The IPOB Leader Nnamdi Kanu
By Uchenna F Akalonu

The successive Northern-dominated governments of Nigeria since the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1970 should be blamed for the current resurgence of Biafran nationalism being led by UK-based Nnamdi Kanu currently in Nigerian gulag. The northern-dominated governments have consistently and callously ill-treated the Igbo (Biafrans) with blatant arrogance and impunity.  Greedy, selfish, insensitive to the feelings of the other ethnic nationalities, arrogant both in utterances and display of power, the North believed and still believe that it has the divine right to rule others and to control the country's resources. This false belief it has over the years demonstrated through unguarded and hate speeches which have the potential to set the country ablaze—the same unguarded and hate speech for which Nnamdi Kanu has been arrested and jailed.

Yet extant Nigerian history shows that hate speeches are not exclusively the prerogative of Nnamdi Kanu. In other words, Nnamdi Kanu is not the first person in Nigeria to unleash diatribes against other individuals, ethnic groups or governments within the Nigerian space. The late Sardauna of Sokoto, premier of the northern region, Sir Ahmadu Bello was reported to have made the following statement on October 12, 1960, barely a few days after Nigeria's independence: "The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate for our great-grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power.

We must use the minorities of the North as willing tools, and the South as conquered territories and never allow them to have control of their future" (Emefiena Ezeani, In Biafra Africa Died: The Diplomatic Plot, 2013:109).  In May 1953, Mallam Inua Wada, Kano branch secretary of the Northern People's Congress had embarked on an intense public campaign against the impending visit of a delegation from the Action Group to Kano. Two days before the scheduled arrival of the delegation, Wada informed a gathering of section heads of the Native Administration: "Having abused us in the South these very Southerners have decided to come over to the North to abuse us…. We have therefore organized about a thousand men ready in the city to meet force with force…." The Action Group delegation aborted the visit, but on 16 May, a sequence of butcheries started.

According to Frederick Forsyth in The Making of an African Legend: The Biafra Story (1977:23) : "Failing to find Yorubas the Hausa set about the Easterners with what the official report compiled by a British civil servant termed 'a universally unexpected degree of violence'." Many including the British colonial officials considered Wada's speech "very ill-advised and provocative" although no attempt was made to impose judicial punishment on him for the violence which resulted in the death of 52 people and 245 wounded which is obviously on the conservative side.

The unguarded utterances of Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Inua Wada, and other northern politicians of the first republic which made them the target of the coup plotters of January 15, 1966, may be considered as belonging to the past. But recent unguarded utterances of some highly placed Nigerians at various times targeted at the Igbo (Biafrans) leave no one in doubt as to their mindset towards the Igbo (Biafrans). For decades the Igbo have suffered the North's ethnic and religious taunts. The Igbo (Biafrans) have been called 'slaves' and 'war captives' or 'prisoners of war' and 'second class citizens' and 'infidels' by their fellow countrymen in a country whose independence they spearheaded.

We have heard it trumpeted up and down the land by those Nigerians who believe that the national powerhouse is their ancestors' patrimony that the Igbo won't ever be president of Nigeria. Before Goodluck Jonathan became Nigeria's president, the flippant and sometimes frivolous Umaru Dikko had taunted the Niger Delta people by telling them to stage a coup if they wanted to rule Nigeria. The underlying ideological subtext of Dikko's words and which is integral with the northern agenda is that the Niger Delta militants needed more than militancy to capture power in Nigeria but lacked the resources for a successful coup.

More provocative is the threat from various quarters that if the Igbo tried any nonsense such as secession again, they would be crushed. President Buhari's recent threats that Nigeria would not tolerate Biafra or the statement he made in Katsina that the country would rather drown than allow Biafra to secede are patent and enduring examples. Surely, there can be no better examples of hate speeches than the above. Nnamdi Kanu makes hate speeches, yes, but the haters of the Igbo made him do so or taught him to do so. As Caliban tells Prospero in William Shakespeare's The Tempest:

You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language! (Act 1, Scene ii: 1140).

Hate speech is a two-edged sword that cuts both ways—it can serve a positive end for the speaker and a harmful end for the receiver. The very hate rhetoric which the haters of the Igbo have deployed against them over the years, Nnamdi Kanu had appropriated and re-deployed against them. And while the Igbo endured the hate speeches directed at them calmly, Nnamdi Kanu's barbs stung his targets exactly the way he hoped it would. And so far, those practitioners of hate speech against the Igbo have not been arrested or accused of speaking treason.

Those northerners who incited their fellows to kill and maim the Igbo domiciled in their region over the years have never been arrested or charged with treason. So why should Nnamdi Kanu's case be different? Is it because he is Igbo, a target and disliked race in Nigeria? Perhaps one important lesson accruing from the Nnamdi Kanu narrative is that hate speeches and fanaticism are not the exclusive prerogatives of any individual or group. Suffice it to say too that militant nationalism, the type Nnamdi Kanu espouses, is what Biafrans need to cast off years of psychological denigration and build the necessary chutzpah to respond to tragic history.  
If the Northern-dominated federal governments of Nigeria had run an all-inclusive government, distributed the national cake equitably and created conditions that allowed the Igbo to exercise their creative freedom unhindered, the ongoing search for an alternative in the name of Biafra would not have been. Let face the truth: the Nigerian space is harsh, hellacious, dystopian, oppressive, stifling, and throttles the creative freedom of the Igbo.

Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu
The repeated attempts by the north and their surrogates elsewhere to locate the reason for the repeated massacres of the Igbo in the north in the January 15, 1966, a coup which saw the assassination of Northern political and military leaders is a revisionist interpretation of history. Remember that the Igbo were first slaughtered in the northern region in Jos in 1945 and later in Kano in 1953, the latter at Inua Wada's prompting. These killings happened long before January 1966 when Sardauna was killed by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu. Thus the reason for the North's perennial lust for Igbo blood must be sought elsewhere.

Nigeria is a complex republic, a patchwork of cultures, religions and nationalities with differing traditions and ideological outlooks and worldview. For instance, the Igbo Biafran worldview is Occidental while the Hausa-Fulani worldview is Oriental. And while the Igbo places high premium on human life and believes that madu, the human being, is the beauty of life, which should not be destroyed without justifiable reason, the Hausa-Fulani group seem to have an insatiable bloodlust written deep in their DNA that drives them to kill a fellow human being with little or no provocation.

If the truth must be told, the incompatibility of the Biafrans and Nigerians became complete during the bloody Biafra-Nigeria war, but the collapse of Biafra and the forced re-incorporation of Biafrans into Nigeria and the Biafrans' listless acceptance of their condition at least in the postwar years gave the appearance of compatibility between the two peoples. But the northern politics of violence against the South and the Middle Belt, and particularly the Biafrans, in the form of ethno-religious carnage since the 1980's have negated this seeming compatibility.

Moreover, it is not as if Nigeria is one utopian state. On the contrary, it is one of the worst countries in the world, a classic example of a failed state. Right now, it is a soiled garment with ugly patches all over it. Yet local and foreign beneficiaries of 'one' Nigeria, the so-called stakeholders, relentlessly continue to pass her off as a sacrosanct, inviolable entity, an act of God which no human should put asunder. But we know it isn't true. And we also know that the reason for the North's politics of violence against the south is to continue to control and loot the country's resources, particularly oil. In view of this, several questions are begging to be answered.

Is Nnamdi Kanu a misguided activist? Is the quest for Biafra a misguided aspiration? Is the Nigerian space a heaven on earth from which only a fool would like to exit? Is the Nigerian state sacrosanct and therefore inviolable? Was the 1914 amalgamation of the north and south an act of God, or was it done by poor, puny, all too fallible mankind? Did Lugard consult the indigenous peoples before he created a new destiny for them? If he did not consult them, what were his motivations in deciding to cobble together disparate peoples with differing ideological, religious and cosmological beliefs to make one nation? And since 1914, have the various nationalities been able to build one nation by consent, of their own volition, and not by force or threat?

Has the task of nation-building to which all the country's nationalities should contribute been free of coercion and intimidation? If the idea of Biafra is an aberration, how does one explain the dissolution of the former Soviet Union—a heartless behemoth, and the emergence of several sovereign states from it, the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia, East Timor from Indonesia, the breakup of the former Czechoslovakia into Czech and Slovakia, the separation of Southern Sudan from Sudan? India seceded from the Federation of Malaysia and became an independent sovereign state, just as Pakistan and Bangladesh separated from India and became independent nations. The Republic of Panama seceded from Colombia in 1903.

The secession of Ukraine from the Soviet Union did not make the heavens cave in, just as the secession of Latvia from the same Soviet Union in 1991 did not stop the moon from appearing at its accustomed time! It is obvious that Nigeria's post-colonial convulsions are rooted in the amalgamation of 1914 or in colonialism. The answer to those problems must, therefore, be sought in the causative factors.

Nnamdi Kanu's quest for Biafra is within his fundamental human rights even as Mr Buhari believes he has a duty to preserve Nigeria intact. But Buhari must understand that it is wrong to force One Nigeria on a people who do not want it. Buhari's statement that he will not tolerate Biafra is too extremist and negates the spirit of democracy.
Whether or not Biafra will be restored is for God to determine, but all wielders of power who believe it is their birthright, and use it to oppress and exploit others should take cognizance of the lesson of history: history repeats and all conquerors are eventually conquered.

The Igbo people have this proverb-question: 'Erimam, o na ji ado ogu?' If I say I will no longer eat your dish, should it cause a fight? If Biafrans say they have had enough of the Nigerian dish and will no longer eat it, it ought not to cause any fight. The sensible thing is for Nigeria to let them pursue the other alternative. Biafrans have every legitimate right to seek self-determination and so does any other indigenous nationality including Buhari's Hausa-Fulani group.

Nnamdi Kanu should be released unconditionally. The insistence that he must renounce Biafra before he is released is undemocratic The Nigerian government should demonstrate the sincere political will and allow the people to decide their future. President Buhari should listen to the voice of wisdom and organise a plebiscite or referendum for Biafran independence. Nigeria's dysfunctions are rooted in the artificial boundaries drawn by selfish colonial masters who did not have the interests of the indigenous peoples at heart. It is only when the country's leaders take pragmatic and bold steps towards closing Nigeria's colonial deficit that Nigerians will achieve closure and complete satisfaction in independence.

The Nigerian civil war was, like it or not, a clash of civilisations, and Gowon's antics in defence of colonial borders proved costly in human life. Buhari will go down in history if he takes the bold step to re-write this outdated postcolonial narrative. The Nigerian state as it is at present is too harsh, constricting, even asphyxiating. Let's make no mistake about this.


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