The increasing agitation by the Indigenous People of Biafra could have been better managed by the federal government, writes Anayo Okolie
The request by the federal government to revoke the bail granted leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, for alleged violation of all the conditions attached to his bail has already started creating mix feelings among Nigerians. Kanu was arrested in Lagos on 14 October, 2015 by the Department of State Services (DSS) on allegations of â€œcriminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organisation.â€
The charges also bordered on conspiracy, treasonable felony, publication of defamatory matter and Kanuâ€™s alleged importation of goods contrary to Section 47(2)(a) of the Customs and Excise Management Act, Cap C45, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria. The federal government also alleged that Kanu had in a broadcast in London on April 28, 2015, through Radio Biafra, disparaged President Muhammadu Buhari, referring to him (Buhari) as â€œa pedophile, a terrorist, an idiot and an embodiment of evil.â€
Thus, in spite of the many protests by several groups and court orders for his release, Kanu was detained by DSS for almost two years. It was later reported that the DSS had obtained a court order to detain Kanu for three months until the investigation of alleged terrorism and terrorism financing against him.
On November 23, 2015, Kanu was arraigned at Abuja Magistrate Court for the first time following charges, which DSS claimed violated â€œSection 97, 97B and 397â€ of Nigeriaâ€™s penal code.
As calls for his release led to demonstrations in many parts of South-east and beyond, Kanu was eventually granted bail. But three months after, the federal government is asking the court to revoke the bail granted him. The government cited disobedience to the bail conditions as part of the reasons for its request.
Some of the terms of his bail conditions included that he should not be seen in a crowd exceeding 10 people; that he should not grant any interviews, hold or attend any rallies; and that he should file in court medical updates of his health status every month. But all of these conditions he was said to have violated.
Government therefore contended that â€œrather than observing all of the conditions listed above, the 1st defendant in flagrant disobedience to the court order flouted all conditions of the bail; the first defendant has in furtherance to the offence (for which) he was charged, inaugurated Biafra Security Service; and that such an act is a grave threat to national security and unity of the country.â€
The re-arrest move by the federal government has since landed in yet another debate. Whilst some thought that the government should not have considered that option, there were those who held the view that Kanu was fast treading out of line and should be tamed.
Unfortunately, the call by the federal government to re-arrest Kanu may not have come at a very good time, especially when the government has failed to act on the provocative statement made by Arewa Youths, asking the Igbo to leave the northern parts of the country.
The northern youths under the umbrella of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (ACYF) had issued a three-month ultimatum for all Igbos in the 19 northern states to vacate the region, saying if the Igbo failed to leave by October 1, 2017, it would use force to evict them.
The group led by one Abdul-Azeez Suleiman also asked all northerners residing in the eastern part of Nigeria to return to their states within the period of the ultimatum.
â€œOur first major move shall be to reclaim, assume and assert sole ownership and control of landed resources currently owned, rented or in any way enjoyed by the Igbo in any part of northern Nigeria.â€
The group warned that they would mobilise mass support from the north against the Igbo should they fail to hearken to the relocation order and went further to say that the federal government should not take its eviction notice to the Igbo as a joke.
Curiously, the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who knew the implication of the threat by Arewa youth immediately ordered the arrest of the Arewa members. He said they would not only be arrested but prosecuted, adding that â€˜it is hate speeches that killâ€™.
The governor argued that disintegration was not the solution to the socio-economic crises afflicting the land, noting: â€œWe all need Nigeria and it is from Nigeria that we will be greater.â€
El-Rufai said, â€œThe Kaduna State Government is grateful to the Igbo for coming. Kaduna has suffered so many crises, so, we are very sensitive to comments that incite and cause disaffection among the people. Kaduna used to be a home for all, but so many crises have divided the state and the metropolis across religious lines. As a government, we abolish indigeneship. Once you live in Kaduna, you are an indigene,â€ El-Rufai assured.
Sadly, since the governor called for the arrest of the Arewa youths, not an effort has been made by the police to rounding them up, knowing full well the implications of their quit order to the fragile peace in the land. Yet, the same government was quick to seeking a revoke order to Kanuâ€™s bail, even though the IPOB leader has truly outstepped his bounds in all ramifications.
It was no surprise therefore that the President of Ohanaeze, John Nwodo, recently reacted to the development and warned the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to respect his oath of office, and beam his attention on other urgent national matters.
â€œI am amazed that the distinguished attorney is prepared to contest the superiority of the provisions of the Constitution on fundamental human rights of freedom of movement and freedom of association over an erroneous judicial proclamation violating those rights.
â€œA few hours under the watchful eyes of the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum and in total defiance of the Head of Stateâ€™s proclamation of the rights of a citizen of Nigeria to live anywhere in Nigeria and to do business anywhere in Nigeria, the Arewa Youths, pretending to withdraw their quit notice, gave qualifications to the Head of Stateâ€™s proclamation, issuing conditions for enjoyment of citizenship status.â€
â€œThese same Arewa Youths are supposed to have been arrested on the orders of the Governor of Kaduna State and the Inspector General of Police for acts of treason, conversion and sedition. As the chief law officer of the Federation, the Attorney-General looks the other way. He does not go to court to seek an order of arrest or prosecution.â€
Ohaneze also disclosed that Nnamdi Kanu, as a citizen of Nigeria, was free to hold any point of view no matter how displeasing to anyone so long as they are not inciting or provoking any criminal activities. He argued that even though some Igbo leaders had differences of opinion with Mr. Kanu on certain matters, it did not mean they would sit back and allow his rights to be trampled on.
Justifying why the Arewa youths have not been arrested, the Minister of Interior, General Abdulrahman Dambazau, said the Arewa youths were not arrested because they claimed to have been misquoted by the media concerning the notice.
Dambazau said efforts being made by the Kaduna State Government and the ongoing dialogues were part of the reasons the Arewa youth were not arrested. â€œSecondly, it is on this basis that I am answering the question, but it is something that the Kaduna State Government is handling since that is where it happened. I want to think that it was on that basis that the arrest was not made.â€
On Kanuâ€™s alleged violation of bail conditions, Dambazau said it was the court that would decide his fate but that â€œit is not time yet for him to go back to the court for trial. We have this assumption but I think it is left for the court that gave those conditions to determine whether those conditions were violated or not.
â€œIf those conditions were violated, the court knows what to do. We cannot assume that those conditions are being violated. Yes, the public knows but the determination of the extent of violation will be left for the court. It is not like the police will go after Kanu to arrest him on the grounds that he violated the bail conditions. Kanu will have a day in court and the court will determine his fate because it is the court that gave those conditions.â€
Regrettably, the federal government is believed to have mismanaged Kanu ab initio. It is a general belief that his arrest in the first place was needless and ill-conceived, otherwise the current phase of agitations and his growing larger than life image would not have arisen at all. As much as a lot of sensible people see Kanu as mere attention seeker, who assigned himself a cause he didnâ€™t deserve to champion, the arrest was what created the image he is now leveraging and a repeat of that could go either way.
It is therefore advisable that government ponders its options thoroughly this time and of course, not ruling out dialogue, which is still very desirable at this stage. Much as government is open to dialoguing with other agitators, including terrorist, it should not be difficult to engage the South-east leaders on this matter and give peace a deserving chance.