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Politics of IPOB containment

By Ochereome Nnanna

BEFORE I engage this analytical inquest into the politics at play in the containment of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, may I ask this question: where is Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of this group?

There has been eerie silence on the whereabouts of Kanu and some of his immediate family members since the army invaded and vandalised their home in Afaraukwu, Umuahia, Abia State. Apart from a few sources which have issued unconfirmed statements in Kanu’s name in the social media, I don’t seem to have heard any word directly from Kanu or even the faceless Emma Powerful, the IPOB megaphone.

I have also not heard the Army or any agency of the Federal Government owning up to holding Kanu or any of his family members in their custody in the same way that the leader of the Shiites in Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim El Zakzaky, has been held incommunicado for nearly two years. I don’t know if Kanu is dead or alive. Has he “gone underground”? Has he gone into exile? Perhaps, I am the only one who does not know, so I am appealing to anyone who has better information on this matter to educate me. It is important for us to know what has happened to Kanu, at least for the records.

IPOB members 

Since 25th April 2017 when Kanu was granted bail under draconian conditions by Abuja Federal High Court judge, Justice Binta Murtala Nyako, Kanu simply went home and refused to respect the terms of the bail. He was told not to be found among a crowd of more than ten persons. He was not to address any rallies. Apparently, Kanu’s health, the main ground on which he was allowed to go home, dramatically improved, and he started mobilising mammoth crowds. He moved from one major city in the South East to the other, making defiant speeches. Sometimes he had dangerous brushes with law-enforcement agencies, and went as far as calling for the boycott of the Anambra governorship election which comes up on 18th November, 2017.

Though Kanu and his IPOB stayed clear of bearing arms, they took a step that was bound to be read as going beyond the proverbial red line: forming the Biafra Security Service, BSS. Videos of this outfit smartly clad in paramilitary uniforms and mounting guards of honour whenever Kanu stepped out of his house made it to the public space. Honestly, at this point, I was seriously troubled. Kanu had become reckless, and since he was not listening to anyone but himself, it was not obvious what next he might want to do. His formation of BSS was rationalised by his acolytes. They argued that, after all, some Northern states had unilaterally adopted criminal aspects of Sharia law and formed the Hisbah vigilantes or uniformed Sharia police to implement Sharia law.

Little did it occur to them that BSS, being the security arm of a secessionist group, cannot stand side by side with any vigilante outfit formed and subordinated to the authority of the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian state. Those of us who are not fully sold on this Biafra mania, at least for now, would have wished that the mass movement under Kanu should have been an Igbo (not Biafran or secessionist) platform. Under such an arrangement, you can create a vanguard to protect Igbo interests. You can form and clothe a vigilante group to secure Igboland, but in conjunction with the security agencies. You will still be on the right side of the law. Some states in the South East once formed the Bakasi Boys, and no one complained because it was not a secessionist ploy. That is what the Oódua People’s Congress, OPC, has successfully done in Yoruba land.

But when the OPC under Gani Adams started killing non-Yoruba in Lagos slums in the early 2000s, it struck the posture of a quasi-terrorist organisation. President Olusegun Obasanjo mobilised extensive military and Police expeditions against them until Gani Adams cleverly re-branded himself, went to school and turned OPC into a legitimate and trusted vigilante organisation which is tolerated by the authorities. It does not stop OPC from being mobilised for militant purposes in defence of Yoruba interests if the need for that arises.

But by travelling the path of reckless abandon, Kanu’s IPOB played into the hands of its political enemies: Arewa North and South East Governors.

It is obvious that Arewa North wrote the script for the military expedition called Operation Python Dance II. While President Muhammadu Buhari was on his London sick bed, the Coalition of Arewa Youths, with the prodding of some of their elders (and, perhaps, elements within the Arewa-dominated Federal Government) was used as a counter-voice to Kanu’s IPOB. They issued the “quit notice”, commissioned the hate songs, wrote the United Nations calling (for the first time) IPOB a “terrorist” group and started mobilising towards October 1st, 2017, their dateline for Igbo residents in the North to relocate to their homeland.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who believes in the power of dialogue and diplomacy, did his best in that direction and many efforts were put in place to get Kanu to slow down. But when Buhari came back, he made a national broadcast that obviously showed he was going to act in line with Arewa demands. Python Dance II was cunningly designed as a sectional agenda to give unarmed IPOB the same treatment given to Boko Haram, one of the world’s most renowned Islamist terrorist groups.

Kanu’s uprising was seen as “sponsored” rebellion against the Buhari regime, which some Northern hawks also saw as a threat to the North’s hold on presidential power. Buhari knows that he would never make any headway in the East in 2019, so he chose to bring his Northern constituency (some of whom had lost faith in their messiah over the hardship we have all suffered under this regime) fully back on board for his 2019 agenda.

On the other hand, the South East Governors had to “proscribe” IPOB for two major reasons. Number one was that they stood in danger of being swept out by a state of emergency if the crisis had escalated further. Number two is that Kanu had seized the grassroots. Majority of the grassroots were no longer listening to governors and political leaders but to Kanu. The coming of Python Dance II and its containment of Kanu gave the politicians back their political turf. With Kanu out of the scene (for now) the governors, particularly Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, have managed to come out of this imbroglio happier than they went into it.

Calm appears to be returning. Perhaps in a few weeks from now, IPOB will be out of the front pages. Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, declared IPOB has been “cut down to size”. Veteran columnist, Ray Ekpu, says IPOB is “dead”. I say both may be wrong.

The Federal Government has merely poured water on a heap of refuse. The flame may have gone out, but underneath, it will continue to smoulder only to flare again in the future. The issues that brought Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB to the centre stage have not been addressed by Python Dance. A million Python Dances cannot address them. Self-determination is still on the cards. It may come in a benign, pan-Nigerian form, such as restructuring and the drastic devolution of powers to free all of us from the colonial grip of some of us. Or it may still come in form of an implosion of the Nigerian commonwealth, which we must not allow.

Those celebrating the “triumph” of an ethnic agenda called Python Dance are merely celebrating a pyrrhic victory because the struggle for equity in Nigeria has only just begun.



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