When reports came in on Tuesday, June 29, 2021, that the Federal Government has re-arrested Nnamdi Kanu, it took many people by surprise. Since his sudden exit from the country to the United Kingdom in September 2017, following his breach of the bail conditions given to him, the IPOB leader has not set foot in Nigeria. Many people did not expect to see him in the country, probably until the end of the current government of President Buhari.
But the bombshell dropped by the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami himself, in the company of the Inspector General of Police and the Spokesman of the Department of State Services (DSS), revealed that Kanu was arrested and brought to Nigeria through collaborative work between the country’s intelligence units and other foreign security agencies.
He further stated that Kanu would continue with his court case bordering on terrorism, treasonable felony, unlawful possession of firearms, and promoting an unlawful organisation. There were uncertainties as to how the operation was carried out and where Kanu was arrested, as the Attorney General declined to provide a clear description.
However, it was soon clear that he was not arrested or extradited from the United Kingdom, as established in an official statement from the British High Commission. Minutes after the short press briefing, Kanu was paraded in the Federal High Court in Abuja for the continuation of his legal battle with the Federal Government. The judge had on March 28, 2019, issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the IPOB leader after it revoked the bail it earlier granted to him due to breach of bail conditions. In his defence, Kanu told the court that he fled the country due to the threat on his life. The Court has remanded him in the custody of the DSS till July 26 when his trial will resume.
This development has generated enormous reactions from many quarters. The IPOB group was created in 2012 by Nnamdi Kanu, but it was not until late 2015 that it gained national attention after it targeted the Federal Government with a barrage of vitriol in many of its broadcasts via its main media platform, Radio Biafra. The Federal Government eventually was locked in a running battle with Kanu, as he was arrested and charged to court for treasonable felony and other related offences. Kanu was detained, tried in court, and released on bail after meeting some stringent bail conditions. For violating the bail conditions given to him, the Court eventually revoked the bail and ordered for his re-arrest; a situation that made him leave the country until now. That Nnamdi Kanu possesses immense influence, especially in the South East region, is unarguable.
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Ever since his travails at the hands of the Federal Government began, he has been idolised by many who see him as a Messiah and Liberator, the proverbial Moses that will lead them out of the Nigerian wilderness to Biafra, a land flowing with milk and honey. Kanu was largely inconsequential nationally before his case with the Federal Government; and since then, he has latched on the popularity derived to spearhead an agitation that has since assumed a very violent dimension.
Ever since he fled the country, he has successfully ordered “Sit-at-Home” directives annually to commemorate the lives lost during the Nigerian Civil War. Those orders usually attract near-complete compliance. He also commands a large number of steadfast loyalists, resolute admirers, and obedient followers. Passionately, they obey all his instructions and commands, even when such instructions border on severe violence, breaking of the law, or exposure to extreme hazards.
Kanu capitalised on the political disconnection between elites and masses in the region to instigate a wave of animosity against almost all political leaders in the Southeast zone and the country at large, especially those who do not agree with his strategy in actualising the proposed State of Biafra. Perhaps, the only exception might be Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, a guarantor and rare political darling of the IPOB leader.
Kanu once incited IPOB members in Germany to publicly ridicule and physically assault a leading politician from the zone, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu and he has severally called on similar treatments to be meted on any Igbo politician with opposing views seen anywhere outside Nigeria. Even the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex socio-cultural organisation in the Southeast was not spared Kanu’s outrage as he accused them of being servile and obsequious. Ohanaeze’s leadership at various times tried to appease him and provide guidance to him diplomatically and strategically, but everything proved abortive.
The IPOB leader is combustible and generally hostile in his separatist campaigns. He has publicly lambasted almost every Governor in the Southeast. He has also verbally attacked many other politicians of the Southeast extraction. He centres his campaign on self-determination for the former South Eastern region from Nigeria due to marginalisation of the zone and a purported systemic northern extermination and expansionist agenda, which he claims are backed up by the Federal Government.
