Nigerians woke up to the news on June 29th, 2021, that Nnamdi Kanu, the fiery leader of IPOB has been arrested. The circumstances of his arrest remain unclear, but what is clear is that the Nigerian state’s most wanted fugitive has been forcefully returned home. This is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of the story.
For the Nigerian state, this might look like a victory; but only time will tell. It was obvious that Buhari and his henchmen sent Nigeria’s Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to address a hastily prepared press conference for a victory lap. However, for millions of the fervent followers of Kanu in the Igbo nation, who lionized him and bought into his ideological petard and brand of activism and agitation, seeing a handcuffed Kanu will be a bitter pill to swallow.
The victory lap by the agents of the state and the deep pain and anger of those Igbo, who see Kanu as ‘another savior’, point to two contrasting sentiments that will likely produce different responses with regard to what happens to Kanu in the coming months and years.
Many Nigerians like this author would have wished that the Federal government of Nigeria spent more time and resources arresting and prosecuting the radical Islamists mainly of the Fulani extraction who have turned Nigeria into a killing field. Many of us wonder why the agents of the state could mobilize so much resources to pursue and monitor a single citizen abroad, while it fails to mobilize little sources for surveillance at home, to capture thousands of Islamists who have committed atrocities in Nigeria through Boko Haram, Islamic State in West Africa, and the conscienceless herds of unlettered and vengeful Fulani murderers, who have spread mayhem in Nigeria by terrorizing fellow Nigerians everywhere and anywhere in the country.
IPOB fights for self-determination and the advancement of human rights for Nigerians and particularly the marginalized Ndigbo and other minorities. Its activities have been localized to the Igbo enclave and her activities abroad. The Nigerian state declared it a terrorist organization in order to proscribe it and persecute her leaders. When we compare the vision, mission, and activities of IPOB and that of the radical Islamists of Northern Nigeria, and the activities of clerics like Gumi who negotiates with known terrorists for ransom—some of whom are allowed to roam freely after the negotiation—we can see clearly the injustice at play here. This is clear in the way Buhari treats IPOB and Igbo youth in the “language they will understand”, while adopting a policy of appeasement and dialogue (like blaming the violence of his Fulani brethren on the absence of RUGA for the Fulani herdsmen, denying that these killings are being carried out by Fulanis; and promoting a policy of reintegration, settlement, and deradicalization for Northern youth among others).
It is okay to order ‘shoot at sight’ against Southern youth (during the SARS riots), or completely destroy Odi in the Niger Delta, but the Nigerian military treats the forests where the Fulani youth hide in Sambisa and elsewhere as sacred grounds that have to be respected and reverenced. Why is it that the Nigerian state has never adopted the kind of violence and scotched earth policy it unleashes in Southern Nigeria in the North, where all these abominable, and atrocious acts are being committed often against minorities—indigenous peoples, the non-Fulanis, and Christians?
Two points stand out for me among many as I watch this theatre of the absurd, that is, the so-called return and trial of Nnamdi Kanu.
First, is that the Buhari government and their international advisors and collaborators have made perhaps the greatest mistake of Buhari’s failed presidency by arresting and extraditing Kanu to Nigeria. If the intent was to silence him, the government has made him the news, and his trial will be turned into a jury on the Buhari presidency. If he gets sentenced to a long sentence, or death or dies in prison, this government would have opened the vortex of a molten magma that will spill into civil conflict, social convulsion, and war. I am sure that many young Igbo people will not stand idle to see the humiliation and death of someone who captured, even in a very crude fashion,
the agonies and pains of the Igbo nation.
As Bob Marley sang, “how long will they kill our prophets”, the Nigerian state particularly the Fulani Caliphate run by Buhari has always been propped up by Western powers to kill the prophets who have risen from among us. These prophets challenge the existing social and religious hierarchies and structures of oppression of the rest of the country designed and directed by the Fulani oligarchs. We can point at different examples from the past.
When Ken Saro Wiwa mobilized the Ogonis to fight for ecological rights and resource control, the Nigerian state killed him in one of the most egregious and despicable cases of judicial murder committed in the African continent. The last words of Ken Saro Wiwa before he died were, “What kind of country is this?” I guess this question will be going on in the minds of Nnamdi Kanu and
his base. It is the same question that most of us ask ourselves when we behold the tragedies of our nation, the violence and killings, the suffering and social deprivation in the land, the absence of any social safety net to take care of the poor, the sick, the elderly, and the weak. However, the main culprits in the killing of Wiwa were the Western oil companies who saw Wiwa as a gadfly that should be eliminated. The Nigerian state did their bidding because for the North, which no longer contributes much to the national economy, the oil must flow even if it brings death and diseases to the Ogonis and Niger Deltans for generations to come.
