The simultaneous protests by large numbers of people in about three states today, over the arrest and detention of Nnamdi Kanu of the pirate station, Radio Biafra, should be a source of concern to the Nigerian authorities.
I have monitored the reports of the protests in Delta, Anambra and Port-Harcourt and from the pictures I saw, the crowd of protesters came out in large numbers. They call themselves the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra and see Kanu as a hero of sorts.
I have never listened to Radio Biafra and don’t know anything of what they broadcast but a few snippets of online reports I have read about the station show that the content in their broadcast is sometimes inflammatory and not too subtle. Considering that the station aims to sensitise the ‘Biafrans’ about leaving the Nigerian union perhaps peacefully by referendum, it’s quite unwise to spew such vitriol.
But, Kanu and Radio Biafra have antecedents to draw from. There has been a few groups in the history of Nigeria which use secession as a tool for political negotiations and arm twisting.
There’s the Odua Peoples Congress which came to the fore in 1999 first as a firebrand movement which had many skirmishes with the police and threatened to secede from Nigeria with the Yoruba Nation until some sort of rapprochement was worked out by the government and they went into oblivion or rather passive participation in the polity of Nigeria.
The OPC at that time, was seen as the militant arm of the more diplomatic Yoruba groups; Afenifere et al.
There was the Ijaw National Congress which sparked off the fight for resource control in the Niger Delta States and perhaps was in sync with the militant Egbesu groups before the more streamlined MEND came to the fore to fight it’s cause. That fight got the Niger Delta the Presidency, somewhat.
The Arewa Elders and Arewa Consultative Forum have used threats of secession too to get what they want from the government. Even though their own call for secession was more out of exasperation at losing power at the centre for years more than an aggrieved action to leave the union, they still got what they agitated for.
In the case of these Biafran movements, MASSOB and this new IPOB, with Radio Biafra being the information arm, their demands for secession may be seen as being extreme but the vehemence of their demands are not on anyway finding resonance with the people of the South East, so far. By my own observations, the agitation for a Biafran Republic by these groups seem like a symbolic agitation and not a wholly embraced cause.
In the case of the Odua people and the Niger Deltans, the calls for secession were embraced by the regions in almost total support which made the authorities sit up to negotiate. I don’t see that huge groundswell of support in this Biafra cause.
But all that could change with the arrest and intended prosecution of Nnamdi Kanu.
I believe the way the arrest provoked international attention with influential international news media such as Fox News and Reuters among others, giving it a bit of coverage , must have rattled the authorities. And the protests today too must be making them sit up to the reality that there might be something being overlooked in this Biafra cause.
I do not think a Biafra would secede or even succeed and even if it did, it would be only about 5 present states in the South East and a total number of about 40 or 50 million people in a landlocked expanse of land.
I do not think an Oduduwa Republic would secede or even succeed on its own either if it did with its 6 present states in the South West and a population of about 50 million.
Neither would a Niger Delta or South South Republic manage a country on its own with the present scheme of things.
I do not think a Middle Belt would secede or stand on its own.
And I do not think an Arewa Republic, made up of about 10 states in the North East and North West would stand on its own without the oil flow from the Niger Delta area. ( And that’s the hard fact, in my opinion).
What would succeed would be a robust negotiation of how to live together in this union. The 2014 National Conference had the perfect blueprint.
I was at that conference as an archiver, documentarist and chronicler and I can vouch for that final paper as the real solution to the nation ‘s political problems.
The selfish ambitions of the APC ( and I make no bones in saying this) and it’s quest to wrest power at all costs has truncated that Conference. Bola Tinubu, who before the conference, was screaming for true federalism is now mute because of a realised ambition of putting his men at the centre of power in an unwieldy structure which would not promote true federalism in the end.
President Buhari never believed in federalism; if he even knows what it means. His outlook has always been unitary and after all said and done, I’m convinced he’s still an Arewa Child and belongs certainly to some people!
If a Buhari decides to revisit the 2014 Conference Report and implement it, perhaps I would change my opinion.
And so, the likes of Nnamdi Kanu and other regional ethnic groups will keep springing up to fight for whatever their causes are.
Such stirrings would cause a storm if the negotiating table is not brought out soon.
Charles Novia is an award-winning filmmaker. He is founder of November Productions and November Records. Connect with him on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.