NNAMDI KANU AND THE DICTATORSHIP OF CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

By KENNEDY EMETULU· NNAMDI KANU AND THE DICTATORSHIP OF CLOUD CUCKOO LAND Gum Cock (To the birds): Go, go, go, go!  D...


By KENNEDY EMETULU·



NNAMDI KANU AND THE DICTATORSHIP OF CLOUD CUCKOO LAND




Gum Cock (To the birds): Go, go, go, go!  Ddd-dig your beak into them! Rrr-run, ddd-drag them, ttt-tear at them, smash them!  Knock down that kkk-kettle there first! Move, move, move, mmmmm!

Hoopoe (Rushes out of the cave and, in full armour and with his body guards, intervenes angrily and speaks to Gum Cock): Oi! You mongrel of a bird! You ugly terror of a bird! What the hell are you trying do?  Why do you want to mutilate –kill even!- two men who’ve done nothing to you and who are my wife’s relatives and who are my kinsmen?

Gum Cock: You mean we should tttt-treat them more leniently than we ttt-treat www-wolves? What enemies are www-worse than these two are there to take revenge on?

Hoopoe: And what if, in fact, they’re enemies only by nature but really friends by heart and mind?  And what if, by making friends with them you may learn something which is useful to you?

Bush Tucker Bird: How could these two ever teach us anything or advise us on anything?  They were enemies since the days of our grand dads!

Hoopoe: Because, Bush Tucker Bird, wise men learn a great many things from their enemies. Such as circumspection. You see, circumspection is a marvellous thing!  It can save you from all your problems. Circumspection!  Now, that’s a lesson you can’t learn from a friend.  Circumspection and respect!  You learn that from your enemies.  It’s the first lesson you learn from them!  Friends don’t teach you how to build tall walls and splendid warships. Enemies do. And these high walls and splendid warships keep your kids and household and property safe. That’s a lesson you learn from enemies, not friends!


————- (Act 1, The Birds, a play by Aristophanes, performed in 414 BC)



Humanity has left us with so many lessons over the ages. That is why I love Greek fables and ancient Greek thinkers because in their stories and their writings, they dealt with the whole gamut of human questions about existence, about life and death and the purposes of both, about will, desire, ambition, destiny, communal progress, democracy, power, wisdom, regeneration and so on. In fact, I am of the firm belief that there is no issue we are dealing with in contemporary times that the ancient Greeks haven’t addressed.

Nnamdi Kanu is back and after listening to his bombastic speech of Sunday, 21st of October 2018, it made me recall one of my favourite Greek playwrights, Aristophanes and his play, The Birds, which is the play from which we’ve derived the popular phrase, “Cloud Cuckoo Land”, the literal translation of Nubicuculia, which is the birds’ city-in-the-sky. It is a comedy featuring two Athenians, Pisthetaerus (Persuasive-Companion) and his friend, Euelpides (Sanguine) who have become disenchanted with life in Athens where society has become bogged down by too many conflicts and communal wranglings. So they decide to go look for Tereus, a Thracian king transformed into a Hoopoe by the Olympian gods as punishment for a crime. They believe he will help them in their quest for a better life elsewhere. Guided by their pets, a jackdaw and a crow, they finally find Tereus in the form of a Hoopoe who is happy to chat with them about their plight.

In the course of the chat, the Hoopoe makes recommendations of cities for them to go live happily. Euelpides accepts and rejects some, but he then goes on to ask the Hoopoe what life is like among the birds. The Hoopoe responds that life is easy and free. Euelpides’ question and the Hoopoe’s response inspire Pisthetaerus, the cleverer and wiser of both men, to come up with an idea. He proposes that the birds flying around aimlessly build themselves a great city in the sky which would allow them rule over men, their enemies on one hand and on the other hand, blockade the Olympian gods. Knowing that the birds have been seeking freedom for a long time, the Hoopoe buys the idea and offers to help in its implementation. But, he explains that it is the duty of the two men to first convince all the other birds. He summons the birds from their different abodes, but once the birds see the men, they take a fighting stance and the men are forced to protect and defend themselves with some kitchen utensils they find outside the Hoopoe’s bower.

The excerpt above is from the fight scene. Gum Cock rallies the birds for an assault on the humans, but just as they are about to attack, the Hoopoe rushes out to intervene, angrily questioning the wisdom of fighting or killing people he says are relatives of his wife and who are also his kinsmen. Gum Cock questions why they should spare humans who are worse than wolves, humans who are mortal enemies of the birds. At that point, the Hoopoe gives a great lesson in wisdom and strategy, pointing out that people can be enemies by nature, but friends by heart and mind. He talks about the possibility of learning something from enemies you make into friends. When the Bush Tucker Bird, still belligerent, questions what they could possibly learn from such long-time enemies, the Hoopoe tells him that “wise men learn a great many things from their enemies”. He tells them that two such things you only learn from your enemies are circumspection and respect. “Friends don’t teach you how to build tall walls and splendid warships. Enemies do. And these high walls and splendid warships keep your kids and household and property safe. That’s a lesson you learn from enemies, not friends!”, he declares.

Basically, the story is about wisdom and circumspection. Pisthetaerus uses these and his negotiating skills to get the birds to buy into his plan. He cajoles them with praises, declaring that they are actually the original gods and that the Olympians are mere latter-day usurpers. The birds are completely bowled over and soon they are calling on the Athenians to lead them in war against the Olympians. Once he began to gain their trust, he puts his friend to work to oversee the building of the city walls while he begins a religious service in worship of the new gods, the birds. In the classic mode of Old Comedy, at this time many unwelcome visitors, offering different things come and go. This is a device to portray the wisdom of Pisthetaerus as he deals with the different challenges presented by these unwelcome visitors.

A key visitor is Prometheus, a Titan, who’s said to have created man from clay. He’s said to have defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity, which became the basis of human progress and civilization. He comes under the cover of an umbrella, so Zeus, his enemy wouldn’t see him from the heavens. He gives Pisthetaerus a piece of intelligence that reveals the Athenian’s plan is having an effect as planned. He says the Olympians are starving due to the fact that the normal sacrifices men offer them aren’t reaching them anymore and that at this point, they want a peace treaty with Pisthetaerus. But Prometheus’s advice to Pisthetaerus is that he should not negotiate with them until Zeus gives him his sceptre and lover, Sovereignty (Basileus), who is the real power in Zeus’s household.

Soon, Zeus sends a delegation of three ambassadors comprising the elegant Poseidon, the powerful Heracles (Hercules) and the crude Triballos, the god of the barbarians. While Poseidon is busy correcting Triballos’s poor dressing as an ambassador, Heracles cannot hide his desire to “to throttle the man who built all these walls to keep the gods out!” When Poseidon reminds him that they are there to negotiate, his retort is that the fact they are there to negotiate is “twice the reason for throttling the bastard… whoever he is!” But by the time the negotiation starts, the wily Pisthetaerus outfoxes Poseidon by getting Heracles to support his demands while getting the famously powerful visitor to also threaten Triballos into voting with them against Poseidon. The emissaries have no choice but to accept Pisthetaerus’s terms. He is proclaimed king by heavenly herald, handed Zeus’s sceptre by Sovereignty and the play closes on the happy note of their wedding.

There are many analyses of the play and many interpretations. Aristophanes wrote and performed the play at a critical time in Athenian and Greek history (414 BC), which was during the Sicilian Expedition (415-413 BC). Though the Athenians were yet to lose the war when the play was first performed, the conduct of the war and the decisions being taken by the political leaders in prosecuting it were already creating divisions and tensions in Athenian society. From the expedition being put under the joint command of two generals,  Alcibiades, who supported the campaign and Nicias who didn’t, it was bound to be chaos all the way. Add to that religious extremists seeking  scapegoats who then organised for Alcibiades to be brought back from the front to stand trial for anti-religious activities leading to the general escaping to the enemy side. The political strife was shaking Athens to its very foundations, so two Athenians escaping into the fantasy world of birds and holding the great Olympians to ransom and generally having a great time away from all the troubles of Athens was a popular diversion for theatregoers.

