No, don’t re-arrest Kanu

Political activist and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement, Nnamdi Kanu (L), wearing a Jewish prayer shawl, speaks to veterans of the Nigerian civil war in his garden at his house in Umuahia, southeast Nigeria, on May 26, 2017, before commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the war on May 30. The war was triggered when the Igbo people, the main ethnic group in the southeast, declared an independent breakaway state, the Republic of Biafra. / AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

In a seeming bid to ward off the increasing threats to the stability of the country, the government is floundering from one absurd measure to another. From deploying its security apparatuses to monitor the social media, it has moved on to rein in hate speech by proposing a bill in this regard. No much alarm should be triggered if the government luxuriates in the obliviousness of the inability of these frenzied measures to stave off the dissolution of the people’s union if it fails to reckon with more enduring and acceptable solutions that the citizens have generously proposed.

But we must not ignore the augury of a looming tragedy we are now confronted with in the government’s latest move to sustain the nation’s unity. This is the bid by the government to re-arrest the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu. Kanu might have impudently breached some of the conditions for his freedom from incarceration. He might have been found rhapsodising before his hundreds of supporters and putative security personnel about his republic of unrivalled equality and thereby violating the condition that he must not be in a crowd of more than 10 people. He might be considered to have continued on the path of heating up the polity by insisting on his prising a Biafra Republic from Nigeria and securing the support of some Igbo youths who evidently swoon over the prospect of freedom from the stranglehold of their implacable tormentors. He might have been a threat to the state by declaring that no election would take place in Anambra as long as the Biafra question remains unresolved. But these apparent offences do not validate the government’s quest to re-arrest him in view of the rash of grim consequences that such a move would precipitate.

While Kanu could easily be derided in some parts of the country such as the north as an irritant that must be silenced, he is revered in the south-east by his fellow Igbo youths as the exemplar of a quest for freedom that was tragically mainstreamed by the late Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. But the challenge that the government would not easily wade through is that of re-arresting Kanu without imbuing in the Igbo a heightened consciousness of his heroic status. Of course, Kanu has his uses. His emergence has focalised the much-neglected need for justice for the majority of the citizens who are at the mercy of an insignificant proportion of the population. This is where his relevance ends. For, his anti-heroic status outweighs his heroic attributes. While Kanu thinks that he embodies the aspirations of his people, the fact remains that anybody can latch on to the perceived or real injustice to their people to express their own perverted ambition as Adolf Hitler did in Germany. Kanu’s anti-heroic delusions are expressed in his warped sense of grandeur and territorial ambition that goads him into contemplating corralling unwilling peoples as part of his envisaged Biafra Republic and thereby replicating the injustice he is fighting against.

It may still be possible for the government and others to argue that the alleged marginalisation of the Igbo is just an accident of an unjust social system and not a deliberate policy to permanently consign them to the margins. After all, other people from other parts of the country are equally marginalised as long as their lives are by no means improved by the fact that their own people – from the same community, state or region – are in government. But such an argument stands the risk of irrevocable repudiation if the government re-arrests Kanu. Such a re-arrest would rather re-affirm the alleged marginalisation of the Igbo since the argument would now be that the government has refused to arrest the northern youths who threatened to forcibly evict the Igbo and take over their property by October 1 if they do not leave their region. Yet, they are known to the government as evidenced by the presence of some governors when these agent provocateurs suspended their eviction notice. We are further alerted to the seeming official protection these northerners enjoy by the fact of their audacity to only suspend and not withdraw the ultimatum. The refusal of the authorities to arrest these northern youths is thus seen as an official endorsement of the assumed supremacy of the northern human species and the inferiorization of their counterparts in the south.

Kanu’s misguided territorial ambition has already alienated the people of the Niger Delta and the wilder south-south region who feel they are not part of his Biafra Republic. This was why they expressed their desire to have their own country to be known as the Republic of Niger Delta if the Biafra Republic through governmental churlishness escapes from the provenance of the fecund imagination of the Igbo to that of reality. However, the danger is that this alienation is now evaporating in the face of the threat by the government to re-arrest Kanu. The Niger Delta militants who have warned against the re-arrest of Kanu have threatened to resume hostilities and the disruption of crude oil production which is at the heart of the nation’s economy .

Clearly, there is the lingering doubt in the south that the northern youths are really sincere in their suspension of the ultimatum. It is this doubt that has made IPOB to keep asking Igbo in the north to leave before October 1. They fear that the northern youths would by October 1 go ahead to unleash violence on southerners. Despite this suspicion, the tension between the north and the south, especially the south-east has reduced since the suspension of the quit notice. It becomes obvious that the re-arrest of Kanu would not only stoke this tension, it may trigger violence with the attendant loss of lives and property.

If Kanu is a problem to the polity today, the government must rue the fact that it is his creator through its initial feckless response to him. Instead of finding a better way of handling Kanu, the government hurriedly clamped him into detention and thereby made him popular. Now, the government is on the path of making him more popular by re-arresting him. Clearly, the broader issue of justice for all Nigerians that Kanu’s clamour for Biafra Republic has triggered resonates with all who desire the continued survival and unity of the country. But while the government is still contemplating how to respond to this matter, it should not energise the Kanu phenomenon by re-arresting him.

The government should work through the leaders of the south-east to whittle down his influence. Already, while the leaders have supported the restructuring of the polity, they have disowned his quest for a Biafra Republic. But the government has alienated these leaders through its attempt to re-arrest Kanu. They have openly warned the government against the folly of re-arresting him. The fact that it is a court that may order the re-arrest of Kanu would not make it not to be linked to the government as the source of his ordeal. This is the same government that has no reputation for obeying court orders. It took a long time before the government heeded court orders for Kanu to be released from detention. And the same government has refused to comply with court rulings for the release of a former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and the leader of the Nigeria’s Islamic Movement Ibrahim El-Zakzaky. The government should quietly withdraw its suit for the re-arrest of Kanu and think of better ways of curtailing his influence.

But ultimately, if the government is genuinely concerned about ensuring peace in the country, it must take cognisance of the fact that what would stop or vitiate agitations like those of Kanu is for it to accept the inevitability of the input of all the citizens in a template for how they want to be governed. It should find that input in their quest for restructuring that would engender true federalism instead of hunting those who desire to free themselves of the tyranny of the iniquitous state and its remorseless traffickers in inequality and supremacy.

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