On Tuesday, the Presidency expressed triumphalist emotions over two recent events spearheaded by the country’s security forces. The first is the re-arrest of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu. The second is the midnight invasion of the home of Chief Sunday Adeyemo, otherwise known as Sunday Igboho. Adeyemo is the chief promoter of the Oduduwa nation idea and self-imposed defender of Yoruba land from the incursion of marauding Fulani herders who hitherto killed, maimed and violated the sanctity of families.
Government and its agencies obviously, but erroneously, consider these men to be their main albatross. It is only such a belief that could have elicited Tuesday’s exuberant statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, where he said these men have inflicted hardship on Nigerians.
To be sure, Kanu, being a fugitive for a couple of years or so, should have his day in court. He abused the Nigerian legal system by jumping bail after close to two years in the detention of a defiant Federal Government, but that is not the complete story.
When he appeared briefly in court penultimate Tuesday, he was said to have told Justice Binta Murtala Nyako, (whose court granted him bail ab initio), that he fled Nigeria to preserve his life. Newspapers quoted him as saying that his flight was precipitated by the Nigeria military’s invasion of his house, which his lawyer alleged led to the extrajudicial killing of 28 people. The counsel, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, told interviewers on Arise TV Morning Show earlier this week, that an application explaining the circumstances of Kanu’s flight and asking for an inquiry into the invasion of his premises had been before the court since October 2017 without any attention. He, therefore, suggested that Kanu cannot be said to have jumped bail. Now, that is neither here nor there. The same court, which adjourned his trial until later this month, is the only one capable of determining this matter one way or the other. The wish of everyone following this case is however that justice is ultimately served.
For Igboho, described as a “militant ethnic secessionist” in the Shehu statement, the Department of State Services has declared him wanted even though the man claims to be within reach. While all the trial and drama are going on, however, Nigerian leaders should embark on a deep contemplation of how we arrived here and how much the Buhari regime has contributed to brewing their phenomena.
Concerning Kanu, this man was an almost insignificant quantity pre-2015 even though IPOB had existed for three years by then. As has been said in this column many times, Radio Biafra only became recognisable with its proscription in July 2015. Three months later, Kanu was arrested. He remained in jail for about 18 months despite repeated court orders for his release on bail.
During this incarceration, his popularity soared, and he started gaining some cult following amongst ordinary Igbo people who began to see him as their hero. Five months into his release and with an ongoing court case, soldiers allegedly invaded his home leaving some people dead. Kanu then fled Nigeria in circumstances that remain unclear. From wherever he was, the Eastern Security Network was founded purportedly to protect the southeastern states from the increasing wickedness of herdsmen to which the country’s security forces seemed to have no answer to. Again, Kanu and his group became even more popular by cashing in on the failure of the regime to protect citizens against the killer herdsmen. Invariably, no one has given as much steam to this man and his self-acclaimed mission as the Buhari regime!
Igboho isn’t so much different. Until early this year when herders began to kill people in the Ibarapa area of Oyo State like flies (taking over their homes and molesting their wives and daughters), only those who had encountered him in politics had any idea who he was.
In the absence of legitimate leadership, the non-state actor stepped up, led marches on suspected hideouts of killer herders, drove them out of town and enforced the freedom of the people who had before then, resigned to fate.
From Oyo State, Igboho traversed other parts of Yorubaland where citizens were tormented. Everywhere he went, killer herders were routed and most of these places have remained relatively peaceful since. He naturally won the confidence of the common man, who asks nothing of Nigeria other than the chance to exist, regardless of the state’s failure to make life worth living! The irony is heart-breaking though. To think that the ordinary people, on whose backs the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari(retd.), rode to office, now feel so let down to the extent that men, at whom they ordinarily would not cast a second glance, have become their heroes! This should make the regime more reflective than aggressive but then, how much thought is given to these things.
One other thing the regime should ponder in its current thrill and bay for the blood of these two “enemies of the state” is how on earth secessionist aspirations sprang up and gathered support in Nigeria’s South-West. For the better part of the last three decades, the Yoruba were only known to be very fervent about their demand for what they call “true federalism”. How come a crowd of Yoruba Nation enthusiasts have recently travelled the South-West on an evangelical mission and would even defy police guns in Lagos last weekend? Has the regime considered how much it has done or not done to fire these agitations?
And while at that, does it occur to it that other parts of Nigeria are watching and possibly taking cues from Kanu and Ighobo? These other ethnic nationalities who have also borne the brunt of the terrorism of herdsmen without reprieve would not just see the attention garnered by the Igbo and Yoruba agitators as incentives, even the authorities’ treatment of proponents may inspire a deviant spirit than the security agencies can cope with. A situation where security agents launch nocturnal attacks on a man’s home, arrest animals and destroy property like intoxicated street urchins would, nauseate more than impress most Nigerians. Isn’t this the reason governors of the South have come together across party lines perhaps for the first time in recent history?
While the Nigerian state is coming down hard on these two, up in the North-West, groups of bandits are on a rampage making life hellish for law-abiding citizens. On Monday, 121 students were abducted from Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna. Two soldiers were killed in that attack. On Tuesday, UNESCO reminded a mindless and forgetful nation that a total of 348 children are currently in the custody of bandits in the forests where they hold court. The previous day, babies, nurses, and security guards were taken from the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Centre in Zaria, yes, an infectious disease centre! On Tuesday, 21 people were killed in Katsina, the President home state. That same day, seven soldiers were ambushed and killed by bandits in Kebbi State. Yet, rather than troops summarily putting an end to the terror of these bandits who, by the testimonies of authorities in that part of the country are well-known, security forces would rather accompany negotiators like Sheik Ahmed Gumi to hold meetings with bandits. It was the same Gumi who recently justified and reduced the abduction of children and demands for ransom as a minor crime compared to agitations for self-determination. Such logic!
To buy peace for society, it is not entirely out of line to talk misguided people out of criminality, but why does Nigeria haunt some people and pamper others?
More importantly, turning the guns on secessionist agitations can only go so far. If suppressive powers of the state were sufficient to crush all agitations, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic will still be a factor in global affairs today. So, in a democracy, the culture of engagement and reading understanding is critical to progress.
Most Nigerians would be happier in a big, united Nigeria, which is why leaders of many of the regions have not lost any opportunity to denounce secessionist agitations. But these desires will increase unless the government commits itself to give every citizen a sense of belonging hinged on social justice, fairness, and equity. Without that, not all the arms and ammunition within the powers of the state can stop those who feel cheated from asking for their rights, no matter how many leaders of such movements Nigeria arrests, jails, or even kills!