Mahatma Gandhi was the first in modern time to practice ‘sit-at-home’ (‘non-co-operation’ as he called it), in his liberation struggle to free his Indian people from the British colonial yoke. On why he chose sit-at-home (non-co-operation) civil disobedience and resistance in his liberation struggle, Gandhi has this to say:
“I have said that I am a non-co-operator, I call myself a civil resister – and both words have come to possess a bad odour in the English language like so many other English words – but I non-co-operate in order that I may be able to co-operate. I cannot satisfy myself with false co-operation – anything inferior to 24 carats gold. My non-co-operation does not prevent me from being friendly even to Sir Michael O’Dwyer and General Dyer. It harms no one, it is non-co-operation with evil, with an evil system and not with the evil-doer.” – M. Gandhi, “The Essential Writings”, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, p.12).
Gandhi sees “sit-at-home” (non-co-operation) as a potent form of civil disobedience and resistance against an oppressive regime. Speaking on the value of sit-at-home (non-co-operation), Gandhi said:
“Non-co-operation (‘sit-at-home’) has greatly demolished the prestige of law courts and to the extent of the government. The disintegrating process is slowly but surely going on. Its velocity will suffer diminution if violent methods are adopted to hasten it. This Government of ours is armed to the teeth to meet and check forces of violence. How can a handful of Englishmen resist a voluntary expression of opinion accompanied by the voluntary self-denial of thirty crores of people?” – Mahatma Gandhi, “The Essential Writings”, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2008, p.340).
Continuing, Gandhi said:
“It is much to be desired if we can bring about a complete voluntary boycott of law courts. That one even can bring about Swaraj (self-rule, independence). But it was never expected that we would reach completion in any single item of non-co-operation. Public opinion so far developed as to recognize the courts as signs not of our liberty but of our slavery. It has made it practically impossible for lawyers to practice their profession and be called popular leaders.” – Mahatma Gandhi, “The Essential Writings”, Ibid. pp. 339-340).
Many, including friends and foes, agreed that the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu, scored 100% success during their “first” sit-at-home order on Monday, August 9, 2021, in the South East region of Nigeria to protest the illegal way Kanu was forcefully brought back to Nigeria by Buhari led-regime. It was a replica of similar 100% success the pro-Biafra self-determination and independence movement, recorded during their previous sit-at-home last May 30-31, 2021, Remembrance Day, during which they honored the Biafran Fallen Heroes of the Nigeria-Biafra War (1967-1970).
Moreover, even though the leadership of IPOB had suspended the sit-at-home after that of Monday, August 9, 2021, which registered a very huge success, yet the ordinary people themselves, have continued to observe the weekly Monday sit-at-home in the region. This is to pressurize the Nigerian Government for an immediate and unconditional release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB, from the dungeon of Nigeria’s secret police, DSS.
Many people have continued to condemn the crooked way, Nnamdi Kanu was extraordinarily renditioned (abducted), and forcefully brought back to Nigeria by Buhari led-regime in collaboration with their Kenyan counterparts, last June. That is, without the governments of the two African countries respecting the international laws and legal process of extradition of a political fugitive in the person of Kanu.
Mind you, the offense of Nnamdi Kanu, for which Buhari regime is after him, is that he is agitating for the self-determination and independence of his marginalized Biafran people of Eastern Nigeria, which for Buhari regime amounts to committing treason felony. This is despite the fact that self-determination is a fundamental human right of the indigenous peoples. Something recognized by the United Nations’ Conventions, African Union Charters, and indeed all the known laws of the civilized world.
At first, when the news of Kanu’s extraordinary rendition (abduction) filtered into the air, many Nigerians had wanted the Igbo nation and people to go on streets rampage, in protests across the land in solidarity with Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. But that did not happen. The Igbos and other Biafrans had to wait for the appropriate time to react. That right time was what we all witnessed on August 9, 2021, the total compliance of the entire Southeast and parts of South-south geopolitical zones with the sit-at-home order as directed by the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB. It is also what we have been witnessing every Monday since then in the region. As the Bible teaches, ‘There is time for everything under the sun.”
