Pro-Biafra Agitation: IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu & Challenge Posed to the Status Quo in Nigeria
Special from our Staff Reporter
The past six months is an interregnum which shall stand out in history books as the period when Nigeria’s nakedness was displayed in the public square for all to behold. Nigeria is like a chronically ill patient who has been able to present a façade of normalcy in spite of the debilitating effects of a deadly ailment that has severely devastated its victim over the years. Smart analysts and pundits have written and spoken about the many existential tribulations faced by Nigerians as a consequence of living in a country perturbed by sundry woes. Politicians have fingered corruption as the most crippling disease that has caused Nigeria’s failure to thrive despite the fact that a minimum of US$600 Billion was supposedly earned from crude oil export alone since 1970. In fact, the incumbent central government’s political leadership was swept into power in 2015 because of the campaign promise to set up an administration that would spare no effort or cost to destroy and expunge corruption, not only in routine governance but also from mainstream society. More than halfway into its tenure, it is not only that nothing has been accomplished in checkmating corruption but also corrupt practices, especially in governance, has escalated to unprecedented heights since Buhari’s entry into the Aso Rock Villa.
With each passing day, the Buhari administration has consistently shifted focus away from fighting corruption to confronting mounting political opposition to centralized unitary governance of Nigeria under the pretext of adulterated federalism. Nigeria ceased to be a federation since 1966 when the five constitutions under which the First Republic was run were summarily abrogated by military rulers who, a year later on May 27, 1967, broke up the former 4-region federation into a 12-state unitary government run from a command post headed by a military dictator and a compliant ruling junta. Before the military strongmen had their fill of political rule more than three decades later, Nigeria had been restructured into an all-powerful unitary government at the center and 36 vassal states that are granted restricted oversight over the peripheral jurisdictions. To assure that this arbitrary and far-reaching restructuring of the country shall endure in perpetuity, the last military dictator, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, commissioned the writing of a constitution which he promulgated into law with Decree No 24 of 1999 (https://goo.gl/CoZnCv) before leaving office on May 29th of same year.
Resistance to Militarism & Governance by Imposition
Resistance to militarism and governance through imposition was the actual cause for the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War. The crises triggered by military takeover of 1966 led to a counter coup of July 29, 1966 and the widespread pogroms perpetrated against Eastern Nigerians residing outside the Eastern Region. In a spirited endeavor to find a lasting solution to the ensuing uncertainty, a conference was hosted by the Ghanaian Head of State, General Ankrah, in Aburi to assist Nigerian military leaders in resolving the impasse that was steadily dragging the country down into the abyss. After lengthy deliberations, an accord was supposedly reached and signed by relevant parties before the Nigerian parties returned home.
The Aburi Accord was retrospectively unilaterally disavowed by Gowon-led Lagos military junta which has been urged to opt for a military solution to the crises and to completely discountenance a negotiated alternative. At end of next 4 months of stalemate, General Gowon made a nationwide broadcast during which he announced the creation of 12 new states, out of the blue, without any consultations, whatsoever. In response to this bizarre affront, General Ojukwu convened the Eastern Nigeria Consultative Assembly in Enugu to deliberate over and advise on how to deal with the new development where Eastern Region was arbitrarily divvied up into 3 distinct administrative units that were supposed to be answerable only to the command headquarters in Lagos. The constituent assembly strongly repudiated the brazen act by the Lagos junta and resolved to empower the military governor, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, to immediately preclude the Eastern Region from the new state-creation gambit from Lagos by proclaiming the former Eastern Region as the sovereign Republic of Biafra. The name, Biafra, was proposed by an Ijaw leader at the Constituent Assembly, Chief Frank Opigo.
The booby trap set by the expatriate mentors advising the Lagos ruling junta was, as expected, inadvertently tripped when Ojukwu proceeded to implement recommendations of the constituent assembly by declaring the sovereign Republic of Biafra on May 30, 1967. Preparations for a military showdown were put on fast track as Gowon started to amass troops in southern Benue in preparation for a massive ground assault on the newly proclaimed Biafran republic. What was sold to the world as a police action to arrest dissident Ojukwu and few rebels collaborating with him rapidly degenerated into the most horrid genocidal war that Africa has ever seen. Estimated 2-3 million Biafrans, mostly children, women and the aged, perished prematurely from the combined scourges of mass starvation, disease and hostile firepower from land and air. After 30-months of mayhem and wanton savagery, the guns finally became silent in January 1970.
