By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
It’s been so since the ages. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Victory or defeat eventually, unfortunately, decides the abiding epithet. Mandela was once labelled a terrorist. Nnamdi Kanu, can take heart. That baptism could be reversed by history. Mandela won and became a world acclaimed freedom fighter.
But he became great not by manifesting megalomania. He was the embodiment of moral principles and self-sacrifice. Every terrorist claims freedom fighting. But a true freedom fighter is not a narcissist. He weighs the ramifications of his actions. His people are not his guinea pigs.
The terrorist label is not necessarily abominable. The routine criminal has no superior cause or any such pretext. The effect of the label in certain domestic circumstances is to effectively quarantine a troublesome group. Or drive them underground. The international consequences of the tag would depend on the clout of the baptizing nation. It could be abused. But it is not strange that a separatist group is labelled a terrorist group. It could be part of the early political negotiations. If the group rode on charlatanism, it could be a death knell.
But nothing that has happened in southeast Nigeria recently is strange. Governments can label organizations that have caused widespread fear of violence in their separatist agitations terrorist groups. And governments usually announce or affix that nomenclature before initiating the legal processes to formalize the baptism.
The supporters of such groups will always quarrel with the classification. Closet supporters and due process activists could worry about the propriety of the label. Many would always doubt the objectivity and constitutionality of such declarations. Every nation guards its sovereignty jealously.
A group rechristened a terrorist group can challenge an unfair classification in court. It doesn’t fall on the President of a Senate to determine the constitutionality of any action of the executive. Except of course he was merely expressing a personal opinion, to which he is entitled. A group that has been christened a terrorist group by a government can run to the international community to cry. Victims of domestic abuse always call on neighbours and kin.
But a separatist group must understand a preoccupation with the entertainment an international gallery often yields nothing. Their efforts must be concentrated on winning local hearts and minds. So it must come up with convincing moral arguments and must do away with hate speeches and hallucinations.
Its arguments against any such wrongful declaration cannot be that its members have never killed anyone. Or that its members do not carry arms. If a separatist group has a certain General Innocent Orji as commander of its military wing then it must find better arguments. It’s infantile to believe that that General was appointed to run a Sunday-Sunday boys brigade. Such a separatist group is faced with enormous credibility mountains to climb.
But it must close its eyes and state that it has not engaged in unlawful acts capable of causing widespread fear of violence in the populace. Denials sometimes are more polite than truthful admissions. If it has engaged in hate speeches and threats of violence and has a secret service that has threatened to take on the army, then it must find other excuses. It won’t be enough to argue that the so called secret service is a just another vigilante formed to confront kidnappers. And to confront them and violent herdsmen with bare knuckles . That wont sell.
It can argue that it shouldn’t be taken seriously. It can argue that some of these outlandish things were done just to boost the morale of its supporters. It can argue that as a group its leaders have been loose with their tongues though their hearts have remained innocent and pure. It can plead youthful exuberance.
These are good arguments. But they are not the sort of arguments that should be left to political surrogates and elders in Ohaneze to make on their behalf. It wouldn’t help that those surrogates are governors playing opportunistic politics while masquerading as defenders of freedom and rule of law. Arguments that hinge on remorse must be made through the mouths that had spat venom. That way they are cleansed.
A group rechristened a terrorist group doesn’t defend itself by pointing out other candidates for that baptism. It will defend itself by sharing its values, by declaring its virtues. It should publish a healthy catechism for the reformation of its followers. If the leader of such a group once threatened to decapitate the president then he must tender an apology or he can simply say he was misquoted. It wouldn’t be irredeemable that there are video clips to refute his denials.
Everybody understands video clips can be altered and corrupted. It may not help that this is the internet age. And there may be hundreds of radio Biafra clips and a cache of other video clips on the internet. Fortunately, for him, this is the age of ‘fake news.’ He can just say they are all fake. And they could be swept away. But it’s needless aggravation to spew defiance from a hiding hole.
Biafra is a democratic option. Demand for referendum is a legitimate demand. But if every country granted every demand for referendum then every nuclear family could become a nation. And every continent could become a massive cauldron. That is why such political demands are best presented through political leaders, through means that have political legitimacy.
Agreed, some separatists have fought their way to separation. People have come to power through coups. But a separatist group that elects to threats and intimidation rather than political pressure and persuasion would bear the consequences that come with that choice. It shouldn’t invite people to its pity parties.
Nothing in this article suggests that an oppressive majority that has denied an alienated minority sense of belonging has that hapless minority perpetual slavery. A marginalized minority can pursue its salvation doggedly through civil disobedience. Such chronic civil disobedience is effective if the minority uses its elected representatives to champion the agitation. Any group desirous therefore of leading separatist agitations should participate and win elective positions directly or indirectly.
That way no one wonders if the agitation lacks consent legitimacy. If everyone capable of some demagoguery assembles youths, and runs round streets, and becomes a leader that must be deferred to, then anarchy would inevitably creep in. How would a Biafra achieved through such a route be stable?
How would a Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu, that has many other aspiring Nnamdi Kanus survive? How would it resist further atomizations without becoming a zoo?