Yes, Biafrans in Diasporas have been protesting in different municipal and cosmopolitan cities of the world, except however, in Nigeria. Because in those other countries the law and security operatives protect the rights of citizens and residents there to assemble and protest, and their freedom of expression, which is not the case in Nigeria. Experience has shown that each time members of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu come out on the streets in the Southeast or anywhere in Nigeria for peaceful protest, with their Biafran flags, they would be visited upon with military and police shootings and killings. After losing several of their members and other Biafrans as a result of military and police brutality during their streets demonstrations, the IPOB leadership decided to restrict their protest, at least for those at home in Biafra, to ‘sit-at-home’, non-co-operation civil disobedience.
Thus, when Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was forcefully, brought back to Nigeria last June by Buhari regime, the Biafrans at home were advised not to engage in any street protests as before, but rather to wait for the right time and further directives from the leadership of IPOB. That when the time comes, they would be told what to do. That time came on August 9th 2021, when the people of the Southeast on their own, without any compulsion, coercion or intimidation, shutdown the entire region with their TOTAL COMPLIANCE with the SIT-AT-HOME Order as directed by the Leadership of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB.
Often, other Nigerians tend to see the Igbo as a proud people, especially because of their naturally endowed openness, republican and egalitarian spirit, and philosophy of life. Thus, the saying, “Igbo enweghi eze” (Igbo have no king). This is so, because, you have to convince an Igbo person, beyond all reasonable doubt, before he/she could agree to follow you. You do not use your position in society to manipulate things and at the same time expect people to respect and obey you as a ruler or king. In fact, to get an Igbo convinced in following or obeying you as a leader, or to buy into your idea, he/she would have seen in you, an epitome of honesty, truthfulness, justice, equity, and fair play, as well as someone who is ready to sacrifice oneself, or die for the common good of the people.
In normal circumstances, it is often very difficult to tell an Igbo man to sit down and he would obey you right away. But Mazi Nnamdi Kanu did that and the people obeyed him voluntarily. Only a person with tested qualifies and values could convince an Igbo, through positive actions and not mere words, to buy into his/her idea. Only a person with such a tested bravery and steadfastness, who has refused to betray his people, come rain come sunshine, can inspire an Igbo for followership and obedience.
Love or hate him, after Dim Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, the Supreme leader of Biafra, there is no other Igbo person, since the end of the war in 1970 that has won the hearts of majority of Biafrans, especially, the Igbo, as Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. If truth be told, Kanu is the only person alive today, after Ojukwu, who has proved himself through action and bravery, as a truly Igbo leader in the present dispensation. His, has shown the world how a true leader emerges among the Igbo. It is at a time of crisis or challenge like ours today, that you know who is a true leader among his people in a typical Igbo society.
This is why Kanu can give such an order like sit-at-home and the people would immediately comply, without any reservation. This is also why, the leadership of IPOB could issue an order for sit-at-home every Monday, for an unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu from the dungeon of Buhari regime, and the people would obey, 100%, without any compulsion or intimidation. It is also for the same reason that the people have continued on their own, without compulsion, to observe the Monday weekly sit-at-home in solidarity with Kanu, to pressurize the Nigerian Government for his unconditional release from the DSS detention. That is how we know who is a true leader among the Igbo. Because, all of them (people) know that Kanu is under persecution by the Nigerian government because he is fighting for justice and liberation of his people.
In other words, the travails of Nnamdi Kanu at the hands of Buhari regime is also that of his Biafran people. It is because of the freedom and independence of Biafra and the Igbo nation, in particular, that Kanu is in detention today in Nigeria, under Buhari regime. This is why his people in Eastern Nigeria (Biafraland) are prepared to suffer with him by sitting-at-home every Monday until he is unconditionally, released from the DSS detention of the Nigerian government.
In a typical Igbo society, a true leader emerges through bravery, steadfastness, consistency, altruism, and life of honesty, justice, truthfulness, as well as total dedication and love of his people for the cause of common good the individual has voluntarily taken upon himself for the people. That is the type of person, the Igbo, would identify with easily, obey, follow or choose as a leader. In other words, what makes one a true leader in Igbo society, is not how wealthy or rich one is. It is not also because one is from a royal, rich or influential family. Not even because the individual is well learned or has connections here and there, both locally and internationally. Being a true leader, for the Igbo, is measured not by how clever one is. It does not also depend on physical appearance or stature, and on whether one is handsome or beautiful looking person. None of these makes one a true leader in a typical Igbo society.