But the play is a true political allegory. Indeed, the Sicilian Expedition was a Cloud Cuckoo Land mounted on the back of a politically hubristic Athenian state drunk on jingoism. Whatever the interpretation, I have personally seen the play mainly in the light of the excerpt I have used to headline this piece because of the profoundness of the philosophy behind those words and how they run through the play as the binding and defining force of its moral reflection. That is why as I listened to Nnamdi Kanu boast about his indestructibility, his threat of bringing hell to Nigeria, his proclamation that he is not a Nigerian, his umbrage against those he considers enemies and his threat to hunt them down, I shook my head. I shook my head listening to him proclaiming his supposed covenant with God about Biafra, his association of Biafra and its realisation with his person, his paradoxical conflation of selfishness, martyrdom and messianic illusions, his lack of appreciation of the moment and his total misreading of history. I couldn’t help but remember those words of the Hoopoe in The Birds as I pondered on his demagoguery and posturing. Nnamdi Kanu has not learnt circumspection and respect from those he considers enemies and you can’t but think that like Icarus, he’s flying too close to the sun now.

You cannot also help but see him as a lonely, tragic figure mired in his own hubris. His near deification by uniformed, starry-eyed followers who think anything he utters is divine has made him begin to believe his own hype. When you are in that zone, the value of friendship and comradeship would be lost to you because no one around questions what you say or think. They are all automatons doing your bidding as though ordered by God. It makes you wonder who he talks to and who he confers with. In The Birds, the real strength of Pisthetaerus is not his cleverness or wisdom, but his friendship with the goofy Euelpides who isn’t contesting any intellectual space with him, but whose genuine, earthy friendship keeps Pisthetaerus grounded and real. By being true to each other, teasing each other and pointing out each other’s weaknesses, the clever Pisthetaerus is able to appreciate what matters. The play is a fantasy, but the friendship is real because that is the real base for understanding the challenges and the enemies they face. Kanu has no Euelpides in his crew, he only has yes men and sycophants.

Kanu’s broadcast was hard to ‘watch’ and harder to listen to. It was not an uplifting sight to see this grandly announced broadcast appear as three cheap Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) posters topped by a little flag on the rundown window of a small office or room overlooking a street supposedly in Jerusalem or somewhere in Israel. The more curious aspect of the whole thing was that Nnamdi Kanu, the celebrated broadcaster, shied away from the camera in the dingy room (if indeed he was there), never once showing his face as he carried on with a combination of a pretentious kick-and-start imitation of an Odumegwu Ojukwu oratorial delivery and the thuggish growling of a street fighter, intermittently shouting, possibly for effect.

The ‘video’, which as it turned out was just an audio went on for about an hour twenty five minutes, but just about 50 minutes of that were used for the actual recording of the broadcast with the rest time spent on a soporific Nnamdi Kanu praise-singing and a bit of clowning around with a poster by someone we can only assume is an IPOB activist. Also, of the 50 minutes, only about 30 minutes can be said to contain the actual message and even that gets further reduced by repeated self-praise and delusional utterings. More disappointing is the fact that the broadcast itself had nothing substantial. It was mostly a mixed gruel of personal complaint, Jewish worship, greetings, thanks to some people and threats against the Nigerian state. It was pantomime stuff without the jokes.

Here’s an excerpt of what I think is the most important part of the broadcast:

“….I went to Ohafia as I recounted earlier, ready to appear in court the next month. They know I’m not afraid of them and can never be; they are the ones who are afraid of me. Suddenly, the Nigerian state terrorist apparatus was unleashed on me and my family with the intention to kill me. Sadly and very sadly, some segments of the Nigerian media have chosen to play this down or to ignore it. Sometimes, they comment and say “allegedly” How sad for Nigerian journalism.

“Their intention was to kill me to ensure I didn’t make it to court. They know if I go to court, that very country will never be the same again! To cover their shame, they hastily arranged to kill me. They asked me to call off Anambra election boycott and I said no. I told South-East governors I will not call it off until you bring me something tangible from Abuja! Go and get me a date for a referendum and I will call off the boycott but there was no date for the referendum, there was nothing tangible at all about devolution! You want me to call off the boycott and I said no. They arranged to have me killed, then they can continue to enjoy their ‘One Nigeria’.

“They didn’t want me to make it to court to prove my innocence, to prove that they have no case against me. As I told them then and as I tell them now, Nigeria cannot jail me. I will fight this very case. When that failed, they deployed every mischief to frustrate every effort I made to get this very case going. Part of their strategy was to ensure the court will hold no hearings on the peculiar circumstances of my unavailability. A cho kwam su ok’oyibo mako nd’ine. But they succeeded at it. Now Binta Nyako’s court is yet to hold a hearing about the circumstances or what led to the Nigerian army to come to my house to kill 28 people. I make bold to state that my forced unavailability deserves a court of law (not in a kangaroo court) where all the details will be ventilated to determine the legal impact of that very attack on my inability to make myself available to the court as was required. That such a hearing was ever allowed to happen in Binta Nyako’s court is utterly disappointing and that specifically is what is causing the present impasse.

“As someone out on bail, why would the Nigerian government come to kill me and pretend or lie through their teeth that I jumped bail when I am a ward of court and therefore deserve the protection of the court throughout the duration of my trial? Had the court found it fit to have such a hearing, had this very court demonstrated by way of an order that I should not be shot on my way to court, we would not have this very impasse. But they know the truth, but they concealed it; they hide it because Nigeria is of wickedness.

“I will return to my land of Biafra, I am not a Nigerian. I renounced everything to do with Nigeria on or around December of 2015. I am a Biafran and I hold British citizenship. Only upon a clear pronouncement of the intentions of that very court which I suggest to them should be free of any interference from the executive will this very case move forward. The circumstances surrounding the invasion of my house, the invasion of the home of His Royal Majesty, Eze Israel Okwu Kanu. You must know my father’s name is Israel and that means a lot. Going forward, there must be guarantees by the international community so that this case can proceed and I will prove once and for all that there is something fundamentally wrong with the brain of those that run….

“For now let me restate my position that I committed no offences known to law. What they are charging me with doesn’t exist and they know it! I have no weapon; my only weapon is the microphone and my courage that Chukuwu Okike Abiama gave me. But it is up to those who persecute me to see reason to call their troops home. Let me state also categorically that IPOB worldwide is committed to the liberation of the land of Biafra from the shackles of tyranny and we will not relent until a referendum is conducted. If you want us to do anything with you, if you want us to conduct any form of participation in whatever it is that you are doing, there must be a referendum to decide the quest for self-determination for Biafrans. That is our red line, it is not….We intend to achieve our goal through any means recognised by national and international laws.

“My fellow Biafrans, my compatriots, please indulge me to sincerely thank the state of Israel, the persecuted Jewish community in Biafraland and Israel and worldwide who through their prayers and actions contributed in no small measure in assuring my physical safety and wellbeing. May Chukwu Okike Abiama bless the land of Biafra, may Chukwu Okike Abiama bless the state of Israel. Our destiny is before us and nothing is going to alter that very path. South-East and South-South are one and Delta. There is nothing like South-South, there is nothing like South-East. All we have is Biafra….”


Now, let’s look at the substantive issues raised by Kanu in his broadcast and by his reappearance.




(1) Legality:

So far, everything Nnamdi Kanu has said about how the government has treated him and IPOB before the law is right. The government employed precipitate and unnecessary force against him and IPOB, they acted in bad faith by attacking him while he was still on bail and before he was due in court leading to his disappearance for 13 months and there were no grounds and still there are no grounds to declare IPOB a terrorist organization. In the past, I have discussed the illegality of some of government’s actions in some of the links I’ve provided at the end of this piece.




