By Sunny Ogefere
Nnamdi Kanu, Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Director of Radio Biafra was arrested on October 17 and has been in detention or custody since then. An Abuja Municipal Magistrate Court was said to have granted him bail on October 19, and according to his lawyers, the bail conditions have been perfected but by Friday October 23, nothing changed even when the presiding magistrate ordered the security agency to produce him in court as well as explain why the agitator has not been set free.
Kanu’s arrest and detention signposts the resurgence of the Biafra movement, the huge following and increasing support base for the movement particularly among the youths of the Southeast region of the country. Of note is the globalisation of the Biafran cause by Kanu and his antics at the pirate Radio Biafra.
However, of more concern is the Federal Government’s jumpy and dogmatic attitude towards him, on one hand and the government disposition to the entire Biafran struggle as represented hitherto by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) under the leadership of Chief Raph Uwazuruike.
The demand and agitation by the South-easterners has been festering in the past few years with occasional clashes with security agencies, and this calls for caution and tact to avoid a situation where the demand escalates and degenerates into violent resistance in the proportion of the militancy of the Niger Delta or the terrorism of Boko Haram.
There have been critical voices against the hard posturing of the government concerning Kanu’s incarceration with the critics accusing the government of acting in breach of the rule of law and contrary to the tenets of democracy. In particular, they argue that in developed climes, such persons would be freely allowed to pursue his or her rights for self-determination without persecution as it is the immutable right of all. The Basque separate region of Spain is an example’ it has been agitating for separation from Spain for ages.
A former Aviation Minister Femi Fani Kayode said that it was the inalienable right of any human being or ethnic nationality to aspire to be free and to be able to determine their own destiny. He stressed that the right of self-determination is enshrined in international law and it is guaranteed by every moral stricture known to man.
“It is a right that has been exercised successfully over and over again in world history and it has led to the creation of new nations which were carved out of older ones. The denial of that right and the suppression and persecution of those who attempt to exercise it leads to nothing but defiance, dissent and resistance and, if not properly managed, it eventually spills over into war and carnage”, he stated.
The former Minister recalled that Mr. Alex Salmon and the Scottish Nationalist Party who started the agitation for the Scottish independence many years ago were not charged to court, locked up indefinitely or murdered by the British authorities but instead they were offered a referendum to test the public acceptance of their ideas.
He noted that same thing happened in the Catalan region of Spain; the Quebec region of Canada; East Timor which opted to leave Indonesia; in Singapore which opted to leave Malaysia; the Czech Republic which opted to break away from Slovakia; Georgia, Ukraine as well as all the other former Soviet states that opted to leave Russia.
According to him, “The utility and importance of conducting a referendum on such matters in order to determine the true will of the people and to honour the findings of that referendum cannot be underestimated and it remains the only path for peace.”
Similarly, an industrialist and Chairman of African Centre for Business Development, Strategy and Innovation (ACBDSI) Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, advocated dialogue with Kanu and his co-agitators to find out what their grudge against Nigeria is, cautioning that any attempt to suppress the movement by strong-arm tactics may be counter-productive.
He disagreed with former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon who recently condemned the secession bid, describing it as threat to Nigeria’s unity. Gowon, who was reacting to the recent protests by some youths in various states over the agitation, said that the Biafra matter has been concluded.
According to Gowon, Nigerians have put behind them the bad memories of the 1967 civil war and that those behind these protests on Biafra do not have inkling about what the Biafra war cost Nigerians in the three years it lasted. He queried if those agitating for the independence of a Biafra nation want Nigeria to go to another war, expressing hope that such would not happen because those involved in the campaign were being driven by just a few people and that majority of the Igbo people do not share the same view.
But Ohuabunwa said that to dismiss the agitation as a forgone issue was too simplistic and amounted to trivializing a matter capable of blowing up into a conflagration.
“With all due respect, I think General Gowon and the Nigerian nation seem not to have learnt enough lessons from the Nigerian civil war, nor do we understand the current dynamics of passive resistance or self-determination in the global setting”, he stated.
“First is, unlike the Niger Delta militants, they are neither armed or militarised, and unlike Boko Haram, they are not terrorists, neither do they prepare IEDs nor produce suicide bombers. They have known leaders with whom we can enter into genuine discussions and negotiations. Maybe a full review and implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference would be helpful”.
However, General Gowon agreed with the fact that the protesters have the right to express their feelings but not with a matter that was finished.
He said, “Let them say their views, yes its democracy but let’s make sure they can express their wishes and desires but let them remember with Biafra it is finished. It is not a threat. I have said if there is anything of this sort anywhere in any part of the country just like the problem of Boko Haram we should deal with it; Nigeria should deal with it in a mature way.”
But the question has been raised as to whether Kanu followed due process in his agitations. Has he written to the Federal government and world bodies like the United Nations Organisation (UNO) asking for self-determination? Did his actions amount to treason? Some other persons also allege double standards on the part of the government claiming that no one was arrested or charged for roles in the Radio Kudirat matter that was used to mobilize the populace against the government not long ago.
Bajame Okpomota, an activist argued that Radio Kudirat did not call for secession, and so could not be giving the same treatment. He added: “in this particular case, since Kanu has adopted a non-violent approach, the government must follow due process of law by releasing him forthwith or charge him before a competent court of jurisdiction without further delay”.
Accepted that no serious country would fold its arms while its sovereignty is threatened by breakaway groups, a measured approach to the matters at stake, as argued by Mr. Obuseh Jude, an Executive Director of Conflict Prevention and Peace Building Initiative (CPPBI), would suffice as the most reasonable preventive bulwark against the likely negative outcome of a forceful approach.
“If anything, the authorities should exploit the opportunity created by the brewing conflict to begin to address the growing sectarian dissentions in the country that are attributable to the skewed and unjust tilt of Nigeria’s political order”, he stated.
Not a few persons particularly outside Nigeria believe that Kanu has made a compelling statement by his conduct and, as pointed out by Fani-Kayode, the ball is now in the court of the government and those opposed to his demands to come up with superior arguments but in accordance with accepted best practices.
According to Fani-Kayode, “It is left for those that do not agree with him to make a better case and to stem the Biafran tide. That is the monumental challenge that those that do not agree with Mr. Kanu’s views or his methods have”. (The Guardian)