The IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, elicits resentment and dread across the Nigerian polity, even among his own people. Many Igbos acknowledge the validity of Kanu’s critique of Nigeria, but there is significant apprehension about his adversarial approach which many fear offends Igbo strategic interest. But such apprehension represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Kanu and his revolutionary approach.
By Ikechukwu S. Onuora
Among the broad conglomeration of Igbo people of Nigeria, there are two categories of critics of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB (Indigenous Peoples of Biafra). There are those who don’t want Biafra at all, and then those who want Biafra but not the way Kanu and his group are going about it. I would wager that the former are in the minority while the latter are quite a number.
The former are of the opinion that a pull-out from Nigeria will harm the Igbos adversely. While they admit that the Igbos are being marginalized, they argue that other ethnic groups also suffer from different kinds of marginalization. Therefore it’s not an excuse to demand secession. Again they posit that despite the Igbo marginalization, Igbos are economically better off than other ethnicities in Nigeria, therefore they should just be managing the situation while calling for a better deal instead of demanding for secession. To this group I say, each tribe has its own unique way of doing things. That we are both being oppressed and you chose to keep quiet doesn’t mean that I should also keep quiet. If other tribes feel they are also being marginalized in the country, it is up to them to decide also what to do about it. Again ascertaining the degree of marginalization of each group is crucial in appreciating their pain and reaction. I dare to say that no ethnic group is as marginalized as the Igbos.
But most importantly, those who tout the economic advantage of the Igbos over the other tribes in Nigeria should be made to know that we are not competing with other tribes in the country, we have passed that. We are fighting to compete with the rest of the world, we want to be the pride of Africa, we want to be at par with first world countries like America, Germany, Israel, etc., we want to achieve our full potential, and the country Nigeria is holding us down. If you don’t understand this, then you may never fully understand the nature of the struggle.
Why do you think our people in the first world countries of Europe and America are the most passionate about this Biafran issue? It’s not because they don’t know the danger the people at home face over the issue as some people have insinuated. It’s because they have seen and experienced the good life in first world countries but they know it’s not their home. They want to go home and replicate this good life at home but they can’t because of the situation at home. They watch their children becoming a lost generation, growing in a foreign country without strong roots in their culture. They want to take them home but they can’t because they know that there’s no guarantee of their safety, dignity, and success at home. It’s an agony that never ends. Indeed if you have not lived outside the country you may not fully appreciate this. They want a country, a home where they are valued, where their worth is recognized, where things are done on merit, where they can comfortably rear their children, where they can fully contribute their quota in raising it at par with the first world countries, a country they can be proud of. This is the major drive for Biafra abroad.
The same group that reject Biafra would argue that instead of blaming the federal government, we should rather blame more the state governments for not doing their elected duties, and we should vote out the bad ones. Of course their arguments have some merits. However with the present structure of the country, there’s a limit to what a good state governor can do. Bad roads, inaccessibility of clean water, lack of good hospitals, dirty environments, substandard schools, etc., these can be blamed on the state governments. But that’s where it ends. What of electricity generation, inter-state roads, functional seaports, security, etc. These are in the exclusive list of the inept and insensitive federal government. We have a sea port in Onitsha for instance, but an Onitsha importer will have to go to Lagos port to offload his goods. The governors are the chief security officers of their states but they are not in charge of the security agencies in their states. These are manned by foreigners to the region. The inter-states/federal roads are too bad yet the governor has no right to repair them. These are just few examples. We can’t continue like this.
Furthermore, how can you vote in the governor of your choice that will deliver good governance when your vote hardly counts, when the electoral body is controlled from Abuja and election results are decided by Abuja. We saw that play out in the last Imo state election. You only get your choice governor if Abuja has less interest in the contest as in the case of former governors Peter Obi and Chris Ngige, or you are ready to shed blood and die for your vote as in the case of Edo people in the Obaseki vs Ize-Iyamu battle (Pt. 2). This is exactly why KANU has always called for a boycott of elections in the Southeast; participation is always an indirect endorsement of the Abuja fraud. So you see, Nigeria has never and will never work for us Igbos.
