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Nnamdi Kanu’s Trial And A Roadmap For Enduring Peace In Nigeria’s South East

July 24, 2021

By Richard Mammah

Chairman of the Governors Forum Gov. David Umahi of Ebonyi State .Photo courtesy

The recent arrest and return to trial of the leader of the Independent People of Biafra, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has understandably raised the tempo and temper of discussions on the relations between Nigerians of Igbo descent and the mainstream Federal Government in the country.

Kanu, who had been undergoing trial in the country and was granted bail by the Federal High Court on medical grounds in April 2017 had before his current incarceration been living outside the country, following his flight to exile in the aftermath of a raid by the Nigerian military on his ancestral home in Abia State on September 14, 2017.

As the country awaits the resumption of his trial on July 26, the interval is being taken up by questions of how and where he was apprehended as well as his current state of health. However, the bigger issue remains: what is the potential effect of his trial on the South East question?

Indeed, in recent months, the Nigerian polity has been further inflamed by acts of insecurity related to the South Eastern part of the country.

Hitherto considered as one of the most peaceful regions in the country, it has however come to experience some of the extenuating crisis of insecurity that has sadly now almost become the standard fare across the country.

While the federal authorities are pointing almost every finger in the direction of Nnamdi Kanu and the Independent People of Biafra, along with their associated Eastern Security Network, ESN, other rounded observers and commentators say that the origins and dimensions of the crisis are indeed much deeper and broader, and proceeding from this they equally canvass that a rounded bouquet of solutions should be put on the table.

According to Abia Onyike of the Ala Igbo Foundation, the roots of the crisis clearly lie above the surface and as such its resolution should also be more than ankle-deep. His first charge is for the formal elected political authority in the region.

‘The South East Governors should be sincere in their commitment to the security of their region. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Governors Forum,  Gov. David Umahi of Ebonyi state has not demonstrated such sincerity of purpose. People see him as talking from both sides of his mouth. For instance, he claims that there are laws banning open grazing in the South East. That is false. Only in Imo State was the law made during the Government of former Governor Achike Udenwa. But the law is rendered comatose as it is not being implemented. The other four states in the South-East, namely Abia, Enugu, Anambra and Ebonyi have no such laws as their State Houses of Assembly are yet to pass such laws. Passing the anti-open grazing law will help to checkmate the murderous activities of the FULANI Herdsmen in the South East, where the forests of  over 700 villages are currently  occupied by the AK-47 wielding Herdsmen.’

Going beyond the governors and appreciating the practical reality that the Nigerian constitutional and political structure today literally vests about all practical security functions at the federal tier of governance, Onyike then directs his attention to that tier:

‘The Federal Government headed by PMB should adopt the path of dialogue in dealing with the IPOB and other self-determination groups in the zone. After all, it was Buhari’s separatist style of governance and his anti-Igbo policies that gave rise to the renewed agitation for the restoration of Biafra since 2015. The youths can be assuaged if the Government can engage the leaders of these groups like Nnamdi Kanu of MASSOB and Uwazurike of MASSOB.’

Not done, the former aide of the Ebonyi State Governor, also appreciates the need for attention to yet be placed on one particular banana peel scenario that is related to the crisis:

‘The internal political conflict in Imo State which led to the imposition of Hope Uzodinma as the Governor of Imo State by the Supreme Court is at the heart of the security crisis in Igboland today. That is why it would appear that Imo State is a major flashpoint of the crises. There should be a way of resolving the problem, otherwise the youths seem hell-bent on resisting the Government of Uzodinma.’

The arrest of Nnamdi Kanu is generating fresh tensions in the polity

Some other commentators have linked the crisis to the agitation for a President of Igbo extraction in the forthcoming 2023 polls. While everything could be said to be somewhat contextually inter-linked in the current Nigerian political playfield, the continued insistence by IPOB that its sights are set on a referendum to initiate the excision of the South East from the present Nigeria to bring into birth the State of Biafra continues to delegitimize this link. Indeed, the same IPOB has also been known to canvass the boycott of several lower level elections within the South East.

What is however not in doubt at the moment however is that a lot of attention continues to be placed on the Nnamdi Kanu challenge. Since his arrest for example, the nation has come to be seemingly divided between those who see him as the problem and therefore desire his expeditious trial and sentencing and those who caution that beyond Kanu, the nation does have a basket of problems to resolve and that any attempts to reduce the myriad of challenges in the country to a Kanu challenge would very clearly not achieve much. But it remains to be seen if good and better sense would prevail at the end of the day.

*Culled from July Issue of PAV Magazine

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