The struggles, anxieties, and despair of Southeast residents and Ndigbo are far from ended, if the Nigerian government’s present stance toward the call for Nnamdi Kanu’s release, the IPOB’s founder and leader, is anything to go by.
This is because Kanu, who has been held as a prisoner of conscience since June 2021, continues to receive requests for his release and is the target of violent protests in the Southeast, but the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration appears to be taking no action.
Kanu’s detention came after his extraordinary rendition from Kenya. He was then thrown into the Department of State Services (DSS) cell during the former Muhammadu Buhari presidency.
According to the then-Buhari administration, Kanu was detained abroad and returned to face 15 counts of terrorism-related crimes. And while many, especially critics, praised the government’s action, claiming that Kanu’s rhetoric exacerbates ethnic tensions and threatens national unity, others contended that the IPOB leader was only defending the rights of the marginalized Igbo people and drawing attention to the perceived injustices they face within Nigeria.
Amid the polarised debate on the detention of Nnamdi Kanu, a long-drawn legal tussle ensued between the IPOB leader’s legal team and the federal government of Nigeria.
And in October 2022, the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court discharged and ordered the release of Kanu, citing that the government lacked jurisdiction to prosecute the IPOB due to a faulty extradition process.
However, the government brazenly rejected the ruling and got the Appeal Court to reverse itself by issuing a stay-of-execution order on its judgement.
Nnamdi Kanu has been detained for two years, and the FG appears uncommitted to bringing the IPOB founder’s case to a swift conclusion.
Prominent Igbo leaders and foreign organisations had pleaded with the government to free Kanu, but their cries went unanswered.
This situation further fueled cries and beliefs of segregation against the Igbos under the then Buhari-administration. And this brought double jeopardy in the southeast, as armed gangs unleashed mayhem on government officials and enthroned terror upon innocent residents through enforced routine sit-at-home orders.
It was earlier reported that these wanton carnages have grounded economic, political and social activities in the region.
However, the advent of the Tinubu government on May 29, 2023, has not only ignited hope that the Igbos would be treated fairly by his government, but also renewed calls and pressures for Nnamdi Kanu’s release.
Barely one month into his administration, Tinubu has had conversions with several concerned groups such as Governors Charles Soludo of Anambra State and Peter Mbah of Enugu State, plus the President-General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo on the release of Nnamdi Kanu.
Last week, Governor Mbah after a closed-door meeting with the President in Abuja, disclosed that he urged President Tinubu to give utmost consideration towards extending a hand of fellowship to the South-East people through the release of Kanu.
Mbah said that the South East identified with President Tinubu’s promise that he’ll engender national healing and serve the country with compassion.
“So, we’ve basically informed him that this would serve as a pointer to his administration’s extension of hands of fellowship,” the Governor said.
In the same vein, retired army officer Hassan Stan-Labo, a security expert, on Wednesday, joined the raging calls on President Tinubu to release Kanu to end rising insecurity in the southeast.
Stan-Labo during an interview warned that the continued detention of Kanu will make him a hero.
“Frankly speaking, further incarceration of Kanu will only make him more and more relevant, only heightens the hero worship over him,” he said.
Also, Aloy Ejimakor, Special Counsel to Nnamdi Kanu, urged Tinubu not to behave like his predecessor who took calls for self-determination as a personal vendetta against Kanu.
Ejimakor in a tweet he made on Wednesday, said Kanu’s self-determination was against the Nigerian State and not Tinubu.
“The demand for self-determination is not personal. It is a demand on the Nigerian State, not against its President. It was Buhari that took it personally to the point that he killed & renditioned for it. President Tinubu should be smart enough not to repeat the same mistake. RONU.
“If you are offended by INJUSTICE, regardless of your tribal affiliation, raise your voice for the immediate release of MAZI NNAMDI KANU and all prisoners of conscience President Tinubu (@officialABAT) inherited from Buhari. Your silence is not golden. Please speak up! Thank you,” Ejimakor’s tweet read.
Amidst the influx of appeals on Tinubu, tough-talking Finland-based Biafra agitator, and self-acclaimed disciple of Kanu, Simon Ekpa dismissed moves by southeast governors to end the routine Monday sit-at-home and ordered a one-week lockdown of the southeast region to protest the IPOB leader’s continued detention.