Rather, what makes one a leader, a true and trusted leader of the people, is best summarized in the Igbo wisdom saying, “Iji-Ogu na ofo.” That is, the Igbo aphorism “Ejim Ofo na Ogu.” The Igbo cosmology and worldview, ‘Iji-Ogu na ofo’, represents the following leadership qualities (or sublime virtues) of integrity, innocence, truthfulness, trust, honesty, etc.
This is the background for appreciating the saying, ‘Igbo enweghi eze’ (Igbo have no king). It is an Igbo saying, embedded in what social anthropologists have come to refer to, as the dispersal or rather autonomous-community pattern of political organization in traditional Igbo society. Recently, experts in African studies speak of two principal patterns of societal organization in traditional African society.
There are, 1) societies organized with dispersal of authority (autonomous communities), that is authority at the hands of many, and 2) societies with centralized authority, that is, societies structured in form of monarchies, which are either autocratic or oligarchic. Examples are the ancient African Kingdoms, such as the Ganda, the Oyo, Bini, Ashanti, Abomy, Zulu, Kongo, Hausa, and Egba. This form of pattern of societal organization is found also in those Kingdoms such as Mali, Songhai, etc., which were, however, under the influence of Arab-Muslim culture.
However, with regard to the pattern of ‘autonomous’ political societal organization, that is, dispersal authority (authority at the hands of many), typical of the Igbo, it is a societal form of organization found in fairly, populous ethnic groups which are not receptive to a strong centralized authority.
This is the basis for appreciating the present agitation of the Igbo nation and Biafrans in general, for self-determination, autonomy, and independence. The highest punishment you can give to an Igbo is to force him/her to live under ‘a strong centralized authority’ as we have it today in Nigeria. This is why most Igbo see the present Nigerian State governmental structure and geopolitical and economic systems as being anti-Igbo philosophy of life and value system.
The organized pattern of societal organization among the Igbos is the village-group. The village-group is the federation of clans. The clan is composed of the kindreds, and the kindred is made of extended families. The head of the eldest or the principal clan presides over the assemblies of the village-group attended by other heads. But decisions that affect the life of the clans constituting the village-group necessarily involve consultation on family, kindred, and clan levels. Orders, which come from the top without prior discussion or negotiations, are ignored. Hence, the people say, Igbo enweghi eze (Igbo have no king).
The only exception, however, is that a kind of status symbol or aristocratic associations may develop. For instance, the ozo chieftaincy caste (among the Igbo), has a status symbol of success and sign of increasingly political privilege and responsibility. Others are Age Grades and Trade associations. In each case, it is a situation where laws or decisions affecting the society at various levels and in various shades and forms are discussed in meetings of Age Grades, married women, daughters (married to other village-groups), titled men and women, elders (of family, clan, or kindred heads), and so forth. But in all, the society is founded on sacred; and ritual is exercised on various levels by heads of families, kindreds, clans, and village-groups (ancestral cult, common festivals, and related cults at various levels) and by priests of divinities.
Disputes and wars are settled through treaties and agreements, which ensure the safe passage of citizens through others’ territory. The settlements are done through persuasion rather than in coercion. However, the major weakness of this type of societal organization lies in its restrictedness and lack of centralized authority that can help it to withstand external aggression. Such village-groups may be highly vulnerable in defending themselves against a centralized and militant group.
The Nnamdi Kanu Phenomenon
Here enters the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon. It is in time of crisis, especially, when the people are faced with a life-threatening challenge, the struggle for survival, that a charismatic leader, from nowhere, may emerge within the community, to stand on the gap, and defend his people. This is how a true leader emerges in a typical Igbo society. Such an individual is easily, recognized and identified with by the majority, as a true leader of the people.
This is independent of the existing political patterns of societal organization. Because the primary objective of the emergent charismatic leader is not to vie for any political position, but rather as a freedom fighter and defender of his people at that point in time, his primary role is to help liberate his people from the danger at hand. That is, protect and save his people from succumbing to the threats of an invading militant army of their enemy, seen as threatening the collective existence of the people. This is the background for better appreciation of Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon. As long as those conditions of injustice, marginalization, bloodbaths in Nigeria, militating against the collective existence of his Biafran and Igbo people are there, Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon will continue to wag Nigeria in the same way the tail wags the dog.
