although the calls preceded his travails. While his erstwhile contemporary, Chief Ralph Uwazurike was seen by many as a sellout as far as the issue of Biafra was concerned, Kanu’s agitation for Biafra Republic and call for a referendum to enable Igbo people determine their fate made him an instant hero.
At his Afaraukwu country home in Umuahia since his return, people who served in the Biafra Army, including the commissioned officers, salute him as their C in C, with happiness despite his age. The climax was his directive for the people living in the entire Biafra territory, as well as those residing in all parts of Nigeria to sit at home on May 30 in remembrance of all those who lost their lives during the Biafra War , as well as others killed during pro-Biafra rallies across the country.
It could easily be concluded that it was the success of that sit –at-home that triggered the storm in the polity, which culminated in the decision of some Northern youths to give Igbo people residing in the Northern part of Nigeria, a quit notice that would expire on October 1, 2017. While various interest groups were still trying to manage the controversy generated by the quit notice, Kanu stirred the hornets’ nest when he directed that the scheduled November 18, 2017 governorship election in Anambra State should not hold, unless there was a referendum on Biafra before then. He was also quoted to have boasted that there would be no election in Biafra territory in 2019 unless the referendum was conducted before then.
To many people, Kanu’s decision to dabble into the Anambra election, with its tendency to undermine the country’s democracy, was the height of arrogating to himself, the powers he does not have. First to take on Kanu on his pronouncement that election would not hold in Anambra State this year, was the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, in the state. In a letter to Kanu, which was signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Ifeatu Obiokoye, APGA described the call as irresponsible and devoid of intellectual focus.
Insisting that Kanu had no authority to speak for the Igbo of the South-East, a situation he had enjoyed up till now, APGA acknowledged him as the leader of IPOB, but explained that the Biafra concept was a metaphor for the demand for equity and fair play in the Nigeria state and not a separatist movement.
In clear terms, APGA told Nnamdi Kanu: “The call for a boycott of elections in the South-East, beginning with the governorship polls scheduled for November 18, 2017 in Anambra is irresponsible and totally devoid of any focus. You must appreciate that for different logical reasons and perception, the Biafra concept has attracted favourable comments among our people, ostensibly borne out of the marginalization of Ndigbo in the Nigerian state.
“The youths of the East are agitating for Biafra, while the Arewa youths are equally restive; the same goes for Níger Delta youths and youths from Oduduwa states. In this popular agitation for Biafra, Ndigbo have not instituted a separatist movement or a terrorist gang as it were.”
Even as APGA said that it stood for restructuring and implementation of the 2014 National Conference resolutions as a sure way to peaceful co-existence among ethnic nationalities and for dousing tension in Nigeria, it urged Kanu not to be carried away by the success of the May 30 sit-at-home call, which was attributable to many reasons, including fear.
The party also reminded Nnamdi Kanu that the right to vote and be voted for was a universally declared right under the United Nations Charter of People’s and Citizenship Right, and in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), advising the IPOB leader to drop his “emperor” perception of himself “and humble yourself to the true leadership of Ndigbo for a proper and better articulation of the Biafra struggle.”
Barely 48 hours after the APGA bombshell on Kanu, the entire leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization stormed Awka, the Anambra State capital and drove straight to the Anambra State House of Assembly where its President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo addressed the 30-member legislature on the threat given by the IPOB leader.
Nwodo, who looked visibly worried while addressing the lawmakers, warned leaders of groups championing self rule for the Igbo nation not to arrogate to themselves the supreme leadership of Igboland . While acknowledging the obvious fact that Ndigbo were suffering marginalization in the affairs of the country, he abundantly made it clear that Igbo was still part and parcel of Nigeria, advising that in seeking mitigation of the injustices being meted to Ndigbo, civilized approach should be adopted.
Lashing out at the IPOB leader for making what he called unguarded utterances that Anambra State governorship election would not hold, Nwodo said such utterance had already drawn the attention of the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who, he stated, had deployed more police personnel to patrol Anambra State, with its attendant consequences. He also reminded Kanu that his utterance had unfortunately breached the undertaking he took before him (Nwodo) when he was released from detention, warning him that the Igbo nation does not need the unnecessary heat he was putting in the polity.
Nwodo said: “News that reached us in the past few days that Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB, has declared that there will be no election in Anambra in November is shocking and disturbing. I hereby countermand that declaration as President General of Ohaneze. Whereas Ohanaeze understands the marginalization and unfair treatment of Igbo which have given rise to self-determination movements in Igboland, leaders of these movements must not arrogate to themselves the supreme leadership of the Igbo.
“Statements of the kind credited to Nnamdi Kanu are provocative, misleading and unproductive. Why should Anambra people be denied the opportunity to choose their own leader? Why should any of us who is not from Anambra, no matter how highly placed, descend to the arena and dictate for Anambra people when to vote, whether to vote or who to vote for?