(2) Why now?

Before his reappearance on October 19 2018, the last we knew of Nnamdi Kanu was that he was at his home in Afara-Ukwu in Abia State when the Nigerian army raided the place on September 14 2017. After the raid, apart from sketchy reports about killings of some IPOB activists who were there at the time, what we knew for a fact was that after the whole thing, Nnamdi Kanu, his dad and his mum were declared missing. Though thereafter the Nigerian army declared that none of the three persons were killed or in their custody, the nation was not convinced.

There were two events concerning Kanu that were coming up before the raid. He was due to appear in court in October 2017 to face charges of treasonable felony and as at the time of the raid, he was on bail. Then there was the Anambra governorship election coming up in November 2017. Kanu and IPOB had called for a boycott of the election. The speculation was that the Nigerian Army acted to undermine Kanu and IPOB’s capacity to disrupt the election. In all, it was a poor show by the government and with the disappearance of Kanu and his dad and mum, speculations were rife as to what had happened to them. But most of us believed that either they were being held at some secret location(s) by the government or they may have been killed.

However, both speculations were undermined by the total silence of Kanu’s family. If Nnamdi Kanu and/or his parents were taken away or killed, why were the family and the community not making any noise about it? An associate of Nnamdi Kanu (or at least someone who knows him) with connections to the government, former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu said Kanu had escaped through Malaysia to the United Kingdom, but he was generally lampooned for making such a claim because if indeed Kanu was in the UK, away from Nigeria, he would have had the freedom to speak as he was doing when he was outside the country. Besides, the UK government would not have been asking about his whereabouts after the raid as they did through their High Commission in Nigeria. There were also reports that he was sighted with his wife at a suya spot or bar somewhere in Accra, Ghana; but the wife was out publicly saying she had no idea of what happened to her husband during the raid or his whereabouts thereafter. We’ve also heard rumours that he was being held off the coast of Nigeria in some naval ship. In the midst of all that, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe one of those who stood surety for Nnamdi Kanu’s bail was under pressure from the government and the court to produce him. At the time, this was highly provocative because public opinion was staunchly against the government as most people felt this was pure political persecution as no one was in doubt that the government knew what happened to Kanu during and after the raid at his home.

This background is necessary to understand why Kanu will now suddenly resurface a few months before the election of 2019 and after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has chosen a presidential flag-bearer, Atiku Abubakar who has picked a well-loved Igbo politician and businessman, Peter Obi as his running mate. The choice of Peter Obi has galvanized the nation and the South-East. Even attempts by some PDP political leaders in the South-East to put dampeners on the choice by publicly claiming they weren’t consulted have been overwhelmingly criticized all over the nation. Erstwhile IPOB activists in the South-East are jumping onboard proclaiming that Obi’s choice is recognition by the PDP and their presidential candidate that something needs to be done about Igbo marginalization. With Atiku Abubakar being the only candidate that has put restructuring top of his campaign agenda, there are many amongst erstwhile IPOB activists who believe this is a response to the yearning of the people for a fairer and working nation.  In the face of the Buhari attempt to fly the false possibility of an Igbo taking the presidential ticket of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in 2023, this move by the PDP and Atiku Abubakar to put an Igbo man on the ticket has proved a substantive counter. Nigerians have also seen the deceit of the APC on this count when they recently listened to Raji Fashola claim that the Yoruba would get the presidency in 2023 if they reelect Buhari. We also know as a matter of fact that Bola Tinubu is supporting Buhari because they supposedly have an agreement that the latter would be handing over to him in 2023.

It is for the above reasons many Ndigbo and Nigerians see the reappearance of Kanu and his boycott campaign as a clear attempt to undermine the momentum of the Atiku-Obi ticket. Conspiracy theories are growing around his appearance precisely because of this. There are those who believe that he is being unleashed on the political space by the Buhari government and its security services who had held him incommunicado since that raid and who are still holding his parents. It is instructive that a few days before Nnamdi Kanu’s reappearance, members of the Afara-Ukwu community paid the governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu a visit in which they discussed the fate of their traditional ruler, Eze Israel Okwu Kanu, Nnamdi Kanu’s father with the governor promising the man would be back soon. So, the question is what does the governor know about the father’s whereabouts to promise he would be back soon? Why is Nnamdi Kanu himself surfacing in public space after 13 months of total silence from him shortly after that comment by the governor? Why is Nnamdi Kanu not saying anything about his father and mother even as he talked about his Biafran Intelligence people saving him from the Nigerian army invasion? Did they also save his parents? He tells us he’s in Israel (which is unlikely), but where are his parents? He mentioned his father in his broadcast, but only to emphasize that his name is Israel, so where is he? Where is his wife, Nnamdi Kanu’s mother? Kanu definitely knows but the fact that he’s not talking about them gives fillip to the idea of those who believe that those pushing him forward to do what he’s doing now are holding his parents.

But what do I think? Like everyone else, I can only speculate, but when I do, I try to put pieces of information together to make informed conjectures. On the matter of why he has surfaced now, I can only say he’s doing so to interject himself in the forthcoming election. He may have waited this long to show up to create some kind of mystery around his person and to achieve maximum impact in a period close to the election. Is he doing this to undermine the Atiku-Obi ticket? Yes. Is he doing it to help Buhari? Yes. Has he been conscripted by Buhari to do this? Not likely. The only thing governing Kanu at this stage is his agenda and he may have concluded that the Atiku-Obi ticket is stealing his thunder in the South-East. He obviously thinks that the election of the Atiku-Obi ticket with their restructuring agenda would render his campaign otiose, so insisting on still fighting his cause is a way to undermine them. And in trying to undermine them, he does not care that Buhari wins because Buhari offers him the type of opposition that amplifies his message. Nnamdi Kanu has no respect for what the larger Ndigbo outside IPOB thinks. He’s that narrow-minded.




(3) Where has he been for 13 months?

He couldn’t have possibly been in Israel despite his claims. The Israeli authorities through their Foreign Ministry have stated clearly that they have no record of him being in Israel recently. They suggested the video showed of him being in Israel is an old one. That also calls to question his claim that the broadcast was made from Jerusalem. The street showed from the window in the broadcast did not indicate anything that tells us it’s Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel and another video supposedly showing him coming out of the broadcast studio surrounded by admirers and IPOB activists did not indicate the place is anywhere in Israel. In the light of these facts, we can only accept what the Israeli authorities have officially stated which is that he is not in Israel. The Israelis have no reason to lie if he’s in Israel because as a British citizen, Kanu is free to enter Israel anytime he likes, three months at a time.

He couldn’t have also possibly been in the United Kingdom because if he were there, the British authorities would have let the world know and the world press would have let the world know too that he’s there. There is no way anyone with his fame or notoriety (depending on which you think it is) can be in London or anywhere in the UK without the world knowing. There is also no way he could have been there without trying to continue his campaign for Biafra since he’s free to express himself along those lines anywhere in the democratic West.

I know that the Sunday Punch of the 28th of October 2018 is claiming that a Senior Communications Officer at the UK High Commission, Tinu Adelegan is saying they provided Emergency Travel Documents “to a British person who asked for one in Israel, which he has not used and has now expired”. I believe this is part of Kanu’s elaborate attempt to give the impression he is in Israel when in fact he isn’t there. How did he get there in the first place without a passport or any valid travelling papers? Obviously, he’s not there, but he’s trying to give the impression he is there. He wants us to begin to think that he could only still be possibly in Israel without papers because the Israeli government has a hand in this whole thing. But the truth is if he’s there, he wouldn’t have had any reason not to use the Emergency Travel Documents he asked for to get to the UK (if indeed he needed them) and if he’s there without valid papers, the Israeli government would say. They have no reason to keep Kanu hidden in Israel if Kanu himself is broadcasting to the world that he is in Israel. Israel has no obligation to deliver him to Nigeria.

