At a stroke, IPOB (translated to mean a platform on which the independence of the Biafran people would be attained) disappeared from the entire atmosphere of Nigerian political discussions. The impression was thereby falsely created that political agitation has been completely stifled in Nigeria as obtains in regimented societies.
That is impossible, at least as long as Nigeria’s present constitution or sections of the valuable document are not suspended. And it will take a Nigerian Donald Trump in Aso Rock to dream of suspending our constitution or portions of the document. Then, it would emerge that it is impossible to outlaw political agitation in this country. What befell IPOB was legitimate and legal clampdown on the organisation’s violent method of political agitation, hence IPOB’s tag of a terrorist organisation, which, by the way, is being challenged in series of law suits at the courts. In a country like Kenya, such suits will be consolidated and determined within a month, as was decided in the petition against the result of the presidential elections held in Kenya about two months ago.
In the matter of political agitation, human beings are naturally dynamic all over the world. Political restlessness in the form of agitation for secession or demand for large-scale devolution of power from the Federal Government to the states and local governments are not peculiar to Nigerians. Kurds only last week voted in a referendum to secede from Iraq while in Spain, Catalonians are voting in a referendum next Sunday (October 1, Nigeria’s independence anniversary) to break away as a new independent country.
Incidentally, does the government realise that, in political agitation or proscription of organisations, Nigerians operate at the nuclear level? Very confrontational or amusing? In 1978, in a presumed attempt to contain the “ALLI MUST GO” nationwide students violent, really violent protests, Olusegun Obasanjo, as military ruler, banned National Union of Nigeria Students (NUNS). Within 24 hours, the students announced National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) as their new platform. Since then, no government in Nigeria ever bothered to proscribe any national body of students. Nigerias should, therefore, not be surprised if IPOB goes nomenclature.
Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB gang must be naïve. No matter the genuineness or legitimacy of their agitation, they made the mistake of employing violence. Yet, they were advised against violent conduct many times in this column to avoid being shot by security forces, who have statutory obligation to ensure law and order in society. As in every cause, not everybody in South-East is necessarily a Biafran. Therefore, such dissentient voices were compelled by IPOB to comply with the curfew or work-free days unilaterally and intermittently declared by IPOB. Those who broke the curfew paid dearly for it. Worse still, they were labeled traitors to the Biafra cause. Such innocent Biafrans must be protected by security forces.
There were various media reports quoting IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, as directing his supporters to burn down Nigeria if he (Kanu) was ever re-arrested. Was that true since Kanu never denied the reported directive to his supporters? And nobody in the whole place could publicly rebuke Kanu or disown the statement. Burning down the country in such circumstances would, or at least might include setting fire on public buildings, offices, police if not army formations. By that time, Nigeria would have been under public insurrection at whose instruction.
Then, in the name of IPOB, provocative remarks were being made or broadcast against other ethnic groups. This, in particular, was avoidable. And even if a battalion of soldiers was sent to Nnamdi Kanu’s ward, all the young men around Kanu should have done was to pursue their normal lives or duties. In particular, Kanu could have taken an early evening walk around or humorously chat with the security forces, as long as there were no challenge or hostile activities from Kanu’s supporters. All sides would smile away. There was no evidence that Kanu incited his men to attack the soldiers. Never mind his grandstanding that soldiers disturbed his siesta. That was not even an excuse for his men to stone the soldiers, as claimed by the police on behalf of armed men performing routine duties under strict instruction.
The fact of life is that in situations where control is lost, such stoning taunts could heighten intensity and lead to death. The temptation if not choice for the soldiers would be to ensure their own safety by leveling the area or against such suicidal elements, what were expected of the soldiers? They could not remain easy targets until one or more of them sustained fatal injuries. Anywhere in the world, the soldier is trained never to allow the enemy to overwhelm him, if possible by pre-empting. What that demands is determined within seconds in the theatre of engagement.
These boys (Kanu’s supporters who commenced stoning the soldiers) must be ignorant of Nnamdi Azikiwe’s immortal words that “Only a mad man would argue with a man carrying gun.” Fully interpreted, Zik’s idea of that mad man is the one bent on committing suicide. The only language of soldiers is violence without apology to subdue a challenger, including taking out such challenger. It is a universal thing.
