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Prisoner of conscience

Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is a fall guy. He is a victim of his boldness. He dared to confront the monster, which everyone seemed to dread. Kanu was not the first Nigerian, nay Igbo, to resurrect the ghost of Biafra. But he is, so far, the only Biafran advocate in post-Civil War Nigeria that has painted the country in lurid colours that make Biafra look like an attractive alternative.

Before Kanu, there was the Biafra agitation. There were groups like Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, Biafra Independent Movement, Biafra Zionist Movement, and the like. But the activities of these groups nearly petered out with the rise of Kanu’s IPOB. What did Kanu do differently? He had an uncommon boldness. He confronted Nigerian authorities with bitter truths. He stripped Nigeria naked before the international community. He did not romanticize Biafra. He saw it as a possibility; a mission that must be accomplished. He did not just believe in the cause he was fighting for, he was fanatical about it.

For the teeming masses of the Igbo race, who have silently been yearning for Biafra, Kanu’s advocacy was a wake-up call. It was a clarion call to arms. It was the spark they needed to step out of the long, dark tunnel where they have been forced to dwell for decades. Now, they see Kanu’s IPOB as a mass movement that holds the prospect of taking them to the Promised Land.  But the Igbo elite is differently persuaded. They do not loathe IPOB. But they also do not take it to heart. They do not believe that IPOB could bring about Biafra, yet they tolerate it, even if it is only for its nuisance value.

For the Nigerian authorities, however, Biafra agitation of the Nnamdi Kanu variety is an affront. They consider it unbelievable, even scary, that someone would so openly and unabashedly campaign for a republic that did not just die long ago, but which is viewed and seen as anathema, an aberration that was long buried and whose remains ought to remain interred. 

For Nigerians generally, Biafra still spells rebellion. It is not a subject matter for open discourse. Biafra invokes sundry feelings in Nigerians, ranging from the rabidly intolerant to the outrightly romantic. Biafra can easily touch the wrong nerves regardless of which side of the divide that you belong to. That is why the people approach it with utmost caution and circumspection.

When, therefore, Kanu dared to tread on a ground, which many easily shy away from, those who ought to speak up retreated into inactivity or indifference. They did not think that his confrontation with the Nigerian authorities deserved their attention. That explains why those who ought to have stepped out to query the unlawful detention of Kanu by the Nigerian authorities retreated into their shells. They feel that making a case for Kanu’s release could be interpreted to mean support for the clamour for the state of Biafra.

Significantly, the lethargy among the Igbo elite over the detention and incarceration of Kanu is beginning to give way. Those who ought to be heard are throwing off the veil of anonymity. They are stepping into the open arena where the ghost of Biafra is roaming restlessly.

The outrage, which Professors Chukwuma Soludo and Pat Utomi have just expressed over the unlawful detention of Kanu can be situated within the ambit of this emerging break from the complacency of yesteryears. While leading a group of concerned Igbo the other day to speak about the Nnamdi Kanu saga, Soludo and Utomi simply broke loose from the familiar inhibition that has been holding the Igbo nation down. That inhibition is the stigma of Biafra, which, many, for obvious reasons, are ill at ease with.

What are Soludo and Utomi saying? They are asking for unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu and other prisoners of conscience, who are wrongfully held by the Nigerian authorities. Their argument is that the case, which the government of Nigeria has instituted against Kanu and others, who share his ideology is a civil one and therefore bailable. Besides, various courts of competent jurisdiction have ruled that Kanu and his lieutenants be released unconditionally. Regrettably, government has refused to obey those court orders.

The Igbo group is also infuriated by the attempt being made by government to try Kanu and other detained IPOB members secretly. They do not understand the reason for the secrecy, especially in a democracy where the rule of law and respect for human rights should be the guiding principles of governance. This is what Soludo, Utomi and other concerned Igbo are up against.

Those who know Nigeria for what it is know why Kanu and his fellow prisoners of conscience are being incarcerated. They are being held in utter disobedience to court orders because the authorities believe that they (the agitators) have committed an offence that borders on treason. Nigeria’s security agencies feel, therefore, that these Biafra agitators should not be allowed to operate freely like other citizens of the country.

But it is significant to note that there is something untoward about what the government is doing. It charged the agitators to court believing, as it were, that the courts would bring justice to bear on the matter. In any case, people approach the courts when they are aggrieved for the simple reason that they will get justice from the temples of justice. That was what motivated the Nigerian government when it charged the Biafra agitators to court. Strangely, however, government appears not to be comfortable with its own creation. It propped up the courts in order to whip Kanu and his fellow separatist ideologues into line. By its refusal to obey the orders of the courts, government is simply saying that it is merely using the courts as a ploy. That it never meant to follow the rule of law and accord respect to the right of the people. By its action as well, government is demonstrating that it is the worst culprit of impunity. If government cannot respect the institutions, which give meaning to its own existence, then such a government does not deserve a good mention in civilised quarters.

Since we are told that what is needed for evil to triumph is for those who know to say nothing and do nothing, the bold step taken by the Igbo group led by Soludo and Utomi should be underlined. It should be emulated by those who have been too afraid to talk because Biafra is involved. By their action, Soludo and Utomi have stripped the issue at stake of its scary underpinning. They have demonstrated that the Igbo elite can openly make a case for a fair treatment and handling of the Biafra agitator without necessarily advocating for the dismemberment of the country.

Those who have been hiding their head in the sand should be told that the agitation for Biafra is legitimate. It is within the rights of those who believe in it to agitate or advocate for it. Their quest is in line with the mood of the times. There are separatist agitators the world over. Separatism has become the standard norm in situations and environments where people feel claustrophobic and suffocated. What is usually done in such situations is for government to address the issues that have brought about the separatist quest with a view to resolving them. To label such quest as treasonable is intolerance of the worst order.

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2 Comments

  1. Frank Ikemba 2nd March 2017 at 10:39 am

    Well written Mr Obi, the Nigerian system is very awkward, archaic and the leadership mostly wallows in ignorance, lacking seriously in deep thinking and understanding. This is the misfortune we are faced with as a nation. We fail to learn from history and grow up as country. Our leadership feel the only way to handle sensitive issues such as Biafra, militancy and unrestiveness is through suppression and intimidation. There has been no difference between our approach in the 1960s and 1970s with the way and manner we go about it today, despite changes in the global environment. That is why the nation has been fighting Boko Haram war since the past 7years with no end in sight, because our leaders believe it is only through ‘gra gra’ and suppression that peace and stability could be achieved, and that is the only approach they know. Government failed to realise that by their continuous detention of this young man that they are making him more popular and a hero. The longer he is detained, the more sympathy he enjoys and more popular he becomes. The case of Nelson Mandela and the former South African minority regime should be instructive here. It is very difficult to kill a peoples’ mass agitation for fair deal or for freedom. Diplomacy, dialogue and round table negotiation have long replaced use of brute force and suppression as instruments for national stability. These facts have long been brought to the attention of the Buhari government but as usual, it has remained dialogue with the deaf. Those who have ears let them hear.

  2. Eze Chidera Stephen 2nd March 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Nice one Mr Obi, our lgbo leaders fear for 2019 that may never come, all they care about is second term in office, a second term they will never get. They feel Abuja will place them on that seat, forgetting the masses voted them in and will vote them out. lPOB is stronger than all the State governors in Southeast and by 2019, we will show them, that IPOB is the voice of the lgbos. Believe me, most of them if not all our present leaders will escape via the bother of Cameroon. Time will tell.

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