Could he have been in Ghana as speculated? I doubt. I know that I’ve mentioned the stories about him being sighted with the wife somewhere in Accra, but that is the only sighting reported in Ghana. If there, he would have been sighted in more places because we have a sizeable Nigerian community in Ghana that he couldn’t have possibly avoided them successfully for 13 months.

But I believe he could only have been somewhere in Africa all this while, that is assuming he was not held by the Nigerian authorities in some secret place only to be unleashed on us now. The reasons I do not accept the theory of him being held by the Nigerian authorities only to be unleashed now to disrupt the election in an attempt to work for Buhari’s election are many, but let me just propose three. First, the Buhari government and its operatives are not sophisticated enough to pull off this type of operation without stepping over themselves and exposing it all in thirteen months. They could not have held Nnamdi Kanu for thirteen months in secret within mainland Nigeria or in some ship off our coast without Nigerians getting a wind of exactly where they’re holding him and exposing this. Nnamdi Kanu and the issues he represents couldn’t have been that successfully covered up. The second reason is that if the idea was to hold him and unleash him before an election, there are better and easier ways he could have been collaborating with Buhari to achieve that purpose. For instance, he and Buhari could have organized a sham talk to guarantee the Igbo vote. They could not have sat down for 13 months to plan what we have just seen from Kanu. The third reason is that Nnamdi Kanu is too egocentric to agree to the agenda of others but his own.

As I said, there is every reason to believe Nnamdi Kanu was not in the custody of the Nigerian government all this while, so this his new ‘project’ could not have possibly been planned with them. It’s now obvious that he and his parents were evacuated from Afara-Ukwu before the army raid and if that is so, they could only have been taken out of Nigeria. The fact that we did not hear anything from him or know anything about his whereabouts in 13 months means that he was not in the West. That also means he must have been somewhere or in some country that does not want a diplomatic clash with Nigeria, which is the reason for the secrecy. I cannot look beyond West and Central Africa. I have ruled out Ghana. I will rule out Cameroon too because they have their own issues with separatists and certainly cannot have Nnamdi Kanu in that mix. Something tells me he’s in Gabon. That is the only country with a family in power that has sympathy for the Biafran cause. While the Gabonese authorities would not want to risk a diplomatic spat with Nigeria over Kanu, they could comfortably keep him and his father and mother away from spotlight for 13 months without anyone knowing. Okay, my guess is just that, a guess. There is nothing by way of available facts to tell us he was in Gabon for these 13 months or that he’s still there. The only thing we know now is that he is not in Israel. The picture of him by the Wailing Wall is obviously an old one taken at some point in the past when he visited, but only made public now as part of the introductory propaganda for his return. The real reason he could not appear on the ‘video’ of his broadcast is because it was prerecorded and he was not in that dingy room from where it was broadcasted. I’m not blaming him for designing ways to hide his whereabouts, because he has reasons to do so, but we need to ask all these questions because they all help to unravel his motive now.





(4) Israel and IPOB propaganda

Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB propaganda have always played to Israel. If we’ve been following the post-broadcast propaganda from IPOB, we’ll notice that they’ve been making outrageous claims about Nigeria’s request for the extradition of Nnamdi Kanu being rejected by the Israeli authorities and Israel officially offering Nnamdi Kanu “protection” and so on. Of course, these claims are not only lies they are ignorant propagandas. Anyone with a basic idea of how extradition requests are made and the processes involved will know immediately that these IPOB propagandists are amateurs.

But, having said the above, it is important to understand the reason Kanu is making a play for Israel. We see references to Israel in his broadcasts and the latest one is no different. We’ve seen that he has become a practicing Jew for this purpose. We have also seen how he’s trying to conflate his Jewish religion with a supposed Igbo Jewish origin all in a desperate bid to get Israel on his side. In his broadcast he talked about “the persecuted Jewish community in Biafraland”, but where are these Jews in the Biafraland he speaks about? I’m not even talking of his harebrained claim that there is no South-South or Delta or his claim that they are all Biafra because I would need to dedicate an entirely different article to discuss the silliness of that claim. I’m talking about Igboland itself, where are the Jews there?

The truth is you will need to be quite uninformed about issues and you’ll need to lack cultural self-confidence to follow Nnamdi Kanu’s reasoning and his pro-Israel IPOB propaganda because he’s really taken it too far. The Israelis have a national record of Jews in diaspora and they do not include the Igbo people. So, why would someone fighting for Igbo self-determination wrap himself up in the Jewish religion and claim the Igbo people are Jews?

The myth that the Igbo are a ‘lost tribe of Israel’ has been on for a long time and in several respects, it’s no different from other traditions of origin of people claiming oriental origins. Other traditions of origin include those claiming that the Igbo migrated from other neighbouring great states and some others actually claiming autochthony (that is the tradition that the Igbo simply originated from where they are found). Of all these traditions, the least supported by evidence is this oriental one or the claim that they originated from the Jews. Indeed, it is far more sentimental and political than historical.

The seed of this was first sowed by something supposedly written by Olaudah Equiano, a freed Igbo slave who was said to have written in the late 18th century that names like “Uburu” in Igbo language mean “Hebrew” and so on. From then on, a cult of Jewish origin of the Igbo developed around the theme of exile and suffering, just like the Jews; but nothing based on historical evidence. Of course, as a political tool, the early Igbo nationalists found it as a rallying notion. Indeed, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, as President of the Igbo State Union was said to have described them as the Jews of Africa, but even then, Zik was smart enough not to preach Jewish origin. His reference to the Igbo as the Jews of Africa was only comparative, not genealogical. He was just telling people that the Igbo could be compared to the Jews in character, industry and resilience.

A much more socially and politically adapted narrative was established during and in the build-up to the Civil War. To proponents, the travails of the Igbo in the hands of the Nigerian State and the fight for Biafra to break away mirrored that of the Israelites asking Pharaoh to let them go and so on. Subsequent attempts to support that theory have been short on facts, but predictably long on sentiments, because it seems all about ‘proving’ that the Igbo, like the Jews, are a chosen people of God and that just like the Israelites one day they shall be free from the bondage of the Nigerian state when they get an independent state of their own. 

Personally I have no problem using narratives or traditions of origin, even non-fact based ones, to inspire a people; but I’m weary of any that comes in the form of subtle cultural subjugation. The Yoruba have this too with one story of Oduduwa being son of Lamurudu, King of Mecca and so on (which must have been planted during the Islamization of Yorubaland). The Fulani too have a story of origin from the Israelites. Indeed, their most popular oral tradition of Semitic influence says their foremost ancestor was Jacob and that they are descended from the Israelites who came to live in Egypt after him. The tradition claims that after a new Pharaoh who didn’t know Jacob and Joseph his son took over, he oppressed the Israelites and the Fulani (who were the cattle rearers and cattle owners amongst them). The legend claimed that as some followed Moses to Palestine, others took their cattle and crossed the Nile and headed west. They took the name Fouth or Foudh, meaning “Those who left” and from which the term Fula was derived. They spread throughout the edges of the Sahara and first settled in a place called Masina in present-day Mali from where they were joined further by other groups from Morocco and then they spread out further, invading regions of Tagout, Adrar, Mauritania, Futa Toro, etc.

Indeed, there are scores of ethnic nations around the world that through such ‘history’ trace their origins to the Middle East. But, like this Igbo one, they are usually light on facts. Cherry-picking words or place names that seem similar is not proof of anything, because if we play that game, you will be surprised how many other people and places that are non-Jewish and claiming non-Jewish having the same ‘similarities.’

Serious students of Igbo origin and culture need look no further than archaeological evidence and the scholarly writings of foremost Igbo historians and anthropologists like Kenneth Dike, Afigbo and international experts on Igbo origin and culture, like Elizabeth Isichei, Shaw, etc. Also, Catherine Acholonu-Olumba’s They Lived Before Adam: Prehistoric Origins of the Igbo is a well-researched book that raises several thoughts, even if you aren’t likely to agree with her conclusions.