“Anambra, nay Igbo, are still part and parcel of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Yes, we are not happy with our treatment in Nigeria. Yes, some of us want Biafra. Yes, some of us prefer a restructured Federal Republic of Nigeria. But the fact remains that we are still part and parcel of the present Federal Republic of Nigeria, bound by its laws, no matter how repressive or unjust.
“Our approach to reforms of our laws even if it leads to self-determination or restructuring must be lawful. We must convince other Nigerians of our point of view, we must strive to make others share our convictions.
“Our language must be civil, respectful and lead to consensus building. We must resist any attempt to turn division amongst us, as to which way we must go, become a source of altercations between us.
“As we speak very many of our people living in Northern Nigeria are in complete awe and consternation regarding how safe they will be after October 1st. Other Northerners living amongst us are also worried.
“The Inspector General of Police has taken public notice of Nnamdi’s comments, which may amount to inviting a possible invasion of Anambra by the Nigerian Police, increasing the already existing siege on our people, which may lead to daily extortion on our highways. All these developments have arisen out of unguarded utterances. I find no venue more suited for the statements I make here. Every constituent part of Anambra is represented here. I believe that the honourable members here are competent enough to carry the Ohaneze message to every nook and cranny of Anambra State.”
Apparently to discourage Kanu from issuing similar directive in future, Nwodo explained further that Ohaneze leadership would visit other houses of assembly in Igbo- speaking states, to acquaint them on the stand of the Ohaneze on issues concerning the people, particularly on the Biafra agitation. He expressed happiness with the peace that exists in Anambra State and the steady progress being made over the years, noting that the November election could only improve and not retard the progress.
Earlier, the Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, speaking through his Senior Special Assistant on legislative matters, Chief Chiedozie Ezeugwa, said that the state government was committed to the Igbo cause and would continue to do everything to support the Ohaneze in protecting interest Igbo.
Former national chairman of the APGA, Chief Victor Umeh, who was also not happy with the threat, said the Igbo should avoid being divided in whatever cause they were pursuing. But he advised that time had come when the complaint of Ndigbo should be listened to. Umeh, who was a member of the last Constitutional Conference, observed that Igbo would fare better if the recommendations of that conference were implemented.
Also speaking on the IPOB leader’s threat to Anambra election, the National Coordinator of the Willie Obiano support group, Chief Ekene Enefe warned against the dangers of boycotting the governorship election and urged the IPOB leader to retract his statement on the matter.
Enefe said the plan by IPOB members to stop the governorship election as a result of non conduct of a referendum first to determine those who support Biafra, amounted to a disservice to Anambra State, which could lead to disruption of peace.
Enefe said: “They should allow the conduct of peaceful, free and fair election in the state and not to draw the state backwards politically. The issue of referendum would be handled according to the law and should not be used as a mechanism to cause crisis in a peaceful state like Anambra.
“Disruption of the election would be confronting government of the day under Governor Obiano, who had been doing everything humanly possible to ensure that democracy dividends got to every nook and cranny of the state.
“Security, agricultural revolution, prompt payment of workers’ salaries including pensioners are among the major achievements of the Obiano administration, they should reconsider their stand and allow the election to be conducted for the governor return for second tenure to complete all he started.”
On the heels of Nwodo’s visit to the Anambra State House of Assembly, came an enlarged meeting of Igbo leaders in Enugu, which ended in the wee hours of last Sunday. The large attendance at the meeting was an indication that the issue of the leader of IPOB was agitating the minds of a large number of the Igbo and many of them were therefore curious to know what decisions the leaders would take on the rising agitation for restoration of a Biafra Republic, championed mostly by Igbo youths.
However, many people noted that Nnamdi Kanu was not even invited to the meeting. Saturday Vanguard nevertheless, was able to uncover that the meeting was mainly convened to deal with the issue of Nnamdi Kanu’s actions once and for all. His agitation, the impact, the pros and the cons, formed the major discuss of the night in the meeting that lasted for over seven hours.
It was learnt that Kanu’s exclusion from the meeting was deliberate, since he was not yet considered as an Igbo leader of repute. Even though he influences the mindset of majority of Igbo youths who are restive on the plight of Ndigbo in Nigeria, Kanu, it was revealed, would have to wait for “maturity” before taken seriously on such an Igbo gathering.
It appeared as if the meeting was solely convened to deal decisively on what some referred to as the antics of Kanu, precisely since he came out from Kuje Prison.
Information authoritatively sourced from the closed door meeting revealed that Nnamdi Kanu’s issue took the centre stage and was “extensively and exhaustively trashed.” The issue of Kanu’s call for the boycott of Anambra governorship election in November this year, his offensive statements that attracted scorn from Igbo admirers who ordinarily have sympathy for the self-determination struggle and the case of Arewa Youths quit notice on Ndigbo were exhaustively discussed.