Therefore, jealousy, envy, and hatred of some individuals apart, Nnamdi Kanu is the only person today, majority of Ndigbo have come to identify with as their true leader in this particular moment of crisis. He is seen by many as someone who has refused to betray or sellout his people and conscience for any financial inducement or threats from the oppressors. In other words, he stands tall as unique and as the principal person, majority of his people have come to identify within their present struggle for survival in the hostile Nigerian State. This is because of what they have seen in him, his endurance in his chosen vocation as a freedom fighter and political activist in the struggle of the people for survival in this time of crisis in the land.
This includes the persecutions, intimidation, torture and all kinds of suffering Kanu has continued to endure at the hands of the Nigerian government because, he is standing up for his people at a time like this. Such show of bravery and steadfastness at a time of crisis, on behalf of one’s persecuted or suffering people, is what makes a true leader in a typical Igbo society, very unique. In recent times, no other person has achieved that status among the Igbo and the entire Biafran people, that is, after Ojukwu than Nnamdi Kanu. In fact, after Ojukwu, no other person has done it to the extent and level of single-mindedness, determination, and steadfastness, Nnamdi Kanu has and is doing it today, for the people.
Sit-at-home as a Powerful Means of Civil Disobedience
By introducing the sit-at-home order as a form of civil disobedience and strategy in their agitation for Biafra self-determination and independence, Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB developed one of the most potent ways of responding to Nigerian government’s use of violence, military, and police brutality, and recklessness towards unarmed protesting young people. Like Mahatma Gandhi of India, Nnamdi Kanu the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB discovered that sit-at-home is more potent than using arms to fight the state or rather tyrant regime. Gandhi had used it to send packing the colonialist British from India. The Southern Cameroun (Ambazonians) freedom fighters are using it too, and it is today hitting hard on Paul Biya’s Francophone-controlled central government of Cameroun.
Love or hate him, one of the greatest contributions of Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB pro-Biafra movement, in the struggle for self-determination of the indigenous people, not only in Nigeria but in today’s Africa, is the introduction of the sit-at-home order as a potent means of civil disobedience. That is, in the struggle of the oppressed indigenous people in an unjust colonial amalgamated African State like Nigeria, for self-determination and independence from the domineering ethnic-group, the British-backed Fulani-controlled Federal Government of Nigeria.
Sit-at-home strategy is inevitable, because, one of the things the government of the Nigerian State is known for all over the world, is its system of maintaining power at all cost through oppression, subjugation, suppression, intimidation, the use of force, and instilling of fear on its own citizens, the common masses. Nnamdi Kanu’s style of sit-at-home in his agitation for referendum for self-determination of his Biafran people has challenged all that. It has opened the eyes of other Nigerians and African youths on how to go about fighting for the freedom of their respective oppressed indigenous ethnic-nationalities in an unjust and oppressive colonial contraption like the Nigerian State. That is, in the struggle of the African people of today for justice and liberation from those who have held them bondage all these years.
The potency of sit-at-home as a way of pressurizing an oppressive regime or government in Africa for self-determination of an oppressed ethnic-group cannot be overestimated. Everybody knows today that many African countries are in dire need of second independence from the domineering ethnic-group/groups and from corrupt politicians been used as local spinoffs by the Western powers and their allies in their neo-colonial project in Africa.
Again, we should not forget, however, the major reason why the IPOB leadership had decided for the Monday Weekly sit-a-home order in Biafra, tagged “Ghost Monday”, especially, in the core Igbo-speaking States of the Southeast. As is already at the public domain and knowledge, IPOB accuses President Muhammadu Buhari’s led regime of having violated Kanu’s fundamental human rights and human dignity. According to IPOB and Kanu’s lawyers, Kanu was illegally, brought back to Nigeria by the Nigerian government in collaboration with its Kenyan counterpart. From Kenya, the Nigerian government forcefully, brought Kanu back to Nigeria on June 17, 2021, against his will, tortured, blindfolded, handcuffed, and chained in the legs. He has since his arrival in Nigeria being detained by the Nigerian Secret Police, Directorate of State Services, DSS, and last time he was supposed to appear in court for his trial, the DSS failed to bring him to court, raising concerns among his supporters of the state of his health and safety over there.