Put together, what rigorous historical and anthropological studies of the Igbo have come up with isn’t conclusive in terms of origin. Yet, it may just be that we are seeking what is not there. Yes, oral tradition does help, but the useful ones aren’t those developed and worked on in the post-Civil War era or those that claim some distant origin, but those that actually posit the origin within, because in terms of proof of archaeology and culture, they trump all others. I mean, who were the original inhabitants that the Igbo met there or displaced or absorbed? While there is evidence of migration from the North to the South and evidence of desertification of the Sahara leading to more southward movements, including migrations resulting from wars and search for resources, not all African groups migrated from somewhere. The more convincing evidence in the Igbo case is that they couldn’t have come from elsewhere. The core belt of Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe seem to be the origin from where they spread out and even though there is quite a body of evidence to support the Onitsha case of a Bini origin, we cannot rule out an attempt to simply associate with a great neighbouring state or even an imperial cultural design by such a state.

So, while the Nri tradition of origin may seem like a fairy-tale, what critics fail to understand is that it is not likely to be anything less, because we are talking of a period without the benefit of written or recorded history. Records are kept by stories and such records of origin, as we have witnessed with several groups, begin with an independence that is subservient only to a celestial being, be it with the Yoruba, the Edo, the Igbo or several other groups whose traditions of origin also include those that claim they originate directly from God.
At any rate, I believe we Africans need to understand that traditions of origins based on some outside migration do not hold water in the light of what science is increasingly showing as the origin of man. I mean, is it not an irony that while hardcore historical evidence accepted all over is pointing to Africa as the cradle of man, some of us are busy locating our origin outside of Africa?

Anyway, for our purpose here, people should understand that Kanu is playing a silly pro-Israel game that does not impress the Israeli authorities. If he needs the Israelis to back his cause as part of the international community, he should pick himself up from his pro-Israel prostrate position and make an intelligent case to them and the rest of the world. This childish pro-Israel propaganda is plainly embarrassing.





(5) Referendum and Devolution:


Nnamdi Kanu said he told the South-East governors that he wouldn’t call off the boycott of the Anambra governorship election last November until they bring something tangible from Abuja. His idea of something tangible was a date for referendum or something tangible about devolution. Now, he’s insisting on this position in respect of the forthcoming election and has even adopted a more hardline position by saying that only a referendum to decide the quest for self-determination of Biafra is all he would accept before he and his followers can participate in whatever we are doing nationally. He called this their “red line”. In other words, he’s called for a boycott of the 2019 election until he gets a referendum.

The truth is Kanu is confused about his demands. Kanu’s idea of devolution suffers from the same conceptual misunderstanding that his idea of referendum suffers from. He talked as though these are things you pick up from a shelf and bring home. These things have to be negotiated, not just demanded, even if all parties are agreed that any of both is what is needed in the circumstances. We all know our history with devolution or more broadly, restructuring. It’s obvious that Kanu does not even understand the difference between devolution and restructuring because if he does he would have realized that the Nigerian state has been involved in devolution without restructuring for a long time. Our repeated practice of creating states and local governments during military rule is devolution, but that’s not what we are asking for under restructuring. In any case, let’s not split hair over the difference; let’s assume he meant restructuring.

Restructuring is not an Igbo demand, it’s a national demand and we’ve been at it for eons. But it’s today a key campaign issue because of one man, Atiku Abubakar and his proper reading of the national mood. Indeed, if there is one thing mostly associated with in this campaign, it is the issue of restructuring. Not many issues have energized the Nigerian polity in the past three decades as much as restructuring. Over the years, it has metamorphosed only in name and nomenclature, not in character.  In the days of military rule, it was presented as a call for the convening of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC). But a lot of energy was spent debating the appellation “Sovereign” and how it would spell the doom of Nigeria if ever allowed. Rebels and secessionists were hiding in the bushes of this call, we were told! But a watershed moment came with the June 12 1993 election. This was not because any of the two candidates, MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) ran on a restructuring agenda, but because the way and manner the Nigerian ruling elite handled the fallouts further convinced Nigerians that the National Question was something that needed to be addressed if we were to move forward as on nation.

Under the reality of the General Sani Abacha government, it was clear to every discerning Nigerian that we couldn’t just paper over things and move forward. It was to address the fundamental question of national relationships that Abacha, on the advice of some of the political leaders then set up the 1994-1995 Constitutional Conference, which was a compromise between those who called for a Sovereign National Conference and those opposed to it, but who nonetheless recognized that we needed to redefine our governance template.

Atiku Abubakar was a member of that Conference and in spite of how it turned out it was a moment of personal epiphany for him. It was the moment he finally bought into the idea of restructuring. While he recognized that the Conference in itself was not the solution, he saw it as a way to arrive at that solution because its main objective was to prepare the nation for a return to civil rule. In his calculation, if we could put a constitutional programme in place based on a honest look at our national relationships and governmental mechanisms to reflect our consensus, such a programme gives every Nigerian a sense of belonging and democratic rule can only advance this when it comes. But as it were, he and others thinking like him were dreaming. Abacha had his own transmutation agenda and it turned out he only agreed to set up the Conference with a view to converting it to a rubberstamp for his agenda to transform to a civilian president. Atiku Abubakar and a few of the Conference members, including Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua did not agree with this. They opposed him vigorously and he chose to punish them. The phantom coups that saw the imprisonment of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the killing of General Shehu Yar’Adua in prison in Abakaliki, the trial and imprisonment of many others, the attacks against civil society, the exiling of many great patriots, were all attempts to break their resolve. Atiku did not leave Nigeria, but he was lucky to survive only with threats and futile attempts to suborn him. Abacha himself killed what was supposed to be a good beginning towards the restructuring of the country.

While the aftermath of the disbandment of the Conference was the realization that Abacha never meant to implement any recommendation of the Conference (which again strengthened the argument of those who said nothing was achievable without a Sovereign National Conference with constituent powers), there were historic things achieved towards restructuring. It was true that it was a Conference of appointees, but at the time a lot of them had been sobered up by June 12 and its aftermath and were resolved not only to see the military go, but to get a better Nigeria when civil rule returns. So, in the tightly dictatorial atmosphere of the time and with all parties and political activities banned, a Conference of that nature was like their own Last Chance Saloon. They seized the opportunity with both hands. The most historic recommendation of the Conference was the creation of the six geopolitical zones. Even as the successive military regime of Abdulsalami Abubakar was mainly keen to return Nigeria to civil rule in quick time, one thing that survived from that Conference is this geopolitical zones designation. True, the idea is empty without the restructuring content, but the fact that we can now discuss Nigeria in that framework is some kind of progress.

In 2005, even though Atiku was not so much part of the process because of his personal situation within the government at the time due to his disagreement with President Obasanjo, we had the National Political Reforms Conference. But, again, it failed because other agendas were hidden within it. As a soldier who put his life on the line to keep Nigeria one, it was very difficult getting President Obasanjo to understand the idea of restructuring. Atiku was the key advocate of restructuring in the administration and Obasanjo showed more than once that he wasn’t impressed with him bandying around this idea. In fact, Obasanjo issued him a query once for going over to Lagos to give a lecture on restructuring.

Thankfully, today, we are not going to start rehashing many things all over again over restructuring because someone has given us a credible roadmap and that person is President Goodluck Jonathan. The 2014 National Constitutional Conference is the only one we have successfully had post-independence in Nigeria. At the time, the APC as a party and certain sections of the population thought it was a gimmick Jonathan was using for reelection. But Jonathan proved them wrong. The Conference held without rancour and more crucially, it actually produced a Report. When Atiku was in the APC, he badgered the party leadership and the government to implement the 2014 National Conference Report or at least produce their own restructuring agenda, but President Buhari was only keen in binning the Report. That is because the man does not know where partisanship ends and where governance starts. When Atiku insisted, they set up the Nasir el-Rufai Committee, which came up with a report that was more or less a copycat version of the 2014 Report. Nonetheless, it was a welcome development that there was a party and government report supportive of restructuring. Atiku urged them to move on this before he finally left the APC, but obviously they were and still are not keen. They are just deceiving Nigerians, which is why even their own report has been thrown into the dustbin.

