Beginning from Monday, August 2, 2021, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) separatist group has declared a lockdown of the former Biafran territories of the South-East every other Monday to protest the continuous detention of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, by the Federal Government of Nigeria. IPOB leader, Kanu, was arrested in Kenya by the Interpol, handed over to Nigerian authorities and has since been detained by Nigeria’s secret police, the Department of State Service (DSS). Accused of being the mastermind of the deadly insurgency that rocked the South-East region in the first half of 2021, Kanu was tracked from his London base and hacked down in Kenya on the request of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Born a few months after the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war in September 1967, Kanu, who is also a British citizen, in 2014 rekindled the Biafran separatist agitations after a lull of several decades since the end of the war in 1970, through his regular broadcast on Radio Biafra from his London base into the eastern heartland of Nigeria.
Kanu’s IPOB and its separatist agenda gained widespread acceptance and legitimacy a year later in 2015, with the rise to power of President Muhammadu Buhari. A far right political figure from the Muslim North of Nigeria, who rose to power on the tide of ethno-regional [Arewa] exceptionalism backed by a powerful wave of Muslim religious separatism, President Buhari unleashed unprecedentedly high levels of sectionalism in his administration of Nigeria, which deeply polarised the country along its regular ethnic and religious fault lines.
President Buhari’s sectionalism, which was accentuated by his “97 per cent and 5 per cent” reward system, saw him thoroughly mismanage Nigeria’s diversity with unbridled nepotism, cronyism and favouritism towards his own section of the country, where he obtained “97 per cent” of his winning votes and in the process leaving the sections of the country where he got only “5 per cent” severely marginalized. The deployment of that political scorched earth policy as a reward system effectively diminished the principles of equity, justice, fairness and citizens’ right of inclusion, irrespective of partisan persuasion, as encapsulated in the Constitution, in Buhari’s Nigeria. The southeast of Nigeria, which committed the unforgivable political sin of offering only 5 per cent of their votes to the altar of President Buhari’s victory, found itself at the receiving end of heightened marginalisation in Buhari’s Nigeria.
The marginalisation of the South-East saw to their exclusion from the most powerful organs of government, the inner circle and kitchen cabinet of the Buhari presidency. Anybody familiar with the inner workings of governments in Nigeria understands the implications of not being represented when the agenda to be rubber-stamped by the ministerial cabinet is being cooked. To make matters worse, the South-East is completely excluded from the headship of any of Nigeria’s security services. And when the people of southeast Nigeria protested this exclusion in critical organs of government, President Buhari further infuriated them by citing “trust” and “familiarity” for his lopsided choices. This left Nigerians of South-East origins feeling thoroughly marginalized, with a deep feeling of being treated less Nigerian by the political leadership of their only country.
This was why, when he ventured into Nigeria from his London base in October 2015 and was arrested by the Buhari administration for his separatist activities, Nnamdi Kanu was launched from obscurity to global stardom as a freedom fighter. And because you cannot beat a child and ask him not to cry, Buhari’s 97 per cent and 5 per cent political miscalculation turned the very venerable Kanu and his IPOB to a legitimate self-determination vehicle of Nigeria’s Igbo people.
However, from the first time he was arrested in 2015 to his escape from Nigeria in 2017 and his recent re-arrest in Kenya, Kanu has largely mismanaged the self-determination struggle of Ndigbo from one that was peaceful to something of hate and violence. As though propelled more by an inordinate ambition to emerge as the supreme leader of a would-be Biafra republic, Kanu has turned a caustic tongue against every real and imaginary enemy of his idea of Biafra within and outside Igboland. He has successfully turned his millions of followers against anybody or entity that holds a contrary view from his own about the affairs of Ndigbo in Nigeria and in the process has radicalized a whole generation of his kinsmen into ethnic supremacist who do not see any other way other than the Nnamdi Kanu way.
An Abu Shekau wannabe, Kanu, through his incendiary rhetoric, has sought to incite Ndigbo to violence without considering the negative consequences of his actions on a people he purports to want to “liberate.”
In a hurry to adorn the rank of a revolutionary leader, Kanu nearly committed Ndigbo to assisted mass suicide in Lagos when he made the unfounded claim that he ordered the burning and destruction of properties in the state, in the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests, save for the timely intervention of patriotic Yoruba leaders who went out of their way to debunk the unwarranted lie. Similarly, Kanu had ordered an attack on the Arewa community in Oyibgo Local Government Area of Rivers State without giving a thought to possible reprisals against Ndigbo living in northern Nigeria. Once again, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State came to the rescue with his firm and decisive action against IPOB assailants in his state, which went far enough to calm nerves across the Niger.
And, recently, Kanu and his IPOB turned Ala Igbo into a theatre of insurgency against the Nigerian state; a situation that was exploited to kill scores of the much marginalised Igbo people they are supposed to be fighting to liberate.
Like their previous attempts to cut their nose to spite their face, the “Ghost Monday” declaration by IPOB in the South-East is another self-defeatist misadventure that will bring enormous economic losses to Ndigbo. The Ghost Monday declaration will neither affect Buhari and his “Fulani Jihadists” nor will it put pressure on him to release a man that was tactless enough to sleepwalk into jail a second time. The enormous emotional investment in Kanu and his IPOB has made many Igbo oblivious of the fact that they do not need to cut their nose to spite their face by embarking on political and economic self-immolation just to protest Buhari’s marginalisation.
In Buhari’s Nigeria, Ndigbo lost nothing to his marginalisation just as Arewa gained nothing from his favouritism.
Whereas, Ndigbo are excluded from the kitchen cabinet and headship of security services in Buhari’s Nigeria, Ala Igbo is still the most prosperous and secure part of Nigeria, while Arewaland is the poorest and most insecure part of Nigeria. With a reputation for being the masters of Nigeria’s commerce and industry, the wealth and prosperity of Ndigbo has not diminished but grown phenomenally in Buhari’s Nigeria, in spite of his marginalisation.
On the contrary, Buhari’s Arewaland is embroiled in war on many fronts, ranging from Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East to banditry and herdsmen’s terrorism in the North-West and North-Central. Despite appointing the heads of the army, navy, police, DSS, NIA, Civil Defence, Immigration, Customs, in addition to the ministers of defence, police affairs and National Security Adviser from the region, northern Nigeria remains the epicentre of Nigeria’s insecurity.
As the largest human slaughter slab in Africa, northern Nigeria recorded over 3,000 deaths in the first half of 2021 alone, with thousands of people kidnapped for ransom and thousands more displaced from their homes. President Buhari’s sectionalism has proved to be a “counterfeit currency” that is a shiny illusion without any real worth in value, as his nepotism, favouritism and cronyism only benefited a few of his friends and family and left out the millions of poverty-stricken, diseased and illiterate masses of Arewa.
If and when Ndigbo come to terms with the reality that the South-East is not disadvantaged in real terms by Buhari’s sectionalism, just as it did not confer any advantage on Arewa people, then they would realise the futility of Kanu’s attempt at economic self-immolation of his kinsmen.
The time has come for Ndigbo to divest their emotional investment from Kanu and his IPOB before they lead them to the next round of self-destruction, and this emotional divestment should start by defying the Ghost Monday order by the separatist group.