On September 15, 2017, the Southeastern governors rose from an emergency meeting in Enugu and issued an order/declaration proscribing the group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), headed by one Mr. Nnamdi Kanu from Isiama-Afara in Abia state. Coincidentally, the Nigerian military, erroneously, declared (later withdrew) the same organization a terrorist group. Within days of these declarations, the federal government moved to make both declarations official and legally binding via a court order. While legal luminaries and social media experts are busy falling over themselves as to the legality of the states and federal actions, the federal government had moved on to inform the international community of its present decision regarding IPOB.
The Wrong Choices by IPOB
The question one should ask is: how did IPOB end up finding itself in this situation? Let’s review some of their activities and effects of such activities that ensured this outcome:
1. It reached a point in Igboland that one could hardly express a dissention, or contrary opinion to the organization’s methods, without being called names ranging from saboteur, anti-Igbo, son of hausa-fulani prostitute, children of monkeys and slaves of the “caliphate”, to spies of the “oppressor”, Okoroawusa, zoo monkeys, etc. Many on social media went as far as issuing threats of instant death and family extermination to any Igbo who dares to express his or her feeling and concerns. Those who have higher levels of education may not have issued these threats, but they dismissed these cautionary opinions of others as “comical” fit for the theatrics of the Mr. Ibus and Nkem Owos of Nollywood fame. Aside from the threats and curses coming from mere members of IPOB directed at fellow Igbos, the fiery threats, including massive death and destruction to anyone and everyone who dares to question his representative authority of all of Ndi Igbo, from leader, Nnamdi Kanu, directed at the leadership of federal and state governments, without constitutional authority to protect and preserve life and properties of every Nigerian citizen, only added to the concern and fear among the majority of Igbos that a crisis of devastating proportion, one way or the other, is in the offing. Therefore, they rightly expressed those fears to the authorities vested with the powers of protection of lives and properties in Nigeria.
2. The leadership of IPOB, erroneously, arrogated to themselves powers and authorities over the Igbo people that were never legally conferred on them either through the ballot box or through state or federal executive fiat. Thought many Igbos, including my very self, would want, and do dream of, an independent Igbo nation, the approach to that ultimate goal differs; especially, when compared to the approach of confrontation adopted by Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. I refer here to Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, because there is an organization of the same name, headed at one time by Dr. Dozie Ikedife, which has been pursuing the same indigenous national agenda through the civil courts. Now, if the two groups are one and the same, I have no idea until they tell us so. For this piece, I will treat them as separate; so, every reference going forward if to Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. Because the IPOB did not bother to seek the legitimate mandate of the majority of Ndi Igbo, or allow dissenting or alternative opinions, they failed to interpret the real mood of the Igbo people, relying only on the crowd of curious spectators who thronged every venue where Nnamdi Kanu appeared as their gauge of their level of acceptance and support as a representative of the mood of, and acceptance by, all Igbos.
3. In their misinterpretation of the mood of the people, and probably relying on a few outside supportive comments, and financial donations, from people outside the region and/or safely tucked away in Diaspora, the IPOB decided to form a Biafra Security Service, issue passports, and encourage the use of the old Biafra currency notes for transaction, all in violation of the Nigerian sovereignty which all the elected state governors and legislative representatives from the region pledged to uphold and defend. Effectively, they created a state within a state, and headquartered in Isiama Afara without even the consent of the people of the community, local government, or the state; especially, given that the father of the leader, Nnamdi Kanu, is a traditional ruler of Isiama, and receives emoluments from the state government when he attends council of chiefs meetings as a representative of his people. Such level of arrogance cannot be tolerated anywhere in the UK where Nnamdi Kanu is a citizen; so, why would anyone expect the Abia state government to tolerate it?
4. The long silence of Igbo elders, leaders, and statesmen over the activities of the IPOB sent a message to the federal government and other tribes and regions of covert complicity, and this did not bid well with the federal security agencies. While some have argued that the incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu by the federal government accorded him undeserved publicity and followership, there is really no way of knowing if his group’s approach would have been different if he was not incarcerated. In any case, the resultant effect of their approach to achieving an indigenous Igbo nation, and the implied tacit approval of Igbo leaders by their long silence, put the entire region under the threat of federal state of emergency. The governors, afraid of losing their legal mandate from the people, had to act very quickly.
5. Threats of shutting down commercial and political activities in Igboland did not help the overall cause much. The May 30th compliance with “shutdown of commercial activities in Biafraland” was not done out of support for IPOB or reverence for its leader by the people; rather, it was done out of fear for lives and property. Also, “commercial activities in Biafraland” was shut down for more than one day; because, over the months prior and post May 30th, IPOB activities and rhetoric scared away business investment in Igboland, especially Abia state. Both foreign and local investors refrained from starting new businesses or expanding existing ones in the region, because of the air of uncertainty pervading the region. Quite a few of them not only reduced their level of activities, but contemplated complete exit from Abia, Enugu and Anambra states entirely. Even Diaspora easterners who regularly travel down to the region for summer holidays with family and friends, and contribute to the local economy through their personal expenditures, mostly stayed away until they are assured of their safety and well-being.