Now, as ‘controversial’ at this issue of restructuring seems at the moment, it is obvious that the real problem about it is that a lot of those opposed to it have no idea what it is even as they always turn round to accuse those championing it as being “vague” in their proposals. We all saw this in the public debate between Atiku and the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Professor Osinbajo’s idea that anyone is talking about “geographical restructuring” is quite revealing. That unfortunate phrase clearly shows that Professor Osinbajo, a very brilliant man, has no idea what restructuring is and it also shows that he actually does not care. Restructuring has nothing to do with geography or the boundaries of Nigeria as a sovereign state as it is. No one is talking of geographically reshaping the entity we know as Nigeria; we are only talking of reorganizing our government structure and the power equation and relationship between the centre and the constituent units so we get the best from governance and effectively and efficiently improve delivery of public goods in our democracy to the people in the grassroots.

People like Osinbajo who think restructuring is an alternative to good governance should be told that restructuring is actually the way to good governance. Indeed, we are championing it only because we have realized that good governance cannot germinate on a bad soil. I mean, those of you conversant with the biblical Parable of the Sower know what I’m talking about. If you put the best seeds on a hard soil or amongst thorns and weeds, they will die. It is a pipe dream to think Nigerians will enjoy good governance and the dividends of democracy without restructuring.

Atiku has explained what we need to do with restructuring once he gets into government. Truth is we are not starting on a blank slate. Though our present Constitution is not perfect, there are several things in it that address elements of restructuring that we are presently not practicing because of impunity at the centre. So, he has said in the first instance, when he comes into government, these are the things we need to first restore as a matter of constitutional practice. In his speeches at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka last year and at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) this year, he gave very clear and concise ideas about administrative, political and economic restructuring. A lot of what he identified are not things we have to first sit down and discuss and agree to act on because they are already constitutionally sanctioned. Having the political will to do them solves half the problem of restructuring. So, from the get go government will work better because we have simply unlocked aspects of it that we ought to be practicing constitutionally, but which we are not at the moment.

The second aspect of restructuring or what we would for convenience call the second and final phase will necessarily involve us sitting together and talking about redefining our federal system in a holistic way with a view to getting the kind of government and constitutional order that work for a multiethnic and multicultural entity like Nigeria. Again, we are not starting from scratch because we have several documents and past efforts to fall back on and use as some background to whatever we intend to do. For instance, we have the 1954 Constitution, the 1960 Constitution, the 1963 Constitution, the deliberations of the 1978 Constituent Assembly, the 1979 Constitution, deliberations of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, the PRONACO National Conference document, the stillborn 1989 Constitution, the 1999 Constitution, deliberations of the 2005 National Conference and the Report of the 2014 National Conference. So, when we create the conditions for us to sit together and deliberate, these and other new ideas are the things we’ll be looking at sometime within the period of the four-year tenure Atiku-Obi would be in government, if given the opportunity.

Now, let’s look at the issue of referendum. It’s obvious that Nnamdi Kanu’s demand of this and the way he’s been going about it amount to aggressively putting the cart before the horse. We see this on two levels. First, you cannot ask for devolution and referendum in one breath because one is antithetical to the other. When you ask for devolution, it means you still have belief in the capacity of the state to restructure and remove the reasons you are asking for secession and, in doing that, you cannot be asking for a referendum because that amounts to speaking from both sides of your mouth as a referendum is an indication that you have given up on the Nigerian state and that you’re only now concerned with how to peacefully secede from Nigeria. In that case, you are not interested in whatever the Nigerian state decides to do, restructuring or not, because all you want is to leave. On the second level, asking for a referendum presupposes that you have done some groundwork at home and with the international community to bring it about. But, the way Kanu is demanding it shows his basic lack of understanding of how to do it, when to do it and what it entails.

Though in a few countries, referendums are incorporated into their constitutions, overwhelming majority of them, including Nigeria, have not done so for good reasons. The reasons most countries have not incorporated referendums in their constitutions are varied. First is the nature of the issues referendums address. Issues that referendums deal with are usually not issues everyday law addresses. They are usually issues of contention raised outside the existing political consensus or the mandate theory of governance, but which need to be democratically resolved. Thus, when the political establishment believes that the continuation of its political credibility depends on the democratic resolution of such a question, they throw the question to the people via a referendum, which is just like any electoral vote, but instead of voting for candidates, you are voting a “Yes” or “No” on an issue or a question proposed.

Another reason is that most democracies see referendums as reducing complex political questions to a binary choice and therefore most times their outcomes do not adequately address the issue over which the referendum was conducted in the first place. A good example for this view is the outcome of the Brexit vote in the UK. Then British Prime Minister David Cameron, keen on seeing off the Eurosceptics within his Tory party and the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP), thought calling a referendum on the issue of British membership of the European Union was a great political move because he was sure that just like in the past, the British public would overwhelmingly back the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union. But the referendum did not go his way basically because the populists won based on an oversimplification of the issues involved. Today, the UK is in a political tailspin as a result of that vote as government and citizens are coming to terms with the fact that there is more to Brexit than just voting “Yes” or “No”. There are even popular calls for another referendum to undo what is considered the damage already done by the outcome of the Brexit referendum.

Referendums are also considered as reflections of political instability. Historically, those who make this argument point to the fact that referendums were very much in vogue after the French and Russian Revolutions and in the period after the Second World War and also after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. When the political party system is unstable and politicians are unsure, they use referendums to drive public policies on an issue-by-issue basis.

Referendums are also seen as instruments to legitimize demagogues and dictatorships because of their capacity to spread fears, appeal to emotions and distort realities as voters can see them as opportunities to express disenchantment with the political order but which in truth create bigger problems. That was why referendums were largely blamed for the rise of Hitler because they were the instruments used to make Hitler both Chancellor and President of Germany and which gave him what the New York Times called “dictatorial powers unequalled in any other country, and probably unequalled in history since the days of Genghis Khan.”

Of course, referendums have been used for good causes. Countries all over the world, including in Africa, have used it to gain independence from colonialism and we also saw how after the fall of the Soviet Union, countries like Georgia, Ukraine, Latvia and Lithuania used it to establish themselves as separate countries. Like Nigeria, the United States of America has no mechanism for national referendums because the Founding Fathers believed it would undermine a federal system, which is programmed to provide autonomy to state governments as constituent units. Nonetheless, 24 states hold referendums when the state legislature refers a matter to the electorate or when popular agitation as represented in petitions over an issue is presented to the state legislature.

But referendums to address issues of governance and law within a country are different from referendums for secession or self-determination for the obvious reason that no nation wants any part of its territory to break away or become another territory, which is why questions of secession have most times led to wars. The Nigerian Civil War is a great example, but in that case it did not end with a call for referendum. In other cases, it has led to such a call after long periods of war. This is what we saw with Eritrea seceding from Ethiopia in 1993 after three decades of war and South Sudan seceding from Sudan in 2011. In the case of Eritrea, the “Yes” vote was overwhelmingly carried with 99.8 percent, while South Sudan’s was by 98.8 percent. However, as in every case where there’s been a war, the international community will usually intervene and oversee the referendum after negotiation with the national government. Not all cases are like the peaceful one between the Czechs and Slovaks or the unsuccessful one with Québec and Canada in 1995 when Québec voted to remain in Canada. We saw that also with the Scots voting to remain in the United Kingdom in 2014.

