By Douglas Anele
When about thirteen months ago the Nigerian military manifested its loathsome capacity to intimidate and terrorise by invading some parts of the south-east, code-named Operation Python Dance, the ancestral home of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) at Afaraukwu, Umuahia, was ransacked and several people were killed.
After that hideous attack, the whereabouts of Kanu became a hotly debated issue. While some Nigerians particularly from the south-east accused the soldiers of assassinating him and disposing his body at an undisclosed location, conspiracy theorists alleged that he was given a safe passage to escape by some fifth columnists amongst the group that carried out the operation after they were settled handsomely.
Another explanation that gained ground later was that he was hiding in Ghana or at a location within the country, probably somewhere in the creeks, with the active connivance of Asasri Dokubo, leader of the comatose Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). How Nnamdi Kanu escaped from the country and landed in Israel despite the fact that both his Nigerian and British passports were confiscated by the authorities because of a yet-to-be concluded court case remains unknown to the public.
At any rate,given what Kanu stands for and the irascible manner this government had turned a relatively obscure individual into one of the most popular separatist agitators in the country right now, it is not surprising that his reappearance has elicited different reactions from several quarters, particularly from the federal government.
Thus, when penultimate Friday both the conventional and social media carried the news that Nnamdi Kanu was sighted praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel,with footages to back the news, members of IPOB must have heaved a sigh of relief. Without a doubt, Kanu means different things to different people, which implies that it is simplistic to assume, as some ignorant Nigerians tend to do, that Ndigbo in general have the same attitude towards Nnamdi Kanu and his quest for self-determination and actualisation of Biafra.
Of course, they do not: Igbo culture and worldview are radioactive to herd mentality, an index of the long-standing republican and democratic character of traditional Igbo society. So, it is expected that different segments of Ndigbo would react or respond to Kanu’s sudden reappearance depending on their psychological disposition towards him and his group.
For die-hard members of IPOB comprising mostly the youths who see him as a legend, the new liberator of Ndigbo from the manacles of Fulani caliphate colonialism, his reappearance and broadcast aired by Radio Biafra on Sunday,October 20, is a vindication that he is indeed the “chosen one” to lead Ndigbo out of bondage like the biblical Moses led the Jews out of enslavement in Egypt.
On the other hand, prominent members of the political and business elite from the south-east probably consider Kanu’s reappearance as inconsequential, in line with their thinking that he is a misguided upstart who did not witness first-hand thehorrors of the Biafran war and, consequently, does understand fully the import of the Igbo saying that oji oso agbakwuru ogu amaghi na ogu bu onwu (he who runs towards war does not know that war is death).
In the eyes of a typical northerner, the IPOB leader’s re-emergence is a bad omen that cannot be tolerated because heis a misguided ethnic champion, an undesirable element from a defeated ethnic group that must be crushed by the federal government to maintain Nigeria as it is for the north. Now, the interesting thing here is that Garba Shehu’s press release, which can be taken as the official government position on the subject because he isthe Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, is remarkably close to the northern position. Latching on Kanu’s threat that he would return to the country “with hell,” Shehu reportedly proclaimed that “Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari is strong enough to defend its territory against any threat…there is no reason to worry about the hollow outbursts by Nnamdi Kanu, the disputed leader of IPOB, on returning to the country ‘with hell.’”
While there havebeen no official responses from ethnic-based associational groups like OhanezeNdigbo, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, Pan Niger Delta Forum, and so on, one can conjecture that most Nigerians are waiting to see what Nnamdi Kanu might do next and how the federal government will respond. B
ut given the unpredictable nature of human beings and the law of unintended effect, it is clear that the months leading up to next year’s general elections will be pregnant with possibilities. Some people are already insinuating that there is a link between Nnamdi Kanu’s sudden appearance at this time and the choice of Peter Obi as the running mate of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PeoplesDemocratic Party in next year’s election. Time will tell whether such speculations are correct or incorrect.
Nnamdi Kanu made his re-appearance from forced exile even more dramatic with a live public address on Radio Biafra precisely last Sunday at 6pm. Some of the highlights of the broadcast include: “I have returned full-time and I am coming home and I will bring hell with me. We will not relent till referendum is conducted. We stand for the truth. It’s referendum or nothing else.”
He regretted the fatalities that resulted from the military invasion, and berated the military for its highhanded invasion of his family compound. Kanu also criticised the federal government for proscribing IPOB: in his own words, “They are doing all they can to hold us down but we are still here.
They fabricate falsehood. IPOB is very special. The largest black movement in the world.” The IPOB leader thanked the governments of the United States and Germany for rejecting claims by the Nigerian government that IPOB is a terrorist organisation.
Now, what can one make of these pronouncements? I think that instead of the predictable unreflective jackboot reaction by government officials basking in the primitive euphoria of “might is right,” it is preferable to examine Nnamdi Kanu’sstatements dispassionately in order to have a fuller grasp of what is at stake, especially on the vexed issue of whether Nigeria should be left the way it is as a disfigured federal state or be radically restructured to meet the daunting challenges of our time, or for that matter be dismembered peacefully, as recommended by Dr.Nnamdi Azikiwe at the height of the political crises in the 1960s.
For starters, Nnamdi Kanu’s boast that he would return to the country with hell is tactless and unwise. It seems that he has not learned from his previous mistakes considering that it was his bellicose and extremist rhetoric that alienated most Ndigbo and others who were sympathetic to IPOB and the cause he is fighting for, namely, the right of autochthonous Igbo ethnic group (and by implication other ethnic groups in the country) to self-determination.
Actualisation of Biafra will remain a pipe dream if Kanu continues to speak and act in a manner that creates enemies unnecessarily for himself and IPOB. Moreover, although President Buhari has never really hidden his disdain for the concerns of Ndigbo, and his administration the mishandled the IPOB issue ab initio, Kanu has also weakened his case over time by creating the false impression that he can take on the government militarily. Some pertinent questions for him and other IPOB leaders are: what was Kanu thinking when he said that “I am coming home and I will bring hell with me.”? Was he contemplating military confrontation with the Buhari government?
Has he secured the military backing of Israel or any of the world powers with the military might to help IPOB subdue the Nigerian armed forces if the latter attacks Igboland as Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon and his cohorts did in July 6, 1967?
Are Ndigbo prepared to go through the horrors of a civil war once again knowing full well that some vicious Igbo-hating warmongers among the ruling northern elite might be looking for the slightest excuse so that the northern-dominated Nigerian army would attack Igboland once again?
Is Kanu’s threat to bring hell into the country not contrary to IPOB’s repeated valid renunciation of violence as a viable means of actualising the sovereign state of Biafra? Has Kanu considered that Ndigbo he claims to be fighting for might be the biggest losers if he actualises his threat?
In my opinion, belligerent statements by Kanu are counterproductive: such statements alienate those who might help him and provide ammunition for both the federal government and Igbo haters nationwide who, blinded by misguided dislike of the Igbo, see nothing wrong in the marginalisation of Igboland especially since the Biafran war ended in January 1970.
Instead of bringing hell to an already hellish Nigerian state, Nnamdi Kanu should think of ways of convincing American and Israeli governments to effectively support his call for a referendum so that Ndigbo can decide their own political future.