Friday 5 May 2017
Biafra: How President Buhari Made Nnamdi Kanu A Folk Hero
Food for Thought: ‘’Now more than ever, people have a hunger to believe in something…bring people together around a cause and you create a motivated force.’’
– Robert Greene, 33 Strategies of War.
Brief Biography of Nnamdi Kanu
Nwannekaenyi Nnamdi Kenny Okwu Kanu or Mazi Nnamdi Kanu as he is popularly called, was born circa 1970 to a traditional ruler, HRH Eze Israel Kanu and Lolo Ugoeze Nnenne Kanu of Isiama Afaraukwu, Ibeku near Umuahia, Abia State. He attended Library Avenue Primary School (now part of the Abia State Government House, Umuahia) and Government College Umuahia for his Secondary school education before proceeding to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). He reportedly didn’t graduate from UNN but bolted to the United Kingdom to complete his tertiary education. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu – Director of Radio Biafra was a regular Joe Bloggs plying his trade in the United Kingdom until the Buhari administration (in)advertently transformed him into a brand, a force, an international figure and a folk hero of some sort. Mazi Kanu was a vitriolic foot soldier of Chief Ralph Uwazuruike-led separatist ‘’Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra’’ (MASSOB) but he reportedly parted ways with Uwazuruike afterwards and pitched his tent with another separatist platform – the ‘’Indigenous People of Biafra’’ (IPOB). Before his arrest, not many people knew about him or listened to his exuberant rants on his online London-based Radio Biafra. Like many youths of his age bracket, it appears Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was disillusioned with the Nigerian project, particularly his perceived marginalization and injustice meted out to people of his Igbo ethnic extraction. On 5 September 2015, he was a guest speaker at the World Igbo Congress held in California during which he allegedly demanded for weapons that would be used to actualize Biafra. Kanu’s outburst at the World Igbo Congress became his undoing.
Nnamdi Kanu’s Arrest, Prosecution And The Rebirth of Populism
Kanu was arrested at Golden Tulip Essential Hotel by Nigeria’s ‘Secret police’ - the Department of State Services on 14 October, 2015 when he breezed into Nigeria from his London abode and remained in detention since then notwithstanding court rulings granting him bail. President Buhari made a faux pas during his first media chat in December 2015 by publicly mumbling that the ilks of Nnamdi Kanu and the erstwhile National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, will not be freed on bail because of the severity of the offences they had committed. Same treatment – continued detention despite bail by courts of competent jurisdiction - is dangled on the leader of the Shiite Muslims in Nigeria, Sheik El Zakzaky. The impression this creates is that Buhari doubles as the President and the judiciary. President Buhari’s administration’s cherry-picking of what court orders to obey is an affront on the judiciary and is not in keeping with Mr. President’s oath to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.
After nearly two years in detention, on 25 April 2017, Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja granted bail to the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, according to her on ‘’health grounds’’ but other co-accused persons: Messrs. Benjamin Madubugwu, David Nwawuisi and Chidiebere Onwudiwe were not granted bail. Kanu’s mien since his release foretells he may have been humbled and acculturated by his prison experience and stringent bail conditions? It is unlikely his speeches would continue to be as blunt, undiplomatic and virulent as it used to be. The release of Nnamdi Kanu on the guise of health grounds is apparently an exit strategy out of a quagmire that became one of the Achilles' heel of the Buhari administration. While Aba – the commercial hub of Abia State, Enugu, other Igbo-speaking states and parts of the South-South were agog over Nnamdi Kanu's bail, other regions of Nigeria seem disappointed. This is understandable. It epitomizes the inherent politico-ethno-religious dichotomy in Nigeria. The contexts may be slightly different but recall the wild jubilation which greeted the release of James Ibori, Major Almustapha, Ganiu Adams (OPC Leader) from prison at different times. Ever wonder why Chief Government Ekpemupolo a.k.a Tompolo, a man declared wanted by the Nigerian government is deified in the Niger Delta? For voicing out and standing up against the establishment, the popularity of Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State and Senator Dino Melaye soared. These geezers share certain traits in common: they are rabble-rousers, enjoy grassroots support, and they appeal to the sensibilities of the man on the street. Same way a political neophyte – Mr. Donald Trump emerged the 45th President of the United States of America against all odds largely by telling disenchanted White Americans what they yearned to hear.