But on the specific question of secession, we must not forget that Nigeria had an opportunity of including a secession clause in the 1954 Constitution. The man behind it was Obafemi Awolowo and the person who opposed him was Nnamdi Azikiwe. Of course, these two men were nationalists, but it’s how they interpreted and practiced their nationalism that matters. To me, the secession clause debate perfectly illustrates the fact that people like Zik were airily and idealistically nationalistic, while Awolowo was a practical, thinking nationalist who never hid his head in the clouds.

The secession debate happened in 1954 and it wasn’t the British that suggested anything. In fact, the British didn’t want it because they wanted Nigeria to remain the contraption they created to serve their own economic interest. Sure, they were challenged by the more informed nationalists from the South, but their hope was to use the supposedly superior number of the North to dilute that of the South, so they could use the former to continue running the country.

There is a background to the secession clause debate. The background was in the beginning of what became known as the pogroms against Igbo and Southerners that started in the city of Jos in 1945. The Hausa-Fulani massacred hundreds of Igbo people and thousands of pounds in money and property were looted and destroyed. We have to remember this was still 15 years away from independence and it was the immediate post-Second World War era with so much social change going on around the world. While peace had returned, the wartime problems of scarcity, rationing and inflation remained. The British called what happened the ‘Hausa-Ibo Riot’, but it wasn’t a riot; it was a pogrom initiated by the Hausa-Fulani in Jos who thought the Igbo were the causes of their socio-economic problems.

What happened was that the post-Second World War influx of Igbo to the North, especially into areas originally settled by the Hausa-Fulani like the Sarki Arab’s Ward or ‘Native Town’ that later became known as ‘Ibo Quarters’ was a source of tension. The optics were not helped by the fact that Zik was the foremost nationalist leader of the day and the NCNC which he led was the biggest nationalist party, but by then was already being seen as the Igbo party. The tension came to a head with two things that happened in 1945. That year, Zik led the NCNC on a tour of the North to raise awareness and raise money for the campaign to fight the 1945 Richards Constitution and mobilize support for self-government. That same year was the year of the general strike inspired by Zik. Majority of the government workers in post and telegraph and the railways involved in the strike were Southerners with a lot of them Igbo. There were few Northerners who joined the strike, but that was because not many were employed in these areas. But the strike which lasted for a month added to the tension and anxiety of the time as the attendant shortages, scarcities, market closures and general unavailability of things began to be associated with the Igbo. The association of Azikiwe, the NCNC and uncomfortable radical ideas to the Igbo bred more resentment for the Igbo in Jos and in the major Northern towns where they were settled.

Truth is there were many factors that led to the pogrom and even though the immediate spark was a disagreement between Hausa-Fulani and Igbo traders at the railways market in Jos, it set a pattern with political consequences for the future. The violence and continued threat of it was always politically interpreted as the North seeking to secede from Nigeria in protest against Igbo or Southern domination.

But the discussion on the secession clause itself as I said was in 1954 and that was triggered by another spate of killings of Southerners in the North in Kano in 1953. The background was that Southern nationalists had by then forced the British to agree to grant Independence to Nigeria in 1956, but naturally, all Nigerians needed to agree. In 1953 Anthony Enahoro of the Action Group had moved a motion in the House of Representatives for self-government for Nigeria in 1956. The Northerners under the NPC did not support the motion, even though the NCNC and the AG overwhelmingly did. The leader of the NPC, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, in a counter-motion, replaced the phrase "in the year 1956" with the phrase "as soon as practicable". The Northerners then moved a motion for adjournment, but the Southern members of the AG and the NCNC felt the motion was a gimmick to delay self-government. So, all the AG and NCNC members in the House walked out as a result of the adjournment motion. Thereafter, the Northern delegates left the House only to be confronted by a hostile Lagos crowd who insulted and jeered them. It wasn’t anything overly dramatic, but the Northerners were not happy. They went back North and tabled what they called an "Eight Point Programme" in the Northern Regional Legislative House, which basically was that they were going to secede from Nigeria.

In the meantime, the AG and the NCNC had already planned a tour of the North to campaign for self-government. The tour was to be led by Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and it was to begin in Kano. But this news was greeted with Northerners attacking the venue of the hotel where the AG and NCNC delegation were going to stay and the Sabon Gari area of Kano where the non-indigenes were based. That was how the killings started and once again, the British called it the Kano Riot.

Between the time of this pogrom and the proposed constitutional conference in 1954, Zik took centre stage with his campaign against secession, which the Northerners were asking for. Zik went to the 1954 constitutional conference to argue the case against secession clause hinging his argument on the US Supreme Court case of Texas v. White, which he claimed was a ruling against secession. It’s important to note that all the while Zik was doing his high profile anti-secession campaign, he never disallowed secession; he only said if it happened, it would be of grave consequences for the North. At the same time, alarmed British colonial officials were trying to prevail on the Northern leadership to not go ahead with the threat for obvious reasons. I mean, they claimed it was for the unity of Nigeria, using the same language with Zik that the union is indissoluble and God-ordained and things like that. But, in truth, they were looking at their own interest, their need to control Southern resources with Northern power, their perfect blueprint for neocolonialism after.

Awolowo was more sober in his analysis. He did a lot of consultation and came to the conclusion that the nation might be sitting on a time bomb. In his view, if people of one region of the country can be mobilized that easily by their leaders to kill people of other regions then that is a clear signal that something was wrong. He thought people who go on a killing spree because they want to secede from a country ought to be given a non-violent option to exercise their right. Awolowo believed that the 1945 Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants every group the right of self-determination, so no ‘national’ colonial boundary should be sacrosanct. Any group that is feeling cheated from a union and who feels they will do better as a nation on their own ought to have an opportunity as allowed by international law to do so. It was with that mindset he entered the 1954 constitutional conference. Awolowo was the only one thinking of saving the ordinary people being slaughtered; he was the only one not grandstanding. He did not support secession, but he was very practical.

Those who have read Zik’s account of what happened at the constitutional conference can see that he was talking imperiously like some schoolboy who conquered his great adversary in a debate. He papered over the real substance of the debate and just showed how he ‘demolished’ Awolowo’s position. Yet, if we look at the two arguments, we will see that Awolowo’s position was actually better and no less nationalistic than Zik’s.

Awolowo based his proposal on the very effective Articles of Secession in the old Soviet Constitution. He saw the similarity of the Soviet Federation with Nigeria in the sense that while the Soviet Union was composed of a union of republics, Nigeria was composed of a union of regions, each were nations or groups of nations in their own right. The basic principle was that the people of the area wishing to secede will have a referendum to determine the question once it is clear to the regional parliament or, in the alternative, where a petition is presented to that effect signed by one-tenth of the citizens permanently resident in the region’s territory and possessing the right to vote under Nigerian law. The result of the referendum is then passed over to the regional parliament and they in turn pass it over to the National Assembly. Once it is confirmed that no law was violated in the conduct of the referendum the next stage commences, which is the laying down of a transition period not exceeding five years within which questions arising in connection with the region’s secession from Nigeria must be resolved (mostly questions about transfer and retention of assets and so on). The Nigerian Constitution and Nigerian laws retain their force in the seceding territory during the transitional period.

Basically, the above and a few other conditions were the things Awolowo proposed. But the fundamental thing about his proposal was that every region and the main organs of state must agree for secession to happen. It must be ascertained as the free will of all Nigeria and the seceding region that the seceding region should secede as it freely desires. But it must first be clear that it’s their free will before the provisions must be invoked.

