By Douglas Anele
Nnamdi Kanu is a well-educated indigene of Isiama Afaraukwu Umuahia, in Abia state. He is the director of London-based Radio Biafra which, for some years now, has been disseminating news and information about Igboland and the degraded status of its people in the Fulani caliphate colonialist “geographical expression” called Nigeria. Now, the main thrust of the message from Radio Biafra is resurrection of the defunct sovereign state of Biafra through non-violent means. Drawing copiously from Nigerian history, Kanu and hardcore IPOB members believe that Biafra comprises all Igbo-speaking areas of Nigeria as well as adjoining territories that have strong historical and cultural ties with Igboland. Kanu has always stated publicly his unflinching commitment to the restoration of Biafra, that is, to the quest for self-determination by Ndigbo and their immediate neighbours because, according to him, Nigeria is an illegitimate child of imperialist Britain that was born for maximum exploitation of the colonial amalgam created by Lord Lugard in 1914. To worsen matters, successive colonial administrators deliberately configured Nigeria geopolitically to favour the north, such that even before complete results of the 1959 federal election were collated and announced, Sir James Robertson had already contacted Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to become Prime Minister.
As I said earlier, Nnamdi Kanu is among the Igbo youths that are thoroughly dissatisfied with Nigeria. His insistent and uncompromising stance on the issue of referendum and restoration of Biafra rankled the federal government to the extent that upon his return to Nigeria from London on 14 October 2015, he was arrested for alleged treason. News of his arrest led to protests across the south-east and south-south geopolitical zones. Subsequently, he was detained in Kuje prison for over a year and half without trial despite several court orders that he should be released. On November 23 2015, he was eventually arraigned before an Abuja Magistrate Court by the Department of State Services (DSS) on charges of “criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organisation.” Kanu was released from prison on 28 April 2017 after meeting the stringent bail conditions set by Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court Abuja. Like every non-VIP prisoner in Nigeria, Nnamdi Kanu’s prison experience was dehumanising and demoralising. Yet, going by a poem or letter he released while in prison, it seems that the 18 months incarceration actually strengthened his resolve to continue with the struggle to actualise Biafra. In the poem, he scathingly condemns Buhari’s government, proclaims himself a prisoner of conscience, reiterates the non-violent nature of his agitation, and insists that he is willing to pay the supreme sacrifice for the actualisation of Biafra.
It must be pointed out that the quest for self-determination, that is, the striving by members of ethnic groups to excise themselves or break away from larger political entities that control their affairs, is one of the most pervasive and persistent movements in human history. In Nigeria, it is not a new phenomenon: for instance, in February 23 1966, Isaac Adaka Boro declared an independent Niger Delta Republic, but his insurrection was quickly and violently put down by the Balewa government. The current demand by IPOB for a referendum that would ultimately lead to the emergence of Biafra is, in an important sense, a continuation of what the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu started on May 30, 1967. Now, the quest for self-determination by a collection of linguistically and culturally homogenous communities is both logically and legally justified – and, thus, morally acceptable.
Logically, it can be validly interpreted as a social extension of the right for personal freedom; from the legal angle it is recognised in international law and jurisprudence as codified in the United Nations (UN) Charter that was ratified in 1945 at the end of World War II. In fact, Article 3 of the Charter provides that “the inadequacy of political, economic, social and educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying the right to self-determination and independence.” The UN Charter is domesticated in Africa as African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHP), and was adopted in 21 October, 1986. Before then, different countries had signed and ratified the document at different times: for example, it was signed, ratified, and deposited by the Nigerian government on 31 August 1982, 22 June 1983 and 22 July 1983 respectively. The major problem with the charters and resolutions of these international organisations is that they did not insist on full independence as the best way of obtaining self-determination or self-government, nor did they include an enforcement mechanism. In addition, in the UN Charter, any new state that emerges was recognised by the legal doctrine of uti possidetis juris, meaning that old administrative boundaries would become international boundaries after independence if they had little relevance to linguistic, ethnic and cultural demarcations.
From the foregoing, it is evident that the movement for self-determination is on solid logical, legal and moral footing. But actualising it in practice is a very challenging task indeed as demonstrated by the fact that only a small percentage of secessionist agitations throughout history had been successful, out of which most were achieved through violent methods. It follows that leaders of any separatist movement must think long and hard before embarking on it because of the profound repercussions on peoples’ lives, which always bother on life and death and on future generations that would have to deal with the profound unintended consequences of secession whether successful or not. Nevertheless, when a critical mass of indigenes of an ethnic nationality or closely related nationalities have genuine reasons to feel unwanted or marginalised for long periods of time within a larger geopolitical entity, the need for a separate independent country could be the best option for them in spite of the inherent dangers of secession.
Having laid very briefly the philosophical or theoretical foundation for understanding the phenomenon of self-determination and the landmines on the road to it, let us now consider what Nnamdi Kanu has been saying concerning President Muhammadu Buhari and the country, Nigeria. In my opinion, the best way to do so is to listen attentively to his broadcasts in Radio Biafra. By merely reading his posts on social media, one misses the significant emotional content of his actual speeches, which is an essential aspect of his message and a subtle index of his level of commitment to the Biafran cause. Of course, I am very conscious of the fact that haters of Ndigbo with keen noses for sniffing out ethnicity where there is none are incapable of appreciating the simulacra of truth in Nnamdi Kanu’s thought-provoking claims. Similarly, it is easy and convenient to excoriate anyone who does not join the sycophantic bandwagon in dismissing the IPOB leader and his group. Yet, truth, or more accurately fidelity to the truth, is the most enduring effective weapon against ignorance, intellectual laziness and sycophancy. My analysis, therefore, will be guided by the truth within the scaffolding of awareness of human fallibility. People are fond of quoting the cliché that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but they forget that such entitlement, in order to be rational, must be premised on the presumption that the opinion is supported with, or based on, good reasons. Besides, no one is entitled to his or her own facts because facts, although difficult to ascertain oftentimes, are largely independent of opinions.
For months, Nnamdi Kanu has been telling the world repeatedly that the person currently parading himself as President Muhammadu Buhari is an impostor from Sudan named Jubril Aminu al-Sudani. According to him, the real Buhari died on January 27, 2017 and was buried in Saudi Arabia. But not wanting a repeat of the Umaru Yar’Adua scenario of 2010, leading members of the so-called Fulani cabal in Buhari’s administration led by Abba Kyari (Chief of Staff to the President) quickly recruited a Buhari look-alike from Sudan who, after some cosmetic surgeries to enhance the resemblance and coaching to mimic the dead Buhari as closely as possible, brought him back to Nigeria to act as President.
Nnamdi Kanu knows full well that, to be taken seriously, such a consequential, disturbing and terrifying claim must be backed by strong evidence. Hence during several broadcast episodes he takes up the challenge by presenting information that can either be corroborated or refuted through thorough investigation. To begin with, the IPOB leader quickly dismissed the false claim attributed to him that Buhari was cloned. He insists that the original Buhari had died and was replaced by a decoy or look-alike from Sudan. Kanu points to the example of Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler as leaders that used impersonators mostly for security reasons. But unlike the present scenario in Nigeria, world leaders who used look-alikes never allowed them to preside over state matters or sign official documents.
To be continued…