Those who think Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is crazy and delusional, must pause a little for further reflection. If they do, perhaps they would discover that there is some method in his madness. The only evidence I have for this assertion comes from the thoughts of a select few among the Igbo leaders and intelligentsia.
It comes from the commonsensical stand of respected personalities like Joe Igbokwe, the publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Lagos State, the erudite intervention of Emma Agwu, a respected journalist of the Igbo extraction and Comfort Obi, a worthy daughter of the East, publisher and member of the Police Service Commission who, along with other prominent Igbo leaders, worked tirelessly behind the scenes to get Kanu out of prison on bail. This pack will not be complete without mentioning the contributions – erudite, cerebral and legal – of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. Of course, I am aware of other distinguished voices of sanity from the East who would have liked to see a more decent and civilised approach to the whole Biafran agitation but who would like to remain anonymous.
When it mattered most, some of these people stood up to be counted on the side of sweet reasonableness but Kanu had gone too far in his misadventure that all that was left to be done is damage control.
Kanu, you will recall, had metamorphosed from a pro-Nigeria activist during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, leading a protest march in London against Boko Haram to an operator of Radio Biafra, graduating, ultimately, into the leadership position of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB.
It all sounded well until 2015 when Jonathan lost the presidential election to APC candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. With Jonathan out of power, the Igbo, for all practical purposes, appeared like the tribe that has lost its head. That was the right moment for Kanu to seize the initiative. Like the Moses of the Israelites, he assumed the divine responsibility of leading his Igbo people to the Promised Land – the Biafran Eldorado.
He did not opt for the mild mannered style of Moses, embracing the meekness of the lamb. He is not the one to turn the other cheek. Instead, he preferred to hit his perceived enemies on the two cheeks at same time. He fell, head over heels, in love for the rhetoric that was full of bile and venom, employing the crude techniques of persuasion; egregious propaganda, bare-faced lies, hate speeches and brainwashing.
For his efforts, he was arrested on October 14, 2015 but he was given bail only last April after the intervention of well-meaning leaders from the South East. No sooner was he out of detention than he decided to break every one of the bail conditions. He displayed his hold on the people by locking down the entire region for a whole day. He even vowed that the Anambra State election would not hold next month.
Most of the things he said were unprintable but it is sufficient enough for us to know that we all live in a vast zoo. When other Nigerians who felt aggrieved with the structure of the country were calling for restructuring, Kanu went on record as saying that even if an Igbo man became president, he would not stop agitating for Biafra. In other words, it is Biafra or nothing.
As he was busy spewing out these words of hate, the elders of the community turned an unhearing ear. Surprisingly, people who were usually given to loquaciousness suddenly turned taciturn. Those of them who volunteered a few words, spoke in parables but only in defence of human rights, rights of abuse and the right to pour venom on those in authority. Until the Arewa Youth Group, in reaction and in absolute exasperation, took the law into their own hands and gave those warming up to secede from Nigeria a quit notice from the North with effect from October 1. Bedlam then broke out and the taciturn suddenly became vocal. They now said those who gave quit notice were treasonable felons that deserved to be locked up.
Igbokwe’s admonition fell on deaf ears. He had sought to remind his kinsmen all over the country and in the Diaspora that Kanu was winning millions of enemies for the Igbo with his incendiary hate speeches but he was laughed out of court. He was called a traitor and a turncoat. But he kept asking the following question: “Why did our leaders keep quiet in the face of these provocative statements and abuse. Why did they not care about others in Nigeria?”
We may find the answer in Ekweremadu’s address to the meeting of Igbo leaders including governors and National Assembly members on the IPOB crisis. He located the current crisis in the Igbo man’s clear perception of marginalisation. “The South-East region,” he said “has no doubt being at the worst receiving end of the structural imbalances with ripples of disequilibrium in the distribution of resources and opportunities since the end of the civil war in 1970. This we know are at the root of the disquiet and agitation by various groups for a sovereign state of Biafra.”
Ekweremadu: “It was even much less noticeable under the Jonathan administration because the South East was given a greater sense of belonging. The problem started with the 97 per cent and three per cent policy of the present administration” referring to President Buhari’s 97 per cent and 5 per cent statement at the U.S. Institute for Peace in 2015 in which he explained that those who voted solidly for him would be rewarded accordingly. But Ekweremadu did not fail to acknowledge the damage the current Kanu agitation has done to their cause, the “toll it has taken on our goodwill, friendship and the sympathy we enjoy. Insults hurled at religious and political leaders of other regions are not helping us politically.”
It is fairly easy to deduce from all these that the average Igbo man believes in the Kanu’s Biafran cause. They believe they are the only ones who have been marginalised in the country. Even when the country’s revenue had dropped and the allocation to states from the federation account had correspondingly reduced, the South East compatriots believe they ought to receive what they had been getting prior to the recession. With this siege complex they have been unable to realise that appointments alone do not add up to development. They may have shared in Kanu’s madness and differ only in the method.
The point is that you may have people at the helm of affairs as Ekweremadu admitted they had during the Jonathan administration – secretary to the government of the federation, coordinating minister for finance and economic development, chief of army staff, petroleum minister, Central Bank governor– but still fail to get the dividends of good governance. How come, if I may ask, they did not use the instrumentality of these high offices to turn things around in favour of the South East and the marginalised Igbo race? Who stopped them?
Dredging of the Calabar Port will help the economic development of that region but what happened to the contract awarded for the project? And what happened to the contract for the Eastern rail line? These two projects and some other development projects in the region have met bad luck because of corruption. And Ekweremadu, as deputy Senate president, is in a position to know who has stalled these projects.
While the generality of the Igbo people need the sympathy of other Nigerians, especially because of the self-inflicted damage to their political standing in the country today, they must be fair enough and courageous enough to admit that they too have not been fair to themselves. To boot, the Igbo presidency question cannot be adequately addressed when they have shown a notorious inability to build bridges across geo-political zone, along religious and ethnic divide to engender trust and create friendship and not to draw enemies to themselves.
I don’t hesitate a second to align myself with Igbokwe’s advice to his kinsmen. The Igbo, he said, “should stop persecution complex, defeatist syndrome, leadership complex and what Professor Ozodi Osuji calls sense of superiority and paranoid grandiosity.”