OGBUAGU ANIKWE examines the hurdles standing between Nnamdi Kanu and his freedom and predicts that President Buhari won’t release him.
It’s obvious that IPOB members and their enablers are living in a fool’s paradise. They refuse to accept that it’s almost impossible to free Nnamdi Kanu from detention and trial. Why can’t they see that it’s neither practical nor commonsensical to do so?
The practical approach is to accelerate the court process and get him out on bail. However, everything happening in court right now suggests that prolongation of court dates is the name of the game. The court process may therefore most likely continue to run until well after the President hands over power in 2023.
The commonsensical approach is to continue to explore a political solution that leads to his release. But political solutions are always about interests. What overarching interests can influence the release of Kanu. Consider these interests from the geopolitics of the Southeast, the impact on the rest of Nigeria, and the mandate and disposition of the President.
What does the rest of Nigeria stand to benefit from the release of Mazi Kanu? Is there any quantity of suffering IPOB heaps on Southeasterners that can move Nigerians beyond sympathetic clucking? In particular, are non-Southeast States suffering economic losses as Igbos are bullied to stay indoors whenever the whim catches IPOB? Are their children prevented from learning on Mondays? Are lives being lost outside the Southeast as a result of IPOB Monday theatrics? To paraphrase a governor’s joke, Ogbasara Nigeria? Beyond these, what impact will his release have on the peace that President Buhari enjoys since he recaptured Kanu?
To dive deeper, the overriding interests of the nation can be captured in three hurdles that stand between Mazi Kanu and his freedom. The personality and mindset of our President is a big hurdle. The geopolitics of the Southeast Region is another. And then, there is a third hurdle, embedded in the history of old Biafra, not the current agitation theatrics. The personality and mindset of our President are merged with this history and so, we deal with the two hurdles as one.
There are certain character dispositions that forewarn us that President Buhari won’t budge on issue of Mazi Kanu’s freedom at this time. President Buhari is the torchbearer for an elite group of powermongers which executed the July 1966 countercoup. Members of this group speak to Igbos only in “the language they understand.”
They learnt this language and have been employing it to address Igbo matters since 1966. In July of that year, some of them coordinated the arrest and execution of over 300 military officers and men from the defunct Eastern Region. All of them looked away while the northern civilian population descended upon and slaughtered thousands of Easterners living in the North. And then, they were mobilized to brutally prosecute a war that cost an estimated two million more lives. Millions of civilians ended up paying for the sins of officers from the East, West and Mid-West Regions who executed the first coup d’état in January 1966.
The elite powermongers salved their consciences by promoting the resulting genocidal war as a patriotic action to reunite the country. When the war ended, they proudly sang a “no-victor, no vanquished” refrain. They did all of this to assuage feelings of hurt among civilian population that they visited with anger and disdain. Then they retired with feelings of self-righteousness and effusions of renewed patriotic fervor.
Among members of this military elite, this self-righteous and patriotic mindset is not bound by religion or geography. Today, if a journalist scratches any of the surviving members of this gang (Gowon, Obasanjo, Danjuma, Buhari), they’ll sing a similar refrain from the maledictions of the past. In their minds, Southeast remains a conquered territory, despite the no-victor-no-vanquished mantra. And they are the conquerors with divine mandate to sustain the unity they won through tears and blood in battlefields.
It is for this reason that civil unrest anywhere in Nigeria evokes potential uprising a la Biafra that must be violently put down. The unity won in the battlefields of Biafra became non-negotiable, as long as they’re in power. Nigeria won’t renegotiate her unity but would rather enforce and sustain it with guns and bullets.
President Buhari restated the group’s mandate to an Al Jazeera interviewer in 2019: we cannot allow Igbos to leave a country that millions died to keep as one.
It is important to understand why this military gang has this mindset and why efforts are always made to extend it to the rest of Nigeria. An Igbo adage offers one explanation: “if a finger brings oil, it stains the rest.” In Nigeria today, the sin of one Igbo, more often than not, becomes the sin of all Igbos. In virtually every interview granted since he assumed office, President Buhari betrays this mindset whenever asked about IPOB. He particularly finds it difficult to separate a tiny band of separatist agitators from the entire Igbo populace. In interview responses, IPOB is magnified as an Igbo insurrection that must be crushed as in Old Biafra.
A second reason why Buhari won’t release Nnamdi Kanu is a common defensive strategy that I call leadership capture. The tactic is to capture the leader and keep him away and thereafter disorganize and disband the followership. The tactic was first used to convict and put away late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. It is used today to keep Sheik el Zakzaky out of sight, no matter what the courts say. Protests and clashes with security have so far failed to free the Islamic cleric from detention.
What makes IPOB enablers think that Mazi Kanu will be treated differently?
The third is the geopolitics of the Southeast region. The influences at play are both internal and external. Internally, it is the challenge of managing legally constituted territories that IPOB strives to turn into ungoverned spaces. The external is the politics of managing unwanted Igbo demand for the Nigerian presidency, which I propose to deal with only as a question in the end.
Besides skirmishes with federal security forces, IPOB is currently locked in a supremacy battle with constituted authorities of the Southeast. In the popular imagination, the separatist group has already won the mind battle, thanks to the enablers.
IPOB enablers are few but influential. They embolden the separatist group to seek to lord it over the rest of the population. In some towns, one can liken what is happening to the symbolic hoisting of jihadist flags by religious fundamentalists in the Northeast. And then the army moves in.
Today, through skillful use of digital propaganda, IPOB successfully cows the southeast population into silence and sheepish surrender to the orders of faceless groups operating in its name. The region’s State Governors appear powerless as citizens are forced indoors every Monday through this violent propaganda.
Everyone can see that IPOB’s confused and disorganized leadership is no longer in control. They cancelled the sit-at-home when the horse already bolted from the stable. Consequently, rogue elements of the movement, aided by criminal interlopers, exploit the confusion to visit violence and destruction each Monday. Those who go out in search of daily bread return with horrific stories, if they survived the adventure.
Incredibly, enablers of IPOB interpret this fear-induced sit-in as evidence of the people’s obedience and support for Biafra agitation! The point, however, is that the leadership of the Southeast may have lost but IPOB gained a Pyrrhic victory.
IPOB is not only turning the Governors’ territories into ungoverned spaces but have also made them enemies of the people. And yet, the governors remain the only authorities that can call for and enter a meaningful dialogue with federal authorities in a different, effective language. It is good for IPOB enablers to hope and pray that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu regains his freedom from the Monday havoc they wreak in the Southeast. But if you were a governor, will you champion Kanu’s release to complete the takeover of your State by a non-state actor?
And then this: if you were a presidential aspirant from outside the Southeast, will you also encourage peace to reign in the region – when the next president is expected to come from there?
Why Buhari won’t release Nnamdi Kanu