With no meaningful opposition within view, the military politicians at the helm embarked on a large-scale restructuring that sequentially yielded the Nigeria of today that is paralyzed by culture of corruption, planlessness and economic paralysis despite the oil wealth that was pumped into the domestic economy in unprecedented amounts. For the next three decades, the hegemonic agenda of the ruling Sokoto Islamic Caliphate was fostered through the military strongmen and their acolytes who ruled Nigeria until 1999. The earliest emergence of civilian-led opposition to the excesses of military rulers was the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which was inspired by the arbitrary nullification of the June 12, 1993 presidential election which was reportedly won by late Chief Moshood Abiola. General Abacha’s sudden demise may have expedited the decision by the military to cede political power back to the civilians in 1999.
The Nigerian Military and Its Obsessed Hold on Political Power
Even though it was clear that the protracted hold on power must have to end someday, the military strongmen who had wielded political control and immense wealth in post-war Nigeria remained fearful about what would become the fate of the polity they had radically reconfigured if they simple handed over power and returned to the barracks. Some of them had the legitimate fear that a civilian-led democratic government could come after them to exact accountability for many outrageous acts of official brutality, maladministration and corrupt enrichment which cut across decades of autocratic rule. After accomplishing the initial first step of writing a constitution for the succeeding democratic dispensation, the next important matter was to assure that the military cabal’s handpicked candidate would head the first civilian government.
This latter chore was accomplished through the decision to pick the former military head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo, to become the first civilian president of the Fourth Republic. In runup to the People’s Democratic Party’s national convention in Jos, General Obasanjo was set free from imprisonment, granted state pardon and empowered with the funds with which he easily procured the party’s nomination to become its presidential flag bearer. As one would expect, Obasanjo easily won the presidential election in 1999 and a second tenure in 2003. So, for the first 8 years of Nigeria’s civilian democracy, the country’s military establishment successfully installed one of their own as president who, of course, did all that was required to safeguard the imposed 1999 Constitution decreed into law by the last military autocrat, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. As is common knowledge, Obasanjo literally handpicked his successor as president but still retained his status as the kingmaker-in-chief in the ruling party until 2015. When accident of death thrust the mantle of leadership on Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, a bona fide civilian from the Southern minority, all stops were pulled in order to assure that his re-election bid in 2015 was scuttled. Overnight, the ruling party, PDP, was discredited as the military establishment opted to transfer its support to the emergent opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) with another Army general, Muhammadu Buhari (retired), as its presidential flag bearer.
Buhari’s Parochialism, Economic Downturn & Self-determination Agitation
Terrible things have been happening to Nigeria’s political economy, as narrated above, but there was still a strong popular perception that the country’s fortunes were ever so bright due to the handsome revenue earned from crude oil and natural gas exports. Global economic downturn coupled with increase in supply of fossil fuel through fracking resulted in relative glut in global supply of Nigeria’s main income earners and a resultant sharp drop in price in oil and gas. President Buhari stepped into power at the moment of economic hard times for his country. A combination administrative tardiness, poor economic policies and unrelenting corruption in the corridors of power further exacerbated the existential dilemma of the average Nigeria.
All these obstacles notwithstanding, President Buhari has other overarching agenda on his plate to fulfill, with Northernization of government bureaucracy and Islamization of Nigeria topping his priority list. Some assert that President Buhari priority agenda appear to be emanating from a script written by the renowned leader of modern Sokoto Islamic Caliphate, late Ahmadu Bello, in the country’s post-Independence era. Buhari’s public pronouncements and body language also sent subliminal messages to other pro-North and Islamic radical groups, such as the Fulani herdsmen militia and Boko Haram, to step up their murderous rampages against Christians in the Middle Belt and South.
Due to ill health, President Buhari had extended stays overseas in the UK to seek medical treatment. His absence created a void which was promptly filled by the Cabal who have virtually usurped the governance of Nigeria at the center thereby rendering the Vice President and his constitutional role redundant. The combination of national economic downturn, Buhari’s administrative lethargy, murderous escapades of Fulani herdsmen militia and blatant Northernization of Nigeria’s unitary government bureaucracy was simply too much for all interest groups to bear indefinitely without complaining.
The political class nationwide had its back against the wall. The Nigerian government, which has run everything in the country from the center, is suddenly incapacitated and there has not been any clarity regarding who exactly in in-charge and when the current decline shall abate, if ever. Cries of marginalization, insecurity underscored by brazen terrorist acts by the Fulani herdsmen militia and Boko Haram, gross economic mismanagement and overall decline in perception of national wellbeing inspired many nongovernmental entities to escalate their agitations. It is within this context that one should see the pro-Biafra agitation spearheaded by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra and many other self-determination groups in the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria. In reaction to self-determination agitation by elements from the South, the Arewa Youths domiciled in the Far North have since joined the fray by issuing threats to fellow citizens and making their own demands.
IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu and Operation “Python Dance” II
Neither IPOB nor Nnamdi Kanu authored pro-Biafra agitation. Some Nigerians conveniently relate to the term “Biafra” only through the prism of secession and war of conquest, for reasons best known to them. Many, however, see Biafra as a frame of mind – as an ideology. Within the latter context, the dream of Biafra never died among those who lived through the Civil War and of course, among the many more millions of today’s youths who see themselves bitterly anguished and stifled by issues that revolve around their Biafran identity.
The Movement for Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) is the first organized entity to engage in pro-Biafra agitation within the borders of Nigeria. IPOB came much later. Nnamdi Kanu was appointed as Director of Radio Biafra by the IPOB leadership. Ideological and operational disagreement led to the polarization of IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu emerging as leader of its more radical wing. Presently, there are three IPOB arms in operation today: – Customary Government of IPOB (CG-IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB and IPOB led by Directorate of State (IPOB-DOS). All shades of IPOB see actualization of sovereign Biafra as the end objective. What may differ are the exact tactics, ways and means for getting there.
The operational tactics of IPOB led by Kanu are nonviolent but confrontational activism. The acerbic rhetoric perfected as he manned the microphone at radio Biafra, UK eventually became the signature tune for Nnamdi Kanu and the massive following he was able to garner for IPOB globally, especially at ground zero in Nigeria. Arrival of the Buhari administration had the effect of an accelerant because pro-Biafra agitation which used to exist below the radar was suddenly thrust into the public arena and into Nigerian mainstream consciousness. During one of his trips to Nigeria, Nnamdi Kanu was intercepted at Lagos International Airport by the security services in late 2015. He was extrajudicially imprisoned before even arriving at the decision to charge him for alleged treason and secessionist plot to dismember Nigeria. Under intense pressure, the Buhari government reluctantly granted conditional bail to Mr. Kanu in April 2017.
Nnamdi Kanu & His Messianic Campaign
Riding the euphoric high of Kanu’s release from the Abuja gulag, thousands of youths rallied behind IPOB under the leadership of its emergent messianic leader. It was easy to see that imprisonment had indeed transformed Nnamdi Kanu from the theoretic freedom fighter into the very symbol of an imminent grassroots-driven revolution, at least, in eyes of increasing numbers of IPOB youths of the Southeast, in particular and elsewhere in other parts of the country, in general. Umuahia was rapidly metamorphosing into the Mecca of pro-Biafra activism and the Kanu ancestral compound became transformed into a shrine for IPOBism steeped in a brew of the charisma and cultism of its “supreme leader”. With this massive response from the curious populace, all the stringent terms itemized in Mr. Kanu’s bail were simply cast out of the window. Hordes of enthusiastic admirers thronged the Kanu family homestead near Umuahia, whenever he was home, to partake in the experience of hearing the redemptive missive about the Biafran struggle from the horse’s mouth.
Mr. Kanu was able to attract impressive crowds and fawning adulation that many contemporary Nigerian politicians would die for. His public appearances, whether pre-publicized or not, drew large crowds of youths who troop out in thousands to get a glimpse at their emergent “messiah” close to home. The issuance of a sit-at-home order to commemorate Biafra’s 50th Birthday was such a success that the reverberations of its implications reached all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria. Some believe that the universal compliance by all segments of the geopolitical Southeast may have triggered the Kaduna Declaration by the Arewa Youths group expelling Ndiigbo from the North. Then comes the matter of Anambra state off-season gubernatorial election. The IPOB leader put his star power to work once more; this time, he called for boycott of the Anambra gubernatorial election as the means to frontally challenge those wielding political control of Biafra land of which the target state is part and parcel.
Operation “Python Dance” II & Crackdown on IPOB/Kanu
The Nigerian military establishment has never been passive when matters pertaining to Nigerian nationhood are in play. By some means, the military establishment feels that its raison d’être is to assure the integrity of Nigeria’s territorial landmass, even if that can be accomplished only through mass murder and brazen negation of citizens’ human rights. Military spokesman said that Operation “Python Dance” “was designed to be proactive in the event of any eventuality and to avoid the breach of peace in the Southeast region, maintaining that the main objective was to stem the tide of kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and violent agitations in the areas involved”.
This exercise made its debut last year when it covered the month of December when Southeast indigenes return home from all parts of the country for the Christmas holidays. This year, there was a new sense of urgency which needed to be speedily addressed since waiting till December 2017 may be too late in dealing with the perceived threat. The usual time for the military exercise was advanced forward by three months because of the sensitive nature of Operation “Python Dance” II specified mission and terms of engagement.
