By Eniola Bello; firstname.lastname@example.org; 08055001956
Runaway leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu, with his loudly threatening separatist agitation over the last two years of the Buhari administration, has been fishing for trouble. And he’s now got loads of it. The way the separatist agenda was being pushed, either Kanu and his IPOB, or Ndigbo, or Nigeria, or all three were in danger of being consumed. What was not in doubt is that something was bound to give to avert a catastrophe, and that has to be IPOB. The recent clampdown on the organisation’s activities should have come much earlier.
Critics have blamed the Buhari administration, and justifiably so, for its mishandling of the IPOB campaign in Kanu’s arrest and prolonged detention, its undisguised shut out of the Igbo people from political and public service appointments, and its refusal to play the politics of the growing agitation for the country’s politico-economic restructuring. There has been the tendency to weigh the Buhari administration’s heavy-handed approach to the secessionist campaign against its immediate predecessor’s indifference that appeared to have neutralized the IPOB and rendered Kanu ineffectual. Those who make such comparison, however, have failed to realize that the conditions prevalent in the Jonathan administration are sharply different from the Buhari’s. The Jonathan era was one of high oil prices with its attendant positive impact on the economy, as well as access to, and redistribution of, free funds. The Igbo political elite were major players in the Jonathan administration as those who held critical political appointments ensured their people populated government agencies. Kanu’s ranting on Radio Biafra therefore sounded distant, and it was easy to ignore, if not dismiss, him. The situation changed following widespread hunger arising from the recession, and Buhari’s refusal to give the Igbo a fair treatment in his government partly because of an almost total rejection by the southeast in the 2015 presidential election, and possibly because of the hangover from his civil war experience.
There are three possibilities that could have allowed Kanu, who nobody took serious under Jonathan, to suddenly become an issue under Buhari. The first was Buhari’s victory in the 2015 election. There is every likelihood that some elements of the Igbo political elite, particularly those in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that lost the 2015 election, may have given Kanu more than tacit support to energise his secessionist campaign. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that Kanu returned home from his base in the United Kingdom and IPOB activities dramatically intensified on Buhari’s victory and inauguration as president. Under Jonathan, there was a whispering campaign that the escalation of the Boko Haram movement into an Islamic militancy, and the Chibok girls’ kidnap, were politically engineered to discredit that government with a view to ensuring that power returned to the north. In the same vein, there are elements in the Buhari administration that believe that some factions of the Igbo political elite in the PDP may have opted to surreptitiously use the IPOB to make the APC (All Progressive Congress) administration uncomfortable from Day One and ultimately as a blackmail weapon to bring about an Igbo presidency in 2019. Indeed Information Minister Lai Mohammed did accuse, without elaborating, those who looted the economy of sponsoring IPOB activities to derail the APC government.
Should there be any truth to this theory, Kanu must have been advised to return home to bait the Buhari administration. The fact is, Radio Biafra was not only illegal the contents of its broadcast were treasonable. By the laws of our land since the 1963 through the 1979 to the 1999 Constitution, secessionist campaign is treasonable. To worsen matters, Kanu had also appeared on video soliciting for funds to procure arms with a view to achieving his Biafran agenda, as he put it, “by any means possible”. And lately, there has been talk of Biafran National Guard, Biafran Secret Service, etc. So however you make look at it, Kanu had been walking the land mines of treason with his eyes wide open, and by returning to Nigeria, he was daring the security agencies to arrest him. The government not surprisingly went for the bait. In today’s complex global power play, where small arms could easily be procured, and where the nation’s internal and external enemies, in pursuit of their mercantile interests, would have no qualms funding arms procurement in promotion of any cause, it wouldn’t have been in the interest of national security for the government to do nothing about Kanu. However, if he was to be arrested, as he should have been, the government ought to have done its homework for a quick prosecution and conviction. Kanu’s prosecution was, as most criminal prosecutions by this administration have been, bungled, as he was indeterminably detained, court orders for his release on bail serially disobeyed, and his trial consequently politicized.