We can also think of Isaac Adaka Boro, who was really the first person to fight for secession from Nigeria in the Niger Delta before the Biafran War, when he declared the Niger Delta Republic in 1966. The Nigerian state arrested him, tried and sentenced him for treason only to release him before the Civil war. He subsequently was killed in mysterious circumstances.
We could also go back further to the Tiv Uprising led by Joseph Tarka, the leader of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC) in 1964. The Northern People’s Congress led by Ahmadu Bello sent in soldiers who ruthlessly crushed the Tivs and occupied the land until the Civil war. We do not yet know why Abiola was prevented from becoming the President and why he died in detention, but the riots that followed also saw a strong movement by the Yoruba nation to secede from Nigeria, if a proper accounting and settlement was not reached.
The emergence of Obasanjo’s two-term presidency was all part of this settlement. In addition, Obasanjo’s military ties tilted the pendulum in his favor before the Northern establishment over the candidacy of Alex Ekwueme, who as the vice president of the defunct Second Republic government of Shagari, and the founder of the Patriots, should have been the natural successor to Shagari. But the North had other plans.
It is important to note that the only part of Nigeria that has stayed ‘true’ to the idea of one Nigeria is the core North. Interestingly, this is the only region that was reluctant to be a part of One Nigeria at Independence with the slogan ‘One North, one destiny’ because it was afraid of being dominated by other regions. Ahmadu Bello characterized Nigeria as “a misalliance of people, who are although of the same racial stock, but with different language, historical background, and in fact distinct territory and distinct cultural and political identity.”
However, over time the Fulani oligarchs worked out how best to stay in Nigeria through the domination, and control of the levers of power and the key to Nigeria’s oil wealth. The rest of Nigeria has become pawns in the chessboard of the Fulani military oligarchs, and some collaborating politicians in Igboland (eg. Ngige) and in Yorubaland (eg. Tinubu) or in the Middle Belt (eg. Oshiomole) who somehow believe erroneously like Abiola did that peonage and subservience to the Fulani king makers is the only root to power and access to the national cake. Today, Buhari and his small power concentric unit, like other Fulani oligarchs, are fighting for one Nigeria because it benefits his reference group to milk the Nigerian cow without contributing anything to feeding that cow.
National unity is not an enforced reality and most times an unregulated and uncritical union might simply be a fodder for all kinds of exploitation and disempowerment of the poor, minorities and those who are so righteous in their ways that they cannot compete through foul means as is the case in Nigeria. United communities and nations are often held together not by force or threat.
Rather a well-functioning and cohesive community emerges as a result of common values which help members of the community to achieve a sense of common identity and to pursue common interests and goals which benefit everyone. This is what should be sought in Nigeria through honest dialogue and courageous confrontation with the truth and the unjust system, policies and programs and exploitative schemes which cause pains to many. This is particularly the weight which many Igbo people bear because they still bear the brunt and consequences of the genocidal war against her people more than 50 years after the end of that tragic war.
The second point here is that rather than address the injustice in Nigeria and the suffering of the people which these prophets rise up to address, the Nigerian state unleashes violence against the prophets and in many cases kill them. It is the Nigeria state that should be on trial for the architecture of violence and the structural violence that are destroying the lives of Nigerians. It is President Buhari who should be on trial for violently overthrowing a constitutionally elected government led by Shagari. It is the federal government of Nigeria that should be on trial for making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world and for the senseless suffering and deaths in the
History teaches us that the so-called secessionists or terrorists of today are really the prophets whose intention is to purify the world of evil and to address the injustice in the world. These prophets read the signs of the times and are like sentinels calling us out from darkness through a change of our values, systems and unjust institutions.
These prophets like Nnamdi Kanu, are flawed human beings, but they embody in their words and activism something that speaks beyond their person or their times. Sadly, these prophets are usually pooh-poohed, tagged with all kinds of negative characterizations,suppressed, silenced or even killed because they lack the institutional power to translate their noise and threats into any counter-institutional movement.
