Image: The author, Olusegun Adeniyi
Most people, according to Robert Greene in his “48 Laws of Power”, have an overwhelming desire to believe in something. And principally for that reason, those smart enough in the business of emphasising “enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking” have been able to wield considerable power. That is the way to describe the huge following that Mr. Nnamdi Kanu has been drawing in recent weeks as thousands of people protest on his behalf in several cities across the South eastern part of our country.
From the Okada riders to the artisans and the motor park boys, many are now ready to die for Kanu, who seems to have mastered what Greene described as “The science of charlatanism, or how to create a cult in five easy steps.” And that explains why the self-proclaimed leader of the “Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)” should be handled with great care by the authorities.
Having successfully created an “Us-Versus-Them Dynamic”, Kanu has within so short a time climbed to the apex of the steps to creating a cult: “To unify your group, to strengthen your power, you must manufacture an enemy out to destroy you. If you have no enemies, invent one. Given a straw man to react against, your followers will tighten and cohere. They have your cause to believe in and infidels to destroy.”
When early this year, I started hearing about “Radio Biafra”, I was initially dismissive of the idea until news began to filter about the incitements to violence and the hate speeches. Even at that, I saw it as a passing fad in a milieu where many have risen to stupendous wealth on the strength of canvassing violence with ethnic identity as their raison d’etre. However, following the posting on YouTube of Kanu’s speech at the World Igbo Congress in Los Angeles, United States, in September this year, it became obvious to me that we have a serious problem on our hands.
I have watched the video several times so as to pick salient messages. While Kanu must have left the United States a disappointed man, having spoken to enlightened people who could see through the futility of the cause he was propounding, it is also evident that such a man would be dangerous in an environment like ours — where there are many gullible (and hungry) people who could easily be led astray by “any wind of doctrine”.
Before, I delve into what Kanu said, let us again borrow from the wisdom of Greene to situate why he would be popular in places like Aba and Onitsha markets: “Your initial speeches, conversations, and interviews must include two elements: on the one hand the promise of something great and transformative and on the other a total vagueness. This combination will stimulate all kinds of hazy dreams in your listeners, who will make their own connections and see what they want to see. To make your vagueness attractive, use words of great resonance but cloudy meaning, words full of heat and enthusiasm…”
In Los Angeles, Kanu was very direct about his mission. “I have not come across a number of you. I like that you are looking very well in America. But there is one thing you must do. You must come out to support what we are doing. We need guns and we need bullets. I know that we love life so much…” he said before delving into Igbo.
After a while, he continued to speak in English: “To kill somebody is very difficult for us. So to be very clear, we need guns and we need bullets and ammunitions. They have succeeded in planting (Governor Rochas) Okorocha in Imo State. One big massive problem we have; the same thing they did in Akwa Ibom but if they succeed in triangulating… because everything in life is a triangle – if they get Owerri, if they take Uyo, if they take Port-Harcourt, we are finished as a people; completely gone as a race. You will come back home (Nigeria) and you will not know the way to your father’s compound; because they are coming. Boko Haram is everywhere in Biafra land. They will overrun us in a matter of minutes and the world will not talk about it because mankind is afraid of Biafra…”
On and on, Kanu went; but after his fiery speech, it was time for questions and the first was from a lady who appeared somewhat bemused. She prefaced her question with a comment, which suggested she couldn’t understand where Kanu was coming from, before asking: “What exactly is the objective of your movement?”
Obviously prepared to deliver his message regardless of the questions being posed, Kanu responded: “On Sunday the 30th of August our people came out to preach to others on the need for us to get Biafra. And on the orders of (President Muhammadu) Buhari they were shot dead. And we know that Peter Obi in 2005 and 2006 ordered the army to do the same thing. Because they felt that you can kill them – Igbo people don’t care about themselves. That is a matter of fact. They don’t care about each other. We may gather once in a while to party and eat, but when our people are killed, nobody cares about them. From that, we now know that the best way to defend ourselves is to be armed…”
After describing Nigeria as a zoo, Kanu went back to his message. “I don’t come from Nigeria, I come from Biafra. So we need guns and we need bullets and those of you in America will give it to us. And also, on the 29th of this month, something will happen; it is called the Blood Monday. Most of you don’t know that in 1967, before the war started, there was a Blood Monday as well, are you aware of that? It comes in a while. There was Blood Monday in 1967; there will be Blood Monday this year, because after that we will be free. No matter what happens, because if we don’t get Biafra everybody have (sic) to die. I am not joking. I came from back home for this convention. I don’t stay in London anymore. I stay in Biafra land. I don’t want people to underestimate what we are fighting and the type of adversaries we are facing. They are still killing us. They are deporting us from Lagos, burning our shops all over the place, our people being rendered useless and homeless – no appointment from Buhari yet the oil and gas companies come to our land…”
Another participant, this time a man, who apparently was not carried away by all the preachments on Biafra asked: “Have you ever thought about the effects of the war you are trying to fight?” Evidently unhappy by such an “unpatriotic” question, Kanu replied: “As long as you are a Biafran you have my love and respect, I will honour you any time and any day. If you stand before me and say you are a Nigerian, I will never respect you. It means you are not sensible. It’s as simple as that. As for me, death is better than humiliation.”
Another male participant decided to be more practical: “If I get to Nigeria, having identified with Biafra and I get arrested, what modalities have you put in place to save my life? What kind of security do you have on ground? When people are fighting in wars, they have international backings, what kind of international backings do you have as a person and a Biafran to achieve this goal?”
Obviously a fantasist (and perhaps also a fatalist), Kanu replied: “On your very first question on if you go home to agitate, what I can say to you is that, you can never ever be arrested. Never! Because what we are fighting for is a universally recognised way of setting people free. I am sure that some of you here are very conversant with the declaration on the right of the people, is that correct? That allows us to go and fight for Biafra; that is exactly what we are doing, of which the zoo called Nigeria is a signatory to it. Secondly, in terms of the war and who is supporting us, it doesn’t matter if you give us a gun or not, we are going to fight anyway, so it is either you live as a slave or you fight to be free. The choice is yours. We have chosen to fight to be free than to be slaves”.
The more I watch the video clip, the more I realise the challenge at hand but just how do you deal with a man like Kanu? Here is one way out: Trouble, according to Greene, “can often be traced to a single individual– the stirrer, the arrogant underling, the poisoner of goodwill. If you allow such people to operate, others will succumb to their influence. Do not wait for the troubles they cause to multiply, do not try to negotiate with them– they are irredeemable. Neutralize their influence by isolating them. Strike at the source of the trouble and the sheep will scatter.”
I agree with Greene but only to a point. I read Jude Ndukwe’s most recent Premium Times blog titled, “Good Bye Nigeria, Hello Biafra?” and while I may not agree with everything he wrote, I can understand some of the reasons that inform his position while his conclusion makes sense. One thing we should not discountenance is that there is a generation of Igbo born after the civil war who believe they (or their parents) do not have a fair deal in Nigeria on account of the war. There is therefore a persecution complex that is deeply ingrained. It is perhaps for that reason that, even those who do not agree with Kanu and may actually detest him and his message are keeping silent, essentially because there is some value in what he is doing in a nation where, to borrow the words of a senior colleague, such antics have become “a maximalist bargaining position”.
The way things are, by arresting Kanu, keeping him in incarceration and denying him his rights under the law, the authorities are simply playing into his hands. Somebody like him needs to be made a ‘victim’ in order to take his cause to the next level. That is the platform that the federal government is unwittingly providing to the guy who is already attracting international attention. My advice to the authorities would be to set him free from detention and place him on security watch-list. He can then easily be pulled in if there is evidence that his rhetoric is being translated into action like actually buying guns. But if the authorities already have such evidence, then let him be subjected to the due process of the law. My reading of him is that left alone, his energy will dissipate sooner or later. A man like that is more dangerous in detention than when freed.
Having said that, we should not pretend about the contradictions that give rise to the Kanus and we have them all over the country today though the degree of their nuisance value varies. Yet, it all has to do with the way we have mismanaged our country such that it is all about sharing oil rent. Today, the political elite in each of the ethnic groups do not feel satisfied unless (and until) their kinsman is at the table doing the sharing. And when, as Simon Kolawole keeps saying, four dogs are in a kraal fighting over one bone, then the outcome can only be WAHALA! That is why every now and again we continue to expend huge fortunes trying to put off unnecessary fires.
However, this is a challenge that President Buhari can easily tackle because in some way, I predicted what is now happening in my pre-election series early this year. In the piece I did in February this year Elections: a Time to Choose . . .5 following my experience on the campaign tour with my friend and former House of Representatives Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who was then seeking the Imo State Governorship on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), this was what I wrote:
“…On the whole, it is not that the Igbos I met at the campaign train in Imo State hate Buhari; it is that they don’t believe he has the predisposition to deal fairly with them if he becomes the president of Nigeria. I can understand their fears. The Igbos are carrying many scars and a deep memory from Nigeria’s struggles to create an equitable country. The Igbos have traversed our diverse country and are to be found settled all over Nigeria. Most of them, however, seem to doubt if the APC presidential candidate can guarantee a modern democratic state that protects the equality of citizens. Only Buhari and the APC can determine whether they have done enough to allay such fears.
“However, with a brutal insurgency in the North-east, chronic inter-communal strife in the North-central, and militancy in the South-south, it is not surprising that several parts of our country are asking for assurances as to how to restore their sense of belonging and co-ownership of Project Nigeria. Therefore, should he win, Buhari will have a huge task of persuading the widest spectrum of Nigerians to see him as someone who can protect the rights of all citizens wherever they may live, whatever section of the country they come from and regardless of the religion they profess. That way, he may eventually win over the Igbo people, majority of whom–for now do not trust him.”
I wrote that before the election but I do not in any way feel happy that it is coming to pass. Fortunately, I still believe that President Buhari can douse the raging fire if he applies himself to the task of being a father figure for the nation at this most critical period. He has the stature, the temperament and the character to do so. But he has to rein in those impulsive fire-for-fire brigades from the North who may think they are helping him at a time that cool heads are needed.
On the whole, what is not in doubt is that we cannot continue to run our nation on the basis of elite-fuelled mutual ethnic suspicions that have nothing to do with the welfare of the downtrodden of our society and can only help in holding us back from achieving peace and prosperity.
The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi email;email@example.com
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