By Douglas Anele
As I indicated last week, Nnamdi Kanu did not witness the horrors of the Biafran war first hand; hence, he should stop using extremely belligerent language which the northern-dominated military could use as a pretext to carry out deadly military operations in Igboland, especially now that President Muhammadu Buhari has entrusted the top echelons of Nigeria’s security apparatchik in the hands of caliphate colonialists.
Additionally, his organisation, IPOB, can explore available legal instruments in the United Nations Organisation (UNO) and the African Union (AU) to make its case for the creation of Republic of Biafra by complying with or fulfilling the requirements stipulated by these international organisations for referendum.
In this connection, IPOB needs to put together compelling documentation or evidence of the atrocities committed against Ndigbo in Nigeria, beginning from the bloody Jos and Kano riots of 1945 and 1953 respectively, through the pogroms of the 1960s, the hideous brutality of the Biafran war, intermittent massacres of Ndigbo living in northern Nigeria since 1970, to the surreptitious but injurious marginalisation of Igboland by administrations headed by northerners now taken to a nauseating level by President Buhari.
The evidence should also include the quit notice by the youth wing of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to Ndigbo to leave the north by October last year, footages of extrajudicial murder of unarmed Igbo youths protesting against the degraded status of Ndigbo in Nigeria and humiliation of IPOB members who were forced by soldiers to lie face down in the mud, among others.
So, instead of boasting and projecting himself as a messiah of the Igbo, Kanu should re-evaluate his tactics and come up with bold and imaginative non-violent methods that can attract support from the most gifted and influential Ndigbo who will join forces with IPOB and make the international community recognise the moral imperative of compelling the Nigerian government to conduct a UN and AU supervised referendum as demanded by the separatist movement.
That said, Kanu should realise that secessionist agitation without the necessary military wherewithal and strategy offers a first-class ticket to self-immolation. Leading a socio-political revolution is not an owambe party: it is an extremely dangerous undertaking that requires wisdom, knowledge, and a lot of determination, focus, courage and self-sacrifice to succeed, as exemplified by the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and other pacifist transformative leaders. Kanu should study the autobiographies and biographies of these men in order to learn how to apply morally rooted non-violent methods to achieve his goal.
On his criticism of the attack on his family which led to the death of people and destruction of property, every right thinking Nigerian should deplore the strong-arm approach of the President and his top military and security advisers.
Now, if Nnamdi Kanu is the son of President Buhari, Prof. Osinbajo or Bola Tinubu and so on, would the military have attacked and ransacked his family compound? Certainly not, which corroborates the claim that Nigeria is a glorified Animal Farm where some animals are more equal than others. In as much as the unruly behaviours of some IPOB members are counterproductive, Operation Python Dance is unnecessary. IPOB has stated publicly that it is committed to using peaceful methods to pursue its objectives. Unfortunately, both the police and the army tend to prefer excessive force and violence in dealing with largely unarmed Igbo youths involved in peaceful protests to press home their demand for referendum.
Perhaps, President Buhari is still operating with the subjugationist mindset that underpins the attitude of the core northern civilian-military establishment towards Ndigbo since 1970, which might explain why he excluded Ndigbo from the commanding heights of the security services, and the alacrity with which the federal government proscribed IPOB and declared it a terrorist organisation.
But Buhari’s uncompromising stance towards IPOB is not supported by the international community, since no other country regards the organisation as a terrorist group. Indeed, IPOB is not in the most recent list of terrorist organisations compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States. Consequently, despite the avoidable mistakes of Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB, the designation of the latter as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government is a classic case of calling a dog a bad name to hang it.
It is easy to demonstrate that the federal government’s reactions to IPOB are faulty. First, the attempt to suppress it brutally has transformed Kanu into a hero in the eyes of diehard members of the group. Second, it is forcing an increasing number of Igbo people to think that President Buhari dislikes Ndigbo and that his heavy-handed approach towards IPOB is a clear indication that the northern antagonistic attitude towards the Igbo, which reached its zenith in 1966 and led to the civil war, has not abated.
Third, the right to self-determination demanded by IPOB is legitimate. In fact, it is embodied in the UN’s Charter, in the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, and in the 1970 Declaration of the Principles of International Law. Evidently, actualising the principle of national self-determination is extraordinarily arduous because the idea itself is opaque, and raises some difficult questions such as, what is the ‘self’ of a nation and who can express its will? But notwithstanding its problematic nature, the concept of self-determination was a powerful ideological tool during the decolonising period in Africa and elsewhere.
Besides, it was applied successfully in the creation of Pakistan, Singapore, Eritrea and Southern Sudan. Accordingly, it is not outlandish if IPOB is demanding a separate homeland for the Igbo called the Republic of Biafra. Moreover, separatist agitation is not new in Nigeria. For instance, in 1966 Isaac Adaka Boro formed a rag-tag army of Ijaw youths called Niger Delta Volunteer Service and declared an independent republic and state of emergency in the delta areas. Even the Ganiyu Adams-led faction of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) and Boko Haram have secession as part of their agenda. But by far the most serious and consequential secessionist attempt was the one led by Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in 1967, which was viciously crushed in 1970.
The main problem with IPOB’s current quest is that, unlike in Ojukwu’s case where accredited representatives of the people across the eastern region gave him a clear mandate to secede, Nnamdi Kanu does not have the backing of prominent members of the Igbo political and business elite, the intelligentsia and traditional rulers.
Its support base is narrow, comprising mainly a sizeable percentage of frustrated, unemployed and underemployed Igbo youths and some Ndigbo living abroad who are disillusioned about the unenviable status of Igboland in contemporary Nigeria and who believe that a separate Igbo nation is the best solution.
Therefore, if Kanu wants to speak for Ndigbo, he and his associates must find creative ways of broadening its support base among the Igbo by transforming IPOB into a solid political force which will serve as the chief organ through which Ndigbo can approach the UNO and the AU for a referendum on Igbo political future, or at least form mutually beneficial alliances with the south-west, south-south, north-central and forward-looking leaders of the “core north” who understand that the current unitarist federalism is just not working and are willing to reintroduce the decentralised system agreed upon by the founding fathers of the country.
Without earning the trust of a critical mass of Ndigbo, especially the leading figures in politics, business, the academia, and so on, without making them rationally and psychologically connected to the vision and ideals of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu would at some point hear the interrogative, “But who sent you?”, a more direct version of the same deprecating question Okonkwo heard in Prof. Chinua Achebe’s immortal novel, Things Fall Apart.
To conclude: it is not enough to rely on emotions or romantic visions of an ideal Igbo nation called Biafra, make ominous threats without solid backing from a world power, and issue orders from a safe location in London, Jerusalem or elsewhere. Aboriginally, Ndigbo do not obey orders from an overlord: the concept of ezewuiro (king is enemy) is uniquely Igbo and captures the adventurous, free-spirited democratic Igbo character that had evolved over millennia before the coming of the Europeans.
Again, notwithstanding interesting cultural affinities between the Igbo and the Jews, Ndigbo are not Jews. They are a proud set of black African people that found themselves lumped into the British colonial amalgam called Nigeria without their consent.
So, those who believe that Nigeria’s unity is sacrosanct, that the main issue with the country is not structure but processes and try to tackle what Prof. Achebe called “the Igbo problem” with the same kind of thinking that created it in the first place are intellectually lazy and dishonest. As the Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana wisely remarked, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Concluded.