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When pythons dance: IPOB, Kanu and the Biafra struggle

By Rotimi Fasan

WHERE is the operational base of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, now? Where does the struggle for a separate Biafran nation as spearheaded by IPOB stand today? Where is Nnamdi Kanu, the ‘Jewish’ leader, spiritual godfather and Commander-in-Chief of the ‘armless’ IPOB army?

Leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu

In the wake of his disappearance, where are his lieutenants or, indeed, his foot soldiers who had vowed to storm the ‘zoo’ and make life unlivable for its inhabitants and their clueless leaders? The foregoing are relevant questions for IPOB, leaders of the group and their supporters.

And there can be no credible answer to any of the questions until such an answer recognises the difference between a genuine and strategically planned and executed struggle as opposed to the fascination with the optics of such a struggle. More on this shortly but a word first on ‘Python Dance 2’.

This is the code name of the ongoing operation embarked upon by the Nigerian military in the wake of the renewed agitation for a separate Biafran state by members of IPOB in the South-east. It was ostensibly launched to rein in the activities of kidnappers, armed robbers and other undesirable elements in its theatre of operation.

This as the country moves close to the Christmas and New Year holidays. To allay fears that the latest operation is targeted at IPOB and other Igbo separatists, the Nigerian military has promised to launch similar operations in the South-west, the only major part of the country yet to come under some form of military operation.

The proposed operation is to be code named ‘Crocodile Smile’ and it is meant, the military explains, to fight cult-inspired violence, mainly in Ikorodu and other parts of Lagos. How do criminal activities in a small part of the South-west justify the launching of a military operation to cover the entire region? The Nigerian military would like the world to believe that insecurity is so pervasive in Nigeria that only a blanket imposition of military rule would suffice!

Surely, IPOB may have provided the Nigerian military, indeed Abuja, an easy if not imperfect alibi to pacify and ultimately militarise relatively peaceful but vocal sections of the country at a time most of these sections, with the notable exception of the north, have been calling for a renegotiation of the terms of national co-existence among the different regions and peoples of the Nigerian state.

This is what comes from a definite lack of strategic thinking as demonstrated by IPOB. No matter how genuine or justified a struggle is, no matter how populist it gets, it becomes a lost cause once it is led from the heart and not the head. IPOB was more of an emotional outburst than a logical intervention. Boastful utterances, unbridled hurling of insults and curses are ultimately not evidence of or substitutes for bravery.

The inauguration of diverse military operations across the country, it should be said, all amounts to an equalisation of inequalities, considering the latest initiatives are now being compared to operation ‘Lafia Dole’ and other similar operations directed at combating Boko Haram insurgency in different parts of the North-east.

But IPOB made this possible if not inevitable. What is the logic in comparing a civil even if violent crime that is subject to police operation to an armed insurgency directed at the violent takeover of a country or the carving out of a caliphate from a part of it? Even when there have been violent flashpoints, IPOB activities were by public avowals meant to be acts of civil protest.

There was no reason why they could not have remained so; no reason why their actions could have easily been classified acts of terror had good judgment prevailed. But as the body gained ascendancy it became truculent and self-willed. It grew an outsized ego that could only hear and bear its own voice. Every other voice was anathema and was accordingly treated.

IPOB was a creation of Buhari. The group, as led by Nnamdi Kanu, has nothing to say that other people or groups before it have not said more articulately. It could have been ignored while the Buhari government finds a way to mend its ways and correct its own errors of judgment.

But like IPOB, neither knowledge nor wisdom, to say nothing of generosity, has been a strong factor of governance under Buhari. It has either been this government’s way or the highway. The government insisted on doing things  its own way.

Then without warning it turned its gaze on IPOB, then a noisy rabble of secessionists out to stake a claim to the Biafran heritage against rival claimants like the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB. And when nothing justified or called for it, Buhari went for Kanu and clamped him into jail, insisting on keeping him in jail even when the courts demanded his release.

As Kanu’s supporters became restive, calling for his release like other Nigerians, so did an aura grow around him. He was gradually transformed into a figure of importance by the intransigence of government and its agents. He gained sympathy and attracted the attention of those who would not ordinarily give him a chance.

This went apace with the Buhari government’s continued sidelining of the Igbo. By the time the government was ready to release Kanu his ‘enigma’ had grown and it was apparent that government must find a political solution to his issue.

So was a bail with very stiff conditions scrambled for him. Kanu returned home to a hero’s welcome. But rather than see his release and the circumstances surrounding it as a rare opportunity for self-fashioning from a rabble rouser to a credible leader and voice of a new generation, he chose to tread the path of self-aggrandizement.

The willful and implacable critic of the feudalist zoo became the transformed leader of the ‘Jews’ of Nigeria. He went around in priestly gear, receiving the obeisance of his subjects. Soon, and perhaps not strange for a son of a traditional ruler in a supposedly republican set-up, he would become an emperor whose words were law.

He understood the political capital of his long incarceration and release only in terms of his being the unelected leader of a separate Biafra whose terms of existence he had yet to articulate. He went around making unauthorised pronouncements, outbursts of a megalomaniac. He the chief campaigner of a free Biafra became the despot that outlawed elections.

Emptily arrogant, he set up an army and a so-called secret police and carried on like a sovereign, cheered on by undiscerning followers. When the python slithered into his Biafra he scampered into thin air- just as many had predicted. What now happens to his Bifran dream?

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