President Buhari
President Buhari, Biafra flag

Uche Chris

The crisis in the south east region of the country orchestrated by the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, is entering a dangerous phase that will severely destabilize the region, and undermine the legitimacy of President Buhari and his government.

IPOB’s threat to imposed a lockdown on the region for a month if the government fails to produce their leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, on the next court hearing date of October 21, 2021, should not be dismissed as usual, because it portends serious implications for the government.
Although this call may be a shot in the dark given government rigidity and lack of tact in handling such issues, however, this particular situation with IPOB is deserving of some creative strategy and different approach, because in the end government will be the loser. It is like fighting with a man who is already down; any outcome is a victory for him.

It was the same mistake government made with the Islamic movement in Nigeria, IMN, when, even though proscribed, continued to defy government until they got their wish, which was the release of their leader, Sheik El Zakzakky and his wife. In the end government was the loser, as it failed to curtail their processions right under its noses in Abuja.

As predictable as President Buhari is in handling such issues, he should expect a bloody nose if he sticks to his well-worn path of jack-boot tactic of political engagement with dissident groups and agitators. This is a litmus test that will define the integrity, sensitivity and legitimacy of his government in relation to the Igbo.

IPOB has demonstrated capacity to imposed its will and mandate on the region, even in the face of massive deployment of violent force against it. For several weeks now the south east has been on partial lockdown every Monday on the directive of the group even after it had been apparent called off.

It will take a total declaration of war against the group to stop and stifle its threat, and government has proved incapable of enforcing its position over that of IPOB. So, in the end, it is IPOB’s position that will prevail; even a partial observance of its order is a massive victory.

Like Boko Haram, government actions have radicalized the group, which started as a nonviolent; and no force can stop a people, who are ready to die for their cause. Government should be careful of opening another insurgency in the region, which may portend danger for the nation.
Government may want to use this as a pretext to destroy south east economy, but it should realize that the wealth of the south east is not within the region. That is the lesson from the apparent success of IPOB because it is a world-wide movement.

Government has not shown moral superiority in dealing with opposition and agitators. You do not break the law to enforce it; that is Machiavellian and has no place in modern democracy for whatever it is worth. Fundamental rights are the foundations of any democracy and its violation without legitimate cause and opportunity for redress before the court is descent to dictatorship.

This behaviour by government has been repeated so many times that it is difficult for government to appeal to rule of law, as justification for its actions. Kanu, like El Zakzakky, may have broken the law as defined by government, but they are entitled to a fair trial, which includes, right to their counsel of choice, appearance at trial, which is now the bone of contention, and right to bail, as may be determined by the court.

Government cannot be a judge and jury; it is the reason we have separationof powers.Government cannot lock up a citizen indefinitely at its own discretion without the authority of the court. It is even executive rascality for it to defy court decision to release accused persons on bail, as it has done in the cases of Col. Dasuki and Zakzakky.

Even the mode of bringing Kanu back to the country raises serious question and doubt over government’s commitment to rule of law and justice; because an illegal means cannot produce a legal and just end.As Lawyers are wont to say, you can’t build something on nothing.

Obviously, government has boxed itself into a corner; bringing Kanu back in the manner it did was a terrible mistake and strategic failure. What was the strategic objective? It may seem a personal policy success for President Buhari and his minders, but it was a huge political blunder that will dog the administration till its leaves office as long as the trial lasts.

The purported damage Kanu was doing to the image of government abroad will not compare to the political liability he will become to government going forward, because every court day will be a reminder of the high-handedness and criminal nature of his arrest, trial and treatment, which will further embolden his supporters home and abroad.

It is a pyrrhic victory that only appeals to ego and hubris. This could have been avoided because government will suffer more bad publicity with him in Nigeria facing trial than outside, especially if IPOB make good the threat. Unfortunately, bringing Kanu to court will be a victory for IPOB, as its members and other co-travelers and political jobbers will capitalize on the opportunity to further damage government image.

IMN has provided a civil template to demonise government for perceived unjust actions.Government may have the law on its side but it does not have morality and public perception, which are superior to law in the eye of the people.