Thursday, August 3, 2017 9:01 am
While some see him as a nuisance, many see him as a star. Hate or love him, Nnamdi Kanu’s agitation keeps restructuring in the front burner
By Richard Elesho
Life comes in two is a popular African saying. Perhaps, nothing typifies this better than the ironical twist to the name Nnamdi. In about a century, Nigeria has witnessed the birth and influence of two notable Nnamdis. Azikiwe and Kanu Nnamdi Azikiwe, aka Zik of Africa was born in November 1904 when Nigeria and indeed most parts of Africa were under foreign subjugation. He is fondly remembered as a foremost pan Africanist. His credentials as a Nigerian nationalist and freedom fighter earned him the highest office as Governor-General of Nigeria. He was the first black man to occupy that office. Quite remarkably, Azikiwe led the country to achieve full political autonomy from Britain and became the first president of independent Nigeria. He lived and fought for the progress of a united Nigeria.
Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is a man of no fixed date of birth. Born to a royal family as Nwannekaeyi Nnamdi Kenny Okwu Kanu, his profile simply puts his date of birth ‘in the 1970s.’ But he is an ideologue and freedom fighter with a determined mindset. Thus, what he lacks in a known date of birth, he generously makes up for in his near utopian frenzies. In a manner of speaking, he is laboring hard for the collapse of the house, built by Azikiwe and other founding fathers. He seeks liberation for the Igbo from a dysfunctional Nigerian ship and the creation of an independent state of Biafra. He has become a household name in many parts of the country, even far beyond his ethnic Biafra.
To be sure, Kanu does not hold the patent of the Biafra coinage. That fame belongs to an earlier individual, the warrior-orator and historian, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu. Ojukwu was Military Governor of the old Eastern Region who in protest of the marginalization of the region ignited a civil war in 1967. At the time of his death in 2011, he did not disguise his preference for a free, fair and prosperous united Nigeria. Nor is Kanu the only voice that have cried or still crying of ethnic marginalization and possible Balkanization of Nigeria, since the civil war ended in 1970.
Men like the late Adaka Boro, and the executed poet Ken Saro Wiwa were martyrs for the struggle. Ralph Nwazuruike, an apostle of non-violent clamor and leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB is Kanu’s immediate predecessor in the Biafran fight. However, in today’s world, Kanu has metamorphosed into the enfant terrible of the Biafran agitation.
Kanu’s zeal to secure independence for the South East and style of advocacy has also earned him several encounters with the Nigerian security apparatchiks. He was arrested and charged with treasonable felony in October 2015. He was in custody of the DSS till January last year when a judge ordered that he be remanded in prison. Subsequently he was transferred to Kuje prison where he remained until Justice Binta Nyako ordered his release on bail in April this year.
The Biafran activist disclosed that the Nigerian government offered him the five Igbo States while he was incarcerated to calm his nerves. But he claimed to have snubbed the offer insisting on not less than seven states. Hear him, “They gave me Biafra in Prison with only the five Igbo states; I said no, I want Benue and Rivers. Biafra is coming, there is nothing to stop it”. Kanu also lashed out at Igbo leaders for being against Biafra saying they have no interest in the masses. Since his release the IPOB leader has not only flouted many of the conditions attached to his bail, he has also shown his credentials as a force to reckon with in Igbo, nay Nigerian affairs.
Everywhere he went, men came out in their numbers to receive him and listen to his message of self determination for the Igbo. Commercial activities have also been suspended in virtually all South East states whenever IPOB gives directive for a passive seat-at-home action. On May 30 for instance, he ordered the shut-down of the Sourh East. To the consternation of his detractors and the Federal Government, that order was religiously obeyed not only in the South East, but also in parts of the South-South.
“Since you have not let me down with your compliance, I promise never to let Biafra down even upon the pain of death because you never let me down. We must join hands together, with all genuine and sincere individuals and groups, to restore Biafra with truth and honesty. The fact that our people obeyed the order to sit-at-home is a confirmation that IPOB which I lead has the mandate of all Biafrans to spearhead the ongoing Biafra restoration effort.” He said in his message of appreciation to the people following the sit at home compliance.
