His question as we watched provided inspiration for this piece. He asked me the meaning of the word ‘genocide’ and as he rose to get a dictionary, my mind went to the address by two eminent Igbo sons last week, Chukwuma Soludo and Patrick Utomi, demanding the release of Nnamdi Kanu, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader. My son’s question was, “Can we call the civil war a genocide?” This set me thinking as I know that while the word has been used especially for the massacre at Asaba during the civil war, it appears Nigerians are reluctant in calling the war a genocide.
While this is not a treatise on the war, it appears that it remains a ghost that keeps haunting our country. Particularly viewed against the backdrop of the fact that two of our presidents since the commencement of our democratic journey in 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari, were active players in the war, a fact they also drum up anytime issues of restructuring are raised, we cannot wish Biafra away. Enter Nnamdi Kanu, who I never took serious when he started his agitation. The bile and hateful words he spewed on Radio Biafra were so offensive that I could not listen to them whenever I got the audio files. Like some Nigerians, I dismissed his cause as one that would fizzle away.
But I was wrong. After his arrest by DSS men in October 2015, it was shocking to see the number of Igbo intelligentsia that believe in the cause and actually support him. The subsequent court appearances and protests for his release affirmed this. Even when we discountenance his laughable appearance for court sessions in Jewish prayer shawls and skullcaps, Kanu remains a rallying point for disaffected Ibo who have issues with the Nigerian state. Yes, it is doubtful if there is a nationality that does not have their own issues with our country but Kanu has been able to elevate his peoples’ own to a level that others must take interest.
So watching Soludo and Utomi asking for his release on behalf of Nzuko Ummuna, a group of Igbo professionals, in Abuja last week, his cause came to the front burner again. The duo are not frivolous people and even when some fellow Ibos castigated them accusing Utomi of sour grapes having missed out on being selected to serve in Buhari’s cabinet, nearly two years after; and Soludo of kick starting his governorship ambition in Anambra State, as if it is not his right to aspire to such position; their call is sensible. I actually discovered that last week was not the first time that Soludo would ask for Kanu’s release, he actually did so in October last year at a public presentation of a book, The Politics of Biafra and the Future of Nigeria in Abuja. So, it is wrong to accuse him of seeking to profit from the situation.
This column has called out the Buhari government for the serial disobedience of court orders especially as it concerned Kanu, Sambo Dasuki, and El Zakzakky, disobedience that might not go away considering the clear bias the president demonstrated when he was asked about Kanu’s own during the only presidential media chat we’ve had so far. Good enough that the new chief justice raised disobedience to court orders at his confirmation hearing and the first public appearance after he was confirmed as an impediment to development in our country. Hopefully, he will come out more forcefully against this.
Kanu’s matter is complicated more by a judgment of Justice Binta Nyako, which refused him and two others bail last December. So how do the government go about solving this issue? Further, why can’t IPOB too examine other options to agitate for its cause? What about their elected officials at the National Assembly? What happens if they get their wish of a new country called Biafra? This column has consistently canvassed for a united Nigeria and so I do not support calls for dismembering the country, but I’m just one out of millions who do not share that view. So we must listen to those who think differently and assuage their fears. And that’s why it is painful that APC, which promised to restructure Nigeria during campaign in 2015, is seemingly not interested in the issue again. As there are agitations in other parts of Nigeria as well, we need to sit down and discuss whether we want to continue or part ways.
One of my former editors at The Guardian turned 60 on February 15 and a group of us got together to celebrate him at a dinner a week after. I consider it a privilege to have worked under him, as he is a man of honour in all ramifications who sees journalism as a calling and an editor’s position as sacrosanct, not to be debased with filthy lucre. Men like him are increasingly rare in Nigerian journalism today, a reason why he should be celebrated more. Glad to see him looking refreshed and well rested from the furnace of a newsroom with his wife and family in tow. These were the ones who bore the brunt of an absentee husband and father while he was on the sub desk and later title editor. Happy Birthday, oga.
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