As the controversy developed, especially coming to an end, uncertainty descended on the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu (and his royal father). Were they arrested from what would pass for his father’s palace? Did Kanu himself disappear to escape the imminent government’s tough stance? Poor Nnamdi Kanu. It should be better if he voluntarily disappeared, even though critics surged in to accuse him of cowardice. Cowardice? In fact, Kanu was ridiculed for failing to aim at modern day Nigeria’s young Mandela. But then, that could only be in the absence of Nigeria’s recent political history.
After the annulment of June 1993 presidential elections in Nigeria, Bashorun MKO Abiola at the height of a seeming national campaign to have the mandate restored, escaped abroad following reports of his imminent arrest. MKO Abiola was similarly accused of being cowardly. Unknown to MKO, his political fame was on line. Abiola returned from abroad in a presidential jet and to a historic reception by crowd from the airport, lining the entire route to his house, a very short distance which took hours. The rest is history tragically climaxed by Bashorun Abiola’s death in state captivity after the death of his political adversary, General Sani Abacha from natural causes. The shock was that hardly had Abiola been buried than those claiming to be his supporters all along turned round to say the country must move on.
If, therefore, Nnamdi Kanu is a coward in disappearing, the young man is a sensible coward. No Nigerian political activist, learning from MKO Abiola’s experience, would exhibit suicidal courage. That is, assuming Nnamdi Kanu voluntarily vamoosed and he is not under arrest.
Does that necessarily mean the end of political agitation in Nigeria or the end of devolution of power from Federal Government to states in Nigeria? The reality is that no country in the world is static. Ideas and political concession evolve continuously, such that no degree of repression can permanently stifle desire for change.
So much is being made of Nigeria’s civil war as a reason for making Nigeria’s unity not negotiable. The mentality of this reasoning is that Nigeria will remain what a few want rather than what majority wants. Spain fought a civil war from 1936 to 1939. Has that stopped Catalonias from seeking change? Iraq fought a civil war but Kurds in that country are resisting a political arrangement considered not in their interest or in the interest of harmony in the country.
Britain, in the past centuries, fought civil wars to unite the kingdom. But faced with Irish uprising in 1918, Southern Ireland was granted a republican status. Worse still, faced with political agitation against the over lordship of British government, Scotland and Wales were granted substantial devolution of power from British parliament in the last 30 years. Still dissatisfied with the enormous power of British government in their United Kingdom, Scotland, for the second time, is finalising arrangements for a referendum to assert its independence. Why does Britain not arrogantly claim that the unity of the United Kingdom – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – is not negotiable? Rather at the end of the day, more devolution will be granted to Scotland in assurance against the secessionist threat.
If those countries with history of civil war are not resisting devolution of power to their respective component, to their states or regions, Nigeria cannot be an exception. What is more, demand for devolving power from federal to state and local governments. North, South-West, South-East or South-South. All these 36 states demand state police. If granted under devolution of power, which of the states will suffer? None. What has that got to do with the unity, which Yakubu Dogara is claiming not to be negotiable? Do senators understand devolution of power to the states? If not, which unity of Nigeria are they slamming down to be not negotiable?
All the 36 states are demanding increase in revenue allocation to the states and less to Federal Government. Has that got anything to do with the so-called unity Nigerians are being told by National Assembly members is not negotiable?
And then, this alarming development. In all matter of political agitation, it is not the business of armed forces personnel to be making highly political and partisan statements. That privilege is the exclusive preserve of elected politicians or public office holders. Nigeria is not the only country facing secession threat. Scotland is a good example. One referendum for seceding from Britain has already been held and another referendum is almost finalised. Yet, no British chief of army staff got it into his head that not during his tenure or lifetime would Scotland secede. Equally no chief of army staff in Spain got himself in the politics of secession or not.
The point being made is that as much as soldiers may be involved in containing any violence in any political agitation, army personnel should be seen and not heard. That is the calling of their profession. Aside, political agitation (as long as such is not violent) is legitimate and constitutional all over the world.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo advising President Buhari to discuss (negotiate?) with IPOB? Strange, very strange indeed. Political agitators during Obasanjo’s tenure at Aso Rock – APC’s Fred Fasheun, MASSOB’s Ralph Uwazurike and Niger Delta’s Asari Dokubo –were clamped into detention for years without trial.