By Obi Nwakanma
Where are all the famous Human Rights advocacy groups in Nigeria? Those who could at the very drop of a hat rouse a teary plea against the oppression, for as long, it now seems, as those “citizens” are from the right end of the rail track. It does seem that once it comes to the South-East of Nigeria, those normally with “public conscience” have their “consciences” suddenly go to sleep.
So where is Olisa Agbakoba? So, where is Femi Falana, the tireless campaigner for our human rights? The “inheritor” of the distinguished mantle of the irrepressible icon of the defence of citizens right and conscience of the nation, the late Gani Fawehinmi?
This moment is when Gani is sorely missed. This was his signature moment, when he would rise fearlessly, and confront the Nigerian government and its armada of forces, and compel them to produce, dead or alive, the body of the missing IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Gani would be unstoppable. He would go to the ends of the legal earth, and he would file tons of briefs, until it becomes a public issue of the sort that would make even a deaf regime hearken. But Gani is no more. And Chima Ubani – that tireless organizer too. The Nigerian space for critical organizing seems empty and limited with the gaping absence of those two. But where are the new kids on the block? Did public advocacy end with one generation?
Are Nigerians now suffering from “human-rights fatigue?” I hope surely not. Because we need to raise this important question and we need the answers from the Buhari administration, and the security services: where the hell is Nnamdi Kanu? This question is urgent for two reasons: one, an opponent of government cannot just disappear without trace, and without accounting.
Once we permit that, and ignore the important questions, then the lives of every Nigerian citizen, particularly those of journalists, opposition lawyers, human rights advocates, political opposition of any hue, and simply put, any citizen of this nation who is presumed even without a scintilla of cause, to be an “opponent of government” is potential candidate for disappearance. Governments are powerful institutions. They have resources of persuasion and violence.
Because governments have such unlimited resources, civilized societies place a chain on their waists to tug them back from excessive use of these instruments of state terror; because such instruments can be misused, and once it becomes routine to deploy excessive coercive methods, we slip into normlessness and fear and tyranny.
As citizens we come to recognize that we are now “acted upon” and no longer conscious agents of our own. We begin to fear for our lives and our loss of agency. Fear breeds its own response: one, it drives people to acts of brinkmanship.
Two, it seeks vengeance. Three it deregulates violence, and the greatest victims are those in society who are unable to arm themselves in their own self-defence. It is therefore in the general interest of society to make certain that governments to do not acquire, or appropriate, or utilize the power, outside of the law, to make its opponents “disappear.”
The second reason we must ask this government about the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu is because it has an obligation to Nigerians to explain, and give a concrete sense of what to expect with Kanu. Kanu is the leader of a movement of secession. The government has tagged that movement, and Kanu himself a “terrorist.”
Many people have of course pointed out to the Nigerian government that this is not quite so. To tag IPOB a terrorist organization, is to reduce the entire meaning of nation to a joke.
The government might just as well declare the APC the only legal political party, and other parties, including the PDP which conceded government to it following an election defeat, a terrorist organization, simply because its aim now is to rouse a crowd to “overthrow the APC government” even if by the use of democratic means – the electoral votes.
We have pointed out serially that the evidence before us, until the government produces stronger, countervailing facts, shows that IPOB very clearly makes the case for separation and secession, but through the use of a plebiscitory process, and not by arms.
That it in fact publicly disavows the use of arms. The Buhari administration first arrested Nnamdi Kanu on the claims that he wished to commit treason; they held him in detention, and brought him to court. The Federal High court granted him a bail and upheld that the Federal government did not have the powers to hold him indefinitely in detention.
The courts released him on a bail, took sureties from the ranking senator from Abia, Senator Enyinnia Abaribe and a Jewish Rabbi, and sent Nnamdi Kanu home with a gag. But the gag rule was an unjust and unenforceable rule.
It basically tied Kanu’s hands backwards, and gaged his mouth, and sent him home, with a pre-condition that limited his rights of movement by confining him to a small radius of his home in Afara-Ukwu Umuahia. He did break his conditions, but the courts did not order his re-arrest.
It just so happened that on September 14, the Buhari administration authorized the use of force to contain Kanu and his movement. Using the coverage of a military operation, the “Operation Python Dance” in the South East, the Nigerian military attacked Nnamdi Kanu’s home in Afara-Ukwu Umuahia. At home during the bombardment that day were Nnamdi Kanu’s parents, none of whom have since been seen alive. No one has heard from them.
Nobody as yet knows whether they were killed in the attack, or whether they just simply escaped. They have denied custody of either Nnamdi Kanu’s parents or Nnamdi Kanu himself since the attack. However, on September 18, the IPOB released a statement claiming that the Nigerian military may have killed Nnamdi Kanu and his parents in that operation, and may have seized their bodies.
This is very serious allegation. But it is increasingly necessary to ask this question about what government knows about the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu. His silence, since the attack, and the silence of his parents is getting ominous and suspicious, and thickening the conspiracy that the military may have allegedly killed them and burnt their bodies.
Government sources have since denied this, but have refused to make further clarifications on this question. Mr. Orji Uzo Kalu, a former governor of Abia state did come out, it was reported, to say that Nnamdi Kanu had escaped to London, by way of Asia.
He has since denied making this claim, especially since the UK government had raised the question, themselves, of the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu. This past week, the courts convened to try Nnamdi Kanu in absentia.
It all felt like hollow ritual, as though the government was embarked on a wink-wink gimmick, and the larger absurdism of such gimmickry was when Justice Binta Nyako, summoned Senator Abaribe and those who had stood sureties for Kanu to court, to produce him or lose their deposits or worse. Now, the question that I thought should be raised before the court is, whether Abaribe and co, still had a responsibility to the court, if the subject of the litigation was attacked, disappeared, or even forced to flee, were it to be the case, by the same government trying him, thus putting his bailers in jeopardy.
It is incumbent on Abaribe and his lawyers to force the Federal government to account exactly for Nnamdi Kanu. He cannot just disappear without trace. Even if Nnamdi Kanu escaped, Nigeria has an Intelligence services which ought by now to know the foot marks of that escape, and to where, and would by now have placed a tag on Kanu and his whereabouts.
That is, suppose, in fact he escaped. But there is no evidence that Kanu escaped or left the country either alone or with his parents. It is a troubling question, and the IPOB has said that it would give the government a minimum time within which to produce Kanu or his body, after which they’d embark on a series of direct retaliatory actions, starting with the governors of the East who allegedly invited the soldiers, as they alleged, to kill their leader. This is very dangerous development. And this is not a time to say “wanka” and leave it at that.
If the IPOB is forced to arms, this government would have opened a very dangerous front the end of which no one can legitimately foresee. Where is Nnamdi Kanu? The governors of the East and President Buhari must give us answers, and quickly too.