Kanu has uncanny drive to go for insults and diatribes. In a video that has gone viral on the Internet, the IPOB leader called on his members to stop going to churches headed by Yoruba clergymen, who he accused of being untruthful. “Anybody attending a church and your pastor is Yoruba, you are a complete idiot, an imbecile, fool. If you are attending a Yoruba church, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
His currently trending remark is his antagonism to the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State. INEC has fixed the governorship election in Anambra for 18 November. But in several statements IPOB has said, it will not only boycott the polls, but vowed to stop it from holding. A statement by IPOB’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful in Awka, the Anambra state capital, vowed that the group would use the Anambra poll to demonstrate to the world that IPOB would not make empty threats.
In response to the threat, the Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr Garba Umar warned that the police would be ruthless with any group that threaten the Anambra poll. He said: “The election had been scheduled by an authorised government agency; nobody, including IPOB, has the capacity to stop it.” He said the police in the state had the capacity to suppress any threat, warning those nursing the plot to have a rethink or be ready to face the wrath of the law.
But IPOB in its counter statement maintained that it would truncate the poll. “Biafrans cannot be reasonably expected to agree to any electoral process that will only perpetuate their current slave status and misery in this colonial contraption named Nigeria.
Not a few people who have encountered him described Kanu as intelligent. Yet, to many others, he comes off as a dangerous and abrasive personality. In a way, Kanu did not start life as the vampire many see him to be. At the beginning of his social advocacy career, he was one of several commentators on public issues. His agitation was more outside the shores of Nigeria. The renewed struggle for Biafra that Kanu and his crowd talked about was not more than an internet and television revolution. He was Director of Radio Biafra, a pirate radio service co-owned with MASSOB. But during a visit from his UK base, to Nigeria he was arrested, detained and made to face trial, from which he had gained tremendous goodwill, public sympathy and unintended popularity.
He has also become more radicalized and emboldened with unmistakable venom. In speech and action he tells the world that he will not tolerate any opposition to his dream project. Recently, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo advised against the secession of Biafra, Kanu’s response was vitriolic. The elder statesman during a book launch in honour of late Brig. Gen. Zakariyah Maimalari, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, had said failure to put an end to the Biafra agitation could lead to a repeat of the 1966 coup and eventually a civil war.
Without a doubt, Nnamdi Kanu symbolises the Biafran struggle today. He has managed to restore the Igbo sense of self respect. He has also inspired hope and misery (possibly in equal measure) in millions of people in Igboland and beyond. Not many people will seat on the fence about the passions and ideals that Kanu seeks to enforce. To some, he is a hero, symbol of courage and a legend. And yet to many others he is a villain, persona non grata and worse than an infidel. Love him or hate him, it is difficult to ignore Kanu.
His style has been a butt of no mean criticism even among some of his Igbo kinsmen and other Nigerians. A public affairs analyst and Kanu’s kinsman, Igbonekwu Ogazimorah while acknowledging the issues raised by IPOB on FB, faults Kanu’s style of seeking redress. He argues for instance that while it could be true that every IPOB member is an Igbo, not every Igboman is a member of IPOB. He said the Igbo usually adopt consensual approach before taking decisions and that IPOB has not been consultative enough in its decisions.
Lagos based author and politician, Joe Igbokwe accused Kanu of igniting and promoting hate speech. Igbokwe acknowledged the issue of marginalization raised by IPOB but cautioned that inflammatory tactics will not yield the desired result. Hear him.
But Obi Nwakama, a professor of English and columnist disagreed with Igbokwe. He argued that the Igbo had displayed reasonable tolerance with other ethnic groups in Nigeria. “It has happened for far too long. Fifty years is enough for handwringing; fifty years of “systemic” marginalization has basically aborted an entire generation, and fifty years of “civilized and constructive engagement” has not yielded reprieve to the Igbo. The Igbo have argued, negotiated, cried out, pleaded, tried to build bridges, made sacrifices and concessions for peace, have often yielded grounds to avoid conflict just to preserve this federation, and all that “constructive” effort has actually yielded nothing but continued marginalisation, discrimination, and insult to the Igbo.”
Nwakama however hinted that Igbo interest and future can be secured in a Nigerian federation given certain conditions. “We must give Nigeria a chance. We must help to shape it rather than abandon it.