Particularly in Nigeria, ethnocentric and religious contestations tend to blur our perception from making common cause with the victims of injustice, especially if they do not speak from and to our own narrow ethnic or religious claims and agenda. This is why the rest of Nigeria has been unable to unite around a common purpose to resist this internal colonialism and slavery imposed
on us by Buhari and his ethno-religious extractive power base. One may recall that the colonialists called our nationalists terrorists and trouble makers; the racists called Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X, and Desmond Tutu rabble rousers, violent revolutionaries, Marxists, and mad people. Indeed, Mandela was only removed from the terror list of the U.S just two years before his death in 2013. It is not surprising then that the Nigerian state is calling Nnamdi Kanu a terrorist and insurrectionist, and trying him in a kangaroo court for treason just like they did against Wiwa, Boro, Tarka, and Abiola, and many others who rose up against the anti-democratic impunities of the Nigerian state calling for, in the words of Abiola’s manifesto, “Farewell to Poverty: How to make Nigeria a better place for all.”
While I do not elevate Nnamdi Kanu to the level of Luther or Mandela, Wiwa or Abiola, I totally identify with his sentiments and that of so many Igbo people particularly of our own generation—the post-Civil War—generation. We were born into a divided nation, whose wealth has been squandered by a senseless and violent military, political and religious elites, who like drunken men and women have destroyed what held us together, and syphoned our national resources through corruption, cronyism, nepotism and short-sightedness. My post-war generation has never known the so called ‘good old days.’ This is why we belong to the restless Nigeria generation.
IPOB is a gathering of wounded Igbo men and women who are crying to this nation about the injustice that Igbo people are suffering in this country; about the pathological hatred of Igbo people by many Nigerians and the unfounded stereotypes about Igbo people which creates suspicions against Ndigbo and discrimination against them. IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu, represent the tears and lamentations of my people, who are crying out to Nigeria and the world that the Nigerian nation continues the war against Igbo people even though the war ended in 1970.
Why are the Igbo people being punished in Nigeria because our people refused to die as cowards following the anti-Igbo pogrom of 1966 that led to the senseless killing of more than 30,000 unarmed and innocent Igbo men and women and children in Northern Nigeria? Which ethnic group or race anywhere in the world will bear this wound silently without a national apology and reparation and no national attempt to heal the wounds through restorative justice?
Indeed, Nigeria is a sinful state which operates a structure of injustice which is destroying the lives of the poor, women, our youth, and our seniors and elders. Most Nigerians feel the pain of this sinful state, but do not know how to express their frustration and die in silence. Some like Nnamdi Kanu could no longer keep silent and are expressing their frustration through IPOB. Nigeria has been run and sustained by unrighteous office holders who do not have a nose for dialogue or public engagement.
These few men and women, mainly of the military extraction, have continued to build and sustain unjust socio-political and economic structures in Nigeria. They have made it impossible for the Nigerian state to establish any unified and inclusive institutions and have stifled the social and political space for the better angels of our nation and of our nature to arise. The only language they speak is violence, vengeance, vendetta, and vain glory.
This is why the answer the Nigerian state has to the agitation of a section of the country for self-determination is to criminalize opposition or protest or calls for succession rather than dialoguing with the people. How did we lose our basic African inclination to talk things over or as they say to jaw-jaw rather than war-war?
IPOB is unleashing what economist Joseph Schumpeter calls ‘creative destruction’ in the Nigerian state. However, unlike what Schumpeter proposes that such ‘creative destruction’ should emerge through economic growth and technological change and innovation; our young Igbo people are simply initiating creative destruction through legitimate protest.
We may not all agree with the method of IPOB or the style or utterances of Nnamdi Kanu, but sub-alterns are like that: they speak the language of protest, revolt and rebellion. Sadly, the Nigerian state, unschooled in how a new reality emerges from a non-inclusive and repressive social structure and led by an effete and intellectually limited leadership with a febrile vision, has fallen into a trap by responding with heavy-handed violence and the extradition and trial of Kanu.
As a Catholic priest, and professor of African studies, my faith and my study of history tell me that such groups as IPOB are prophetic because they help us to see clearly in order to better read the signs of the times. Nnamdi Kanu and the young men and women he has roused to think differently about their suffering and the Nigerian state deserve our respect and solidarity and not our condemnation. They deserve to be heard. We all know that Nigeria as it is today has not offered any of us the ideals of a true nation-state. It is, therefore, sinful to defend this status quo with any kind of logic. It will be unethical to condemn those who are seeking alternative vision and pathway to the future from this sinful and painful body politic.
I denounce any form of violence and subscribe to a non-violent resistance against the malfeasance of the Nigerian state. However, in the battle to save Nigeria no one should be silent or idle. This is why I appeal to those who do not like IPOD or Nnamdi Kanu to come forward with a better alternative; that is the value of a free society. However, putting Mazi Nnamdi Kanu on trial just shows how far Nigeria is from the kingdom of God—a kingdom of love, justice, truth, reconciliation, fraternity, and peace.