Not long ago, I paid a solidarity and fact-finding visit to the embattled leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Director, Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, at Kuje Medium Security Prison. I set out at down and got a cab to drive me to the place.
Kuje Prison is tucked away in the corner of Kuje main town, and you wouldn’t know such a place existed there until sights of the prison warders and soldiers barricading the road to the prison at intervals begin to give such top security hints. Huge Gmelina trees lined the road and provided shades against the harsh February weather made worse by the returning harmattan. Its characteristic dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind blowing from the Sahara Desert into the Gulf of Guinea was so much of a nuisance that trendy morning.
Startlingly, the soldiers and prison warders were all cordial and civil, Yet, it took up to thirty minutes to complete the formalities and protocols and for my form to be approved by the Incharge or his deputies and travel back before I was ushered into the final service area, where I was physically frisked and money and ATM card collected, to be handed back upon signing out and exiting.
I was then given a visitor’s pass, which I hung around my neck. I walked into the open hall that served as a reception, and about three dozen seats were arranged around small plastic tables in threes and fours. I installed myself in one of the chairs as directed by one extremely pretty female prison warder. I wondered for a moment why she chose her profession as I patiently waited while word was sent to Nnamdi Kanu that he had visitors. I soon noticed I was not the only person who had arrived the same hour to see him. There were at least four others who I discerned from their discussions that they were relatives probably all the way from Abia, his State. I didn’t want to make their acquaintance for obvious reasons. It was the greetings of “His Excellency” that roused me. It was Nnamdi Kanu and two others charged along with him that were being hailed as they came out.
We all stood up in obeisance. He wore flowery green Ankara up-and-down and brown sandals. We firmly shook hands as I introduced myself. He was oratorical, sonorous, deep, ponderous and impenetrable when he spoke. He already knew me by reputation for he confessed he had read quite a bit of my works. Probably before he was caged in there, I didn’t ask when. It was good for me as it made my mission a lot easier. I didn’t have to waste much time breaking barriers and winning his confidence even though it wasn’t a press visit so to speak. But a journalist is a journalist, and he knew I was one. We had become fast friends and discussed as if we had known from childhood. He was a genial fellow who appeared he wouldn’t hurt a fly. If he was acting it, then, he made a great job of it. Pleasantries over, we settled down to business.
I told him straightaway I was there to show solidarity and to understand why his struggle had taken a narrow view as to preclude political solutions. He regarded me as one who was far from reality and who needed a bit of education on the matter at hand. I was ready to be schooled.
He asked me what I understood about the struggle and whether I thought it was justified and timely. It was a tricky question. I had to tell him the truth. I told him the struggle over Igbo marginalization was justified even though I would prefer inclusion of political option. At least, we have met each other halfway, even though it was how I truly felt. I wasn’t faking. He knew I am fora truly federal Nigeria, restructured within the context of one Nigeria. He dismissed that as hoping against hope as the fate of the Igbos in such utopic Nigeria can only grow from bad to worse. He easily proved to me that the Igbos are not even marginalized anymore; that they are now excluded from the mainstream of things – Igbos used to play the second fiddle, but now, no fiddles at all.
I found myself agreeing and even supplying instances like the recent promotions to the management cadre at the Nigeria Customs Service, where no person from the entire southeast was promoted to the cadre of Assistant Comptrollers General, whereas the other 5 zones got three to six slots. Yet, this is the usual pool from where the Comptroller of General of Customs would be selected in the future, thus cutting off decisively the southeast from the succession in the Nigeria Customs. I told him this did not even happen under the military as it ran contrary to the service traditions and federal character enshrined in the constitution. I told him about some other recent instances - the recent promotions in the Nigeria Police, where out of the newly promoted 24 AIGs, not one came from the southeast.
The issue of marginalization escalating to exclusion brought us to one of the issues both of us tried to wrap our hands around: the Igbo political elites and elected officials from the south east. He asked what such Igbo leaders are really doing about the about these obvious cases of Igbo exclusion? He wondered why such persons who occupy slots and positions of leadership accruing to the southeast would stay and watch, while the constitutional rights of the Igbos are unlawfully taken away despite the so-called constitutional guarantees. We agreed it stemmed from leadership recruitment process, which bypasses the people and diverts allegiance and accountability.
Then, after a few other issues, some of which bordered of his case and could be subjudice to be discussed here, we returned to the issue of political involvement. It meant so much to both of us, and he dispassionately addressed it. I had told him pointedly that IPOB could fight for Igbo rights and self-determination much better from within the political space by contesting elections and occupying the seats in both south-east government houses, legislative assemblies and the national assembly. I mused about what it would be like to have a Governor Nnamdi Kanu or Senator Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB members occupying most elective positions accruing to the southeast in the states, national assembly and government houses in the southeast. I cited the facts that even terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah occupy elective seats in their nations’ parliaments.
He thought pensively before handing me a damning verdict that put some finality to the issue. It is not possible in Nigeria, he said. Why? IPOB contemplated that in 2009 and had wanted to work with APGA. The Party’s leadership betrayed them. He mentioned the names of the leaders who messed up the pact for selfish reasons and ended up betraying not only IPOB but also even Ojukwu and the other Igbos who felt that APGA would be the salvific Igbo party. That’s a story for another.
And now? He said it was not possible even now for two or three cardinal reasons. One, there is no democracy in Nigeria so following the political route to Igbo liberation would be suicidal for the struggle, since our brand of democracy is carefully contrived to remove the people from deciding the winners of elections. He agreed that IPOB would easily win but insisted that the powers that be will always declare who they pleased as winners. We reminisced on the experience of Emeka Ojukwu when he returned from exile, and one nondescript Edwin Onwudiwe was declared as having defeated Ojukwu in a mere senatorial election, and that was soon after Dr. Joseph Wayas (Senate president as then was) said openly he would never seat in the same chamber with Ojukwu. Onwudiwe soon after went into oblivion. He asked me what had changed today and I said, ‘nothing.' He just shrugged as a way of making it clear that my prescription was a dead-end.
It was a sobering experience for me. The two issues raised by Nnamdi Kanu as leading to his struggle are the Igbo political elites not rising in defense of the people they claim to represent. They have instead, used the Igbo slots to feather their nests and left the over 40 million Igbos naked, undefended and stranded. Nnamdi Kanu rued the absence of democracy in Nigeria as equally foreclosing my proposed political participation option. Was he not right for saying IPOB members will never be allowed to occupy the positions they won?
These two apposite issues also remain essentially why the Igbos are fragmented, atomized and never speaking with one voice. These issues are the oxygen fueling the Biafra agitation. Though Nnamdi Kanu and I disagreed, yet, I have a feeling that our disagreement on restructured Nigeria which I hold, where the Igbos and other ethnic nationalities would have equal rights and belonged; and his insistence on independent Biafra are sides of the same coin. For social justice is a cure-all. The two stands are not irreconcilable if you ask me. If we have a country, let us make every citizen a citizen indeed. That was what I took away from that opportune visit.
@Law Mefor is an Abuja-based Forensic/Social Psychologist, Journalist and Author; Te.: +234-803-787-2893; email:[email protected]