Those of us who want Biafra but have issues with KANU’s method of pursuing it, accuse him of calling for war by his hardline utterances, by his formation of Eastern Security Network (ESN), and by his group’s attack on security formations in the Southeast. However let’s look closer at KANU’s utterances. It’s true that he is very aggressive towards both the Nigerian government, and also towards Southeast politicians who he believes are in bed with our northern oppressors. That is bad but does that translate into a call for war? Certainly not! Kanu said he formed the ESN to defend the East against the invading Fulani herdsmen that over the years have been killing, abducting and raping our women. Is that a call for war? Did he say he would go to the North and attack them? Did he say he would attack all the law abiding northerners living in the East? Of course not! Now, between the man who invades a home with arms and the one who defends his home with arms, who is the warmonger? Your guess is as good as mine.
As for the attack on security formations in the East by “unknown gunmen,” Kanu and his group have repeatedly denied having anything to do with that. Understandably many people don’t believe him because he surely has a grouse with the Nigerian security and has vowed to avenge the death of his followers in the hands of the Nigerian police and army. But is that enough to conclude that IPOB is behind these attacks? Certainly not! The police want us to believe that the ‘unknown gunmen’ are IPOB members. Indeed on few occasions they have arrested some young men and declared them to have confessed to be the “unknown gunmen” and also members of IPOB. However, experience has shown that the Nigerian police cannot be trusted to tell the truth in matters like this. To get to the truth, you have to dig deeper than what they say. And some digs deeper have revealed that many of the arrested and branded men were actually innocent.
Having said this, let us assume (without conceding) that IPOB is behind the attacks on security formations in the East. Now, that is very condemnable. I believe no reasonable person will wholly support that. However, we also need to ask the question, why would they be attacking the Nigerian police and army? You see, the French poet, Victor Hugo, made one of the greatest moral statements of all times. He said; if a soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed, but the greater culprit is not he who commits sins but he who causes the darkness (reflect more on this when you are less busy).
Over the years we are all witnesses to how the Nigerian police and army besieged the south-eastern Nigeria. How they mount illegal roadblocks at will and extort the people. How they extra-judicially arrest, jail, and kill our young men without any care in the world. How they massacred on various occasions unarmed youths of the East simply because they are IPOB members. Indeed the Nigerian security has treated the southeast like a conquered territory, they have committed countless atrocities in the East and the government who should call them to order cared less thereby creating the present darkness. So why we condemn the eastern youths (if indeed they are the culprits) for taking up arms now and call on them to drop them, we must not forget to make greater efforts to call on the government to restrain and discipline its erring security agents. Let them strictly follow the rules of engagement in carrying out their duties, otherwise the darkness will continue to exist and sins will continue to be committed and everyone loses.
It has also been argued that Kanu should not have formed the ESN because that has escalated the tension in the East. My question is, before the formation of the ESN, what was the situation in the East. Were there no killings by the Fulani herdsmen and the security agents? And in the absence of the ESN what exactly is our plan of defense against these beasts that are colonizing our forests and farms? Who are we looking up to defend our people? The police? The army? The vigilantes? Or the recently formed Eubeagu? Have you ever heard that the police or the army went into the bush to fish out killer herdsmen? The vigilantes and the Ebubeagu are poorly funded for it. Just about a week ago, the chairman of the Ebubeagu resigned citing lack of funds. And you want the only outfit standing as it were to disband? Probably our people being so religious are hoping for a miracle of deliverance from God as he did for the Israelites in Egypt. That’s laughable.
Look at what is happening in the Middle-belt region. I tell you, why the Fulani militia herdsmen are having a field day there is because there’s no militant leader in the mould of kANU there. Look at the Southwest, they were only checked with the rise of Sunday Igboho. Fortunately the governor of Benue state has realized albeit a bit late that the only language these beasts understand is militant language. Now he has told his people to take up arms and defend themselves. I guess he is also calling for war like Kanu.
What we need now is simply to support and harness the energy and influence of this young man Kanu. Castigating him will not achieve that; it will only worsen the divide. It’s true that he is “hard of hearing” but even the hard of hearing hears when the message is drummed loudly in their ears. The southeast state governments, the south east leaders, political, religious and otherwise, can create an alliance, a steady and cordial channel of communication with him at one end and with the federal government of the day at the other end, and impress on both sides of the need for restraint. That’s probably the only solution to the present crisis we are facing. To tell Kanu to back down without also talking to the FGN will likely be a waste of time.