Recurring Agitation For Actualization of Biafra Predates Nnamdi Kanu
Some people speculate that the renewed quest for Biafran independence is sequel to a Goodluck Jonathan’s inability to win the 2015 presidential election and that the game-plan is to undermine the Buhari administration. This is far from the truth. Renewed quest for Biafra independence predates the emergence of Buhari as president of Nigeria. Apart from MASSOB (founded in 1999) and the new kid on the block - IPOB, there is also the Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM), all agitating for an independent Biafra. Chief Uwazuruike was at the forefront of Biafran independence during the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. Biafra is akin to an ideology ingrained in the hearts and minds of a plethora of Igbo people, old and young. Perhaps this explains why Chinua Achebe’s parting gift, his last book – ‘’There Was A Country’’, is a pointer to Ndigbo of an impressive dream that petered out. In the words of Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, ‘’once an idea has taken hold, you cannot destroy that idea…’’. “You may destroy the people that carry the idea on the battlefield, but, ultimately, it is not the end of the story.” “Let’s not take this position of ‘don’t even talk about it’, ‘under my watch this will never happen’, don’t say things like that. Professor Soyinka went further to say, “Listen to Biafrans and ask them why they want to stay (and say) ‘this is what we are ready to push as the overall authority in this area’. “Don’t go around saying ‘the sovereignty of the country is indivisible, it’s non-negotiable’ all that kind of language will only make matters worse,” he said.
Why Igbos Continue To Be Enchanted With Biafra
Granted not all Igbos are at the forefront of the Biafra project but scores of Igbos that I know share some emotional attachment to Biafra and they agree that Nigeria is not fair to the Igbos. I discussed some very salient reasons why the call for balkanization of Nigeria and quest for Biafra refuses to fizzle out 47 years after the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in my essay: Dissecting The Recurring Agitation For Balkanization of Nigeria. Renowned Nigerian writer and historian – Mr. Max Siollun’s narrative: Nigeria is coming apart at the seams also provides an insight why Biafra is on the front burner. Mr. Siollun queries, ‘’Why is the southeast once again considering secession when the region’s last attempt resulted in such horrendous suffering?’’ He provides an answer, saying, ‘’for three decades after the [Nigerian civil] war, military dictatorships suppressed all secessionist talk, leaving Igbos to wonder silently about what might have been. But after the country transitioned to democracy in 1999, latent separatist inclinations began to resurface once again. The resurgence of the Biafran secessionist movement is symptomatic of a much deeper problem with the Nigerian state. The federal government’s chokehold on states and ethnic groups is fueling multiple demands for autonomy and the right to manage resources at a local level — demands that could ultimately lead to a fracturing of the country. A deep disillusionment with the Nigerian government also lies at the heart of the Biafran dream of independence. Igbos have long felt marginalized and excluded from economic and political power by the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba ethnic groups, which have dominated national politics and the bureaucracy since 1970. Many Igbos believe that the federal government (and their fellow Nigerians) have never forgiven them for seceding in 1967, and have discriminated against them ever since. Younger Igbos born after the civil war tends to be more militant about Biafra in 2016 than their parents and grandparents, whose memories bear scars from the previous attempt at secession.
Inequality, Injustice, Nepotism, Marginalization Fuels Instability in Nigeria
In 2015, former president Obasanjo reportedly submitted that Boko Haram has ‘legitimate grievances’ and that the Nigerian government should dialogue with the insurgent Islamic Sect. If they do, it also follows that Igbos have more than enough legitimate grievances and justification for agitating for an independent Biafra. You criminalize folks advocating for the balkanization of Nigeria yet nothing is done to curb the entrenched injustice, marginalization, subjugation meted out to parts of the country. One seldom hears of a Boko Haram member been prosecuted but scores of unarmed Biafran agitators are killed and others locked up in different jails across Nigeria. Apart from the brazen nepotistic and lopsided political appointments orchestrated by the current administration, Premium Times reported how Nigeria’s internal ‘Secret police’ - the Department of State Services (DSS) or the State Security Service (SSS) as they are sometimes called, is enmeshed in a lopsided recruitment scandal. Nepotism (na mu ne, in Hausa language) which this current administration has taken to new heights, is possibly the worst variant of corruption. According to Premium Times, an analysis of the 479 newly commissioned DSS cadet officers on geo-political basis reveals that 165 are from the North-west, North-east 100, North-central 66, South-west 57, South-east 44 and South-south (42). By way of comparison of what looks like Alhaji Ahmadu Bello’s “Northernization Policy’’, the entire 5 South-East States (Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo combined), got 44 slots while 51 cadet officers were enlisted from Katsina State, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Director-General of the SSS, Mr. Daura.
Of course it doesn’t matter that Section 14, subsection 3 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria states that: “The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies”.
Cut-off marks for admission into Federal Unity Schools for the 36 States in Nigeria shows Imo – Male (138), Female (138) while a bastardized, so-called ‘’educationally less developed states’’ and quota system construct pegs the cut-off mark for students from Katsina at – Male (60) Female (60). A similar trend plays out for admission into universities and polytechnics. Yet when it comes to enlistment into the DSS or any other federal agency, an educationally less developed Katsina State fields more candidates than the five South East States. When it comes to sharing crude oil proceeds from the South, it trickles to other parts of the country but not so for political appointments notwithstanding the federal character principle. Zamfara state entrenched Sharia and forbids alcohol yet it receives tax deductions from alcohol as federal allocation.
