The sudden appearance of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, was the major event of the weekend. He was sighted in Israel on Friday. Knowing that there would be doubts over the veracity of the video that showed that he was in Israel, he promised to give an address via Radio Biafra on Sunday evening. And he did. The highlight of his message was that IPOB would not participate in the 2019 elections unless there is a referendum on whether the South-East part of the country will remain in Nigeria or not.
There was nothing out of character in Kanu’s address. If he had changed his mind on election boycott, it would have not been in line with his stance. If he had asked his supporters to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress or Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party or any other candidate, he would have been accused of being bought over.
However, the interesting thing about the election boycott is that the South-East voters will not obey it. Only IPOB members will. But the irony in it is that most members of IPOB did not register to vote or collect their Permanent Voter Card. Therefore, the election boycott by IPOB is hollow, since they were not qualified to vote in the first place. However, the right of IPOB members to boycott the election should be respected.
The reason the South-East voters will not boycott the 2019 elections is that they believe that boycotting the 2019 election is the same as voting for Buhari for another term. The only people, therefore, who will be happy to hear that people from Igboland will boycott the elections are supporters of Buhari and the APC. Even though IPOB has argued that election boycott will force the Nigerian government to grant IPOB the chance to conduct a referendum on Biafra, it is seen as illogical by many Igbo people.
Last year, in spite of the campaign by IPOB for election boycott in the Anambra governorship election, election still held in the state, with the incumbent, Governor Willie Obiano, winning all 21 local government areas. Since after the election and the swearing-in of Obiano for a second term, IPOB has not shown how its boycott made its call for a referendum nearer. The Anambra election was a testimony that the election boycott campaign as a way to achieve the independence of Biafra has never made any sense to the Igbo people.
There is also a feeling among many Igbo people that anybody asking the South-East to boycott the elections is a direct or an indirect agent of Buhari and the APC. The reason is that it is expected that the South-East will vote massively against Buhari. So, an election boycott in the South-East benefits only Buhari. Some have, therefore, begun to ask questions about the sudden appearance of Kanu four months to the presidential election. Since his passport is with the court, how did he find his way out of Nigeria and into Israel? Where has he been since September of 2017 when the military stormed his Afaraukwu residence in Umuahia, the Abia State capital? Where are his parents who were with him at that time of that military invasion called Operation Python Dance, which left some people dead?
However, whatever is the case, Ndigbo will vote en masse in next year’s election, because they will use it to show how they feel about the way the administration has excluded them from the key issues concerning Nigeria and also made them poorer than they were through a mismanagement of the economy. If not for Buhari’s attitude to the South-East, Kanu would not have come to national limelight. He had started his Radio Biafra and campaign for secession in 2012, but he was largely unknown from 2012 to 2015. Even the few people who knew him saw him and his acerbic comments on radio as comic relief. But within a matter of months after Buhari’s entry in 2015, Kanu became known by every Nigerian who followed contemporary issues. In the first few months of his victory and inauguration, Buhari had just made the first 30 of his appointments with no Igbo person named. He had also made his comment about not treating those who gave him 5% vote the same way he would treat those who gave him 97% of votes. The more people complained, the more he carried on with his tribal cronyism.
Having seen Buhari’s discriminatory attitude to the South, especially the South-East, Kanu increased the tempo of his messages about the injustices Nigeria had meted out to Ndigbo and how the Igbo have no hope in Nigeria, except in the Republic of Biafra. His message resonated with a people who had been shown that they were not equal partners in the Nigerian project by their President. Buhari’s attempts to block the transmission of Radio Biafra and arrest Kanu shot up his popularity as a liberator who was being vilified by the task master. When the security operatives began to shoot and kill members of IPOB who were demonstrating without any arms as well as those who were gathered in churches and on school premises to pray, the sympathies of the Igbo people moved towards IPOB as a non-violent organisation whose members were being killed over their inalienable right to self-determination.
Therefore, when the South-East complied with the sit-at-home directives from Kanu on certain days, it was not because they agreed with everything he was saying. It was because they felt it was proper to remember their compatriots who died during the Nigerian-Biafran War. Such is done in Israel to remember the Holocaust as well as in Rwanda to remember the Rwandan Genocide and in the United States to remember to Twin Tower terrorist attack. So, why should that of the South-East be different? In addition, the threats issued by security operatives over such sit-at-home directives and the high deployment of military personnel and vehicles usually create fear in the minds of residents in the South-East that they could be killed if they stepped out. So, the military ended up helping to make the sit-at-home more effective.
However, the 2019 elections are a referendum on Buhari. The people of the South-East will be concerned about registering their feelings about the administration of Buhari through their votes. The choice of Mr Peter Obi as the running mate of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party is secondary. Similarly, in all parts of Nigeria, voters will either vote Yes or No to Buhari’s administration. The presence of Atiku as the PDP candidate is also secondary. If Buhari had lived up to expectation, the 2019 elections would have been to fulfil all righteousness. On the contrary, it will be one of the most keenly contested elections in Nigeria’s recent history, because Buhari evokes passion in people: passionate opposition or passionate support.
Therefore, Kanu does not have the capacity to convince the voters in the South-East to remain aloof in the elections of next year. The republican worldview of the Igbo does not accept such. For the Igbo to obey the directive of any living mortal like that, they have to have a compelling reason.
Another point is that now that Kanu has been confirmed alive but unwilling to return to Nigeria, the people who will be no longer at ease are those who stood surety for him, especially Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe. Kanu claimed that he was spirited out of Nigeria because his life was under threat from the Nigerian soldiers who invaded his house last year. His argument is that if he returns, his life cannot be guaranteed. It is now left for his sureties to prove their case in court and wriggle themselves out or face the pronouncement of the court.
Finally, the 2019 elections will attract a huge turnout of voters. The only fear is what role the security operatives will play. Will they stay unbiased or will they intimidate voters not to vote as they were accused of doing in the Osun run-off election? We have less than four months to find out.