It must be restated that what Kanu is calling for is not war but secession. I don’t know when a call for secession has suddenly meant a call for war. In many countries around the world like Spain, Russia, U.K, etc., there are calls by some groups for secession, but nobody has ever accused them of war mongering. Why then is our own different? Normally a call for secession is a call for referendum which is a peaceful process. Nnamdi Kanu has repeatedly said this. Let the people decide their fate. The problem comes when the government of the day not only refuses referendum but also criminalizes the call for it. Usually a responsible government, even if it refuses to organize referendum, will not repress the expression for it by the people. It’s only in rogue nations that this is done.
I fully agree with those who opine that restructuring of the country will be a better deal than secession. And I tell you that even Kanu will drop his call for secession if the country were to be restructured. That the talk of restructuring is even gaining ground now is mainly because of the activities of Kanu. But why he insists on secession is because he believes that restructuring is not possible. I’m inclined to agree with him on that too.
How do you achieve restructuring legally if not at the end of the day through the national assembly? The national assembly as presently constituted has the northerners in the majority, and they are the beneficiaries of the present structure of the country. How then do you think you can upstage them in a vote for restructuring or how do you believe they will agree to lessen their advantage and vote for restructuring?
The tie breaker in this struggle would have been the North-central or the middle belt who are actually the greatest victims of the murderous adventure of the Fulani militia. Unfortunately, the North-central despite its grudge against the rest of the North, would always choose them over the South. Despite their greater Christian religious affiliation with the South, they will always vote for a northern Muslim over a Christian southerner. That’s just the bitter reality. That’s what played out in 2015 election between Jonathan and Buhari. And when we thought they would correct their mistake in 2019 by voting for a detribalized Northerner in Atiku over the Fulani pro-extremist Buhari, we were yet again disappointed. And that leads us back to square one; referendum and secession as the way forward.
Worthy of mention here is a group led by Barr Tony Nnadi who claims to be the better alternative to Kanu’s group since they are pursuing the same aim legally. The group is called NINAS (Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self-Determination). They claim to be presently in court (probably international court) with the federal government over the issue of referendum and possible secession. And they are almost certain they will win. This is certainly a good development because we need all the hands we can get in this struggle. How I wish both bodies can work hand in hand because we need them both.
When the case is won and the U.N gives the nod for referendum, and the Nigerian government predictably rejects it, the problem of enforcement comes in. The United Nations or United states cannot enforce it because Nigeria is a sovereign nation. The only thing the international bodies can do is to apply sanctions to the Nigerian government which we all know cannot deter the government. The big nations usually come in only if war happens to break out as seen in the case of South Sudan. In this case, because we have their legal approval ab initio, it’s possible that a number of them will support us even if only logistically. Now you see why we actually need a discipline armed group? However let’s pray it never gets to that.
Finally, a word for those who agitate that in the event of the creation of Biafra, the Igbos would lose their investments outside the Biafran land. And they have indeed invested heavily outside their territory. Well, that’s not completely true. A creation of a new nation doesn’t automatically mean that the members of the new nation are ejected from the old nation or lose whatever they have in the old nation or anywhere at all. Surely we cannot lose our investments in America, South Africa, Ghana, etc., simply because we now bear a new nationality. And this supposes to apply also to our investments in Nigeria. However it bears admitting that Nigeria is a country where anything goes, and given the hatred they have for the Igbos, the experience of abandoned property after the civil war may likely repeat itself. However, for me it is a worthy price to pay for a long term benefit.
The investments of the Igbos outside the Igbo land, especially in the North have never been really secure. The northern youths find it a pastime to loot and burn Igbo investments in their domain at any slightest excuse while the government looks the other way. But in the event of the creation of a new nation of Biafra, this cannot be business as usual because any tampering of our assets both human and material becomes an international issue that can generate international war. It will no longer be treated as internal Nigerian affair. And if God willing we are able to build our military to an advanced level as the Israelites did within a space of twenty years, then we can take the war directly into the Nigerian state and make them pay for all their atrocities against us. As an independent nation, we would have created military alliances with friendly nations such that in the event of such a war, we will have the backing and support of our allies. Today hardly do you see a nation going to war alone. There are always alliances that support them. My point then is that with the creation of Biafra, the security of our investments outside our country, in Nigeria precisely, will in the long run be more guaranteed than it is presently.
So, the way forward for us Igbos is Biafra. The earlier we realize and pursue it the better for us. It is my earnest prayer that this dream is realized in my lifetime.
– Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Awka Times.