The Unity of Nigeria is Negotiable!
Different parts of Nigeria have at different times clamoured for independence or secession. It started with the North; the South-West once angled for Oduduwa republic which heightened after the incarceration of Chief MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Mr. Adaka Boro instigated secession and establishment of a Niger Delta Republic even before Biafra was conceived and declared. Beyond Nigeria, some parts of the United States such as California threatened to divorce from the United States aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. They were not hounded or criminalized. One hundred and fifty years after the American civil war (1861-1865), Confederate flags are still displayed by folks sympathetic to the Confederates. They are not criminalized. It is understandable why privileged Nigerian leaders (Igbo elites inclusive), politicians and individuals appropriated oil blocks and who continue to benefit from the status quo are wary of the disintegration of Nigeria. The elites cherish stability, certainty. If one may ask, why is President Buhari stridently advocating for the independence of Western Sahara yet vehemently opposed to the probability of Biafra? If proponents of ‘One Nigeria’ are comfortable with the status quo and they are confident that Ndigbo, the Niger Delta people, have a good deal in Nigeria, why not organize a plebiscite to this effect rather than force their wishes down the throat of others. If indeed we are truly #OneNigeria, why is the North frantic over the prospect of power slipping away from their hands due to president Buhari’s health challenges. You can’t force a party to a marriage to remain if s/he wants out. From Scotland to Quebec, to Catalonia, to Western Sahara, separatism and quest for self-determination is an inalienable right enshrined in Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations. Fast-forward to 2017, the Scots are yet to give up on Scottish independence even after a referendum in 2014 to that effect didn’t pan out well. If Scotland with quasi-independent status quests for full independence, agitation for Biafran independence will not fizzle out soon, with or without Nnamdi Kanu. The earlier the Nigerian establishment, oligarch stopped playing the Ostrich, the better. The home truth is that the foundation of Nigeria is patently faulty. This prevailing political marriage which the British forced on disparate nationalities with varied cultural and religious leanings is to say the least, not working. This explains why the fault lines, centrifugal forces at play in Nigeria continues to outweigh the centripetal forces.
British Primordial Self-Interest in Nigeria
Nigeria, a product of British amalgamation in 1914 is obviously created for British egocentrism, easy administration and not for the interest of the ethnic nationalities that make up the present day Nigeria. But Nigeria is no longer a baby that ought to be breastfed or spoon-fed. Parents don't go about dictating to their adult married children to remain in abusive marriages. While the US whines over alleged Russian hacking and interference in its latest presidential election, the US, UK, France find nothing wrong in toppling governments and meddling in the domestic affairs of African countries. A recent statement credited to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright, to the effect that, the United Kingdom, will not allow Nigeria to breakup, is seen as an insult by many Nigerians, especially those of Igbo extraction. Why did the United Kingdom allow Scotland to determine through a referendum whether or not it wants out of the United Kingdom and also sanctioned Brexit yet they are bent on suppressing the wishes of sections of Nigeria that seek independence. The British will do well to stop playing God, meddling and deepening the quagmire they masterminded and foisted on people from heterogeneous cultural and religious backgrounds.
Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, a gadfly would have passed unnoticed if the Buhari administration didn’t arrest and banish him in prison. Like a brand, Kanu now enjoys messianic following amongst the Igbos to the extent that many Igbo politicians want to be identified with him. Another salient lesson in this is that more often than not, soft power and diplomacy not brute force, go a long way in settling conflicts. Diehard Biafra activists have continued to stage peaceful demonstrations in the face of intimidation and extra-judicial killings by Nigerian security agents. Just as emasculation couldn’t stifle the Shiite group, deployment of military arsenal didn’t tame the Niger Delta militants. Despite the military prowess of the United Kingdom, brute force didn’t end ‘’The Troubles’’, the sporadic internecine violence with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Neither did brute force end the conflict between the Colombian government and the ‘’Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’’, otherwise known as the Farc rebels. No wonder Winston Churchill (1874-1965), opined that, ‘’to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.’’ The least that can be done is to restructure Nigeria, have a very weak centre. At the risk of been branded an unpatriotic pessimist or cynic, my take is that Nigeria will likely continue to remain unstable if this country is not rejigged. An Igbo adage says, ‘’you don’t beat a child and insist he or she must not yell’’. Experience tells us that s/he must yell.
Don Okereke, a leading security analyst/consultant, writer, and an ex-serviceman. He can be reached via his Twitter handle: @DonOkereke
May 5, 2017