ADELANI ADEPEGBA writes on the political maneouverings behind the disappearance of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu
Eleven months after the home of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, was raided by the military in Umuahia, Abia State, the whereabouts of the Biafran agitator, whose word was law among his followers, are still shrouded in controversy.
Curiously, the military had refused to open up on the incident which critics see as blight on their epaulettes. The Federal Government, on its part, has been carrying on as if Kanu’s disappearance has put an end to the IPOB’s clamour. Perhaps, it had hoped that the absence of the leader would douse the seething magma of anger in Igbo land. Recent events have, however, shown that the seeming official conspiratorial silence on Kanu’s whereabouts is a blunder President Muhammadu Buhari administration cannot live with. It is obvious that the reported ongoing execution of 69 projects in the region cannot assuage the hunger for Biafra.
Kanu literally held the South-East by the jugular while exploiting his influence over Igbo youths like a lion in the jungle. Anytime he roared, which was often, the markets and by extension the economy of the region were shut down by his followers many of whom displayed gross obsequious loyalty going as far as kissing his feet.
The political activist had developed such a cult following which made the five eastern governors uncomfortable. Citing security concerns, the South-East Governors Forum, led by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, announced the proscription of IPOB in September 2017 and banned its activities in all the states of the region. The governors’ decision to ban IPOB, analysts said, was aimed at placating the Buhari administration, which was feeling the heat of the agitation for the creation of a Biafran Republic.
The governors also pleaded with the FG to withdraw troops who were carrying out ‘Operation Python Dance II’, targeted at crippling IPOB, which was almost becoming a political hegemony in the region. Observers described the military raid on Kanu’s house as the coup de grace that paralysed IPOB’s activities.
Throughout the period of his detention in Kuje prisons, Abuja, Kanu remained defiant, buoyed by the massive support he enjoyed from his followers who thronged the court every time his case came up. When he was granted bail with tough conditions by Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in April 2017, prominent Igbo leaders, who perceived Kanu as a strong political pillar, did not fail to see the opportunity in identifying with him. A Jewish high priest, Emmanuel Madu, together with Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and Tochukwu Uchendu, quickly put themselves forward and posted a N300m bond for Kanu’s freedom while his co-accused — Bright Chimezie; National Coordinator of IPOB, Chidiebere Onwudiwe; an IPOB member, Benjamin Madubugwu; and a former field maintenance engineer seconded to MTN, David Nwawuisi — were allowed to stew in prison for additional 14 months before they were released on bail in June this year. Interestingly, the sureties are presently contesting plans by the government to forfeit their bond. Also, Abaribe, who represents Abia South Senatorial District in the National Assembly, has applied to the court to discharge him from the suretyship and bail bond of the IPOB leader.
A former aviation minister, Chidoka Osita, drove the IPOB leader from the prison after his bail in what many believe was a move by the former United Progressives Party governorship candidate in Anambra State to ingratiate himself with Biafran agitators in expectation of a possible boost to his political career. But Osita defended his action, saying he was only serving as a bridge between Ndigbo and Nigeria.
He had said, “He (Kanu) got a bail from a court. I then participated in ensuring that the bridge of communication between the angry young people in the South-East and the rest of the country was a burden I believed I bore as a young minister.
“As a young former Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps, I believe I serve as a beautiful bridge. I serve as that bridge that connects the dreams of Nigeria with the people of Ndigbo.”
Since Kanu deserted the struggle for the actualisation of a Biafran homeland, his supporters have had to contend with arrests and attacks by security forces. The latest was the detention of over 100 IPOB women by the police for barricading the road in protest against the disappearance of their leader. About 112 of them were subsequently arraigned and remanded by a magistrate court in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Sensing an opportunity to flow with the popular will and perhaps worm his way into the people’s hearts, Imo governorship aspirant, Sam Amadi, reportedly led the crusade for the freedom of the detainees. The case against them was also struck out, Amadi told journalists.
Checks showed that before now, Amadi, an activist, was not known as an IPOB sympathiser or supporter. The question many had asked is, what inspired the new love for IPOB? Some contended that the answer might be found in the race for the forthcoming governorship election in Imo State in which the former chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission is a contestant.
Strangely enough, the IPOB legal team did not allow Amadi to reap the expected goodwill from his sudden support for the organisation. Amadi was still revelling in the success of his intervention in the release of the women when the IPOB general counsel, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, disclaimed him in a statement. He was described as an impostor. He said Amadi could not be credited with the release of the women, warning that he should not, “under any guise, drag the name of IPOB into his political adventure.”
The IPOB lawyer added, “Sam Amadi is unknown to the IPOB legal team and has never, at any time, appeared in this case under reference, either as a lawyer or sympathiser.
“Let Mr. Amadi direct his resources toward his political exploits and should not, under any guise, drag the name of IPOB into his political adventure. We are always circumspect of these characters. I had noticed he was busy sharing this falsehood in his Facebook page.”
Undeterred by several punitive actions against its members, IPOB has asked residents to stay at home on September 14, 2018. Previous stay-at-home orders were fairly successful as traders and other individuals did not open their business for fear of attack by Igbo irredentists, especially the Biafran agitators.
