PMB is governing Nigeria as a military dictator, often forgetting that he was elected, and therefore compelled to always seek the understanding of democratic implications of whatever policy decisions he takes in international relations. His attitudinal disposition in Nigeria’s foreign policy is what we have always called buhariplomacy and this dates back to 1984 when he was a military Head of State, following his ousting of elected President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, on 31 December 1983.
PMB identified Alhaji Umaru Abdulrahman Dikko, who was Minister of Transport under Alhaji Shehu Shagari, as having stolen one billion US dollars (625 million pounds Sterling). Umaru Dikko fled to the United Kingdom to escape arrest, but PMB also decided to engage the policy hot pursuit in arresting him. In doing this, he engaged the services of some Israelis, in particular, an Israeli anaesthetist, Alexander Barak, who was a former Mossad agent, to lead the kidnap team. The team included a Nigerian intelligence officer, Major Mohammed Yusufu and two other Israeli nationals, Felix Abitbol and Dr Lev-Arie Shapiro, who had the responsibility to inject Alhaji Dikko with an anaesthetic.
The diplomatic kidnapping took place during summer time in 1984 when Umaru Dikko was walking out of his front door in an upmarket neighbourhood of Bayswater in London. He was crated like a material commodity and taken to the Stansted Airport where the Nigeria Airways aircraft 707 was waiting for him as a special diplomatic baggage. For various reasons, including the refusal of the Nigeria High Commission to respect some basic protocolar processes, one young Customs officer, Charles Morrow, suspected a foul play with the type of baggages brought to be exported. There was one baggage containing Umaru Dikko and there was another one containing the anaesthetist/kidnapper who were meant to ensure that Dikko did not die en route. Charles Morrow’s call to the British Foreign Ministry drew public attention to the diplomatic baggaging, which succeeded in its preparation but failed in its diplomatic handling. Thus, since 1984, Buhariplomacy has been largely predicated on a manu militari approach in addressing national questions. In 2021, buhariplomacy has shifted from abduction by manu militari to abduction by invasion diplomacy. The cases of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho are exemplary and their international dimensions are not far-fetched.
Nnamdi Kanu is a shorter name for Nwanenyi Nnamdi Ngozichukwu Okwu-Kanu. It is the name of the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who was born in Afaraukwu in Abia State on 25 September, 1967 and by so doing, he is an indigene of not only Abia State by ius sanguinis and ius soli, but also a bonafide citizen of Nigeria per excellence. More important, Mazi Kanu is apparently an acquiesced true leader of the Igbo ethnic group in Nigeria. This observation is made against the background of his May 29, 2021 instruction to all Igbo people in the South East to stay in-door on that day and this was religiously adhered to, in spite of having not been elected as their leader. The political class in the South East appear to be against him but the people are in his support.
Sunday Igboho is the Yoruba equivalent of Nnamdi Kanu. He is an advocate of Oduduwa Republic, and what is said about Mazi Kanu is also true of Sunday Igboho who is championing Yoruba agenda for self-determination along with Professor Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, an accomplished historian of Yoruba history, who has been going about Oduduwa Republic through a peaceful agitation. Both Kanu and Igboho are championing secession from corporate Nigeria and PMB sees them as terrorists who should be neutralised to ensure indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria. However, but most unfortunately, they have a large following. People easily comply with their directives.
For example, compliance with Kanu’s instruction and the people’s support for Sunday Igboho can be explained in two ways: need to avoid violent attacks or support for the Biafran Republic agenda, on the one hand, and strong belief in the exemplary leadership of and commitment to Yoruba autonomy, on the other hand. As regards fear of being hurt or killed in the prevailing situation of insecurity in the country, the compliance is nothing more than imbibing the cautionary principle of ‘prevention is better than cure.’ In other words, it may not be because the Igbo people necessarily believe in the secessionist agenda that Nnamdi Kanu is championing. The adherence is therefore for self-survival.
Concerning the Biafran project, the compliance can, lato sensu, be truly a resultant of Nnamdi Kanu’s directive, meaning that the Igbo people seriously believe in Nnamdi Kanu’s Biafran struggle. By implication, an attack on, or any arrest of, Nnamdi Kanu is also necessarily seen as an attack on and arrest of all those who believe in his cause. It is within this frame of thinking that the re-arrest of Nnamdi Kanu has many international dimensions: situation of arrest, location and modality of arrest, nationality and diplomatic protection, fair trial, etc.
