By Okey Sampson
On Monday, November 9, at about 3.45pm, this reporter’s mobile phone rang and the voice on the other end was Femi Babafemi, Deputy Editor, Saturday Sun. “Okey, our cover story this week is on NK (Nnamdi Kanu). Please, trace his village and talk to his family members…., take a picture of his father’s house and possibly his parents, submission deadline is Wednesday.” It was an assignment like no other. As the thought of how to go about it was still running riot in me, another call came in. This time from an unknown caller, “Okey, I hope you people took note of what happened today (Monday)”, referring to the pro-Biafra protest which locked down the city earlier in the day. “We will like to read the story in your paper tomorrow because you people always say the truth”, the caller added. On enquiry, the caller gave his name as Comrade Chukwuemeka Mba, “an activist”.
Reasoning the caller could be of help in handling the assignment, I inquired if he knew Nnamdi Kanu and he responded positively. I then asked him over for a chat and Comrade Mba gladly accepted and it was fixed for Tuesday morning. The comrade came as scheduled and after interviewing him, the reporter intimated him of his plans to travel to Umuahia, to see Nnamdi’s parents and siblings. “I was with Kanu in 2012 when we testran the Radio Biafra and he persuaded me to go with him to his village, but I could not because of some engagements, if I had gone with him, it would have been very simple locating his village, all the same I will go to Umuahia with you and we will locate the village”, he assured.
We left Aba a little past 11 in the morning on Tuesday and on getting to Ubakala, Umuahia, some 12 kilometres from Nnamdi Kanu’s village, we stopped to see a friend, an activist in his own right. We asked whether he knew Nnamdi and he responded, “I don’t know that chap, but I know the father closely, he is a traditional ruler of Isiama Afara, their fence wall is backing the Ojukwu bunker, go, people will show you the place.” “Oh! Nnamdi is a Prince was the thought that ran across my mind”.
We left for Isiama Afara, the hometown of the Director of Radio Biafra that has rattled the Nigerian government. As we journeyed, due to the hard looks of one’s physiognomy, the approach to deploy to elicit response from the villagers became a problem because nobody would agree to talk to us if we had said we were looking for Nnamdi Kanu’s parents as they would have thought we were security operatives. The thought of asking for the palace of the traditional ruler of the place readily came to mind and the man we asked, pointed towards the right, “go right, you will see his signpost”, he told us.
Behold, few metres away was the palace of HRM (Eze) Israel Okwu Kanu (JP) located on HRM (Eze) Kanu Drive, GRA Extension, Umuahia. On knocking on the gate of the main entrance into the palace, it was opened by a boy in his tens who was later joined by a man that was later to be the gatekeeper. He enquired of our mission and after telling him, he said: “His Majesty is sleeping”, an answer that almost put one off balance. But before one could mutter any word, a lady that could pass for a half cast, in a British ascent asked, “Please, what can we do for you?” She ushered us into the palace that has the touch of modernity and offered us seats. After introducing herself as Princess Kanu, the younger sister of Nnamdi, she told us the father was not available and we pleaded with her to speak in the monarch’s stead to which agreed.
As the interview was about to start, Princess Kanu said, “please, I hope you don’t mind, let me go and bring my dad” and we gladly agreed. After few minutes later, the monarch entered into the waiting room at about 4.00pm and the chat began.
Early life and trait of activism
Nnamdi’s father said the director of Radio Biafra was born in the 70s; he was not specific, at Isiama Afara. He attended Library Avenue Primary School (now part of Government House), Umuahia and went to Government College, Umuahia for his secondary education. After that, he gained admission to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), where he could not finish due to incessant strikes before he left for London to complete his university education.
Did Nnamdi show any sign of activism when he was growing up? “Yes”, the royal father answered. “He showed signs of activism when he was growing up. I remember when he was in secondary school at Government College, Umuahia, he was the school prefect and he did well in leading other students. After that, when he gained admission to the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), they will be in school for one month, and in the next three months, they will be at home due to strike. One day, he called me and said because of this thing, he would no longer go to school in Nigeria and when I demanded to know why, he said he was tired of the everyday strike. What he was then doing at UNN when school was in session was to boycott classes and stayed on his own to study privately. After a time, he told me again that he was wasting his time in Nigeria in his quest to have education and that he was going abroad to study. I weighed the possibility and I felt it was not there. He insisted and came in contact with somebody from my place who said I had helped him sometime ago and that he would help my son to travel to London and he did that. That was how Nnamdi went to London to study”.