The Media and Publicity Secretary of IPOB, Emma Powerful, said the protest is “a way to register our anger regarding the men and women killed at Afaraukwu in Umuahia, during Operation Python Dance II on September 14 last year and those killed in Ngwa, Aba, Igweocha (Port Harcourt) and buried in unmarked mass graves as a result of unprovoked military invasion of Biafraland by the Nigerian Army.” The group rejected another Operation Python Dance being planned by the Nigerian Army.
Commenting on the failure of the Federal Government to ascertain the truth about Kanu’s disappearance, the Convener, Coalition in Defence of Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo Atoye, said the incident was an indictment of the nation’s security agencies, adding that the failure of government to probe the issue was unacceptable.
Atoye stated, “The disappearance could be described as an indictment of our security apparatus. The reason being that there was an ongoing court process, the court was seized of everything concerning Kanu. However, what the military did with Operation Python Dance was an aberration.
Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, also insisted that the Nigerian military was in a better position to explain the whereabouts of the missing leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra.
Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja, before whom Kanu and others are being prosecuted on treasonable felony charges, had ruled in a judgment she delivered in January 2018 in respect of a civil suit filed by Ejiofor, that there was no evidence showing that the missing IPOB leader was in the custody of the Army.
But Ejiofor, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH maintained that the Nigerian military was in a better position to produce Kanu dead or alive.
The lawyer said, “The question of Nnamdi Kanu’s whereabouts should be directed at the military.
“I have always maintained that the Federal Government and the military are in a better position to explain his whereabouts.
“This month makes it a year that the military invaded his home and since then he has not been found. So they should produce him dead or alive.”
The apex socio-political body of the Igbo, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, believes that only the Federal Government knows the truth concerning the whereabouts of the IPOB leader.
Another pan-Igbo association, the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, shares the same view with Ohanaeze.
The two groups spoke in separate interviews with SUNDAY PUNCH on Friday.
The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mr. Chuks Ibegbu, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the Nigerian troops, who had the last encounter with Kanu when they invaded his father’s compound, should tell Nigerians what happened to the IPOB leader.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, Ibegbu said, “There is a term known as the doctrine of last encounter, which said that those that had the last encounter with a missing person are more likely to know what happened to that person.
“Kanu’s last encounter was with the Nigerian Army when they attacked his family house in Umuahia. Since that encounter, he has not been seen, and nothing has been heard about him.
“Those that had that last encounter with him should tell Nigerians where he is –they should do so quickly because people are no longer comfortable with the silence.
“The Federal Government, which sent the army on the mission, should tell Nigerians what happened to Kanu.
“It is not for Ohanaeze to say where Kanu is or what happened to him. It is left for the Federal Government, the army – the people who had the last encounter with him – to tell us what happened to him, whether he is dead or alive.”
Also, the National Director of Information, MASSOB, Comrade Samuel Edeson, said the Federal Government was solely responsible for Kanu’s disappearance. Edeson alleged that the IPOB leader was being held captive in a secret location by the army.
He said, “The case of Nnamdi Kanu is a very difficult one but only the Federal Government can give us information about him because they sent soldiers after him through Operation Python Dance.
“I believe he (Kanu) is still alive, I believe they are holding him in a secret location. The Federal Government should be held accountable for the disappearance of Nnamdi Kanu. Had it been that they are not with him, they would have been disturbing other members of IPOB.
“If they (Federal Government) claim that they don’t know where he is, then they should explain why they went after him even when there is a pending case in court and he has been attending trial.
“The Federal Government thought that by holding him, they will stop the Biafran agitation but what they don’t know is that it is not about Nnamdi Kanu; there are many others out there who are even ready to do more than what the IPOB leader had done.”
A retired Director, Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, observed that the government should have held a dialogue with Igbo leaders on the IPOB agitation, noting that driving Kanu underground would not resolve the issue.
Ejiofor, a lawyer stated, “I believe Kanu is alive; he is not dead. He has gone underground but if government thinks that is the best way to handle it, it’s unfortunate because when you push an organisation underground, it becomes more dangerous.
“I felt the government should have looked for a way to engage the leaders of IPOB in a dialogue; but as it is now, nobody knows his whereabouts – whether he is alive or dead.
“I believe he is alive and as we approach elections, it is not unlikely that his followers and their activities would be reactivated and that would create a major problem for the government,”
The security expert maintained that the IPOB agitation could not be swept under the carpet, stressing that only a meaningful dialogue could address it.
Appraising the long silence over Kanu’s disappearance, a civil society coalition, #OurMumuDonDo, argued that what happened to the IPOB leader was consistent with the philosophy of Buhari that national interest superseded human rights and rule of law.
The National Secretary of the coalition, Ralph Adebayo, added that the treatment meted out to Kanu was not different from what journalists, activists and critics of the government had suffered in recent times.
Adebayo added, “The fundamental thing we must address is that the silent group would always be victims of an unjust system. The people who should be speaking up for Kanu are rather too silent.
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