The sudden disappearance of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, and members of his immediate family since the invasion of his home by soldiers has become a major talking point in the South-east of Nigeria, writes Christopher Isiguzo
Since the invasion of his home in Isiama Afaraukwu, Umuahia, Abia State last week by soldiers, resulting in the alleged killings of several persons including one Adaku Odoemenam, identified as his cousin, the whereabouts of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu has remained unknown same with his father and traditional ruler of the community, Eze Israel Kanu and wife.
Rumours have been flying around as to what may have happened to the separatist leader and members of his immediate family since the incident in Umuahia, penultimate week, where soldiers were said to have not only invaded his home but also ransacked his fatherâ€™s palace in what was obviously seen by his followers as the height of clampdown against the group.
Some of the rumours had it that Kanu sustained serious gunshot wounds during the attack in his country home and because heâ€™s not been able to visit any hospital for proper treatment, the injuries have remained a major discomfort.
â€œThe wound is deteriorating that sometimes he feels dizzy and unconscious. I can tell you that the young man is presently in pains,â€ one of his ardent followers, who refused to have his name in print told THISDAY.
Another IPOB loyalist, Uzoma Nduka, claimed that Kanu successfully escaped from his home on the fateful night but was accosted around Okigwe in Imo State, where he was allegedly killed and his body taken away.
Yet, another rumour claimed he was arrested in Okigwe by soldiers and taken away in an unmarked vehicle. These are all rumours as none was confirmed.
It was said that Kanu had remained defiant at the arrival of soldiers in Umuahia preparatory for the official take off of the military operation codenamed â€œPython Dance IIâ€ and vowed that no amount of intimidation would make him abandon the struggle for Biafraâ€™s independence. Not even the arrival of a large contingent of well-armed troops into Umuahia in a long convoy of troop carriers, patrol vans and armoured vehicles instilled fear in him.
â€œThey want to use force and beat us into submission, because they have lost the argument but they will fail. They want to trigger war but we wonâ€™t oblige them, because we are committed to our non-violent philosophy,â€ the source said.
The defiance however gave way on Thursday September 14, when the soldiers intensified their attacks as they invaded Kanuâ€™s home very much ready to dismantle any possible opposition. On the said day, heavy gunfire broke out at the Afaraukwu home of the IPOB leader as the sound of gunfire rented the air for almost an hour. At that point, many feared that every living thing in the building had been brought down.
By the time the dust settled, only four bodies were reportedly sighted as the soldiers were said to have made away with the bodies of many IPOB members, who died as a result of the melee. This obviously raised fears that Kanu might as well have been felled in the process and his body taken away. Since that Thursday, nobody can give account of the whereabouts of the separatist leader.
The slow response by the group in the wake of many unsavoury developments, especially its proscription on September 15 by Governors of the South-east, its categorisation as a terrorist group by the Defence Headquarters and formal proscription by a Federal High Court, Abuja on Wednesday September 20 has further increased fears that all may not be well with the embattled IPOB leader.
The group and traditional rulers of Ibeku clan in Abia State on Wednesday demanded an explanation from the federal authority and military high command on the whereabouts of Kanu, his parents, Israel and Ugoeze Kanu. This anxiety stemmed from the belief that the worst might have happened to Kanu and his parents, following the invasion of their home last Thursday by the army.
A statement issued by the IPOB media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, said the group had â€œgone deepâ€ in the search for its leader without any clue on his whereabouts as well as his parents, asking that information on their condition â€“ dead or alive â€“ should be made available within seven days to avoid dire consequences.
â€œWe are using this opportunity to inform the whole world, including the United Nations, that the Nigerian Army killed our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu during the attack and invasion of his compound in Umuahia, Abia State,â€ IPOB said. The group explained that it had come to the conclusion that Kanu might have been eliminated â€œafter going through the record of IPOB members in the compound on the day of this heinous attack and invasion,â€ adding that it discovered that about 38 members were arrested and up till now no one had seen or heard from them.
â€œWe also discovered that the Nigerian Army left the compound of our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku with 22 dead bodies on the same day,â€ the separatists group alleged, adding that the fate of Kanu had become a puzzle.
â€œWe are once again raising the alarm for the United Nations and other relevant bodies across the globe to ask the Nigerian government and her security operatives to give details of the IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and his parents, including those dead bodies and those picked up alive during the attack and invasion of our leaderâ€™s compound in Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku Umuahia,â€ the group said.
IPOB blamed the governors of the South-east for the fate that befell Kanu, saying it could not fathom why â€œthe South-east governors would decide to collaborate with Hausa Fulani oligarchy to kill our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, and his parents.