As for Sunday Igboho, when his people were recklessly killed by Fulani herdsmen with impunity, he defended his people in Ibarapa to the delight of his people, hence his acquiescence as an unelected leader. His agenda for Oduduwa Republic is also and generally supported at home and abroad by Yoruba in the Diaspora. Thus, the re-arrest and the invasion of Sunday Igboho is, stricto sensu, not for the aforesaid individuals, but a direct assault on the right of self-projection, self-determination, right of association and of opposition, and most disturbingly, the right of people they represent, all of which threaten national unity.
The re-arrest of Nnamdi Kanu and invasion of Sunday Igboho’s residence are catalytic agents of disintegration of Nigeria. They raise issues of major concerns for the more powerful countries of the world, as well as for many leading students of Nigerian politics. He was first arrested on 14 October 2015 on the basis of an 11-count charge, largely predicated on terrorism and treasonable offences. Charges were brought against him in the court in June 2016 but was admitted to bail on 25 April, 2017 in the sum of One hundred million naira and three sureties in like sum, and one of the sureties must be a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe served as his surety. Nnamdi Kanu jumped bail when he felt that he was to be killed by government soldiers, a situation which led to the court’s decision not only to revoke the bail in March 2019, but also to issue a bench warrant on him in November 2019. However, last week Tuesday, 29 June, he was presented to the Nigerian public as having been re-arrested and made ready to continue with his trial. How was he arrested or intercepted or abducted this time? Buhariplomacy will sooner than later tell.
Regarding the invasion of Igboho’s house, the Department of State Services (DSS) gave a press briefing on a joint security operation on 1st July, 2021 on the attack. Many people were killed in the house, some people were arrested, while one DSS officer was wounded. As noted in the DSS press statement, ‘the gun duel which lasted for an hour offered Igboho the chance to escape. Sunday Igboho is now on the run. Igboho may run as far as he can. He may hide as long as he wants. He might have attacked security operatives as his strength carried him. But this will be the end of his shenanigans. Soon, he will not have a hiding place. His strength will surely fail. And the law will catch up with him. The law may be slow but it will be steady.’
As good and promising this statement can be, the critical challenge is how to address the people’s support for him. An attack on him is an attack on the people and their support. This is one major reason why re-arresting and invading serve as catalytic agents of national disintegration and why PMB will need to make haste slowly in ensuring national security that destroys and disunites.
The International Dimensions
The global dimensions are necessarily an offshoot of the domestic aspects. At the domestic level, opinion about the re-arrest and re-arraignment of Nnamdi Kanu and invasion of Igboho’s house is not only mixed but unnecessarily reflects a North-South divide. The Southerners are signalling the need for caution as they doubt any likely fairness in the trial. Northerners are praising the re-arrest and insisting on referendum on the future of the South East as part of Nigeria. And true, the invasion of Igboho’s house was brutal, people were killed, but he escaped being arrested. In spite of the invasion, the Yoruba insisted that their rally scheduled for Saturday, 3rd July, 2021 in support of the struggle for self-determination, would still be held contrary to government’s ban. This is a situation of order versus counter order amounting to disorder.
First, questions are being raised as to how the Federal Government and its security agencies were able to swiftly ‘intercept’ Nnamdi Kanu and the same Government has not been able to intercept any of those terrorising Nigeria for more than 10 years. In the thinking of observers, President Muhammadu Buhari has partisan interests when it comes to northern questions, especially when Fulani matters are at stake. On the contrary, when the issues deal with Igbo questions, his attitude always speaks different volumes. This attitudinal animosity vis-a-vis self-determinists cannot but generate international concerns and reactions.
Secondly, while Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide ‘calls for calm and cautions Igbos to desist from any form of protests and processions that will bring more catastrophe for south eastern Nigeria,’ the leader of the Yoruba Afenifere, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, simply noted that Nigerians are awaiting the charges for which Nnamdi Kanu will be charged. Put differently, he does not subscribe to the official 11-count charge levied against him by the Federal Government: terrorism, treasonable felony, management of an unlawful group, defamatory publications, possession of illegal firearms, improper importation of goods, instigating violence in the southeast, etc.
