How can the separatist calls for a Biafra nation be reconciled with the mainstream clamour for a democratic engagement of the Nigerian state which has gained traction with the support from other Nigerians for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction Emi lokan-fashion?
The dramatic increase in attacks on facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the south-east bodes no good for the elections due to take place in just about two months’ time. Peter Obi, an Igbo and presidential candidate of the Labour Party, is a front runner in the elections. The moot question of whether Obi could win this election could be boldly answered in the negative should the attacks in the south-east continue unchecked. Let nobody make a mistake about it, each presidential candidate, no matter their cross-regional appeal, have a core base that would vote for them no matter what happens elsewhere. That base, for Peter Obi, just happens to be in the south-east. It’s the inconvenient truth that the Peter Obi campaign and the so-called obedients must deal with as the campaigns proceed and the election date draws nearer.
While these attacks on INEC facilities have taken place in different parts of the country, the ones that occurred in the south-east have been of particular concern given the recent history of systematic attacks on Federal Government facilities in the region.
Those attacks which came on the heels of the forced repatriation from Kenya of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, (IPOB), a pro-Biafra separatist group, got more virulent during the period Kanu was held without trial and, as would be the case later, his continued detention in violation of court orders. The initial attacks that were clear responses to Nnamdi Kanu’s extraordinary rendition from Kenya, an action that has been condemned by the courts, were what one might call equal opportunity attacks. They were directed at all Federal Government facilities, including police stations, correctional centres, security agents and all other perceived agents and agencies of state, including people and officials with suspected links, no matter how tenuous, to the Nigerian government.
There were other attacks on soft targets, mainly people of northern origins, that would in due course be attributed to lone wolf groups and criminal gangs of no known identity. All of these predated the spate of indiscriminate attacks that would shortly after be ascribed to so-called unknown gun men, murderous hoodlums that struck in blood-curdling fashion and with random regularity under the most unlikely circumstances. These were particularly brutal, gory attacks that sent cold shivers down the spines of the most intrepid state officials and ordinary citizens. But IPOB made no bones about being associated with the early attacks that came in the wake of the abduction of Kanu by the combined forces of Nigerian and Kenyan secret police.
The group appeared to enjoy the air of ubiquitous danger and invincibility that had been created around its activities as an antagonist of state power. Its once voluble spokesperson, Emma Powerful, was everywhere and could be heard exuding power in the authoritative tone of his press releases that were done to underline the unassailability of his and IPOB’s position. The attacks then were accompanied with weekly sit-at-home orders during which commercial activities in the south-east were totally prohibited every Monday. Each work week started on a note of fear. Clearly, these were acts of terror directed at the very people IPOB which operated like a parallel government claimed it wanted to liberate. For a people in a region famous for their entrepreneurial spirit, this was a terribly devastating development. But no one dared confront IPOB even as the violent attacks and unauthorized curfews were viewed as mostly self-destructive to the eastern region.
Abuja itself appeared not to be bothered, leaving the political leaders of the south-east to deal with what must appear to it as a Frankenstein monster it had nurtured to maturity. Despite pleas by cultural and political leaders from the region, Abuja insisted, as it still does, on the law taking its course. The court, Muhammadu Buhari said, must decide if Kanu would go home or not. Not he, even as the Federal Government has twice failed to heed the decision of the courts ordering Kanu’s release.
The emergence of Peter Obi as a leading presidential candidate appears to have considerably doused the raging fire of separatist calls from the south-east. Even the high-strung cyber warriors that spewed round-the-clock hate-filled rhetoric appear to have taken a back sit since a Peter Obi presidency became a distinct possibility. The vituperation of the online Biafran separatists and the bullying campaigning of some Peter Obi supporters appear fungible, giving one the impression of a possible link between both groups.
The long and short of my point is that it would be futile to divorce IPOB from the unending state of insecurity in the south-east despite the apparent lull in its activities which, aside the sudden emergence and popularity of Peter Obi, can be partly explained by disagreement within IPOB following the incarceration of Kanu and the rise of rival factions. Simon Ekpa leads one such faction. Ekpa was an aspirant IPOB leader that is as consumed with the same ego-filled messiah complex as animated the antics of Nnamdi Kanu before his arrest, release from detention and eventual escape into exile in 2017.
That this fugitive character, throwing stones into his ancestral home at which he is simultaneously pointing a left finger- that Simon Ekpa is the one presently calling the separatist shots in the south-east, gradually crowding out Kanu’s IPOB, says a lot about the venal and vendible entreprise that the fight for Biafra has become for some of its war-mongering leaders, right from the expired Ralph Uwazurike and his MASSOB through to Nnamdi Kanu and now Simon Ekpa.
Kanu, a protégé of Uwazurike’s, began his campaign for Biafra in the United Kingdom. He remained under the shadows of Uwazurike until he gained enough foothold to launch an independent struggle, posturing as a priestly-king of a supposedly republican Igbo. Kanu sustained and would have continued with the charade but for his abduction. Simon Ekpa who is again playing the Igwe-like drama may remain at it until another warlord emerges. Which leads one to wonder and ask about the Diasporan connection to the separatist calls- how much of this is fuelled by a romanticisation of the homeland or the misapprehension of the everyday struggles of the ordinary people in the Igbo heartland? Was it or would it all be rosy in the dreamed Biafra?
How can the separatist calls for a Biafra nation be reconciled with the mainstream clamour for a democratic engagement of the Nigerian state which has gained traction with the support from other Nigerians for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction Emi lokan-fashion? As this is ultimately a question of creating a sense of belonging and whose turn it is. Will the renewed attacks help the claim of the Igbo to the presidency?
Wishing you a merry Christmas!