The federal government, in collaboration with the International Police Organization (Interpol), and the diplomatic community, re-arrested fugitive Nnamdi Kanu, the self-styled leader of the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and extradited him to Abuja last week. Standing trial for subversive activities in the South East, Kanu had jumped bail in September 2017, fled the country, from where he was alleged to have coordinated the anti-government activities of IPOB.
In a triumphant mood, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), announced Kanu’s extradition, saying, “He has, upon jumping bail, been accused of engaging in subversive activities that include inciting violence through television, radio and online broadcasts against Nigeria and Nigerian State and institutions… Kanu was also accused of instigating violence, especially in South-Eastern Nigeria that resulted in the loss of lives and property of civilians, military, paramilitary, police forces, and destruction of civil institutions and symbols of authorities…”
On Tuesday, June 28, 2021, Kanu was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, before Justice Binta Nyako, who ordered that he should be detained in the Department of State Security (DSS) custody and that his trial would resume on July 26, 2021. The charges against him included terrorism, treasonable felony, unlawful possession of firearms and management of an unlawful society, but there are indications that government would press more charges. We call on the authorities to ensure that the trial follows due judicial process.
Obviously, Kanu engaged in ‘waving the bloody shirt’ rhetoric on the social media, especially on Radio Biafra, where he and his co-travelers whipped up emotions against government and justified violence on allegation of exclusion and marginalization of the South East in the scheme of things. All over the world, separatist and terrorist organizations emerge from a feeling of victimhood, and they grow by rallying to their cause those who suffer the same or similar fate. In the case of IPOB, Kanu’s rhetoric has converted peasants and unemployed youths in the South East to his cause, to the point that the people pandered to his instructions than they would obey their political leaders.
Beyond the trial, government needs to address the deep division, ethnic and religious, that is expanding to a catastrophic gulf in Nigeria. From North to South, East to West, agitators of different shades have continued to spring up, with attendant violence and bloodshed. Police and military action may be a temporary measure in dousing the blazing fire, but to put out the agitations requires a comprehensive and tenacious political solution beyond what barrels of the gun and bullets can achieve.
South East political leaders, traditional rulers, and elite in general must come together to deal with the recurring and violent Biafra agitation that has led to the death of thousands of youths, destruction of properties, and persistent tension in the region. They must harvest the grievances of Biafra agitators, discuss them as a people, and come to a consensus on how to address them or how to engage with the Federal Government, if necessary. Since the 1990s when lawyer Ralph Uwazuruike emerged from India with his Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), several separatist groups have sprouted up through the cracks in the South East. In reality, the people of the South East are so integrated into Nigeria’s politics and economy that a sovereign Biafra may not be a realistic option for them. But South East leaders have failed to communicate this reality to the youths, leaving them vulnerable to emotional and sensational rhetoric by separatists, to take up arms against the Nigerian State, a move that has proved more suicidal than successful. Thousands of lives have been lost as a result.
With the re-arrest of Kanu, we call on the federal government to review its security operations in the South-East, which has led to loud outcries. Innocent persons must not suffer for the sins of the separatists. Those who are causing problem in the region should be identified and punished according to the law. Nigeria must find a lasting solution, preferably a political solution, to the agitations across the country.