The last few months saw what looked like unprecedented activities from pro-Biafran movements. As someone who was there when Ralph Uwazurike first emerged on the scene with his Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), I could see that something was different this time around.
I was there in Newark, New Jersey in April 2001 when Uwazurike visited America. I listened to him speak to a curious audience. I tuned off that day when he said that he would stop crude oil from flowing from the South to the North. I tuned off not because he touted his MASSOB as a non-violent organization. It also was not because he didn’t seem to understand that such action would entail a government reaction and he had no contingency plan for such reaction. I tuned off because of the unnecessary self-aggrandizement. I saw mere blustering that bothers on bullshit.
My first encounter with Nnamdi Kanu was on a 2014 SaharaTV interview done via Skype. It was during President Jonathan’s National Conference. After several cancellations and reschedulings, he finally came on. Few minutes into the interview, he said something that made me feel it was Ralph Uwazurike all over again. I had asked him what he felt about Ike Nwachukwu leading the Igbo delegation to the National Conference. His answer was that Ike Nwachukwu would not be allowed back into Igbo land unless he negotiated for Biafra’s independence.
“If you go there and negotiate any other thing apart from Biafra, you better not come back because our people will be waiting for them.” And then, further into the interview, he dropped what has become his most quoted statement:
"If they fail to give us Biafra, Somalia will look like a paradise compared to what will happen to that zoo. It is a promise, it is a pledge and it is also a threat to them…if they do not give us Biafra, there will be nothing living in that very zoo they call Nigeria; nothing will survive there, I can assure you."
It was clear that this was not another Uwazurike. This was a man determined to use “shock and awe” to cut through the cluttered arena of pro-Biafran movement leaders at home and abroad. For effect, he added, "I do not believe in peaceful actualization or whatever rubbish it is called. I have never seen where you become free by peaceful means."
The next year, 2015, I got a hint that Nnamdi Kanu was in the United States. I reached out to my contacts to have him come into SaharaTV for an interview. I had wanted a face-to-face conversation. More importantly, I had wanted an off the camera chat. It is in the off the camera chats and the off the record chats that the journalist and the subject come to an understanding that improves discourse. It is in those moments, when all pretensions and embellishments disappear that the newsmaker and the news hunters exchange sincere notes.
As someone who had the opportunity to interview Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu and to be around him in several settings, there were things that I saw in Ojukwu that were not in Uwazurike and Kanu. I had wanted to point that out. Moments of such off the camera frank exchanges brought Mike Wallace close to Malcolm X that when he felt he his life was in danger, he ran to inform him.
From a stop over in New York, Nnamdi Kanu went to Los Angeles where he attended the World Igbo Conference. At the conference, he stood up and said to the Igbo people who gathered that he would want them to donate money to Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to buy guns to defend Biafra. He spoke in front of the camera and minutes after he did, videos of him saying so were uploaded all over social media. Few weeks after, he landed in Nigeria and was arrested and detained for almost two years. Government defied court orders for his release.
His detention turned out to be a boost to his reputation. It catapulted him into a hero to some people from the area formerly called Biafran who were frustrated by the Nigerian failure. It meant that his words were played again and again. Videos he made as the director of Radio Biafra before his arrest became a staple for his critics and his disciples.
Here are some of the most replayed words from his radio program.
"...If you are attending a Yoruba Church, you should be ashamed of yourself, anybody attending a Pentecostal Church with a Yoruba Pastor is an idiot, a complete fool, a slowpoke...They are worse than Boko Haram, they are very, very foolish. If your Pastor is Yoruba, you are not fit to be a human being..."
And this one: “Every Eze that is a Muslim must be hounded out. They must leave our land. If they do not leave our land, they will be killed. They must leave our land and go to the North to stay.”
Nnamdi Kanu was angry and hateful. His anger was directed at the Hausa, the Yoruba, and of course, at Nigeria. He called the Fulani, "Foolani," as in fools. He called Nigeria a zoo. But he did not spare the Igbo, that is, those he considered foolish for holding different views from his or those criticizing or opposing his views. He proudly derides the Igbo cultural group Ohanaeze, calling them Ohanaeze Ndi Aturu na ewu- sheep and goats.
It was apparent that Nnamdi was mixing his preaching up. He was mixing the preaching of truth with the preaching of propaganda and the preaching of hate. That is how you make gunpowder- mixing sulfur with potassium nitrate and charcoal. It is a dangerous combination. It can blow up both the target and the goldsmith.
These verbal assaults at opponents were straight from the playbook of Malcolm X, the one that had not gone to Mecca.
…. To be continued.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo is the author of “This American Life Sef!”