â€œNnamdi Kanu has been using a non-violent approach for the realisation of Biafra since 2012, when the struggle for Biafraâ€™s independence started. Okezie Ikpeazu, who was mandated by the federal government and other South-eastern governors to lead the fight against Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB members in Abia State must be held responsible for this action in the distant time.
â€œWe are giving the federal government and South-east governors to produce or declare the condition of our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, if he is still alive or charge him to court within seven days, because if anything happens to him the South-east governors can never bear the consequences after the expiration of this notice.
â€œAgain, the federal government and South-east governors should hasten to build more prison yards and acquire more weapons that they will use to kill more Biafrans,â€ IPOB stated.
Consequently, the royal fathers of Ibeku clan in Umuahia North Local Government made their call for Kanu and his parentsâ€™ whereabouts after a meeting at the palace of their chairman and traditional ruler of Emede Ibeku autonomous community, Eze Henry Ezekwem.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Ezekwem said the Ibeku royal fathers were unhappy over the â€œdesecration of the throneâ€ of Eze Kanu and his ofo, the symbol of authority of the traditional stool.
They however expressed concern that Kanuâ€™s parents had not been seen after the invasion of their palace, adding that the Nigerian Army owed them an explanation, because many people were killed in the attack including the female cook of the Kanus.
â€œThe army should release our colleague, Eze Israel Kanu, because we have not seen him since his palace was invaded by soldiers. If they have killed him they should please release his corpse to us so we can give him a befitting burial,â€ Ezekwem appealed, adding that â€œthey (army) have to appease the godsâ€ for desecrating the palace and ofoâ€.
When contacted, the Secretary of Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA), Evangelist Elliot Uko, who was part of the team that accompanied Kanu during his meeting with the South-east governors in Enugu said â€œweâ€™ve heard so many rumours but I canâ€™t confirm whether he is safe where he is or whether he was arrested. I am not sure of his whereabouts and we are deeply worriedâ€.
On his part, renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, SAN expressed worry at the sudden disappearance of the IPOB leader and also asked the governors of the South-east zone to re-engage him in fresh talks â€œwhen the tension caused by last weekâ€™s military invasion had quietened downâ€.
In a statement made available to journalists and personally signed by him, the lawyer, who is also the chairman of the Igbo Leaders of Thoughts, gave the indication that the Kanu was ready for peaceful resolution of the impasse before the military invasion.
The elder statesman, who accompanied Kanu to meet with the governors in Enugu on August 30, 2017 dismissed as false, insinuations in some quarters that Kanu was opposed to the amicable resolution of issues during the meeting. He said on the contrary, Kanu was not just ready to shift ground but had insisted that the entire leadership of IPOB must be involved in the discussions.
Nwabueze expressed dismay over the disturbances in Umuahia, Aba and other parts of the South-east on account of the attempt to clampdown on the separatist group. He further noted that also on September 15, he travelled back to Enugu from Lagos for the meeting and spoke on phone with the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, who never mentioned a word to him about the decision which must have been taken days before, to proscribe IPOB.
The issue of Kanuâ€™s whereabouts has remained the talking point in virtually every gathering and in practically all the state capitals in the five states of Abia, Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu. At a popular newspaper stand around Edimbugh Street, near Obiagu, New layout, Enugu, Kanu has remained the issue.
One Emeka Eneh, who spoke to THISDAY said they would not take it kindly with the federal government should anything happen to Kanu.
Another concerned indigene, Mrs. Rosemary Agbo, said: â€œWe are disturbed that he has not been seen for almost two weeks now. We are looking for him and hopefully, weâ€™ll see him hale and hearty soon.â€
Comrade Paschal Iwedinobi was rather excited that normalcy had returned to the South-east with the proscription of IPOB by the federal government and the disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu.
â€œWho will not be happy to live in a peaceful environment? Kanu has caused more problems to us in the zone than anything else. Let him remain wherever he is because we are better off without him. Imagine the effrontery, that election will not take place in Anambra State? Who is Nnamdi Kanu to issue such orders? Does he understand the implications of such a childish order. Whether election takes place or not, power must change hands in Anambra by March 17 next year and someone is here saying what we donâ€™t know. Let the soldiers remain here until we are through with our election by November 18,â€ Iwedinobi noted.
However anyone looks at the divergent opinions being expressed by different people, one undeniable fact is that the sudden disappearance of Kanu and members of his family is creating its own tension already as most of his adherents are obviously not at ease.
Among the political class, it is the general view that Kanu has upped the ante in the discourse about marginalisation of the South-east and restructuring, even though is approach is arguably defective. They therefore believe that for the issues about the resurrection of Biafra to completely fizzle out, government must begin to equally address the issues that are fuelling the agitations.