By Martin Ezimano
That person would certainly be forgiven who conjectures that the coiner of the phrase “foulmouthed” had Nnamdi Kanu in mind, so bottomlessly profuse is the latter’s fund of abuse. However, despite his extreme toxicity of language, Kanu was as at 2015 largely an unknown beyond the immediate circles of avid neo-Biafranists. The group he leads, styled the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was equally possessed of zero reckoning.
Both Kanu and his group were to receive a gratuitous status upgrade with the inexplicable interest of the Buhari administration in the unknown group’s — as at then, consequenceless and harmless — activities.
First, the government claimed to have jammed the airwaves against Kanu’s broadcasts which turned out to be false. This false claim was subsequently seized upon and hyped by IPOB as evidence of their unstoppability .But the bigger advert was to come when the Nigerian secret police arrested and detained the IPOB leader.
From being a disembodied voice of disgruntlement ranting on the airwaves, the government arrest transformed Kanu into a flesh and blood Igbo freedom fighter and folk hero.
For many persons, otherwise politically conscious, their first intimations about IPOB was this arrest and detention of Kanu. The young man’s arraignment in Abuja drew universal attention and the protests that followed and the needlessly highhanded approach of the Buhari government in handling these peaceful protests soon established the legend of IPOB as a separatist movement being brutally repressed by the country’s administration. The fact that the same government was at the same time mollycoddling the Boko Haram terrorists in the North East and the notorious Fulani herdsmen, spreading death and destruction, in their expansionist drive across the length and breadth of the country further accentuated IPOB’s moral aura.
Soon, protests for Kanu’s release spread to world capitals. These were heady days for the organization. At this point it was doubtless that the only movement that spoke Biafra and people listened was IPOB and the man of the moment its leader Nnamdi Kanu. Pressures and campaigns for his release escalated. And apparently succumbing to the intense pressure, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja under Justice Binta Nyako — yes! the same Nyako in whose court the Uwazurike case had died a curious death — granted Kanu bail on health grounds with extremely stringent conditions. These included his deposit of both his Nigerian and British passports, his undertaking not to organize or address rallies or grant interviews, his not being in the company of more than ten persons at any material time, etc.
But no sooner had Kanu left the prison custody than he proceeded to systematically and thoroughly breach the bail conditions. Not only did he organize, attend and address rallies but he also led marches in confrontations with security personnel. He granted interviews where he unleashed his characteristic venom on the zoo and all opposed to his Biafra. He set up a Biafra Secret Service, conducted inspection of Biafran guards of honor and boasted that any Nigerian soldier that attempted to come after him in “Biafraland” would not escape with his life.
Kanu’s confidence in his control of the situation was so complete that, with the then approach of gubernatorial elections in Anambra State, he issued a caveat: No referendum, no elections! By this time, Kanu had become the unconstituted authority in “Biafraland”, effectively countering the five Southeastern governors and the Igbo socio-cultural group whom he ridiculed as Ohaneze Ewu na Aturu.
The reader would be inclined to ask: In all these what was the response of Nd’Igbo? Were they in absolute concurrence? Was there dissent?
The answer truly and simply, as was noted earlier, is that in the subconscious of virtually every Igbo is the knowledge that Nigeria nurses an instinctual suspicion of him/her for no other reason than that he/she is Igbo.
And that on account of this suspicion he/she would never get a fair deal from the country. (A video clip actually exists where the then premier of Northern Nigeria, the redoubtable late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, stated in unequivocal terms that rather than hire Igbo to work on any project, he would go for non-Nigerians!)
This belief that Nigeria was against Nd’Igbo received concrete bolster with the massacres of the sixties leading up to the genocidal war.
This belief was further solidified with the systematic exclusion of Nd’Igbo and the near total absence of federal presence in the South East since the end of the war.
IPOB’s precursor, MASSOB, had built its house of protest on the foundation of this government neglect. For IPOB, however, the Muhammadu Buhari government supplied its raison d’être with its demonstration of contempt and hatred of Nd’Igbo making, till date, denigrating and distrustful statements in regard to the people.
But it is important to equally emphasize that though no Igbo would dispute the Igbophobia of the Buhari government, not all subscribed to the methods of Kanu and his IPOB.
But then, here was an organization that did not care, in fact openly derided such dissent, and threatened coercion on such dissenters.
“Command and control”, a military term used by Ojukwu in his incarnation of Biafra was dusted up and applied to IPOB activities in Igboland.
This meant that in IPOB thinking, there is already an ongoing war and voluntary consent is the first casualty. (Indeed IPOB propaganda arm did many photos of its leader in photoshopped soldier battle-gear and conferred on him the title ” Ohamadike”, an obvious allusion to “Dikedioramma ndi Igbo” that had been borne by Ojukwu).
