By Reuben Abati
When a few weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that those who seek to overwhelm and undermine the Nigerian state would soon be spoken to in the language that they will understand, this was immediately interpreted to serve as a signal of a declaration of war against the people of the South East because the President spoke in the context of war, as he referred to the civil war of 1967 -70.
Subsequently, the President made it clear that the language of engagement would be communicated not just in the South East, but in every part of the country including the North West and North East and elsewhere in the country where attempts are being made to sabotage the sovereignty of Nigeria, and the government’s responsibility to ensure the security and welfare of the people.
Last week, Nigeria found itself in the grips of a security turmoil, and that promised confrontation with “language.” Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and founder of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), two organisations promoting separatism or secession and committed to the actualization of a Republic of Biafra to be carved out of Nigeria, was intercepted, re-arrested/extradited, and rendered Nicodemously, back to Nigerian soil. Nigerians got to know about the operation through a press conference by the Attorney General of the Federation/Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN who disclosed that Kanu was intercepted with the help of intelligence and security services. Kanu was re-arraigned in court on Tuesday, June 29.
The presiding Justice ordered that he should be remanded in the custody of the Department of State Services until July 26. Second incident: in Soka, Ibadan, DSS officials stormed the home of Chief Sunday Adeyemo, a.k.a, Sunday Igboho, the Yoruba co-promoter of the idea of an Oduduwa Nation, a modern-day defender of Yoruba territory against the incursion of criminally-minded Fulani herdsmen into the South West. The DSS has since declared Igboho a wanted man. He has reportedly said nobody can intimidate him, because he has not committed any crime and that he is in his house despite the attack on him, his aides and his properties by State Security. Third incident: the brusque manner in which the Nigeria Police put an end to the Yoruba Nation rally at the Freedom Square, Ojota, Lagos, on Saturday, July 3. Not only did the Police block the people’s right to protest (which is condemnable), the life of a young lady was snuffed out, according to one account by a stray bullet, but the police insist that she died from a knife-stab. She did not deserve to die.
These three incidents can be taken as an indication of “the language” that the President recently spoke about. It is the language of power, in form of an affirmation of the supremacy of the state. The only problem is the politics of it, the tone, nature and fall-outs and how the Nigerian government is doing the right thing in a wrong, untidy and controversial manner. What is right? And what is wrong? The Buhari administration has consistently insisted on the sovereignty of Nigeria, its indivisibility and indissolubility in line with the Preamble of the 1999 Constitution and Section 2(1) thereof, in addition to its resolve to uphold the same principles and provisions. In the face of calls for secession, restructuring and a referendum on the future of Nigeria and the state of the Union, government spokespersons have argued that whereas the Constitution can be amended, and the country can be restructured, as the people wish, this has to be done through the legislature, and not outside the extant Constitutional framework. Those who insist that the 1999 Constitution is a “military invention” and not a “Peoples Constitution” have also been told that the latter which they seek through a referendum, without the National Assembly would amount to an unconstitutional proposition. There is no provision for a people’s referendum, or any contemplation of secession or separation by any part of the Federation known as Nigeria, in the 1999 Constitution.
This is the source of the difference between the separatist groups led by the likes of Chief Sunday Adeyemo and Nnamdi Kanu and other ethnic nationalists. The latter argue that Nigeria’s 1914 amalgamation has since expired and since government is not prepared to re-negotiate the terms of the union, in the face of so much injustice, mis-governance and inequity in the land, it is better for those aggrieved groups within the Federation to re-define their own destiny. Self-determination is a universally recognised right under Articles 1(2) and 55 of the United Nations Charter. The Nigerian Government has been careful not to openly use that phrase, self-determination, but it rails against any effort to achieve that objective through the means of violence, or deliberate mobilisation to undermine Nigeria. “No responsible government will fold its arms” and allow non-state actors to overwhelm it is the common phrase we hear. Or something like the government’s responsibility to defend the rule of law or that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. This is of course readily dismissed as hypocritical by those who accuse the Nigerian government of having no regard whatsoever for the rule of law, and hence no moral high ground to stand upon.
Sunday Igboho is committed to the actualization of an Oduduwa Nation, which means the South West of Nigeria pulling out of the Nigerian Federation. He also defends the Yoruba territory. He has led rallies across the South West, in Ibadan, Osogbo, Akure, Abeokuta, Ado Ekiti to sensitize and mobilize the people. The proposed Oduduwa Nation has its own anthem and a national flag. The latest rally was scheduled for Lagos, July 3. Two days earlier, the DSS attacked Igboho’s residence in Ibadan in the middle of the night. In the case of Nnamdi Kanu, he had been arrested by the Nigerian government in 2015, and taken to court on a nine-count charge of treasonable felony and other offences. IPOB which he leads was later proscribed and declared a terrorist group. In April 2017, Kanu was granted bail, under strict conditions. In September 2017, he jumped bail and became a fugitive from the law. He was declared wanted.
While on the run, Nnamdi Kanu and his associates sustained an attack on Nigeria through propaganda and other organised activities in the South East. Without a doubt, both Igboho and Kanu had become persons of interest to the Nigerian state. Igboho had been invited in the past by the police. There was also an unsuccessful attempt by state agents to kidnap him on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on one occasion. Igboho has remained undeterred. He has pursued his Yoruba Nationalism with gusto. It is not beyond the state to take an interest in him. As for Kanu, what the state has proven in his case is that whereas the will of the state may be slow, it will eventually prevail, and that nobody is above the laws of the land. The argument that Kanu is a British citizen offers neither a defence or immunity under the law. Dual nationality which Nigerian laws recognise does not grant anyone the right to or seek to, overwhelm the Nigerian state and expect the affected state to look the other way.