This radical campaign is melody in the ears of many irate youths in the region, who are mostly idle, disconnected, and largely discountenanced towards the Government. Kanu was able to effectively plant such divisive seeds in their infantile minds and the fruits blossomed abundantly.
Even though he had no clear framework or strategic roadmap towards the attainment of these goals, his mass followership, especially after his encounter with the Federal Government that made him flee the country, continued to soar and support rose both financially and physically, spurring him to form a security establishment called Eastern Security Network (ESN) in December 2020.
The ESN group also sought for and established an alliance with a Cameroonian separatist movement called the Ambazonia Governing Council. Kanu said the group was created to combat the menace of banditry and herdsmen-related crimes pervading the zone; decrying the inefficiency of the security forces who he accused of connivance and compromise. The group was clearly on a collision course with the Nigerian security forces who declared the ESN illegal, a product of a proscribed organisation, and thereafter resulted in many violent clashes between them leading to the loss of many lives and properties.
Kanu was not lawfully qualified to set up any of such group within the territories of an elected and sovereign government; although upon creation; he likened the ESN to Amotekun Security Corps, a regional security outfit in Southwest Nigeria. He refused to accept that while Amotekun was created by elected governors and backed up with relevant domestic legislation, ESN was created by a group already declared illegal by the Federal Government. It was apparent they would not be allowed to operate. The fact that the ESN era came during the period when chaos overwhelmed the Southeast might just be an uncanny coincidence. However, the fall-outs in the region such as arson, mass violence attacks from gunmen, burning of public offices, etc., started after Kanu instigated them to take action.
With Kanu now in custody; some violent factions of IPOB are already making public their intentions to attack the courtrooms on the different days of his arraignment and many other hoodlums under various faceless groups and organisations are utilising the chance to threaten all forms of confrontations. The court is unlikely to release him or grant him another bail anytime soon, having learned the hard way that Kanu cannot be trusted to obey its terms or lead a peaceful and non-violent campaign. The charges against him have also increased from the ones filed initially and he might not easily secure another bail. The likelihood of getting sureties will also be harder, considering the harrowing experiences of his last sureties. Summarily, the situation is not looking so good for the IPOB leader at the moment.
The arrest has led to some uncertainties in the South East region, with the situation delicately poised and hanging by the thread. Reports indicated that security forces have been strategically positioned in various areas of the zone to contain any potential breakdown of law and order.
On a wider outlook, attention needs to be given to the root causes of the circumstances that escalated the situation to its current state. A similar scenario is brewing in Southwest Nigeria and the Government is deploying similar tactics it used on Kanu in 2017 on another regional separatist from the zone, Sunday Igboho, by subjecting him to nocturnal military onslaught and affront in his home.
Such perceived persecution will only curry more sentimental sympathy from the public, regardless of how misguided it is. The high rate of unemployment in the country means there will always be a willing battalion of aggrieved citizens on the ground waiting for someone to stir them up to vent their frustrations and annoyance on the country’s government.
Without followers, a leader is inconsequential. Preventing followership in the case of secessionists is wiser than focusing on leaders, as new ones can easily emerge.
If the Southeast governors think the arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu will spell an automatic end to all IPOB-related crises bedevilling the zone, they could be in for a big shock.
The secessionists and their large following accentuate the repeated leadership failures in the country, and while the government may be able to paper over the crack by eliminating and intimidating such dissident voices, the impression is already indelible and engraved on the minds of people.
Leadership responsibility must, therefore, significantly improve. Visible progress must be made in the socio-economic lives of citizens. If the country is secure, if basic economic development indices are obtainable, if equity, fairness, and justice are present in the country, if the majority of the young population are gainfully engaged, if it is responsive and responsible leadership, if people can live decent and healthy lives; at the barest minimum, separatism and all such similar distractions will die a natural death.