By Femi Macaulay
His disappearance looked like a stunt. His reappearance looked like another stunt. An October 19 online video showing the controversial leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, praying in Israel, extended an attention-grabbing drama that began with his disappearance on September 14, 2017. His reappearance 13 months after was as mysterious as his disappearance.
The group’s Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, said in a statement that corroborated the video: ”Fellow Biafrans, friends of Biafra, enemies of Biafra, men and women of goodwill and of good conscience across the world, we wish to reliably inform you that the Supreme Leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, prayed today at the Wailing Wall in the Holy City of David in Jerusalem Live today, October 19, 2018.’’
Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, reinforced the corroboration in a statement: ”I received a direct confirmation from my client, hearing once from him after 13 months in captivity. I am very delighted therefore, to use this singular opportunity to announce to the world that my client is the very person seen in the pictures /video. That I can confirm authoritatively.” Has Kanu been in captivity?
Since Kanu disappeared while on bail, his sureties had been asked to account for his whereabouts, but they seemed not to know. Kanu was granted bail by a Federal High Court on April 25, 2017, after many sympathetic voices had called for his release from prolonged detention for separatist activities. Kanu was facing trial for “alleged offences of conspiracy to commit acts of treasonable felony and other related offences.”
Following Kanu’s disappearance, his lawyers had argued that the Nigerian army authorities should be made to produce him because he allegedly disappeared during an operation by soldiers. The operation was described as “a murderous raid, where live and mortar bullets were fired on unarmed and defenceless people, leaving 28 persons dead.” They had said in their motion: “The invading soldiers who had direct contact with the applicant on this fateful day (September 14, 2017) should be in a position to produce the applicant before the court. It is either the respondent’s rampaging soldiers abducted the applicant during this raid or killed him in the process.” Kanu’s reappearance means that this was an opportunistic claim. A military exercise in the Southeast, “Operation Python Dance,” was ongoing at the time soldiers allegedly invaded Kanu’s house in Afara-Ukwu Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State.
After Kanu disappeared, a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, had supplied information about his whereabouts: ”Kanu was not taken away by the military. Kanu went to Malaysia from where he travelled to the United Kingdom… He was not arrested by anybody. He left the country on his own. One of his relations has spoken to me and explained everything because I wanted to see him and talk to him wherever he was and see how I could meet some Federal Government officials on his issue. I also wanted to see ways of talking to the President about him, and find common ground but his family told me that he has left the country, unless they are lying to me.” Kanu’s group and his lawyers rubbished this information.
An announcement followed: “Mazi Nnamdi Nwanekaenyi Kanu, the former Director of Radio Biafra is hereby dismissed and removed as Director of Radio Biafra following extensive and intensive consultations.” The announcer named one “Mazi Ezenwachukwu Sampson Okwudili as Kanu’s replacement.” Kanu was accused of: “Personalisation of the Biafran struggle and derailing from the core objectives of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a grassroots movement.”
There were other accusations against Kanu: “Kanu’s actions and his decisions to incite members of IPOB towards violence leading to the death of many innocent young people in Onitsha, Aba and Umuahia are totally unacceptable and grossly irresponsible. Kanu privately collected £14 million and another $22 million to purchase landed properties abroad in his name and that of his father, Igwe Israel Kanu, in a clear case of ‘monkey dey work baboon dey chop.’ He was also accused of failing to “drum up support for the release of his colleagues and co-detainees such as Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi.”
IPOB rubbished the reported announcement in a statement: ”For anyone to believe that faceless hitherto unheard of individuals can wake up one evening and announce the replacement of a man that commands 50 million people with presence in over 100 countries of the world, making him only second to Pope Francis as the personality with the largest cult following on earth, is plain stupid.” This characterisation of Kanu was striking for its hyperbolism. Who was expected to believe this picture of Kanu’s alleged global stature?
About three weeks before he disappeared, Kanu was characteristically rebellious when he addressed a crowd on August 27, 2017, at the Boys Technical College (BTC) on Faulks Road in Aba North Local Government Area of Abia State. According to a report, “He used the forum to reiterate that there would not be election in Anambra in November or any part of “Biafra Land” even in 2019, unless the group’s clamour for referendum got the blessings of government.” He was quoted as saying: “I’m a Biafran and we are going to crumble the zoo. Some idiots who are not educated said that they’ll arrest me, and I ask them to come. I’m in Biafra land. If any of them leaves Biafra land alive, know that this is not IPOB.”
Without Kanu, days to the governorship election in Anambra State on November 18, 2017, IPOB was still flexing its muscles. Members of the separatist group marched around with a death threat in Onitsha, Anambra State, on November 3, 2017. They were quoted as saying: “If you vote you will die. Don’t go out, stay in your house. If you vote on November 18, you will die…There will be no election. We will not participate, we will not vote.” The Anambra State governorship election was lost and won, and Kanu was still nowhere to be found.
What will happen now that Kanu has reappeared? According to Kanu’s lawyer, “the shocking tale of how he made it alive once again will be made public in his scheduled world press broadcast to be beamed live” on October 21. It would be interesting to hear what Kanu has to say about what happened, where he has been and why he reappeared at this time.