Unfortunately, IPOB leadership never calculated, or were entirely oblivious, of the economic damage their actions and rhetoric were doing to the region and people they professed love for, nor did they bother to create economic activities that will replace the ones they were, inadvertently, chasing out. Because IPOB misinterpreted the result of the May 30th sit-at-home order, it went ahead to threaten the elections in Anambra state, and future others in Igboland. It effectively shot itself on the foot with all these threats and declarations. People became frustrated with the inaction of the elected government, and began to express such frustrations openly. Those expressed frustrations, and the quit notice issued to Igbos by the Arewa youths, finally spurred the Igbo leadership into action to contain the mess.
So, when one factors all the above in, a reasonable mind of a responsible person could have seen the proscription, and subsequent designation of the organization as a terrorist group (though I still have a problem with this one), coming. The alternative would have been a declaration of a state of emergency in the southeast and appointment of military administrators. Many have argued that IPOB members never carried weapons, harmed or killed anyone. To be designated a terrorist, you do not have to carry weapons or hurt and kill anyone, you just have to express the intent, verbal or written to do so; especially, since after 9/11. The leadership of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB, and their supporters, did a lot of these; worst of all, they did them online where the general public could read them. Many people charged with domestic and international terrorism by the US and European governments never killed anyone; however, they, in one way or the other, expressed the intent to harm or kill. So, where one chooses, one could sue a supporter of IPOB who made threats to do harm to anyone with a dissenting opinion. The reason why many people did not do so, is not so much that they are not aware of the law, but they chose to trivialize and dismiss these personal threats. Unfortunately, the state and federal governments could not have been expected to follow suit.
Alternatives Not Explored
As a victim of the 1967-1970 civil war, which was justified from every angled, I will be at great constraint to support any activity that may result in another war in Igboland; so, while in full support of autonomy for Ndi Igbo – and every other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria – I cannot, either willingly, or under threat of death, support the methods adopted by Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. While I consider him a courageous and charismatic leader who knows what his people wants, and how to deliver (at least, verbally, as most charismatic leaders do), I do not support his methods, whether originating from, or hoisted on him by his lieutenants. There are better ways to kill a monkey, or, in this case, secure autonomy for Ndi Igbo; and, though many might disagree completely with me, add, or deduct from my suggestions, they are still the best way to avoid a war. Here are some of the methods I had expressed in the past (and still do) as the best way, and the goal is to win the hearts and minds of the people first:
1. IPOB should have initiated an awareness campaign in Igboland of its intents and purposes. Peaceful sensitization of the people of their goals and plans for Igboland through activities like:
a. Organizing sanitation exercises in markets, primary schools, streets and public parks, along with music, on chosen Saturdays, while dressed in IPOB regalia.
b. Lectures on Biafra, past, present, and future, where core IPOB strategic vision for Ndi Igbo is espoused, and attendees encouraged to spread this vision in their immediate environments. Promoting historic Igbo achievements and recognizing past great Igbo leaders in these lecture circuits would have brought in tremendous goodwill to IPOB
c. Visitations and donations to less privileged homes and shelters like Uzuakoli leprosy center, ex-Biafran soldiers center at Oji River, and Biafra War Museum.
2. In addition to the above, IPOB should have adopted the OPC model of wealth creation via peace maintenance.
a. Instead of a BSS, it should have created and registered a security company available for hire by corporations, private people, schools, and even government agencies. Ganiyu Adam’s OPC was initially a radical offshoot of Frederick Fasheun’s OPC who started with trouble-making and graduated to providing security services to estates, individuals, and companies. They landed a pipeline protection contract, and today they have hotels, skills acquisition centers/schools, and micro-finance banks. They transitioned from pariah group to a seat at the Yoruba cultural table, with their leader being tipped today as the next Aare Ona kakanfo of Yorubaland. This would have worked for IPOB in the interim, while still pursuing its end goal of either regional autonomy or outright independence. It does not have to happen in Kanu’s lifetime.
b. IPOB raised a lot of money from internal/external donations and the sale of Biafra/IPOB paraphernalia. Where did the money go to? Paying stipends to officials and organizing rallies? The bulk of that money could have been used to fill the social gaps created by government inaction. This was what the Taliban and ISIS did in parts of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria to draw people’s support. Though, at a much later period, IPOB embarked on pothole filling activities around the streets of Umuahia, it should have started much earlier. Such activities could have endeared the group to the hearts of the people, and increased revenue-generation prospects through free-will donations.
3. Instead of threatening no elections in Anambra and all of Igboland, IPOB should have used the opportunity of a vacuum of quality leadership in Alaigbo to step into the political arena. They could have done so in two ways:
a. Either transmute into, or form a political wing, and register a party to contest local and state elections in 2019 and beyond. Or,
b. Select and endorse and vigorously campaign for some vetted, tried and trusted Igbo personalities to run for office under existing political parties. Either way, the group could have used the opportunities to test its popularity among the people and elect people of integrity and vision (even if it is IPOB vision) into political offices in Igboland.
Unfortunately, the path chosen and methods adopted by the IPOB leadership, has led to its proscription and tagging as a terror group. What is the way out? The current federal government is not going to reverse its decision, regardless of what any court might rule tomorrow; also, not many federal courts will like to overrule the federal government on this one. That leaves only one option: form another group and adopt a much less threatening approach to securing autonomy for Ndi Igbo, because any open and continuous IPOB activity will further endanger the lives and properties of the people, and force the federal government into taking more drastic measures.
Those who, from far and near, supported and encouraged the approach that led to the recent death of innocent Igbos, and the subsequent proscription and outlawing of IPOB as a terror organization, while dismissing voices of caution as comical and treasonable, should share the blame of this outcome.