Another thing the traditional ruler said made him believe his son could do what he is doing today was that while in school, Nnamdi was very intelligent and his teachers respected him for that and they kept telling him that his son would be somebody in future.
Nnamdi and the Biafra struggle
HRM (Eze) Kanu stated that his son was with Ralph Uwazuruike in the early years of the formation of MASSOB but later left and started the struggle his own way and people started following him because of his uprightness, which he said created a lot problems for Nnamdi. According to him, “My son’s problem started with Ralph Uwazuruike, the MASSOB leader. After my son left him, there was a time he (Nnamdi) went for a function at Oboro, Ikwuano, Umuahia, Uwazuruike gathered his men and scattered the whole place. The people of Oboro arrested some of the people that came to disrupt the event and took them to the police headquarters in Umuahia. The following morning, I went to see them and admonished them to stop that type of behaviour, that all of them are fighting the same cause of Biafra freedom. That if my son wronged Uwazuruike, they should tell me and I will go and beg him. At the end, I found out that Nnamdi did not do anything but was opposed to the way MASSOB was collecting money from the poor and they go into the pocket of one man”.
Making of Radio Biafra
After the Oboro incident, as Nnamdi was going back to London, he was arrested at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. “When I was informed about his arrest, I rushed down to Port Harcourt, from there, I went to Abuja. At Abuja, the men at the DSS office treated me with respect and after explaining things to them, they asked me to take Nnamdi home. It was when we came back that my son told me he was going to appear in his true colour, to make sure that Biafra was realised”. To start with, Nnamdi left his job in Britain where he is a citizen, to be fully involved in the struggle and built the Radio Biafra/TV which has taken the country like a storm.
Arrest and detention
When asked how he feels about Nnamdi’s arrest and detention, he has this to say: “Nnamdi is my first son. His arrest pains me a lot; it is not when I start crying like a child before people will know that his arrest is paining me to the marrow. That chap has no problem, he is not a noisemaker, rather he abhors injustice. Since he was born, he had not exchanged words with we, the parents or even the siblings, always sitting quietly when we are having family meetings, but he always made quality inputs”.
Radio Biafra and justification of Nnamdi’s arrest
Nnamdi’s father said he listens to his son’s voice on radio and feels happy because he believes his son always says the truth and does not say such for his selfish interest, but for the interest of the people. He gave thumbs down to the Federal Government for his son’s arrest stating: “It was not justified at all because he is fighting for the freedom of the Igbo with his mouth and without a machete or gun. It is only that mouth Nnamdi is using to demand the freedom of the Igbo and whether the Federal Government likes it or not, he will continue to speak just as I used to do which made me to represent my people three times as a local government councillor. Talking runs in our blood stream and it will be difficult for Nnamdi to stop talking”.
Nnamdi, despite his present travail, enjoys the full support of his family members in the pro-Biafra agitation. The father notwithstanding the fact that he had visited Nnamdi in Abuja since his present problem which he attributed to ill-health, but he was quick to add that he and Nnamdi’s younger ones were in Abuja to give him words of encouragement and seek his release. Driving further home the family’s support for Nnamdi, Eze Kanu has this to say: “Even the younger ones are in support of what he is doing and that is why the immediate younger brother and the mother are in Abuja because of his arrest. This shows that they have interest in what he is doing and we are fighting for his release.
“As for my people of Isiama Afaraukwu, they are not silent over the matter, but the only thing is that during the civil war, Biafran army headquarters was in our place including the famous (Ojukwu Bunker) which shares boundaries with my palace, in fact, soldiers were living in my house and it could be that what the people saw during the war made them to be a little docile over this matter”.
Appeal to FG and Ndigbo
“I will first of all start with the Federal Government, I’m appealing to them to release my son, he has not come to wage war against the country and the Nigerian constitution made provision for freedom of speech and nothing will debar him from speaking. President Muhammadu Buhari should understand that the agitation for Biafra did not start with Nnamdi. If Buhari has any bad plans against Nnamdi, he should hands off because all of us want that freedom. As for Ndigbo, they should join Nnamdi in seeing to the actualization of Biafra. I’m not always happy that my son is putting his all in the struggle, the other man, Uwazuruike will be somewhere behaving as if Nnamdi is his enemy. I’m also not happy that since Nnamdi was arrested, no governor from this zone or a known politician for that matter has ever asked for his release, it is not good. I don’t know whether they are afraid to speak out”, he stated.
Standing behind his son like the Rock of Gibraltar, Eze Kanu said if his son was released today, there is no way he would advise him to forget about Biafra, stating that Nnamdi had told him it will be better for him to die than abandon the cause of Biafra. (The Sun)