A little over 47 years ago, Nigeria's tragic, violent civil war came to a close.
It was fought by forces on one side who, in reality, wanted to preserve the Nigerian confederation as was structured by the British, working with Nigeria's founding fathers. That federation was one that guaranteed autonomy to the regions - the basic tenet of the Independence Constitution. It was a solemn compact - of equality of the three major tribes and some buffer to protect the minorities within.
But in a twist of fate and sick logic, those who fought on the principle of keeping Nigeria a federation came to be known as the 'Rebels'. On the other side was a clique that was driven by a sense of coming of a new Unitarian Nigeria that thrived on rank tribalism, touted as 'national unity'. Again, in a twist of fate and sick logic, this side 'won' - largely because they shared a common fear of a contrived Igbo domination. Today, who dominates who?
There was no guarantee that the Igbos (and to some extent, other eastern minorities) would survive the war or its aftermaths, all with the spates of genocidal tendencies that were rife. Yet, in the end, and counting to today, the very instinct for self-preservation and an unparalleled spirit of private enterprise ensured that the people survived it all and thrived to this day.
Today, and more than any other time since the end of that war, we are again faced with an era of a brazen and federally-institutionalized tribalism that is now stretching Nigeria at its seams. Those that feel that they have 'conquered' the federation and its opportunities have no qualms and are thus hardly aware of the damage they are doing and the dissent they are - again - brewing.
This dissent is best captured by the emergence of Nnamdi Kanu who, instead of being understood and engaged, has been branded all sorts just because he is gutsy enough to reject the neo-ethnic supremacist drive that has suddenly resurged and taken hold of the Nigerian federation since 2015.
It has been variously said that a nation can have a healthy, functional and unifying democracy only if its leaders (of every era) are willing to go beyond the interests of their narrow ethnic stock and work for the common good. This is the main reason why self-determination passions waned throughout the Obasanjo, Yar'Adua, and Jonathan presidencies but has soared in the present era.
Yet, in a fit of denial, a lot of folks would as soon forget that Nnamdi Kanu was not borne in 2015 but in 1967 and was - from birth to adulthood - a committed Nigerian until his hands were forced in 2015.
When tribalism is the most powerful drive, democracy and unity either can’t exist anymore or they merely exist as shadows of themselves, or worse - by fiat. Good leaders have to have enough big heart to accommodate all. They have to be able to walk away from their little tribal enclaves to embrace all tribes. They have to find compromises and common grounds that can build a system that accommodates all.
Unfortunately, however, Nigeria has been thrust into a crucial moment where how you voted in the 2015 presidential election (plus the tribe you belong to) are the most important considerations for the national pie. In such a situation, there is going to be a backlash, a popular resistance, best exemplified by Nnamdi Kanu that will tell you it cannot be that way.
Since mid-2015, several key federal government policies have done most at highlighting this neo-tribalism that is fast taking hold of Nigeria and - again - stoking the fire of ethnic conflict more than anything that anybody can accuse Nnamdi Kanu of doing. The best exemplars can be found in the mean-spirited missteps that have guided the militarist federal response to a popular movement that could have been handled through some compatriot dialogue.
Apart from the disturbing violence that has trailed the federal response to this popular dissension, those at the helm seem to have no interest in a new arrangement that will improve on the regional autonomy that formed the kernel of Nigeria's founding in 1960. It may well be that this is just what Nnamdi Kanu desires but how are you going to find out if you don't talk to him.
It is sad that the vision of the moment seems to be of a Nigeria that is feudal, with a corrupt version of federalism and an ethnic patriarchy that enforced some fraudulent unity on its own terms. This reality is a greater danger to the sovereignty of Nigeria than Nnamdi Kanu and the millions that follow him.
We saw this same wave in 1967 and it got nobody nowhere. Not the losers, not the winners.
To be sure, a huge part of the present scheme of things is rooted in that same 1967 'we versus them' mentality that refuses to embrace values of tolerance and equal rights for all. And then when you dissent, you die.
This is what Nigeria's founding fathers feared most more than fifty years ago. This is what propelled them to find comfort only in a federation that guaranteed quantum autonomy to the regions. This is what is propelling the phenomenon of Nnamdi Kanu; and this is why he will not just disappear, no matter what. Gutsy men like him are built of sterner stuff. Sterner than military tanks; sterner than any oppressor. And he has millions of committed followers, to boot. You gotta respect that.
We are now in an era where those in federal leadership are flatly refusing to work toward the common good but are instead brazenly pushing only for the benefit of their tribal interest but which they purvey as the Nigerian interest. They as soon forget that they are taking the same dangerous steps taken in an era many thoughts were long gone. And when you want to talk about it, you are branded a terrorist. Sad.
This is why those at the receiving end would rather want out. And that - in my opinion - is the essence of Nnamdi Kanu.