IPOB’s vision of Biafra is therefore as a nation at war in which situation democratic rights like freedom of thought and speech stand as collateral casualties! Alternatively expressed, a Biafra of zombies!
Now back to Kanu’s activities post release in 2017…. the IPOB leader finally vowed that he would go to Abuja, decapitate and bring the head of President Buhari back to Biafraland.
Kanu’s antics predictably drew the ire of the government’s security arm — indeed Kanu himself had once said he was baiting them. Well, the bait proved most irresistible as the military high command sat and proclaimed an operation tagged “Python Dance” to pacify the South East. In execution of this operation, Nigerian soldiers descended on Afara Ukwu, Nnamdi Kanu’s country-home and by the time the pythons finished their dance of doom and destruction, many youths lay dead and maimed and Kanu and his parents nowhere to be found.
With the disappearance of Kanu and his parents, there ensued many months of conjecture and speculations about their fate.
The story that attained greatest circulation was as put out by Femi Fani Kayode (a born-again Igbophile, who had before his spectacular conversion dragged the Igbo nation in the mud to the abominable point of making scandalous salacious appropriations to the wife of the revered first Biafran leader). The story as put out by Fani Kayode was that Kanu and his parents had been captured in the military operation and were since being subjected to unspeakable tortures on a naval ship somewhere off the Nigerian coast.
Kanu’s wife also granted interviews calling on the international community to prevail on the government to release her husband.
The Southeastern governors became daily recipients of abuse for not “standing up” to ask the Federal Government after the fate of the Kanu family.
It was thus nothing short of another world wonder to, some days short of the 2019 election, wake up and see pictures of a supplicating Kanu at the Jerusalem Wailing Walls. These pictures were quickly followed by interviews in which Kanu narrated his miraculous escape from the rampaging soldiers whilst not forgetting to lament the murder, by the heartless Nigerian soldiers, of Jack his beloved dog.
Having established for the world that he was still alive, Kanu next gave an order: there would be no election in Biafraland during the 2019 presidential polls!
For many who had been puzzled by his sudden reappearance after it was held out for so long that he was in captivity, the timing could now be understood. It was calculated purely to gain political capital.
The 2019 elections were, of course, eventually held in Igboland after Kanu had, for reasons he did not bother to fully explain, called off his boycott order.
However, since that controversy-ridden election, the re-emerged Kanu and IPOB evolved into a parallel government in Igbo land.
From London, Kanu issued orders and directives. These orders and directives were compulsory.
From London, Kanu directed Biafrans to not only participate in the national movement of rage tagged #ENDSARS# but further took credit for the sacking of the palace of the Oba of Lagos whilst adjuring his disciples to disarm and eliminate soldiers and policemen.
From London, Kanu directed and supervised the setting up of an Eastern Security Network (ESN) ostensibly to tackle the menace of Fulani herdsmen. It soon became clear that ESN was the military wing of IPOB and they made no bones that their targets were all forms of opposition to Kanu’s version, or vision, of Biafra.
From London, Kanu decreed a mandatory sit-at-home in commemoration of the declaration of Biafra and the order was so absolute that on that day, no “cockroach was permitted to fly from one cupboard to the other”, his own very words.
It was this era that saw the emergence of the legend of Unknown Gunmen (UGM), a faceless group that, without declaring its intent, somehow, from its operations — burning of INEC offices, elimination of uniformed personnel, etc., — seemed to subscribe to the same goals of ridding the South East of the presence of federal authority as Kanu’s ESN.
Policemen were murdered, soldiers were ambushed and killed, vigilantes were eliminated, security posts were torched and razed to the ground and all were applauded by Kanu who had by this time assumed the title of Supreme Leader.
If one of the crucial determinants of government authority is the submission of the governed to its directives, then there is no argument that the Governor General of Igbo land is Nnamdi Kanu. His word, as readily enforced by ESN — or their other face — is law. Command and Control remains the mantra. Demurrals are swiftly and brutally punished. In this new order, Igbo for the first time were killed or maimed by Igbo. A particular case saw a man have his testicles crushed because he was a suspected “sabo” and the recording of this never-before-known-in-Igboland-savagery widely circulated as a warning to fellow “sabos”, “efulefus”….. and “otelectuals” — the most recent epithet minted in Kanu’s fecund factory of vulgarisms.
It was in this dispensation — unprecedented — of Igbo on Igbo violence that the startling news suddenly broke and sent shockwaves round the country, the news that Nnamdi Kanu had been rearrested by the Nigerian government and was In DSS custody. Lingering doubts were cleared when pictures of a tame manacled Kanu surfaced online.
How on earth did this happen?
To be continued…
Martin Ezimano is a civil rights attorney, litigation expert and political activist.