If the Nigerian government’s present stance toward the demand for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, the founder and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is any indication, the plights, worries, and despair of Southeast citizens and Ndigbo are far from ended.
This is due to the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration’s apparent silence and indifference in the face of ongoing calls and violent protests in the Southeast for Kanu’s release, who has been held as a prisoner of conscience since June 2021.
Kanu’s arrest followed his spectacular rendition from Kenya. During the former Muhammadu Buhari presidency, he was then thrown into a Department of State Services (DSS) cell.
Kanu was arrested abroad and brought back to face 15 counts of terrorism-related accusations, according to the then-Buhari administration. While many, particularly critics, applauded the government’s move, claiming that Kanu’s rhetoric exacerbates ethnic tensions and threatens national unity, others argued that the IPOB leader was simply advocating for the rights of the marginalized Igbo people and drawing attention to perceived injustices they face within Nigeria.
During the polarized debate over Nnamdi Kanu’s imprisonment, a protracted court battle erupted between the IPOB leader’s legal team and the federal government of Nigeria.
In October 2022, the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court discharged and ordered Kanu’s release, alleging the government’s lack of jurisdiction to prosecute the IPOB as a result of a flawed extradition process.
The administration, however, defiantly rejected the ruling and persuaded the Appeal Court to reverse itself by placing a stay-of-execution order on its judgment.
Nnamdi Kanu has been incarcerated for two years, and the FG appears unconcerned about resolving the IPOB founder’s case quickly.
Prominent Igbo leaders and foreign organizations had appealed with the government to release Kanu, but their requests were ignored.
This circumstance prompted calls for segregation against the Igbos throughout the Buhari presidency. And this put the southeast in double risk, as armed gangs wreaked havoc on government officials while instilling panic in innocent inhabitants through enforced routine sit-at-home orders.
According to the Gist House, these heinous atrocities have paralyzed the region’s economic, political, and social operations.
However, the inauguration of the Tinubu administration on May 29, 2023, has not only sparked hope that the Igbos will be treated equitably by his administration, but it has also reignited cries and pressures for Nnamdi Kanu’s release.
On the release of Nnamdi Kanu, Tinubu has had meetings with numerous concerned parties, including Governors Charles Soludo of Anambra State and Peter Mbah of Enugu State, as well as the President-General of the largest Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohaneze Ndigbo.
Governor Mbah said last week, following a closed-door meeting with the President in Abuja, that he requested President Tinubu to give careful thought to extending a hand of fellowship to the South-East people through Kanu’s release.
Mbah stated that the South East associated with President Tinubu’s vow to bring about national reconciliation and compassionate service to the country.
“So, basically, we’ve informed him that this would serve as a pointer to his administration’s extension of hands of fellowship,” the Governor explained.
In the same line, former army colonel Hassan Stan-Labo, a security specialist, joined the chorus of calls on President Tinubu on Wednesday to release Kanu and put an end to escalating instability in the southeast.
During an interview, Stan-Labo warned that Kanu’s protracted arrest will turn him into a hero.
“Frankly speaking, further incarceration of Kanu will only make him more and more relevant, only heightens hero worship over him,” he remarked.
In addition, Nnamdi Kanu’s Special Counsel, Aloy Ejimakor, encouraged Tinubu not to behave like his predecessor, who used calls for self-determination as a personal vendetta against Kanu.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Ejimakor stated that Kanu’s self-determination was against the Nigerian state, not Tinubu.
“The right to self-determination is not a personal right.” It is a demand made of the Nigerian state, not of its president. Buhari took it personally, to the extent of being assassinated and kidnapped for it. President Tinubu should be wise enough not to make the same error twice. RONU.
“If you are offended by INJUSTICE, regardless of tribal affiliation, speak out for the immediate release of MAZI NNAMDI KANU and all other prisoners of conscience that President Tinubu (@officialABAT) inherited from Buhari.” Your silence is not priceless. Please raise your voice! “Thank you,” Ejimakor wrote in his tweet.
Simon Ekpa, a tough-talking Finland-based Biafra agitator and self-proclaimed disciple of Kanu, dismissed moves by southeast governors to end the routine Monday sit-at-home and ordered a one-week lockdown of the southeast region in protest of the IPOB leader’s continued detention.
