Nnamdi Kanu's Enigmatic Transformation/

Mazi Nnamdi Okwu Kanu, the controversial leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was born in the late 60s or early 70s. That means he never saw the Biafran war (1967--70) or never witnessed same as a reasonable adult. Like me and millions of other young Igbos we became 'Biafrans' much after the gory events of that time in history. While we never lived then to partake or bear witness to the organized massacre of millions that took place we were sufficiently told of how it all began and how it ended -- changing the landscape of Igboland for good. Besides, we have watched some movies and documentaries that captured the bloody images of the pogrom. Never again would such agonizing mass punishment be visited upon our people!

The late Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu, the charismatic leader of the short-lived Biafran nation, was a hero to many Igbos. He meant well prosecuting the war of liberation but the odds against the much-vaunted nationhood ambition were suffocating enough leading to capitulation. While he refused doggedly to surrender capitulation became the only rational choice at a point in the protracted struggle for a distinctive nationhood. Biafra failed fifty years ago because of a combination of factors. One may not enumerate them here but suffice to say that Ojukwu never prepared adequately enough, militarily and otherwise, before launching the rebellion against the unilateral Lugardian amalgamation of 1914.

Ikemba Ojukwu thus went into exile in the Ivory Coast and later came back home ostensibly brooding over what would have been but never was -- an oriental nation of the rising sun! I met Ojukwu and shook his hands in Ihiala, Anambra state, in the early 80s as a little boy in the village. Upon his triumphant return from exile the Ikemba Nnewi had undertook a tour of the entire south-east in the meet-the-people solidarity campaign. He had stopped over in Ihiala, my hometown. My late father had taken me along to the village square where he would be addressing the people. As a village Chief my father was seated at the front row and there I sat with him. When Ojukwu came in with his "Ikemba Front" entourage he went round shaking hands and cracking jokes. When he shook my small hands he had asked me if I was happy to see him to which I nodded my head in the affirmative.

As he left us to greet others my father had told me that he was a great man that sought to bring independence to our people but unfortunately failed in his mission. Chief 'Enyimuru' Okenwa Unachukwu declared prophetically that Biafra would be achieved in our generation or the next! Today, looking back, one could reason that my late father's 'prophecy' is manifesting itself even though Biafra has not been realised yet. Kanu has taken up the gauntlet and he appears to be willing to sacrifice anything to see through his project!

Clad gently and handsomely in blue jeans and black tee-shirt Ojukwu was in control of his environment spiritually and physically. He spoke eloquently justifying the war and the need for Ndigbo to remain united for the battle ahead. A hard look thrown at him at close range indicated that he was still nursing the wound of the Biafran project failure. He appeared to be humbled by the disastrous consequencies of the war but was unapologetic having had the time in exile to reflect deeply on why it was not regrettable to fight for one's national freedom!

As he spoke everyone listened with rapt attention. The atmosphere oozed out the past old glory, military mystification and intellectual power! He was still the same son of a rich Igbo man from Nnewi who made money as an industrialist and used same to train Emeka in the best schools abroad. Reminiscing, Ojukwu waxed philosophical and at a time wiped his face with a handkerchief as tears started rolling down his cheeks! Failure could be traumatising! We felt his emotions and pain and some old and young men among us shed tears with him as well.

The big shoes left behind by the late civilised warlord are too big for Nnamdi to wear. Kanu, despite his sound academic background and commitment to the struggle, cannot be said to possess the same oratorical fire-power, military courage and lion heart of the deceased father of the Biafran nation. Ojukwu was a rare breed; someone whose fearlessness and sense of mission was never tainted by ego or cupidity. The strong man from Nnewi remained a man of strong character who dared gods and taboos and came out unscathed! The same may not be said of Kanu but the young man is daring enough nevertheless!

After spending more than a year in prison for operating Radio Biafra through which he disseminated and propagated pro-Biafran sentiments Kanu is 'enjoying' freedom obtained from the court after fulfilling a stringent bail condition that was imposed on him. His trial would resume in October in a national atmosphere of ethnic tension and crusade for the restructuring of the federal system of government that has failed everyone. Kanu has been accused of flouting his bail conditions by engaging (still) in the Biafran agitation. But given the ubiquitous tension in the land the government may not dare to re-arrest him for fear of playing yet again into his hands.

The President of the Arewa Youth Coalition, Yerima Shettima, in an interview with the Ibadan-based Tribune newspaper recently had said that the leader of IPOB was someone “who has terrorised the country” declaring him a "terrorist"! He opined that Kanu's case would be internationalised but if Shettima could label Kanu a 'terrorist' for fighting for the rights of his marginalised people then one wonders how he would describe Abubakar Shekau and his Boko Haram terrorists up north who daily used girls (some mentally challenged) to bomb even muslims in the mosque! Nnamdi has never killed anyone nor raped or kidnapped some schoolgirls. He is not known to have committed arson or sent anyone loaded with bombs to go commit suicide taking lives away in the process.

About disrupting the gubernatorial election in Anambra state slated for later this year we must express our opposition to that. Kanu was recently in Onitsha to reiterate his menacing call for the boycott of the polls unless or until the IPOB demand for a referendum is granted by the authorities in Abuja. Democracy thrives on universal suffrage so if a people are not allowed to elect their leaders the government of the people, by the people and for the people suffers irreparable damage in its system of one man one vote! The governorship election in Anambra state cannot prevent or give impetus to the Biafran campaign! So, Kanu and his army of intimidating followers must let peace reign in the land of Ojukwu, the late Chinua Achebe and Nnamdi Azikiwe.

'Emperor' Kanu may well consider what the late Ogoni environmental activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, did during his meeting with the late loathsome dictator Sani Abacha. Saro-Wiwa met with Abacha for a rapprochement but after the kleptocrat had finished rapping him on the need for peace in the Niger Delta region Saro-Wiwa thanked him for the lesson on pacifism but asked the "beacon of brutality" disrespectfully: "My General, I bow and tremble! All things considered, can you please consider the Ogoni Bill of Rights now?" Abacha was livid and dismissed his guest without any further discussion. Kanu might seek for an audience with the ailing President Buhari (upon his return to Nigeria) to demand for a referendum for Biafra. He can do that 'bowing and trembling'!

President Buhari is not known to be in support of any move to balkanise the nation or even restructure same. Even when he was hale and hearty he had made some comments that sold him away as a proud Nigerian, a patriot but such patriotism or pride as a Nigerian has reached a stage where something must give! We cannot continue to be playing hypocritical games with our unity in diversity! Nothing can be beyond negotiation not the least a forced nationhood. So those claiming to 'love' Nigeria more than the rest of us must give us a break and face reality!

Nnamdi Kanu's enigmatic transformation could be traced to his conviction and determination to forge ahead despite the manifest dangers and challenges ahead; his pride as a Biafran and his passion for same! But the lure of megalomania must be tamed if he hopes to sustain the tempo of the campaign as it gathers heroic momentum. In a soulless nation where politicians and so-called leaders professionally prefer to live in a fool's paradise --- a lazy world where slaves and cowards wait for change to occur rather than partaking in one -- Kanu is an enigma indeed! We can only wish him goodluck (but without Jonathan!) in his dogged quest for a better society for our people.

SOC Okenwa
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