And even with the harsh consequence of these lockdowns on residents, Ekpa and his supporters insist on it and would go on a warpath with anyone that dissuades people from obeying the sit-at-home order.
The seven-day lockdown which entered Day-4 on Thursday is generating apprehension in the entire southeast. On Tuesday, communities in Ebonyi State were thrown into turmoil as armed hoodlums who were reportedly enforcing the sit-at-home order, set ablaze a police van at Ukwagba village and shot sporadically to scare citizens away from ever coming out.
The hoodlums stormed the Ukwagba police checkpoint and told officers to vacate, and thereafter burnt the police van. They also stormed the Ishieke police checkpoint and shot sporadically which made police officers in the area scamper for their lives.
Furthermore, the hoodlums allegedly raided the Afiaohu market located along Abakaliki/Enugu Express and allegedly shot into the air to force business owners in the market to flee, leaving their wares behind.
Again on Wednesday in Enugu state, the residents were thrown into serious tension and fear as unknown gunmen reportedly moved around many parts of the State to enforce the one-week sit-at-home declared by Ekpa.
The gunmen, who had their faces covered with masks, drove in a Siena vehicle, as well as tricycles, shooting sporadically at the New Market axis of the State, Artisan, Emene, New Haven, Abakpa, Agbani Road and NOWAS.
Imo State has not been left out, with the gunmen also storming several places to force the people back to their homes.
With all the carnage, protests in the southeast, plus passionate appeals for Kanu’s release, the Nigerian government’s body language appears unperturbed, as President Tinubu has maintained sealed lips to the ranging clamours. And this has left Nigerians proffering more reasons why the MNK should be released.
For Monday Ubani, Chairman, Section of Public Interest and Development (SPIDEL) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the continued detention of MNK is not only worrisome but a clear indication that judges are no longer interested in the issues of liberty of citizens.
“Issue of freedom of an individual is very important. Maybe I will recommend that some of our justices should go to prison and spend one month, and lose their freedom, to appreciate why enforcement of fundamental human rights of an individual should be taken seriously,” Ubani told Daily post
He added that, “There was a time when you filed a fundamental human rights suit and got an expeditious hearing. But now you file a fundamental right matter or even bail application, the person has not been convicted and he is there for months. And there is no interest by justices to grant freedom to someone who has not been convicted.
“Nnamdi Kanu has been in prison for almost two years now. And there is no hurry on the part of judges to ensure that this matter is handled.
“So I join in appealing to the President to come up with a political solution and hand over Nnamdi Kanu to Igbo leaders and stakeholders in the Southeast with an agreement that Nnamdi Kanu should maintain the peace. I believe that Nnamdi Kanu has learnt his lesson.
“We need to bring back sanity in the southeast because some criminals are using this opportunity of Nnamdi Kanu’s incarceration to cause havoc in the eastern region citing Kanu’s incarceration as the reason.
“One of the ways to solve this is to release Kanu so we can now get the criminals causing the havoc in the southeast. I think that the President, for the sake of reconciling and healing Nigeria’s wounds, let him release MNK and find a political solution to this problem rather than allow the young man to linger in prison, even when he has not been found culpable. So the judiciary has to live up to expectation,” Ubani said.
Also, Sonnie Ekwowusi, a legal practitioner and Chairman, of the Human Rights Committee of the African Bar Association, admonished President Tinubu to curb the cries of discontent and secession of any region in Nigeria with good governance.
“People and groups agitate for the breakup of Nigeria because of injustices. Injustice angers people and makes them want to go their separate ways, as you can see in the case of MNK who call for self-determination for the southeast region, but ended up being clamped in prison by the Buhari government.
“Self-determination is recognised in the African Charter. MNK did not commit any crime that is worse than what the Fulani herdsmen have been doing in various parts of the country. Yet nobody has prosecuted the Fulani herdsmen.
“People are calling on the Tinubu government to show inclusion, balance and a no-victor-no-vanquish posture by first releasing Kanu.
“The President should also ensure true federalism in Nigeria. He should give every region a sense of belonging. And with these, more Nigerians will be at peace with his government,” Ekwowusi added.