Nnamdi Kanu is arguably the most popular Nigerian at the moment. His mass rallies at Southeastern states attract crowds in their tens of thousands that would make professional politicians look like amateurs; his surging popularity driving the government green with envy. To make matters worse, security agents have no clue on how exactly to handle him. He’s practically holding mass rallies inciting people against the sovereignty of Nigeria, which they are charged to protect and preserve. They are at a conundrum. To leave Nnamdi Kanu while he drives his people on a scale of frenzy probably never seen since the time of Odimegwu Ojukwu; or to silence him once again through any kind of arrest.
The Federal Government is extremely uncomfortable with Kanu’s soaring popularity. Actually, the government would rather have him dumped on a crocodile-infested island, or a jungle populated by ferocious beasts. They know, by now, how arresting him highhandedly in 2015 has magnificently backfired. They know they can’t touch him now without causing a popular uprising and mass revolt that would border on insurrection. With a frustrating Boko Haram war dragging perennially in the North, the last thing the government wants now is another cancerous war in an otherwise peaceful part of the country.
In other words, the government practically made a hero out of Nnamdi. He was “Sainted”, “Canonized”, and reframed as a Messiah of sorts. Today, Kanu is practically worshipped in many parts of Igbo land. Statues are erected in his honour, he receives visitors daily almost like a Head of State. He carries himself about as a hero and a liberator of his people. But that was not who he was, before Government chose to rebrand him.
Nnamdi Kanu was arrested on October 14, 2015. As at that time, his ideology was incoherent and distorted. He had very little following apart from those that had access to his pirate radio station, Radio Biafra. Kanu wasn’t the first Igbo nationalist. Even during the lifetime of Ojukwu, there were many Pro-Biafra groups. They were nothing more than pressure groups that often used the threats of secession to demand and attract attention. Nnamdi Kanu however put his money where his mouth was. He invested in Radio.
Radio takes first place in any mass mobilization project. The Rwandan genocide was effectively fueled by Radio. Radio has been a massive propaganda tool worldwide. That was what Nnamdi Kanu used to touch the nerves of the government. And they lost sleep. They’ve lost it ever since.
The Buhari administration made it a priority to address Nnamdi Kanu’s excesses one and for all. That decision was obviously an emotional one, not logical in practical sense. The government assumed one Buhari-hating individual was too small a risk. Arrest the crook! They only succeeded in arresting peace, meanwhile.
On October 11, 2015, Nnamdi Kanu checked into the Golden Tulip Lagos Airport hotel. He had a British passport. He checked in as “Nwanekaenyi Ezebuiro”. His latest broadcasts had encouraged people to arm themselves for revolt against the government. Many Igbos who still nurse an eternal grudge against the Nigerian state agreed to. It was at that time the intelligence agencies swung into action. Operatives of the DSS besieged the hotel on October 14. They demanded for the hotel’s manifest for the five previous days. They did not find any Nnamdi Kanu on the list. They were sure he was there. So they proceeded on a physical search. By the time they got to Room 303, Mr Kanu was found. Retrieved also from their operation were broadcast equipments, pump action guns and delta magnum pump action rifles. Two other accomplices were arrested with him. The government officials must have “high-fived” themselves for quickly nipping a potential crisis in the bud, and gone to sleep. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Sometimes in early 2015, I stumbled on Radio Biafra while browsing through my free-to-air decoder. I was gripped with fear. I couldn’t believe how much hate and bile was being broadcast. He was called “Director” on air. Impeccable English and a beautiful use of the language seemed all he had, but Radio Biafra achieved its aim. It mobilized people to ask for secession. And it mobilized them to do it violently. But any simple observation would have shown that Nnamdi’s threat of violence, was mainly mere bluffing. Neither did he have the capacity to launch any attack on any scale against the Nigerian state, nor does he have the men or weapons required. That is not to underestimate the power of words to mobilize. But at the time Nnamdi Kanu was arrested, his support even in the Southeast was, at the best, tepid. Arresting Nnamdi Kanu was the best gift his course could get. He took it with both hands.
The day Nnamdi Kanu was arrested, many people who were pro-IPOB, his self styled republic, jubilated. They claimed the government had played “into their hands”. Infact, so sure were they that the arrest would be in their favour, that you would wonder whether it was not actually deliberately set up by Nnamdi Kanu. After all, as at the time he was arrested, his strategy was flailing. It was almost as if they were sure the Buhari government would be hard on them. So hard, that he would make Kanu look like a victim. Then Kanu would draw sympathy from everywhere while at the same time looking like a hero who was suffering for the liberation of his clan, thereby, in one fell swoop, mobilizing his base in his support. Masterstroke! Did the strategy work? Oh, he couldn’t ask for more!
After a bitter court struggle that had Nnamdi Kanu granted bail but being refused time and again by the government, the casting of Nnamdi into martyr mode was complete. Asked on national TV why Nnamdi Kanu was repeatedly denied bail after the courts ordered his release, an obviously irritated Buhari went into a tirade against Kanu’s person. That was the greatest PR Nnamdi Kanu could ever ask for. Successive court cases became primetime news materials and his number of disciples swelled tremendously. To make matters worse, the government never did anything to appease the Igbo’s. Once, the President was scheduled to visit their region, only to cancel the meeting needlessly at the last minute. Whereas, after bad weather had prevented him from proceeding to Bauchi on a publicized visit, President Buhari had to make a video where he profusely apologized. What’s worse? The video was made in Hausa! So, while the bail hearing persisted only the government looked bad. Nnamdi Kanu’s real crimes were forgotten.
Kanu was eventually released. With very heavy bail conditions. He has promptly flouted most of them. He received an unbelievable hero’s welcome. On May 30, he ordered all Igbo’s to sit at home in a form of protest. The streets of the major towns in the southeast were so deserted that day, that some Northerners felt they actually needed the Biafrans to “carry their wahala and go”, prompting the infamous eviction order. Testing his popularity further, Kanu has mandated his kin not to vote in the Anambra, or any other election, for that matter, until their destiny was decided in a referendum (a process that is not even in our constitution). Incensed, the concerned governors have threatened Kanu to stay away or be dealt with. He has continued to enjoy his new found status anyway.
Courtesy of the government, Nnamdi Kanu has been catapulted into superstar status. He stands at the cusp of power. He has what even governors, with all their wealth, can’t afford: the people. Kanu’s word is almost law on the streets. Now, even security forces don’t know how to handle him. Arrest him? Trouble. Ignore him? More trouble. One day, the government would think it has had enough, and call his bluff, and rearrest him. Or he would have his day in court, and stay in jail. The outcome can only better be imagined. His people have been killed. It hasn’t weakened the movement. In fact, nothing seems likely to slow IPOB down now. With no plan other than a request for their own country, the movement has swelled. And in the east, Nnamdi is king.
Whatever were his initial intents, Nnamdi Kanu is now in power. And that, without an election. Actually, he didn’t need one. All he needed was what the government did to him. Nothing more. His highly successful sit-at-home order has promoted him beyond the realm of governors. He has people willing to die protecting him. People climb all sorts of ridiculous heights just to catch a glimpse of him wherever he goes on his “state visits”. He walks large. He walks tall.
Many forget that Nnamdi Kanu committed crimes against the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But in exchange, Nigeria had made Kanu an overnight sensation. Nnamdi Kanu is even yet to defend himself in court. But that does not matter anymore now. Nnamdi Kanu has tasted the wine of power. This wine has a habit of not letting its drinkards go. And Nnamdi Kanu will only want more.