Awolowo’s proposal was an intelligent attempt at addressing a burning national issue with an eye to the future, but immediately he began his presentation, the British unleashed a propaganda war against him at home and abroad declaring that he wants to turn Nigeria into a communist nation because he borrowed an aspect of the Soviet constitution on secession that could work for us. In the same vein, they lionized the same Zik that was their mortal enemy. They ignored the fact that Zik’s US example was untenable because it actually did not support his claim. For instance, the US Supreme Court in the case of Texas v. White was a ruling on unilateral secession and nothing more. That was what it declared unconstitutional, while upholding the right of secession by consent of States or by revolution. In essence, that case supported Awolowo because Awolowo was not supportive of unilateral secession and was not proposing unilateral secession. Everything he put down as detail for the secession clause rejected unilateral secession. Secession can only be approved in his proposal by the people through a referendum acceded to by Nigeria from which the seceding state wants to break away from. All he did was give some guidelines on how this could happen peacefully and lawfully.

Today in 2018, we can see how visionary Awolowo was because if the clause had been included, we would not have had the Civil War. I know some will say the Civil War happened because we were under military rule, but the counter to that is that we might not have had reasons for a military coup in the first place if that clause was included because we know that one of the demands of the Northerners after their counter-coup of 1966 was “ARABA” or secession. Maybe this would have provided them a way out even before then. In fact, considering that the NPC supported Awolowo, they would more likely have left peacefully and the Biafran War wouldn’t have happened. The effectiveness of this clause was seen when the Soviet Union finally broke up in the early nineties. A great nuclear state that has fought the Cold War to keep those territories for decades broke up easily because they had a law that helped them to do so.

Proposing a law for secession when necessary does not make Awolowo a lesser nationalist. He never proposed secession in his life and he remained the only Founding Father who risked his life to go to the Enugu to stop Ojukwu from secession when the Biafran leader was bent on it. He was just a more practical person about governance and the issues arising therefrom. In my view, if we had accepted his proposal, we would not necessarily have seen any region secede (because his conditions were quite stringent), but that would have given us a lawful opportunity to review things or get a ‘cool off’ window whenever we are in crisis, rather than this situation where force and mass murder are usually deployed when people voice their desire for secession.

So, if we look at the issue critically, we will realize that the question of referendum simply cannot work for now or in the near future because Nnamdi Kanu and co have not done their homework to create conditions precedent for such a programme. Firstly, he needs to understand that referendums are not binding because they’re usually outside the constitutional order, especially in countries where they’re not incorporated in the constitutions. Secondly, he needs to engage with Ndigbo on the matter to ascertain how much support his idea of a referendum for secession has within the Igbo nation. Thirdly, he must not continue this imperialist talk of claiming other ethnic nationalities in the South-South as part of Biafra simply because the old Eastern Region that attempted secession included them. He needs to concentrate on Ndigbo alone because if ultimately he gains the trust of the generality of the Igbo people, they are the only ones he can claim to speak for with regard to secession, if indeed that is the Igbo consensus. For now, there is nothing to indicate that the Igbo in Nigeria want Biafra. Only Kanu and IPOB want Biafra and as much as they’re free to campaign for it, they must not claim they represent Ndigbo because they don’t. Fourthly, he has to understand that he cannot just be railing against Nigeria and promising to go after those he describes as saboteurs of the Biafran cause in Igboland and expect to make any headway. The referendum he claims he wants cannot be granted without negotiation with Nigeria and without evidence that there is genuine ferment amongst the Igbo for secession. Fifthly, he needs the international community to support the idea of a referendum because considering that a bloody war has been fought over this in the past, only their intervention can bring credibility to the process. But, of course, they won’t look at Kanu at the moment because there is no evidence the Igbo want secession.

Indeed, I believe Nnamdi Kanu lost an opportunity with the Anambra election last year to begin this work on the referendum. I remember expressing the view at the time that the UPP candidate, Osita Chidoka had some quasi-credibility with IPOB and that it was possible for both to work together in a three-way arrangement with the PDP to win the election and that IPOB’s gain would be to get an undertaking of support for a referendum from the government that would emerge from that arrangement. In other words, rather than calling for boycott, IPOB could have made themselves the real brides of the election by working with a winning coalition in exchange for a commitment to support the call for referendum in Anambra State at least. With that IPOB would have had a messaging foothold in the system because even though no one would expect a referendum to be organized in only Anambra State, the fact that their campaign has support in one of the State Houses would put their idea on the table in other State Houses in the region and also with the National Assembly and Aso Rock. Once the establishment is sure that you have become part of the system and you’re participating in the political process, they will ultimately get talking with you.

But if we are being realistic, we can see that the best bet for Ndigbo and Nigeria today is to support restructuring wholeheartedly. They cannot blow hot and cold, asking for referendum on one hand and restructuring on the other. Ndigbo need to simply stick to one and believe in it with all their heart. We know as a fact that majority of Ndigbo today do not support secession, even if like some of us they support the right of IPOB to agitate peacefully for it without being harassed by the Nigerian state. The fact that we support their democratic right to free speech and freedom of assembly does not mean we support their message. Ndigbo have fully participated in the political programmes of the Nigerian state and every level of authority in Igboland derives their authority and legitimacy from elections organized by the Nigerian state. Ndigbo have representation in all the local governments in the South-East established by Nigerian law, they have representation in the Houses of Assembly in the whole of the South-East states, they have representation in every seat allocated to the South-East in the National Assembly, they have representation in the federal cabinet and they have representation in other national appointments. IPOB has not won any election neither have they been given any democratic mandate to give it any authority to speak on behalf of Igbo people. Nnamdi Kanu has never stood for any election that gives him any mandate to speak for anyone but himself. No Igbo consensus anywhere is mandating him and IPOB to ask for referendum. So, Nnamdi Kanu needs to stop claiming a mandate he does not have. He has to join the rest of Ndigbo in finding a better way to get the best for Ndigbo in the present arrangement within Nigeria. The opportunity has come with restructuring and that is what he and his followers must critically consider.



(6) Conclusion:

In my opinion, if Nnamdi Kanu understands the issues properly, he would see that the best thing he can ever hope for is what the Atiku-Obi ticket is offering. Atiku has proved an enduring advocate of restructuring and his campaign is based on that. All Kanu should be thinking is how he is going to mobilize IPOB behind him, not only to support his idea of restructuring, but actually to also put more pressure on him in a way that he would now see that it’s a national clarion call supported by everyone. Supporting the Atiku-Obi ticket is to invest in the removal of Muhammadu Buhari. That should be a historic victory for IPOB if it joins the progressive forces massing together nationally to see Buhari off. The way things are now, his call for a boycott can only help a Buhari and if he wins, IPOB’s name would go down in history as one of the reactionary forces that made that possible. If Kanu does not want to make a Buhari victory possible, he should have stayed away till after the election. Now that we can’t get the genie back in the bottle, he has to think the consequences of his actions for Ndigbo. Right now, his actions are evidently anti-Igbo and anti-Nigeria.

I’m sure there are many Kanu followers and IPOB activists who wouldn’t be happy with my view. I will respect their opposing view if they keep it focused on the substance. But they must understand that I’m only opposed to Nnamdi Kanu and his methods because I can see that he’s not being helpful to Ndigbo and Nigeria. Anyone investing hope in him is investing in his selfish agenda, which is nothing more than empty grandstanding that costs Ndigbo lives. Why should young people continue to die for the narcissistic emptiness Nnamdi Kanu represents? Obviously, his plan to use his return to rouse young Igbo persons against the political process has failed woefully and his post-broadcast propaganda is being increasingly exposed as childish fantasy. Ndigbo community leaders and young people must not let his narrative be any part of the Igbo agenda because there is nothing meaningful in what he’s doing now. Everything points to the fact that his comeback has failed. His depleting band of followers can continue making outlandish claims about their capacity or hellish vision, but they should continue to be roundly ignored. People should just focus on what we need to do as one Nigeria to get Buhari out because he’s the singular most dangerous problem we have in Nigeria today.

Let me end this by pointing out I have nothing against IPOB and the right of its members to organize and demand for self-determination in a peaceful and democratic way. If anyone is in doubt about where I stand, they can read some of my earlier writings on the issue in the links below.


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