By Olayinka Ajayi
Olufunso Olumoko was career ambassador to Thailand with accreditation to Myanmar. In this interview, Olumoko says Britain cannot help Nnamdi Kanu, despite being a British citizen, after being arrested in Kenya and flown to Nigeria to answer to charges in court. Excerpts:
What are your thoughts on the re-arrest of IPOB secession leader, Nnamdi Kanu, allegedly in Kenya?
I think it is good and timely. We should recall that Nnamdi Kanu is a fugitive from justice who jumped bail in 2017 and absconded abroad. While being a fugitive from justice, he has engaged in subversive activities against the Nigerian state and its important political personalities. You may recall that key Nigerian personalities, including Mr. President, had been picketed and embarrassed by IPoB supporters whenever they went overseas officially.
You may also recall the humiliation and rough handling Sen. Ike Ekweremadu suffered in the hands of IPoB supporters in Germany in 2019. They routinely picket our embassies abroad and embarrass embassy officials. In fact, it may be recalled the destruction of some of our embassies like in Dakar, Bangkok and Jakarta largely by IPoB-orchestrated sympathizers.
These are apart from incendiary broadcasts, insults and invectives poured on the Nigerian state by Nnamdi Kanu and supporters. Nnamdi Kanu has drawn unfavourable attention to Nigeria for very wrong reasons. Consequently, his “interception” and repatriation to Nigeria is very welcoming and timely indeed.
Though the details of his re-arrest and repatriation are still not in public domain (the social media is awash with speculations), the operatives who carried out the operation did a good job and deserve our kudos!
But being a British citizen, are there diplomatic implications?
Agreed, Nnamdi Kanu is a dual citizen of both Nigeria and the United Kingdom. However, being a British citizen does not confer on him the right to carry out subversive activities and propagate hate and treasonous campaigns from the British soil.
I am sure the British would deal decisively with him if it were the other way round. Consequently, I don’t envisage any diplomatic implications except that the British High Commission in Nigeria may likely request for consular access to Kanu and request Nigeria to ensure that Nnamdi Kanu gets fair hearing and a fair trial.
I doubt very much if the British will lose any sleep over Nnamdi Kanu who I am sure they know as a felon, insurrectionist and at best, a rancorous agitator and demagogue!
You recalled that the Federal Government had accused the British government of aiding terrorists by granting the proscribed group asylum.
Bear in mind that countries are sovereign entities. Each country has its own laws and regulations which guide its citizens. No country imposes its own laws and judicial systems on the other sovereign country. All they require of each other is to imbibe internationally accepted best practices of fairness and equity. Also, remember, Britain, as a western country, obeys the tenets of free speech and freedom of association.
If whatever IPoB is doing is not manifestly against British law, we should not think the British would rush and proscribe IPoB because Nigeria has done so. But let me be clear, this does not mean the British intelligence service is not monitoring Nnamdi Kanu and his nefarious activities in London and mutually cooperating with the Nigerian intelligence service, albeit, unobtrusively.
However, you can be sure the moment IPoB is caught breaching the British law, it will be held to account.
But do you foresee him having a fair hearing in Nigeria after all he did both at home and abroad?
Yes. I am confident Nnamdi Kanu will have fair hearing within the Nigerian judicial system. I assert this for some reasons which include, firstly, say what you will, Nigeria’s judicial system is still one of the finest within the Commonwealth.
Nigeria’s bench and bar have quite knowledgeable and sound lawyers and judges. They have, in many instances, acquitted themselves creditably in the dispensation of justice. For instance, look at this present case. On re-arrest, Kanu was immediately brought before a judge who, in fact, accelerated his hearing from October to July 26/27! Secondly, Nnamdi Kanu has become a household name both locally and internationally. Consequently, I envisage international interests in his trial.
This in itself coupled with advocacy by human rights organisations like Amnesty International will ensure Kanu gets fair trial.
Some are of the view that his arrest would serve as a deterrent to other secessionist groups both at home and abroad?
Kanu’s re-arrest is a signal to the fact that as a fugitive you can run but not hide! Later or sooner, you’ll be caught and face justice. Besides, all the criminal elements, who either stole or got themselves involved in sordid activities and ran abroad thinking they’ve escaped justice, are living in fool’s paradise! Later or sooner, the long arms of the law will catch them, more-so, in this age of greater international cooperation and instant communication.
Also, all separatist and secessionist agitators need to be wary. They should ensure that they don’t breach Nigeria’s laws and regulations. They should be aware that they are treading on very dangerous grounds the moment they start inciting violent attacks on persons and public institutions and making treasonous pronouncements.
Some are of the view that his arrest is a measure to gag freedom of speech of Nigerians at home and abroad?
No. I do not share that view. Nigeria is reputed in the world as one of the top countries that has a free and very active and robust press and freedom of speech! Besides, freedom of the press, speech and association are all engraved and guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution.
However, we should bear in mind that these rights are not limitless. Each of these rights comes with obligations. Like one of my professors who took me in international relations in the university used to tell us in class, “what right of free speech are you claiming by shouting fire in a crowded theatre”!
How can we run a nation like the United States and other developed countries devoid of needless secession?
To avoid secession, certain factors must be in place in Nigeria.
These include good governance, social justice, equity and rule of law. In a polity, the leadership, apart from being accountable, must be inclusive and fair to all the constituent parts so that all have senses of belonging and none feels inferior or marginalized! Nigeria present system is quite dysfunctional with too much power concentrated at the centre, leaving the constituent parts as appendages bereft of any meaningful power, political or fiscal. The present leadership is perceived as being nepotistic with major appointments skewed in favour of a particular geopolitical zone, thus deepening antipathy and disaffection in the other geopolitical zones.
The perception of marginalisation and lack of social justice is palpable and largely responsible for agitations for secession not only in the southeast but in the southwest and even the south-south. It is observed that if Nnamdi Kanu can be apprehended and brought to justice, what of the marauding “Fulani” herdsmen who are equally causing mayhem in the polity? In the final analysis, separation or secession is not the answer.
Nigeria is far better off as a united and strong country rather than being split up into putative “banana republics”! To build a united and strong Nigeria, a truly federal constitution will need to be enacted, which will devolve power and resources to the federating units.