Opinion: How Buhari Made Nnamdi Kanu A Superstar! – By Tony Okoroji

Mazi Nnamdi Okwu Kanu, leader of the banned Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has become an authentic national and possibly, international superstar. Among millions of Nigerians, the word of Kanu, who is not known to hold any government position, is law.

When he asks people from his part of Nigeria to sit at home and not go to work, school or play, the people obey him. They will sit at home, will not go to work or play regardless of what their government says.

These days, when Kanu goes to court in Abuja, hundreds of security men are mounted on his route, the way they line the road in honour of a Head of State. On the record, the security men are stationed to prevent anarchy as thousands of Kanu’s supporters and those suspected to have been recruited by the agents of the state, shout at each other, sing war songs, carry placards and demonstrate.

If anybody had advised the government that putting Kanu in jail would reduce his attraction and influence, that person has not quite studied history. The repeated jailing of Nnamdi Kanu has made him a legitimate and admired activist and freedom fighter, now worshiped by a hoard of followers.

Does anyone recall that the apartheid government in South Africa sought to silence Nelson Mandela by locking him up in several prisons including the infamous Robben Island, for treason? Unfortunately for them, every day of the 27 years Mandela spent in jail, he became a bigger world-wide personality. Mandela left jail to easily become President of a free South Africa and one of the most admired black men ever.

Have we forgotten that the government of General Sani Abacha jailed General Olusegun Obasanjo for treason? Obasanjo left jail to become an elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, serving two terms.

Around the world, there are numerous examples of citizens who have left jail to become leaders of their nations: Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar; Vaclav Havel of Czech Republic; Michelle Bachelet in Chile; Jawaharlal Nehru of India; Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia, etc.

There are others who have not held public office but have had to be immortalized by their nations because of the moral strength and direction they exuded and the price they have paid for their beliefs. This week, the United States celebrated a public holiday marking the birthday of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jnr assassinated in 1968. In Nigeria, June 12 has become a public holiday in honour of the late Moshood Abiola, the winner of the annulled June 12, 1993 elections who died in captivity.

The Buhari/Kanu imbroglio is no longer a legal battle. It has become a mind game. Among many, Kanu is not seen as a criminal but as an activist leader. This week, the nature of the fight became clearer with my good friend, Mike Ezekhome (SAN), a great advocate and a gifted communicator, assuming the leadership of the Kanu defence team. I do not see how the Buhari government can under the present circumstances win the ongoing battle of words and emotions with Nnamdi Kanu’s team. Lead prosecutor, Shaibu Labaran, might be a good lawyer but at the end, it would not matter what the court says. It should be clear that if this government jails Kanu, the next government will release him.

President Buhari was correct when he said in a past independence-day broadcast: “The seeds of violence are planted in people’s heads through words. Reckless utterances of a few have led to losses of many innocent lives and destruction of properties” I will plead with the President that it is not just utterances but also body language and he needs to check whether he has committed the same offence that he preaches against.

I am sure everyone remembers that during his first inauguration, President Buhari said these words: ‘I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody’. The words practically caught fire. Most of my people in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria will swear that Buhari does not belong to them but to only his Fulani kit and kin.

There are many who believe that the President is almost consumed by the ethnic agitators in the South led by Nnamdi Kanu and to some extent, Sunday Adeyemo and appears not to be sufficiently concerned by the gory killing fields in the north, including his home state of Katsina. These killing fields have made hundreds of thousands of our fellow countrymen refugees in their own land. The Nigerian Air force is said to be bombing parts of Nigerian territory in a nation which is technically not at war! Schools are closed in some parts of the north with millions of children at home because nobody can guarantee their safety from bandits. Cell phone networks have been switched off in several parts of the north to deal with what is clearly a horrendous break down of law and order.

The president cannot wash his hands off the transformation of Nnamdi Kalu into a superstar. By his body language and behaviour, he is Kanu’s greatest PR man as he endorses everything that Nnamdi Kanu has complained of to the point that the average young man of Igbo origin has little confidence in whatever Buhari says or does anymore. Most of the people who used to defend Buhari have given up on him because the President has consistently doubled down on issues which are very divisive, once more giving credence to Kanu and his separatist agitation. There are many who will tell you that it is the actions of the government that have made this hitherto unknown individual with a British passport the superstar that he has become in Nigeria, with huge followership, even while in jail.

Even the greatest scientists have yet to find a way to read what is in anyone’s heart or brain. We can only decipher intent from the actions we see. Buhari’s almost fanatical commitment to the herders issue did incredible damage to his trustworthiness as an even handed and fair-minded leader and gave great credibility to Kanu’s Zoo theory of Nigeria. There are many intelligent people who will tell you that but for the constitutional provision requiring every state in Nigeria to produce a minister, there might be no minister of Igbo heritage in Buhari’s cabinet. Please argue with them as much as you can and they will tell you that Buhari has an agenda different from the “One Nigeria” agenda. Ask for evidence and you will be asked if you are crazy. “Action speaks louder than words”, you will be told.

Buhari could have seized the great opportunity offered by the plea of the visiting group of Igbo leaders led by elder statesman, 92-year old, Mbazulike Amaechi and the likes of Chukwuemeka Ezeife and my good friend, Chief Goddy Uwazurike. Releasing Kanu to them would have given Buhari a moral victory. I can guess that there are people who told him that he must get his pound of flesh and he listened to them. Chai!

It is the actions that speak louder than words that have made a previously unknown Mazi Nnamdi Okwu Kanu a super-duper star!

See you next week.

– Okoroji is the chairman of COSON

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