What is wrong is how Nigeria has handled the two cases in question. Igboho’s house was attacked in the dead of the night, ostensibly without prior notice, in a Gestapo style reminiscent of those locust years of military dictatorship. The DSS claims that its team was attacked as it approached Igboho’s residence. So? In the absence of any prior notice, the DSS team could well have been regarded as intruders coming to do harm. Given his circumstances, any reasonable person would expect Igboho to have security arrangements at his home to keep intruders out. Did the DSS officials identify themselves before approaching the house, like the use of a Public Address system asking Igboho to surrender himself? In trying to assert the might of the state, the DSS adopted extra-legal tactics. Two persons were killed including an aide who was reportedly on a praying mat. Wives, including Igboho’s wife, were carted away, and released later. 13 persons ended up in custody. The vehicles in the compound were sprayed with bullets and damaged. This certainly cannot be a standard security agency operating procedure. DSS said it was acting on a tip off that Igboho was stockpiling arms in his home. The man says the few arms and ammunition that have been paraded do not belong to him. He is a traditionalist he insists, who deploys metaphysical powers. The DSS team was looking for arms, but they also ended up killing and arresting Igboho’s cats. Cats! Ologbo Iya agba. Ologbo Ijeun. Meow, Meow. Pussy Cat. How ridiculous. Did the cats also resist the invasion of Igboho’s residence?
The international community must be having a good laugh at Nigeria’s expense about this cruelty to animals and the ethno-theological assumption that it is possible for Sunday Igboho, a human being, to turn into a cat to escape arrest. The US SEAL Team came all the way to Nigeria in October 2020, on a special security operation to rescue a 27-year-old Philip Walton who had been kidnapped in Niger and brought to Nigeria. It was a precision operation, driven by science and professionalism. Nigerian security agents are always busy looking for fetish objects. Many of our own security agents will be better off joining the Vigilante, the Amotekun, the hunters’ guild or Ebube Agu. Igboho’s cats have not yet been paraded by the DSS. Those cats should also be allowed to have their day in court and their charges properly read out to them. I have no doubts that there will be more than enough lawyers who will take up their matter, pro bono, to make the simple argument that under Nigerian laws, an animal is not a juristic entity. Until that matter is determined, nothing must happen to those cats. Everything must be done to ensure that they do not end up in anybody’s pot of soup as a captured delicacy and spoil of war!
It is this same sloppiness that we have seen in the Kanu case. Ordinarily the matter should not have generated any controversy at all. A man runs away from the law. The law catches up with him. Simple. He should have his day in court. But the whole thing has been turned into something else because of the lack of clarity about the circumstances of his arrest. The Nigerian Government has not even disclosed how and where he was arrested, the international agencies or governments that provided support, and how he was brought back into the country. The secrecy has now given room to needless speculation, confusion, and conspiracy theories. The Kenyan authorities have said for example that he was not arrested in Kenya. Persons close to him insist that not only was he arrested in Kenya, he was also tortured by Kenyan officials before he was handed over to the Nigerian authorities. By doing the right thing wrongly, the Nigerian government is gradually turning the narrative against itself, and turning both Igboho and Kanu into heroes among their supporters, and across ethnic constituencies in the South and the Middle Belt. We have now reached a point whereby Nnamdi Kanu’s supporters in the South East are supporting and defending Sunday Igboho of the South West and vice versa.
The emerging conversation is gradually focussing on due process, the right to self-determination and why in speaking language to power, the Nigerian state has not deemed it necessary to arrest anyone involved in attacks on the sovereignty of Nigeria in the Northern parts of the country. Questions: Can the point be confidently made, that it is only in the South that non-state actors challenging the integrity of the state can be found? How about the Boko Haram and ISWAP in the North East and the bandits in the North West? Only yesterday, Boko Haram reportedly appointed a Governor of its own to oversee parts of Borno State. Why is the government not going after whoever is the co-called Boko Haram Governor? Will he appoint Commissioners too and collect tax? Why are Boko Haram terrorists being approached for negotiation and offered chances of rehabilitation unlike agitators in the South? These are the kind of questions being raised. No government that expects to be taken seriously can afford to lay itself open to such charges of double standards. Other commentators have gone further to insist that what needs to be addressed are the specific issues that continue to throw up non-state actors who question the value of the Nigerian state: these are issues of equity, fairness, justice, good governance and ensuring a collective sense of ownership and belongingness among Nigerians, not through vapid rhetoric but concrete actions. It is not an accident that these latter points are captured in spirit, in the communique issued at the conclusion of the meeting of the 17 Governors of Southern Nigeria held in Lagos on Monday, July 5, 2021.
The Government of Nigeria needs to manage the crisis of confidence it faces. It needs to rebuild trust. It can start by ensuring that the right things are done in an open and just manner, that is fair to all parties concerned. And the security agencies must play their own part by always acting professionally. On Saturday in Lagos, a young lady who was not even part of the Yoruba Nation rally lost her life. In less than 24 hours the Lagos Police Command told the public that no policeman fired any shots at all (something that was seen on television!), and that the victim did not die as a result of gunshot wound (did the police carry out an autopsy to determine the cause of death so fast?). State officials must learn to be truthful, otherwise whatever they do or say will be politicised and treated with doubt and suspicion.