The second possibility is that Kanu had planned to use the secession campaign as a means to aquire wealth, influence and power. Gani Adams did this following the annulment of the June 12 1993 presidential election. He led a faction of the O’odua Peoples Congress (OPC), a militant group in the southwest that torched and maimed and killed, and made major Yoruba cities ungovernable in protest against that annulment. Today, Adams is a man of means, a honoured guest in government houses, a respected Yoruba leader nominated to Jonathan’s 2014 constitutional conference, rubbing shoulders with politicians as well as the rich and powerful. Asari Dokubo, Government Ekpemupolo and some other Niger Delta militants also did it. Having led different cells of militants to kidnap for ransom, bomb oil installations while maiming and killing in the process, they are today not only very wealthy, they are men of influence and power. Someone like Tompolo even became a political godfather, nominating and endorsing politicians into elective offices. If Kanu’s plan was to walk the path of the Adams and the Tompolos and the Dokubos, he succeeded almost to perfection. Before IPOB’s proscription, Kanu had attracted to himself an army of jobless youths attending to his every whim, following him wherever he wanted, and lapping up his every word and directive. On his release from detention following negotiated bail conditions, some Igbo leaders including Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu scrambled to take a group photograph with him.
In a recent group photograph after another meeting in Enugu, the southeast governors clasped their hands behind their backs as Kanu stood like an emperor in their midst, waving his trademark fan, a grin on his face.
The third possibility is that Kanu genuinely took the separatist agitation as an end in itself. His successful mobilization of jobless Igbo youths into the membership of IPOB, his contemptuous attacks of other ethic nationalities north and south of the country, his attempts to source funds to procure arms, his threat to disrupt the November governorship election in Anambra State and every subsequent elections in the southeast, his resort to intimidation and blackmail of other Igbo elite who have problem with his methods, and his – It must be Biafra or nothing – made that possibility real. Were that his goal, then, he failed to learn the lessons of history. Not only that Kanu’s IPOB neither had the arms nor the resources to procure them, the Igbo business, political, traditional and intellectual elite who could otherwise have assisted with funds, knowhow, contact and mobilisation do not think IPOB’s Biafra is what Ndigbo should be pushing for, not with the devastation and excruciating scars of the 1967-1970 civil war still so evident. Indeed the IPOB did not appear to have a quality leadership cadre to envision, strategise and execute their agenda. Any wonder why Kanu would call himself Supreme Commander?
It could be safely inferred that Kanu’s renewed energy started from the first possibility, evolved into the second, and assumed the third. The Igbo elite, traditional and political and intellectual and religious, in their failure to engage and denounce Kanu, wittingly or unwittingly strengthened his hands. The political elite in particular, following the mindless theft of funds allocated to the southeast states since 1999 and the resultant poor governance, created the objective conditions for Kanu to easily exploit. The mob of jobless and hopeless unemployed youths who had been brainwashed to worship at Kanu’s feet, and had through their IPOB membership fees, purchase of flags, t-shirts and other emblems provided unearned funds for Kanu’s comfort, made him lose his head. With the fanatical followership he commanded, Kanu may have begun to see himself as bigger than the southeast governors and National Assembly members and Ohanaeze leadership combined; he may even have begun to see himself as the biggest thing to have happened to Ndigbo since Ojukwu. Any wonder Kanu only appeared to listen to himself! It is a human thing. It is difficult for any mortal to be the subject of deification the way Kanu had been from thousands, if not millions, of followers, and not be cut off from reality.
The unfortunate thing is that in more ways than one, the IPOB campaign may only have succeeded in weakening the Igbo position in the country’s power relations. The fact is since the end of the civil war, the political, military and traditional establishments in the north, despite their political alliances with the southeast, have not mustered the requisite confidence and trust to support an Igbo for the presidency. The IPOB campaign, its antagonism to, and alienation of, other nationalities from the south, and what is seen as the conspiracy of silence of the Igbo establishment, would only have succeeded in making the realization of Igbo presidency much more difficult to achieve any time soon. The Igbo elite, at the best of times politically naive and selfish, would need to work extra hard to repair the damage. For them Nigeria still remains a better deal, however. For had Kanu succeeded in getting his Biafra, he would probably like his hero, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, placed their heads under the guillotine.