Even with the painful consequences of these lockdowns on residents, Ekpa and his allies insist on it and will go on the offensive against anyone who discourages people from obeying the sit-at-home order.
The seven-day lockdown, which started Day 4 on Thursday, is causing concern throughout the southeast. On Tuesday, armed hoodlums who were allegedly executing the sit-at-home order set fire to a police van in Ukwagba village and shot intermittently in an attempt to terrify locals away from ever coming out.
The hoodlums assaulted the Ukwagba police roadblock and ordered policemen to leave, then set fire to the police vehicle. They also attacked the Ishieke police roadblock and fired intermittently, sending officers in the vicinity fleeing for their life.
Furthermore, the hoodlums allegedly stormed the Afiaohu market, which is located along the Abakaliki/Enugu Express, and allegedly fired into the air to force market vendors to leave, leaving their merchandise behind.
On Wednesday, residents in Enugu state were again thrown into considerable stress and dread when unknown gunmen reportedly traveled throughout different parts of the state to implement Ekpa’s one-week sit-at-home order.
According to the Gist House, the gunmen drove in a Siena car as well as tricycles, shooting intermittently towards the State’s New Market axis, Artisan, Emene, New Haven, Abakpa, Agbani Road, and NOWAS.
Imo State has not been left out, with gunmen storming various locations to order citizens to return home.
Despite the bloodshed, protests in the southeast, and fervent calls for Kanu’s release, the Nigerian government’s body language remains unaffected, as President Tinubu has kept his lips clenched in the face of the varying clamours. As a result, Nigerians have come up with even more reasons why the MNK should be released.
According to Monday Ubani, Chairman, Section of Public Interest and Development (SPIDEL) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), MNK’s continued detention is not only concerning, but also a strong indicator that judges are no longer concerned with problems of citizen liberty.
“The issue of an individual’s independence is critical. “Perhaps I will recommend that some of our justices go to prison for one month and lose their freedom to understand why the enforcement of an individual’s fundamental human rights should be taken seriously,” Ubani told the Gist House.
“There was a time when you could file a fundamental human rights suit and get an expedited hearing,” he noted. But now you file a fundamental rights complaint or even a bail application because the person has not been convicted and has been detained for months. And the justices have no desire to offer freedom to someone who has not been convicted.
“Nnamdi Kanu has been imprisoned for nearly two years. And there is no rush on the part of the judges to get this subject resolved.
“As a result, I join the call for the President to find a political solution and hand over Nnamdi Kanu to Igbo leaders and stakeholders in the Southeast with the understanding that Nnamdi Kanu will keep the peace.” Nnamdi Kanu, I believe, has learned his lesson.
“We need to restore sanity in the southeast because some criminals are taking advantage of Nnamdi Kanu’s incarceration to cause havoc in the eastern region, blaming Kanu’s incarceration.”
“One solution is to release Kanu so that we can now apprehend the criminals who are wreaking havoc in the southeast.” I believe that the President should free MNK and find a political solution to this matter in order to reconcile and heal Nigeria’s scars, rather than allowing the young guy to remain in prison even if he has not been found accountable. As a result, the judiciary must live up to expectations,” Ubani stated.
Also, Sonnie Ekwowusi, a legal practitioner and Chairman of the African Bar Association’s Human Rights Committee, urged President Tinubu to put a stop to any region in Nigeria that lacks decent governance.
“Due to injustices, individuals and groups advocate for Nigeria’s disintegration.” Injustice enrages people and causes them to split off, as seen in the instance of MNK, which advocated for self-determination for the southeast region but was imprisoned by the Buhari administration.
“The African Charter recognizes self-determination.” MNK did not conduct any crimes worse than those committed by Fulani herdsmen in other parts of the country. Despite this, no one has prosecuted the Fulani herdsmen.
“People are calling on the Tinubu administration to demonstrate inclusion, balance, and a no-victory-no-vanquish stance by first releasing Kanu.”
“The President should also ensure that Nigeria has true federalism.” He should instill a sense of belonging in every location. And with these, more Nigerians will be at ease with his administration,” Ekwowusi added.