In Nigeria today, where the spirit of nationalism is fast receding and many prefer to
draw identity and relevance from the parochial, an obvious euphemism for tribal or ethnic loyalty, His Excellency, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, carved a distinct persona while alive as a nationalist per excellence. Without diluting or losing the Igboness in him, the Ovim-born retired Naval Admiral, profoundly exuded a rare eclectic spirit by efficiently and clinically combining the business of championing the cause of the Igbo nation within the context of a United Nigeria and consciously promoting nationalistic ideals, founded on the principles of justice, equity and good conscience without being held down by the divisive primordial sentiments of religion, language and ethnic nationality. Admiral Kanu, who started the journey to immortality on the 30th January 2021, came across to many as a unique person.
Though honed in the art of military tradition which ordinarily predisposes the person to certain characterization as anti-human rights and all the trappings of democratic norms, Admiral Kanu was unique in every material particular. Unlike some of his peers that enjoyed insular life on retirement, obviously enveloped in their comfort zones, the late retired Naval Chief, had a different vision of what life for him should be after spending years defending Nigeria’s territorial waters. Curiously, he directed his energy, time and resources in providing leadership at critical times to steer our democratic practice through a course that resonates with acceptable international standards founded on the principles of equity, justice, fairness and rule of law to give meaning to our egalitarianism and diversities.
At a time the lions roared and the lilylivered found refuge in the recesses of their homes, Ndubuisi Kanu bared his chest alongside other chieftains of NADECO and allied human rights bodies and interest groups to fight for the revalidation of the June 12 election which many till date believe was the greatest injustice done to the winner, Late Chief Moshood Abiola and the deepest cut our electoral process suffered in the hands of the military. Kanu, though soft spoken was admirably courageous, forthright, steel hearted, selfless, humble and was never sitting on the fence on any issue that questions the humanity in us.
From his shrill voice came advocacies that shaped the pro-democracy demonstrations he led aimed at giving character, content and value to our democratic practices and ethos. Some, especially from his ethnic nationality, either out of mischief or lack of information, tried to cast him in the image of those so-called Igbo elite that have lost the Igboness in them by being too nationalistic in the mould of saboteurs.
That was definitely a wrong perception of the late Rear admiral who was one of the founding fathers of “Ndi Igbo Lagos”, a Think Tank of Igbo Intelligential in the professions and business. It is on record that for years up till death, the secretariat of this pro-Igbo association that provided very loud voice for Ndi Igbo was hosted in his house at no cost. While he stood prodigiously in defence of Igbo cause, admiral Ndubuisi Kanu believed in the unity of Nigeria restructured enough to strengthen the federating units to guarantee a strong hand of engagement in the Nigerian project by all the ethnic nationalities. His active participation to revalidate the June 12, 1993 elections believed by many to have been won by Late Chief M.K.O Abiola, a Yoruba Nigerian but truncated by some military goons serving parochial interests, was an eloquent testimony to his inner convictions about the need to preserve the integrity of our electoral process in a democratic Nigeria. As a NADECO Chieftain, he led from the front fearlessly.
Such show of solidarity won NADECO the deserved recognition as not a pro-democracy contraption structured to promote Yoruba political interest but that founded on the principles of justice, equity and good conscience. What made Rear admiral Ndubuisi Kanu’s role in NADECO activities very significant was the fact that he was a product of military establishment and an Igboman.
The message was not lost on the Abacha junta that saw him as one of the forces that validated the messaging of NADECO as a national call and not just a muffled voice of specific ethnic nationality bent on propagating, projecting and promoting an interest represented by the ambition of one of theirs. Born on November 3, 1943, at Ovim in Isikwuato Local Government Area of Abia State.
He was a Nigerian Naval Officer, Military Governor, Businessman with interest in the maritime industry, a pro-democracy activist, humanist and nationalist of note. During the civil war, as a young officer, he fought on the Biafran side and later went back to join his former colleagues on the Nigerian side at the cessation of hostilities.
In July 1975, he was appointed a member of the Supreme Military Council under the late Murtala Mohammed regime. Later, General Olusegun Obasanjo as Military President, appointed him, first as Military Governor of Old Imo and Lagos States.
He was later to rise to the position of Chief of the Navy. He served admirably with the United Nations interim force in Lebanon including other special military deployments where he distinguished himself as a gentleman and officer. At retirement, while working with others to give colour and character to our democratic practice, he founded RANGK Ltd, a maritime consultancy firm, sat on the board of Fidelity Bank Plc as a Director, was Chairman of Ohaneze Transition Caretaker Committee, a top National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) Chieftain and became Chairman of the Coalition in 2013. Unapologetic and unrepentant in condemnation of the variant of federalism practiced in Nigeria which by every evaluation, read, unitarism, Rear Admiral Kanu in a widely publicized press conference in May 2008, took a swipe at the lie called federalism in Nigeria and took a position that for the country to work as nation state, given our diversities, it must return to the path of true federalism founded on power devolution.
Till death, Rear Admiral Kanu stood by his long held view that for us to stem the tide of protracted implosions propelled by agitations based on ethnic nationality interests, Nigerians must find courage in doing the needful; convoke a dialogue of ethnic nationalities where the fears, aspirations and causes of all the diverse groups would be tabled and discussed dispassionately and terms of engagement agreed upon on the basis of mutual respect and trust.
This big dream of his though unrealized while he lived, remains the most potent option if we must forge a united Nigeria where the spirit of nationalism flows from the heart of the citizens and not by coercion through state power. In recognition of his contributions to the society, and pro-democracy causes, the Lagos State Government named a part “Ndubuisi Kanu Park” in his honour and two universities, Federal University of Technology, Owerri and the Imo State University, awarded him Honorary Doctorate Degrees.
As the nation prepares to give this rare Nigerian and retired Naval Chief a deserved and befitting state burial, the best we, the living can offer in immortalizing the spirit of this quiet but highly courageous leader and nationalist, is to stay the course in ensuring that those ideals he fought for while alive to deepen democracy in Nigeria are kept alive.
*Dr. Ikedi Ohakim is the Chairman, Central Burial Committee of Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu.