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The importance of Nnamdi Kanu and other dissenters


Nnamdi Kanu

The arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, the Director of Radio Biafra, by officials of the Department of State Security [DSS], on Saturday 17, October 2015, is a wrongheaded move. If it was meant to muzzle the secession salesman and the dream of a utopian Biafra he propagates, it is an exertion in futility. Even worse, it is sure to backfire and turn a tonic to the Biafran cause.


The faculty of human sympathy inexorably leans toward the underdog. If that underdog is pitched against a behemoth, as in this instance, the incongruence of the scenario channels solidarity to the underdog and frames the bigger contender as an ugly bully.

This is why I had earlier counseled Nigeria to decline any temptation to fight against Biafran canvassers unless the dimension of their activities turned into a palpable existential threat to Nigeria.

I had advised that direct confrontation with Biafran irredentists would neither extinguish their zeal nor crush the fantasy that animates them. Instead, the deployment of intimidation and harassment would only serve to amplify the presumptive rationale of their quest for Biafran renaissance. The necessity of their vanguard begins to look self-evident when the Nigerian state clamps down on them.

I listen to Kanu’s broadcast. He is smart and audacious. He is technologically savvy. He is skilled in weaving the tapestry of propaganda. But he is no more than a dreamer of an unfeasible Biafra 2.0. He lacks the charisma and anointment of destiny to grow beyond the status of a nagging talker behind a microphone.

Kanu’s guilt lies in his electing to prostitute a communication talent that would have served the world better in noble ventures.

His arrest is a blunder. It does Kanu, the hostage, double favor. It energizes his Biafran catechism class. And it undermines the perception of the strength of the Nigerian state, ‘’his oppressor’’.

Kanu’s arrest and the other fruitless efforts that had gone into blocking the signals of his pirate radio from Nigerian airwaves portray ‘’the Giant of Africa’’ as a constitutionally Lilliputian state that is so endangered it can’t bear the impact of a query.

Kanu’s arrest and the routine capture of members of MASSOB and other Biafra succession groups in the South East show that Nigeria is an insecure state. Its continued survival rests on the unanimity of its citizens about its future as a united, indivisible sovereignty.

The problem is that humans are hardwired with a capacity for dissent. They exercise independence of mind and agency of will. And they resent being shoehorned into a single worldview.

Because the very nature of humanity makes our species a broad spectrum of opinion holders, it is unthinkable that Nigeria will be populated solely by citizens who are contented with its present working and excited about its prospects. Even if Nigerian security agencies were to embark on a purge of irredentists, the DSS and others would fail to obliterate the all traces of anti-Nigeria compatriots.

Democracy, the world over, is a system of government that accommodates, encourages and celebrates the contest of diversity. Nigeria is subscribed to that model of societal governance. This makes her persecution of Nnamdi Kanu and his followers for their divergent view indefensible.

Our own President, Muhammadu Buhari, only few weeks ago, in his address at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, aligned Nigeria with the quest of the longsuffering peoples of Palestine and Western Sahara for self-determination.

That was tantamount to expressing, on the biggest platform of the international community, support for the pockets of self-determination agitators in his own country. He couldn’t have dabbled into the urgency of granting flag independence to dissenters in other countries without approving the bid of similar movements in the country he leads. The self-determination he considers good for others abroad and should also be good for Biafran campaigners in Nigeria.

This is why he must order the immediate release of Kanu and other non-violent Biafra campaigners being held in different cells across Nigeria.

It makes sense to free Kanu and other Biafra activists. Not just because their confinement is unjust, it is also counterproductive. Their incarceration or torture fuels resilience in the followership rather than weaken their base.

Nigeria needs to retire the idea that she can dismiss the question of its nationhood by fiat or force. The Nigerian question will not go away. It will remain the elephant in the room. And it will continue to overrun the discussion of every Nigerian problem.

The most recent is the incident of a few weeks ago. Former Presidential candidate and prominent Yoruba leader, Olu Falae was kidnapped from his farm. Before the facts of the crime were clear, a core of Yoruba leaders hurdled together under the auspices of Afenifere and attributed Falae’s abduction to Fulani herdsmen. They issued a communiqué that said they would lead the exodus of the Yoruba race out of Nigeria if the Nigerian state does not rid their land of the nomads.

In the run up to the 2015 presidential elections, elders and youths of the Niger Delta, rehashed threats to unleash war on Nigeria if their ‘’son’’, President Goodluck Jonathan, lost his second term election.

Before then, a threat of similar gravity had emanated from the North. After President Jonathan ascended the presidency following the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, some Arewa personages promised to make the country ungovernable for the usurper who cornered a Northern mandate.

Now, Kanu is not substantially different from these anti-Nigerian questioners. He excels them in the use of corrosive language. He has stamina to stay true to his mission. But he essentially lobs the same anti-Nigerian question that the Nigerian atmosphere tolerates.

Kanu is an apologist for the same strain of ethnic loyalty that compromises the ability of many Nigerians to fulfill their obligation to the country. We corroborate him when we defend corrupt former governors from our stock against ‘’witch-hunt’’. We speak with his tongue when we condemn the latest presidential appointment as evidence of ‘’our marginalization’’ and ‘’their domination’’.

To be sure, I detest Kanu’s predilection for fiery rhetoric. He seems unable to address his audience without hate language. He casts blanket demonization on entire tribes and denies the humanity of Nigerians who have no link of biological parentage with ‘’Biafraland.’’

Kanu communicates mores that are alien to, and incompatible with, Igbo worldview. He spreads contempt for ‘’otherness’’: Ndigbo are large-hearted, adventurous and cosmopolitan. He traffics in abuse: Ndigbo are prudent, guarded and respectful.

He insults and insults and insults. His slurs drown out what little sense he makes in his commentary.

But Kanu is no worse than the social media habitués who slap negative stereotype on ‘’otherness’’. He is the similitude of youths are apt to insult on anyone who broaches an opinion they reckon heresy. Kanu’s only edge over them is that he has a launch pad that reaches the wider world.

Kanu is an outcrop of a national culture of discourse that lacks civility. He also epitomizes the hostility with which drivers in parallel traffic queues, strangers to each other, trade curses that often touch the anatomy of their mothers.

Beyond Kanu’s nuisance, what is at issue is the definition of Nigeria. What is Nigeria? Who are Nigerians? What does Nigeria owe Nigerians? What does Nigerians owe Nigeria?

Over the years, Nigerian leaders have shrunk from facilitating this needful discussion. Following the pattern of a meme, they have always found it more convenient to reiterate the trope of Nigeria’s unity being sacrosanct and non-negotiable. By foreclosing the conversation, they choose avoidance over honest interaction.

It is on the basis that the Nigerian law enforcement criminalize the interrogation of the raison d’être of this girlfriend-christened Lugardian contraption.

But the Nigerian state cannot keep evading the imperative of re-examining its existence. There must be room in the Nigerian space for deconstructing the Nigerian idea. There must be freedom to ventilate points of national dysfunction and opportunity to brainstorm its plausible solutions.

Every nation is a work in progress. At the Independence age of 50 years, Nigeria is too young to shut itself against the voices that insist it is a flawed organism. The country would stagnate at its present level of malaise if it resists confrontation with the mirror some of her citizens are holding to its face.

The question we must ask is why the mood of constituents of the Nigerian arrangement largely depends on whether the hegemony they identify with is milking Aso Rock or not. Why are few Nigerians loyal to Nigeria? Why do Nigerians feel less belonging than estrangement towards her?

These questions underlie the causes of nepotism and corruption, the twin banes that have retarded Nigeria. These questions are the very reasons Kanu and Radio Biafra have an audience.

Let’s clear all doubts: Every country needs a critical mass of citizens who have the courage to challenge it to perfect its nationhood. Whether an Awolowo calls Nigeria ‘’ a mere geographical expression’’ or a Radio Biafra voice calls it ‘’the zoo’’, we must harness their irreverent perspectives of this nation.

Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu; @emmaugwutheman, emmaugwu.com

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