It was for Kanu’s issue that an Igbo working with the United Nations was invited to the meeting to ascertain the world’s view on the agitation, but to the surprise of many, the renewed agitation had not attracted the eyes of the world body as Kanu. In fact, the Saharawi separatist agitation in Morocco which has been there for a long time was given as a good example that Biafra is not what most young Igbo believe is here with us now.
Indeed, it was revealed that the International body has no clear record on a the renewed Biafra agitation. Ohaneze President Chief Nnia Nwodo was said to have harped more on the restructuring of Nigeria which he maintained would help reduce the injustice meted to the Igbo. This position he repeated on Channels TV Thursday.
There were also talks about the life style of some of the past leaders of the agitation which some people frowned at as indications of opportunism.
The meeting, it was gathered, was almost moved towards issuing stern statement against the style of the Biafra agitators but reason prevailed over emotion and the idea of sending a delegation of select elders to meet with the leaders of Biafra movements was reached. What would have been a stinker against Biafra agitation was therefore dropped to explore a preferred option of dialogue.
Among those in the meeting included the five Governors of South East States led by the Chairman of South East Governors Forum and Governor of Ebonyi state, Engr. Dave Umahi, all members of National Assembly, all members of the National Assembly from the zone led by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, including the Chairman of South East Caucus of the members of the National Assembly, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe.
Others are, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Chief Nnia Nwodo, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, former Governor of the Central Bank Prof Chukwuma Soludo, Senator Sam Egwu, Chief Chekwas Okorie, Prof Barth Nnaji, Commodore Ibitu Ukaiwe, Mrs. Josephine Aneni, and Senator Gill Nnaji.
The list also included the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese Prof Godfrey Onah, the Enugu Archbishop of Anglican Communion Dr Emmanuel Chukwuma, the Obi of Onitsha Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Chairman of South East Traditional Rulers Council.
While the host Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi urged Ndigbo to make fruitful deliberations, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state, who is the Chairman of South East Governors Forum and convener of the meeting, had set the tone of the meeting by expressing his worry over the consequences of Biafra agitation. Umahi said: “Whilst we recognize quite rightly that each and every zone in the country is challenged by one form of youth restiveness or the other, we are particularly concerned because of the crude dimensions that things are veering. We will continue to seek avenues of positive resolution in order to avert bringing pointless doom upon our great land.”
At the end, the meeting resolved to be part of a united Nigeria, condemned all hate speeches from sections of the country and stamped their feet to be part of a restructured Nigeria. They agreed to adopt the 2014 National conference report as basis for a restructured Nigeria and to constitute an organ that will solely speak on behalf of Ndigbo. The safety of lives and property of Ndigbo in diaspora was also articulated, while dialogue with the federal government continues.
One of the Igbo leaders who attended the meeting, who also is the National Chairman of United Progressives Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, agreed completely that the issue of Biafra and Nnamdi Kanu took centre stage at the meeting.
Okorie said: “The issue was addressed; it’s just that it was not everything discussed in the meeting that one would expect to appear in the communiqué. It was a matter that gave everybody concern and it was exhaustively addressed but what came out in the communiqué was what we agreed should come out in the communiqué.
“The world shouldn’t expect us to come and dissect issues like that on pages of the newspapers. But for the fact that leaders of the South East made firm statement about united Nigeria and went further to acknowledge the fact that Nigeria was not properly structured and needs to be restructured for unity shows that everything was discussed. It captured the decision of everybody in that meeting. Nobody in that meeting was in support of secession because the implication is inevitable but at the same time he (Nnamdi Kanu) was not roundly condemned because we granted him the impulsiveness of a youth and we said some leaders will do discrete intervention to douse or mellow down the rhetoric of the agitating youths.”
On the perceived hatred Kanu was bringing to Ndigbo and the need for caution, Okorie said: “That’s what I meant by saying that some selected elders have been directed to intervene so that the rhetoric of not just himself but those around him will be mellowed down. They can still agitate without fanning the ember of hatred.”
However, a former Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nduka Eya, who was not at the meeting, was of the opinion that Kanu’s courage should be encouraged and not persecuted. Chief Eya said that Kanu speaks the truth the elders shy away from.
He said: “Sometimes we think that we represent people, but we don’t really do that. I expected that the South East governors headed by Governor Umahi, who said Ebonyi is not Biafra, should have invited this young man to counsel him and make it public. If your son is missing the way, you call him and counsel him but I have not seen any group of Igbo Leaders of Thought that had invited Nnamdi Kanu to say look, look!
“I remember that when Uwazuruike was released to come and bury his mother, I was the Secretary General of Ohaneze Ndigbo then and we sent a delegation to him and said look, what you are saying is right, but it’s treasonable; that you won’t be alive and that they might cut your legs. People like Saro Wiwa were executed. They are no more there to talk about Ogoni. But I am amazed that the Igbo would always disown their own.