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Biafra: How President Buhari Made Nnamdi Kanu A Folk Hero

Mr. Nnamdi Kanu would have passed unnoticed if the Buhari administration didn’t arrest and banish him in prison. His arrest and detention transformed him into a brand. – D.O

Brief Biography of Nnamdi Kanu

Nwannekaenyi Nnamdi Kenny Okwu Kanu or Mazi Nnamdi Kanu as he is popularly called, was born to Eze Israel Kanu and Lolo Uchechi Kanu of Isiama Afaraukwu, Ibeku near Umuahia, Abia State.

It is trite to say that prior to now, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was largely a nobody until the Buhari administration (in)advertently transformed him into a force, an international figure and a folk hero over his virulent clamour for the carving out of a Biafra republic from Nigeria.

Mazi Kanu was a member of Chief Ralph Uwazuruike-led Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) but he reportedly parted ways with Chief Uwazuruike and subsequently established the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Before his arrest, very few people even amongst Ndigbo listened to his exuberant rants on his London-based online radio christened RadioBiafra.

Like many youths of his age bracket, most were of the opinion that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was simply disillusioned with the Nigerian project, particularly his perceived marginalization and injustice meted out to people of his ethnic extraction – Ndigbo.

On 5 September 2015, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was a guest speaker at the World Igbo Congress which was held in Los Angeles, California where he reportedly demanded for weapons in furtherance of his quest for the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra. Kanu’s outburst at the World Igbo Congress became his undoing.

He was arrested on 14 October, 2015 when he came to Nigeria from his London base and has remained in detention since then notwithstanding repeated court orders that ruled for his release. During his first media chat, in December 2015, President Buhari said the likes of Nnamdi Kanu and the erstwhile National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, who is alleged to have masterminded the diversion of over $2bn intended for procurement of arms, will not be freed on bail because of the gravity of the offences they had committed.

Buhari’s statement was an affront on the judiciary, not to mention, unbecoming of a president who swore an oath to uphold the rule of law and the Constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria.

Recurring Agitation For Actualization of Biafra Predates Nnamdi Kanu

Some people claim that the renewed quest for Biafran independence was a consequence of the failure of Goodluck Jonathan to win the 2015 presidential election and that the game-plan was to undermine the Buhari administration. This is far from the truth.

Apart from MASSOB and IPOB, there is also the Biafra Zionist Movement (BZM). Renewed quest for Biafra predates the emergence of president Buhari. Chief Uwazuruike has been at the forefront of this project even during the presidency of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

One thing is sure, Biafra transcends Nnamdi Kanu. 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 is aptly titled – ‘’There Was A Country’’, a constant reminder 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 Want Biafra

Granted not all Igbos are very keen on the Biafra project but most agree that Nigeria is not fair to the Igbos. In his essay: Nigeria is coming apart at the seams, Mr. Max 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 choke-hold 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 tend to be more militant about Biafra in 2016 than their parents and grandparents, whose memories bear scars from the previous attempt at secession”.

Nnamdi Kanu’s Bail

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: Benjamin Madubugwu, David Nwawuisi and Chidiebere Onwudiwe were curiously not granted bail.

The release of Nnamdi Kanu on health grounds is arguably an exit strategy out of a quagmire that became one of the Achilles’ heel of the Buhari administration in having hitherto cherry-picked what court order to obey.

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 sections seem disappointed. This tells 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).

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 standing up against the establishment, Senator Dino Melaye is arguably one of the most popular politician of his time. These geezers share certain traits in common: they are rabble-rousers, enjoy grassroots support, they appeal to the sensibilities of the man on the street. Populism is growing trend globally. A political neophyte, a certain Donald Trump emerged the 45th President of the United States of America against all odds largely by telling disenchanted Americans what they yearned to hear.

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 mooted secession aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential victory. They were not hounded or criminalized. Privileged Nigerian leaders (Igbo elites inclusive), politicians and individuals who are currently enjoying appropriated oil blocks in the Niger Delta and who continue to benefit from the status quo, will never angle for disintegration of the country. Comfortable folks cherish stability and certainty.

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.

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, the right to right to self-determination is an inalienable right enshrined in Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations. The referendum didn’t pan out well. 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, quest for Biafran independence will not fizzle out soon, with or without Nnamdi Kanu. The sooner 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 fit for purpose. This explains why the fault lines, centrifugal forces at play in Nigeria continues to outweigh the centripetal forces.

The British 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. A recent statement credited to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Paul Arkwright, to the effect that, ‘’the United Kingdom, would remain firm in its support for one indivisible Nigeria.’’ rekindled debate as to why the United Kingdom is bent on a united Nigeria even though it allowed the Scots to determine their fate through a referendum. Many Nigerians found Mr. Paul Arkwright’s assertion to be an insult. The British will do well to stop meddling and deepening the quagmire they created ab initio.

Conclusion

Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, a gadfly would have passed unnoticed if the Buhari administration didn’t arrest and banish him in prison. His arrest and detention transformed him into a brand. He 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, diplomacy and not brute force, goes a long way in settling crises. Just as emasculation couldn’t stifle the Shiite group, deployment of military arsenal didn’t tame the Niger Delta militants. Die-hard Biafra activists have continued to stage peaceful demonstrations in the face of intimidation and extra-judicial killings by Nigerian security agents. Brute force is not always the panacea. 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 ‘true federalism’ or fiscal federalism as some people call it. At the risk of sounding off as an unpatriotic pessimist, past events, current realities, deep-rooted cultural, religious, political schisms, corrupt and perennial bad leadership are pointers to the fact that Nigeria will likely continue to wobble and remain unstable, unless, the country is readjusted from its very foundation.

 

Written by Bulwark Intelligence Senior Contributor: Don Okereke

Don Okereke, a leading security analyst/consultant, writer, an ex-serviceman, is CEO Holistic Security Background Checks Limited, a value and solution-centric Security, Risk Management and Information Product Company. Don can be reached via his Twitter handle: @DonOkereke

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