The 2017 military exercise was scheduled to run from September 15th to October 15th. The pre-mission task was, however, commenced on September 10th when a surprise raid was made at Nnamdi Kanu’s ancestral compound in Umuahia as well as other carefully selected locations in Aba and Umuahia city limits. Hundreds of unarmed pro-Biafra youths were reportedly captured, tortured and killed in the week preceding the scheduled “Python Dance” II. The dozens of killings that occurred at Kanu’s ancestral compound give away the true but hidden objective of the raid. Till date, it is unclear where Nnamdi Kanu is and whether he is alive or dead. The military command overseeing the exercise and executive governors of the Southeast proceeded to proscribe the IPOB after declaring it to be a terrorist organization – an action which the perpetrators lacked the constitutional authority to undertake. It was learnt that, without due process, an Abuja court was said to have later granted the country’s Attorney General’s plea to certify IPOB as a terrorist organization; an allegation which has been robustly denied by the accused.
Nnamdi Kanu’s Place in the Annals of Pro-Biafra Agitation
Hostile military raid at Nnamdi Kanu’s residence, dozens of collateral killings of unarmed citizens in the process and the hasty proscription of IPOB as a terrorist organization reminds one of the special raid by US Marines that killed and took away the body of Osama bin Laden from his hideout inside Pakistan. The term of engagement was clear: – to bring the Al Qaeda leader dead or alive. Perhaps, the same thing applied to the preemptive raid at Kanu’s compound near Umuahia.
Somebody had indeed passed a death sentence on Nnamdi Kanu before soldiers were ordered to implement the judgment. No one is being accused and no one is defending oneself for scheming to send the young man to his grave before his own father. What could have triggered this? Could it be his personality, beliefs and mission, his acerbic rhetoric or was it just to make a living example of what becomes the fate of whoever would dare to challenge the all-powerful minders of the status quo as the IPOB leader had done during 4 short months of freedom from Kuje Prison? What lessons has the Operation “Python Dance” II sent to IPOB, other pro-Biafra groups and self-determination quest for indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger ethnic nationalities within Nigeria and the Diaspora?
Operation “Python Dance” II was fast-forwarded to a new dateline in 2017 for the sole purpose of extinguishing the raging flame of youthful IPOBism in the Southeast and to pacify the geopolitical zone enough to make the territory more conducive and amenable to de-facto occupation as has been the case since January 1970. Nnamdi Kanu is a rabble-rouser who, somehow, was able to muster what it takes to put the self-determination quest of a multitude of pro-Biafra youths on a fast track. In the process, he did not only rock the boat, but he also stepped on some very sensitive toes of the Igbo house-nigger class who also claim paternity of the same contentious Biafra land. Some may indeed resent the IPOB leader’s persona and tactics for a combination reasons. But it is going to be hard to find a fellow Igbo who would wish him death at hands of a ruthless enemy. Death for doing what, one might ask? For asking that his very own folks be set free and their ancestral lands retrieved from decades of occupation by a contemptible hegemon?
It is fact that Nnamdi Kanu has not taken the time to properly understudy the nitty-gritty of crucial matters related to freedom fighting and nation building at its foundational level. It is also true that his combative rhetorical flourishes could have garnered unnecessary resentment of his person and may also have detracted from his core message that is wholly predicated on self-determination. But the IPOB leader must have placed his index finger on the key to unlocking the prison cell where millions of his fellow compatriots are presently entrapped and locked down by an exploitative cabal whose vision is myopic and comprehension of the 21st Century world highly suboptimal. With regard to the ongoing quest to restore the inalienable rights of indigenous peoples of the Lower Niger and contiguous territory, no one has been able to stir up the hornets’ nest like Nnamdi Kanu and the IPOB he leads within only a few months of intense push.
The clamor for the Referendum is real. Referendum is not just Nnamdi Kanu’s call; it is every tenacious freedom fighter’s conduit to actualize self-determination without recourse to years of endless bloodletting. Kanu wants Referendum now. Those who feel that he and his group are too impatient should step forward and propose their own alternative approach and let the people compare and contrast.
The Yoruba Summit of September 7, 2017 had stated its firm demand for conduct of Referendums at the regional and national levels in order to decide the future that all constituents can live with. The Yoruba are gong-ho on Restructuring without which their future as part of Nigeria shall be in serious doubt, going forward. Since the Arewa North does not see Restructuring to be any less distasteful than the agitation for Biafra, what exactly do those who dislike the call for Referendum have to offer in current scheme of things?
Who is afraid of the Referendum and why?