Prior to the 2015 general elections, an unknown radio station hit Nigeria airwave to the surprise and worry of Nigerians, government and the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
It was alleged that the radio station had operated for years as an online pirate station by some faceless individuals, before it started operation on a frequency Modulation (FM) band 102.1 with Nnamdi Kanu as its director.
The signals of the station, as claimed by many, were received mainly in the South South and South East states.
The radio station did not only change its mode of operations, it raised the bar in terms of its rhetoric. The proprietor called it “Radio Biafra” and claimed that it is dedicated to the defence of the rights of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and ultimately the actualisation of the Republic of Biafra.
That was how Kanu, who was not known by many Nigerians, became known and hunted for by the security agents on the order of the Federal Government.
Before his arrest by personnel of Department of State Services (DSS) in Lagos on October 17, 2015, not much was known about his antecedents, although, members of the Chief Ralph Uwazuruike-led Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), which he actively participated as a staunch member, before travelling abroad knew him very well.
After Kanu’s arrest, he was arraigned on October 19, 2015 by the DSS at Abuja Municipal Council Magistrate court, where he was granted bail in the sum of N2 million or with surety of N2 million with a civil servant of grade level 16. Despite meeting the bail conditions, coupled with subsequent court orders for his release, he is still being held by the DSS on government’s order.
Upon Kanu’s arrest and continuous incarceration, it was expected that leaders, politicians, professionals, entrepreneurs of Igbo extraction would join the clarion calls for his release.
Disappointedly, except for few Igbo leaders and the downtrodden youths who spoke, protested, as well as got arrested sometimes reportedly killed for demanding for Kanu’s freedom; majority of prominent Igbo leaders, including the State governors, members of National Assembly, ministers and other federal government appointees of Igbo extraction were for long mute and unperturbed about his ordeal.
Reasons for this insouciance are not far-fetched. It is either for political, financial or security reasons, which is more important to them than any other thing. But unfortunately that was not the case with the Northern and Niger-Delta leaders at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency and militancy. They never cease to speak and fight against perceived injustice or treatments being meted to their people by security agents in the course of fighting the menace.
They have been supportive of their people in speech and action, when it matters most. But this is hardly the case for Kanu. At a time, people from other geo-political zones were more concerned and outspoken against Kanu’s continuous incarceration than Igbo leaders. On several occasion, some members of Kanu’s family have publicly expressed their disappointment and reservations over lack of support and encouragement from Igbo leaders.
However, with the emergence of the new Ohanaeze Ndigbo leadership led by Chief John Nnia Nwodo (Jnr), it appeared that the consciousness of Igbo leaders, who have been inactive over Kanu and Igbo political problems, have been re-awakened.
Nwodo, on assumption of office charted a new course for Igbo leadership in the polity. He did not shy away from speaking on Igbo challenges, including the alleged marginalisation, herdsmen attacks, Kanu’s ordeal, etc.
In an exclusive interview with The Guardian recently, Nwodo said: “I am already in the public domain on this. You know there is something in the mindset. Some people regard Igbo as a defeated people who must be handled anyhow. Leading personalities in this country have been referring to an unwritten agreement to keep the Igbo down on account of their loss in the war against Nigeria. And I keep asking when this will end.
“I don’t agree with everything about Kanu or his methods, but I cannot fault his rights to freedom of expression, self-determination and freedom of association. These are undeniable rights and that is why it is called fundamental human rights. It is the principle upon which a state is built and as a father, I have to speak up for him. The way we are treated in this country is worse than the way a slave is treated.’
Since Nwodo set the ball rolling, other prominent Igbo leaders have called for Kanu’s unconditional release. They include former governor of Central Bank, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, Prof Pat Utomi, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike and others.
Surprisingly, the South East Governors Forum that went comatose after the 2015 polls has not only staged a comeback, it has expressed its plan to meet Federal Government over Kanu’s release. The governors, who met for the second time in 2017 at the Government House Enugu recently, announced their resolve to engage relevant authorities at the Federal and the regional level to address the issue.
Since the Governors’ Forum joined the tussle, tongues have been wagging. While some have questioned its timing and motive, others said it is political, belated and an afterthought.
Former president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife asserted while speaking with The Guardian, said that the Governors Forum’s statement on the IPOB leader is political.
“The Governors’ statement on Kanu is political. People know that there is a strong wave about Biafra struggle. So every politician in the South East region will like to tap into it ahead of 2019 elections. I may be wrong, but that is my opinion. Why haven’t the governors said this before now? Even now, are they saying it louder? Many of us don’t understand what is going on,” Ikedife said.
But to a prominent Igbo leader, Chief Chekwas Okorie, everything about Biafra and Kanu is very emotive. And Igbos are very sentimental about it.On the South East governors’ stance, Okorie said: “It is a welcome development, because it is better late than never. Let it not be that the governors are grandstanding or seeking cheap popularity. Meeting the President is not a big deal. And as a matter of urgency, the governors should hasten up if they are really serious about it.”
In his remarks, a Lagos-based lawyer and an Ohanaeze Ndigbo leader, Chief Guy Ikokwu said that there is nothing wrong with the governors’ move provided Kanu’s release is not conditional.
“The governors are doing what they can do. It is better late than never. Kanu deserves unconditional release, because he has not committed any offence.”
Nonetheless, a member of IPOB, Mr. Charles Agbayi, argued that President Muhammadu Buhari has indirectly made their leader, a hero.
Agbayi: “Buhari’s government will not be in power forever. Kanu will not die in prison because the spirit and blood of all those who died in the struggle will continue to protect him anywhere. Their death and struggle can never be in vain.
“It is quite unfortunate that our political leaders, especially the state governors are just waking up from the slumber when things have gone wrong. Where have they been since Kanu and many IPOB members were arrested, killed and imprisoned? What did they do to protect their people?
“They are busy in the comfort of their offices, enjoying our collective patrimony. They should learn from their predecessors. Power is transient and time flies. Whether, they intervene or not, Kanu will secure freedom; Kanu don’t even need their intervention, because it is an afterthought.”
While Nigerians especially, Igbos await the outcome of the latest calls and moves to secure Kanu’s release, after being incarcerated for more than one year, a source in the presidency who pleaded anonymity, hinted that the presidency has not been contacted on the issue, due to some unforeseen circumstances, beyond the control of those behind it.
According to the source: “The presidency has not been reached by any group or persons from the South East on behalf of Kanu.” On whether presidency will accede to the request if made, the source said: “I can’t say yes or no, until it is made. It is a very delicate issue. Even if the presidency will accede, it will not be without conditions.”
Whether Kanu’s release will be possible through political means like that of Ralph Uwazuruike of MASSOB is a matter of guess, considering the Federal Government’s insistence that it has enough evidence to prove that he committed treasonable felony.
Also, it is not out of place for the APC-led federal government to use Kanu’s release to bargain for political support in South Eeast zone in 2019, especially with the recent influx of politicians from the zone into the party.