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Recently, the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, asked that the governorship election in Anambra State as well as other elections in Nigeria be boycotted. The belief of Kanu and IPOB is that such an act would “send a strong signal” to Nigerians that it is serious about its quest for a referendum on Biafra.
While that was still causing ripples, IPOB was quoted as saying that it would soon announce its Day of Rage when Biafrans would publicly burn their Nigerian voter cards and passports to show their disgust with Nigeria.
Kanu is addressed as the Supreme Leader and people prostrate or kneel before him to receive blessings or prayers with the laying of hands. A few people have even called him their “messiah”, with some claiming that they were cured of their illnesses after he prayed for them.
Then, there is the new weird trend among young Igbo members of IPOB who have become so uncouth and caustic in their language that it is shocking and embarrassing. They create fake social media accounts with the Biafran flag as their profile picture. If you agree with them, you are their darling, but once you disagree or ask for caution, you are assailed with all manner of insults and attacks. They mill around like soldier ants from one online thread to another, reasoning the same way, talking the same way and acting the same way, as if they are high on something. They have been schooled in the ghoulish art of rudeness and verbal attacks; they believe that to be seen as fearless one has to be exceedingly rude.
Ethnic bigots and tribalists have been capitalising on the rudeness of these apostles of Kanu to tar the Igbo with the same brush.
How can Kanu adopt the title of Supreme Leader among a people who never had all-powerful kings, a people who reached every decision through a general assembly, otherwise called Ohanaeze? “Supreme Leader” is used in countries like Iran and North Korea, where the leader has power over life and death; where nobody questions the authority or decision of the leader.
Kanu does not speak with phrases like “after due consultation” or “after the meeting of the governing body of IPOB or leaders of thought in Igboland.” He issues “orders.” Before the May 30 sit-at-home, it was announced, even while he was still in detention, that Kanu, the Supreme Leader, had ordered that everybody in Biafra must sit at home on Biafran Day, May 30, 2017.
Unfortunately, the huge success of that May 30 sit-at-home deceived Kanu and IPOB into believing that the moment Kanu speaks, everybody must obey. But what they did not know was that people did not sit at home on May 30 in Igboland strictly because of Kanu’s order but because of many factors. The fist was that President Muhammadu Buhari had made it clear by his actions and pronouncements that the Igbo were not equal partners in the Nigerian project. The sit-at-home was therefore an avenue to show him and Nigerians that the Igbo can be united on an issue. The second point was that the killings carried out by security operatives during the ceremonies to mark the 2016 Biafran Day put fears into many people not to step out of their homes this year. Third, the utterances of the security authorities and the size of troops and equipment deployed in the South-East before May 30 put fear into people that anybody who stepped out could be a victim of “accidental discharge.”
This order for the Anambra election to be boycotted is another unilateral decision from Kanu. The argument from his supporters is that it is an act of civil disobedience meant to show their seriousness about a referendum on Biafra. But it is like cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. Kanu and IPOB have no army or police with which to prevent people from voting. So, people will vote. The issue is that the turnout may be low. But the low turnout will not invalidate the election. The consequence is that the wrong candidate and party may win the election and reverse the progress the state has made. Whoever becomes the governor may even be a fierce opponent of IPOB and its Biafran cause. So, in all ways, only losses will be incurred by the Igbo from the election boycott, just as only losses were incurred from the order by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra to boycott the 2006 census.
Burning of passports or voter cards is a personal decision. I wish those who want to do that good luck. But the problem is that when they have an urgent need to travel out of Nigeria, they may see what they have done to themselves or they will be forced to go back secretly to ask for a new passport.
The hard reality is that all those asking for the Republic of Biafra are full-bloodied Nigerians for now. It is not a crime to pursue the Biafran independence while remaining Nigerians after all Catalonians are still Spaniards even while calling for an independent state of Catalonia. When Kanu was granted bail, it was not a Biafran senator that stood surety for him. He was not told to deposit the Biafran pounds as his bond. Forty six-year-old Nicola Sturgeon, who is leading the Scottish independence campaign, is a Briton. She has been the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party since 2014. The same thing obtains in Spain where Catalonia is seeking independence.
The same piece of advice goes to those asking the Igbo to leave other parts of Nigeria, if they want secession. Relocation is not the same thing as secession. Those who will be citizens of a proposed nation remain the full citizens of their current nation until the new nation emerges.
When Kanu started his campaign with vitriol, his supporters said he was using vitriol merely to get the attention of the Nigerian authority. Now that he has got it, it is time for him to change his approach. Kanu should turn IPOB into a group of respectable freedom fighters with a convincing message, not foul-mouthed young men that repeat whatever they are told by their “Supreme Leader.” He should have an organised group of strategists working in consultation with various Igbo leaders of thought and interest groups. He should even form a political party or take over a political party to help his campaign, even though fears of election rigging are real.
He should drop that ridiculous Supreme Leader title. Ndigbo don’t follow a man who knows it all. Kanu should stop behaving like a god. The Igbo exhibit the highest level of respite for their elders but they find it repulsive to kneel down, prostrate or even genuflect to greet their elders or leaders. That is reserved only for the Almighty.
Kanu has no weapons. Ndigbo value human lives a lot and hardly resort to violence unless in self-defence or as a last resort. So, Igbo are not looking for a civil war. But they are not also willing to die running. The Catalan independence movement began as a political movement in 1922. But the modern movement started in 2006. The Scottish National Party began in 1934. Kanu should bear in mind that the struggle he has embarked upon will mostly not be a short one. So strategic planning is critical.
He should also exclude the non-Igbo-speaking people from the new Biafra. Igbo receive a lot of insults because of this inclusion. If any group wants to join the proposed Biafran Republic, let that group show interest. Then, it will be given the terms and conditions for joining. The United States of America started with “13 colonies.” Other people joined later and today it has 50 states.
Nnamdi Kanu has become hugely popular among the Igbo. Undoubtedly, he is the most popular Igbo man today. But he should not misunderstand his popularity to mean that whatever he says will be obeyed. If he does not repackage himself and his approach fast, he will fizzle out as quickly as he rose.