If not for the Buhari’s administration arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOD), on 18th October, 2016, perhaps we wouldn’t have had such massive protests and support for Biafra. Since his arrest, most of the protests are more about his release and he has gotten more sympathizers and fame nationally and globally.
A lot of Igbos have complained of Igbos being marginalized in the Nigerian project since 1970 after a three years civil war that the Federal Government of Nigeria declared as “No Victor, No Vanquished.” But the fact remains that the Igbos lost Biafra and since Biafra, Nigeria has had its ups and down and opinion from North and South, East to West, changes with events.
The new Biafran agitation started with the fourth republic. In fact it was ignited by the Sharia agitation that led to mayhems all over the north where hundreds were killed and properties worth billions of Naira were destroyed. Igbos who lived in the north, mostly businessmen and women were caught up in this. As the north was talking about Sharia, a pan Yoruba association Odua’s People’s Congress (OPC) sprang up and started demanding for a Yoruba State. There were pockets of attacks here and there in Yoruba land with OPC members singling out Northerners and even asking that Emir of ilorin to relocate back to the north.
Over the years before 1999, the Igbos were victims of numerous and incessant religious and tribal crisis up North. As the north was talking about Sharia and some Yorubas talking of a sovereign Yoruba State, people like Ralph Uwazuruike came up with the Movement For The Actualization Of Sovereign State Of Biafra (MOSSOB) and Uwazuruike’s MOSSOB was a hit. It immediately appealed to a lot of Igbos who felt aggrieved at what they saw as margination of the Igbos and unfair treatment of the Igbos in a Nigeria they never really felt they belong to. Mass unemployment and complete failure of the Nigerian state and the perception that the Nigerian state favours one group than the others with the freedom that comes with democracy fueled these agitations.
Despite the fact that the Sharia agitation resulted to violence that claimed the lives of thousands and properties worth billions of naira destroyed and some people would tell you that the Sharia agitation and later implementation in some northern states gave birth to terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Ansaru, and the Odua People’s Congress agitations led to killings in Yoruba land, the Nigerian government was more worried about agitation for a Biafran State in the East even though such agitations were mostly peaceful as Mr. Ralph Uwazuruike was boasting he would get his Biafran state through peaceful means like Indian Mahatma Ghandi. And for the most part over the years, the Biafran agitation has been peaceful.
Why the Nigerian state worry was because there was a country called Biafra before and the map of that country is clear and ingrained in the head and hearts of those who still believe in Biafra. They range from the young to the old, some who had fought in the war, others who were young during the war and a lot of those who were not born before the war. Since the emergence of Ralph Uwazuruike, the Nigerian state have tackled his members brutally and not given them any chance to breath. In fact Biafra was more dangerous than Boko Haram terrorist group in the mind of the Nigerian state even though Boko Haram have killed and are still killing in the name of fighting for an utopian Islamic State.
When Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of MOSSOB, insist on a peaceful way in getting Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, the founder of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who obviously got his inspiration from Ralph Uwazuruike’s MOSSOB, saw militancy as the only way Biafra can get her independence out of Nigeria. Seeing the ways MOSSOB members were treated by the Nigerian state since 2001, Nnamdi Kanu seek any means of getting his new Biafra, even through violence. Mr. Kanu before his arrest threatened the Nigerian state that his members would unleash mayhem never seen before unless he gets his Biafran state. What is more disturbing and that has haunted the Nigerian state is not Nnamdi Kanu’s threat, but the popularity the whole Biafran movement is getting at home and in the Diaspora.
The emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari and his utterances and perception that he does not like the Igbos may be part of what galvanized support for Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOD in recent times. After the bitter election between former President Goodluck Jonathan and President Buhari, the nation was divided, people were angry and agitated, the body language of the Buhari administration didn’t help matters. On his visit to the United State shortly after taking over, Buhari told the media that he would of course favour those who voted more for him and it went viral in this era of social media. Nnamdi Kanu cashed in on such sentiment to promote and project himself and his organization through his illegal Radio Biafra.
A lot of people didn’t know or take Radio Biafra seriously until the federal government clamped in on them and their story made headlines all over. Perhaps Ralph Uwazuruike’s MOSSOB would have been much popular if it came out in the era of social media as Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. Nnamdi Kanu, more sophisticated in the use of propaganda tool, today is the face of the new Biafra and Ralph has dwindled in popularity.
What made Nnamdi Kanu what he is today, a hero of the whole Biafran movement, if what he is means anything than some rebellious Igbo man in prison, facing charges of treason and others against the Nigerian state, is his arrest by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration and the administration’s killings of peaceful Pro-Biafra protesters. President Buhari’s personality was that of this tough ex-military man who would come in and use iron fist to twist-fix everything. Even though Buhari has shown that he is far from what his fans, supporters and the media described, this description affected most of the people he employed as head of his security who acted without deep analysis of the situation at the inception of this administration.
From the Biafra killings to the Shiite killings, it is the same toughness script that has influenced some of the people working with Buhari into making some of these decisions to attack and kill without looking at the consequences. But the fact is that this method of handling crisis has never helped many governments, not in modern times. Nnamdi Kanu looks larger than life today with his continuous detention in prison and his story has gotten international attention that a lot of pundits see his incarceration as helping him more and not doing any good to the federal government. In fact there is a school of thought that argues that he shouldn’t have been arrested at all.
How the Nnamdi Kanu issue is resolved, how the government treats the matter, how this whole episode is going to end, is what the nation and the whole world is waiting for today. The Buhari’s administration, facing many other problems, may have trapped itself into it own’s trap.