In practical terms, the two countries, Nigeria and Kenya are accused by IPOB and members of Kanu’s family of having violated and bypassed their own (Nigeria and Kenya) respective local laws and the international laws on extradition, in Kanu’s case. The two countries neglected to follow the international laws and legal process of extradition in returning Kanu to Nigeria. According to Kanu’s lawyers, Nigeria and Kenya violated the laws of extradition of three countries and the UN Vienna Conventions. They violated the laws of extradition of the country of abduction (Kenya), the country of citizenship and domicile (Great Britain), and the country of destination (Nigeria). Moreover, Kanu is a British citizen. He had renounced his Nigerian citizenship many years ago. He travelled to Kenya from Great Britain with his British Passport.
The fact is that before IPOB resorted to the sit-at-home order to drive home their demands to the Nigerian authorities, the pro-Biafra group had tried on several occasions of demonstrating peacefully on the streets in their region of Southeastern Nigeria, with their Biafran flags. But each time they come out on the streets to demonstrate, several of their members would be shot and killed by Nigerian security forces, military, and police. The IPOB members would gather in a hall or some other public places to pray and sing songs of praise together as a group, but the military would go there, shoot at them, and in the process kill some. These things have been going on for years now but nobody wants to challenge the government and security operatives for violating the fundamental human rights to public assembly and freedom of expression of these youths in Southeastern Nigeria.
All these contributed to the reason why the pro-Biafra group has now resorted to the sit-at-home strategy to avert being killed and harassed by the Nigerian security forces on the streets. Even as that, the military and police harassment and killings of members of the group haven’t stopped. Rather it has continued to increase on regular basis. Nowadays, it is carried out through illegal abduction, incarceration, and sometimes, extra-judicial killings of these Igbo youths. To cover up their crimes, the Nigerian security personnel would tag whoever they arrest, jail or kill anywhere in the East, as an IPOB-ESN member.
Therefore, what has become clear to whoever cares to know is that the Igbo nation has every reason to be angry against the Nigerian State. The gatekeepers of the Nigerian State, if truth be told, have, since the end of Nigeria-Biafra War in 1970, been running the affairs of Nigeria as if the Igbo are no longer considered equal stakeholders and citizens of the country.
The Nigerian security personnel on their part, have made the Igbo youths the target of their extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrest, secret detention, abduction and so forth. This situation has forced many indigenes of the Igbo nation to migrate to foreign lands, outside their ancestral land, scattered all over the world as a ‘Stateless people’, in search of green pastures and shelter.
This is the reality of the Igbo in Nigeria reality. These are the Igbo, a people known to be the most resourceful and hardworking ethnic-group in Africa, and whose ancestral land are blessed with all kinds of mineral and natural resources you can think of. Today, their situation in Nigeria has forced them to scatter all over the globe, wondering in foreign lands like people without a homeland and state to call their own.
This fact is laid bare by the huge number of the Igbo youths in foreign lands, the Diasporan Igbos we see these days protesting in different municipal and cosmopolitan cities of various countries across the globe demanding for an unconditional release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB, from detention by President Buhari led-regime. The fact is that successive Nigerian governments, both at the federal and state levels since the end of the war in 1970, deliberately decided to make Igboland uninhabitable for millions of Ndigbo.
Often the government at the centre would impose stooges or renegades as State Governors or elected representatives on the people of the Southeast region. These “selected, elected or appointed” States Governors and Parliamentarians from Igboland, often chosen by the powers that be, instead of them running a government that is people-oriented, especially, in the areas of security, social development and welfare of the people, would make themselves tools at the hands of the central government in bringing more hardship on their own people.
The marginalization of the Igbo by the Nigerian State since the end of the war in 1970 is comprehensive, total, and absolute, at the local, state, national, and even at the international levels. It is structural in nature, purpose, and in intent. The Igbo are marginalized in Nigeria in terms of infrastructural development, appointments, job promotions, sitting of factories and companies, in the media, etc.
All these help us to understand why majority of Ndigbo are in solidarity with Kanu, and what he stands for. You cannot beat a child, put him in a mud of water with your foot on his neck, and then ask him not to cry or lament. Such a thing is not only inhuman, it is an evil that must be uprooted from the roots.
This is why one would like to advise the Nigerian Government, to please, dialogue with Nnamdi Kanu and release him unconditionally. The earlier the Nigerian Government look into those demands of Kanu, and begin to engage in a constructive dialogue with him and his Biafran people, the better for us all.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine!
Francis Anekwe Oborji is a Roman Catholic Priest. He lives in Rome where he is a Professor of missiology (mission theology) in a Pontifical University. He runs a column on The Trent. He can be reached by email HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.