In the words of Chief Adebanjo, “we await what he will be charged for. They cannot kill him. He will be defended. It is an unfortunate thing that he was caught after being granted an asylum. He is a freedom fighter. The British government ought not to have sent him back because he is a freedom fighter. The same thing they did for Anthony Enahoro and he was extradited back to Nigeria, while we were in asylum in Ghana.” This observation also raises one important international aspect, which is non-reliability of the British government which “ought not to have sent him back” because he is a freedom fighter. This is one major angle that also has the potential to attract global intervention in the trial of the case.
In fact, the position of the Niger Delta Congress is particularly noteworthy: “we most importantly take note of the time and resources that have been expended to arrest and extradite Nnamdi Kanu who was miles away from Nigeria; this is while Islamic terror groups are freely attacking military and civilian targets, having large open air meetings, and. forming terror pacts against the rest of the country within the boundaries of Nigeria – with even more freedom than so-called free citizens can boast of in sections of this country.” This is an indictment of the PMB administration that can be easily capitalised upon by the international community if and when Nigeria’s international responsibility is raised.
And true enough again, the Acting spokesperson of the Niger Delta Congress, Ovunda C. Eni, put it more bluntly thus: “it begs the question of why the people of Southern Nigeria are always the target when important socio-political conversations are brought up, in a bid to muddy the waters of the discourse. We remember vividly similar treatment meted out to Obafemi Awolowo immediately after independence, and to Ken Saro Wiwa, which eventually led to his extrajudicial murder by the government in 1995” (vide the NDC Statement no. NDC/PS/011/2021 of June 30, 2021. With this recollection of historical facts to suggest the poor attitude of government in cases like this, PMB must begin to factor into his strategic calculations the implications of the international dimensions
Thirdly, namdi Kanu is a Nigerian by ius sanguinis but has also acquired British nationality. The first implication of this is that, in the event of need for his diplomatic protection under private international law, there cannot but be competing nationality protection at the level of Nigeria and Britain, and by so doing, raising which nationality should be more effective and applicable, for instance, in the context of responsibility and prosecution. This point is interesting from the perspective of his arrest and re-arrest.
More significantly, the mere fact that Nnamdi Kanu jumped bail necessarily makes him a fugitive. But perhaps most importantly, the jumping of bail was compelled by the fear of impending aggression by government security agents. How do we then explain a situation in which one is granted a court bail and the government is still disregarding the rights and privileges inherent in the bail? And true enough, a bail may not be synonymous with total freedom. It often has a conditionality. His father’s house was attacked and many people were reportedly killed in the process.
This means that the issue of jumping bail has to be understood in context. In fact, when government’s prosecuting counsel told the court that Mazi Kanu not only jumped bail but also fled out of the country, Mazi Kanu’s reply was swift: ‘My Lord, my house was invaded and people were killed. I would have been killed too if I had not hidden myself. That was why I have been unable to attend court. I would have been killed the way others were killed when my house was invaded.’
Even though he gave this explanation in defence of the allegation of jumping bail, another issue in the reply is the implication of extra-judicial killings by Government agents: how were others killed? If a matter is before a competent court, why should there be government invasion or intimidation of the accused? These are questions that cannot but warrant international attention.
Fourthly, information on the true place of arrest is not known. The Government of Nigeria claims Ethiopia, while Kenya and France have also been pointed to. The Government of Kenya has been reported to have denied any involvement in the matter and has reportedly pointed to his being abducted in Kenya. The Kenyan government is said to be very bitter about how a British citizen could have been abducted on its territory and does not want its country to be internationally perceived as unsafe. Whatever is the case, whoever remembers the abduction and crating of Alhaji Umaru Dikko as a ‘diplomatic baggage,’ to be flown as a cargo to Nigeria in 1984 by PMB, who even feigned complete ignorance of the affair, will not be surprised about possible abduction of Nnamdi Kanu.
Fifthly, the on-going court trial of Mazi Kanu also has its international aspects, especially in terms of the extent of integrity of the court in truly upholding the rule of law and ensuring fairness and justice. Explained differently, should the 11 offences levied against the IPOB leader be considered as falling under terrorist offences as claimed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, or as falling under the struggle for self-determination, in which case the international human rights sympathisers may be compelled to take side with Nnamdi Kanu?
Sixthly, there is the aspect of media coverage of the ongoing trial. When the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, granted a press interview on the re-arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, he did not accept any press questioning. In fact, his arraignment in the law court and how he was taken out of the court was not known to the press. Press coverage, as required in Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended, as well as the interest of the international community, any taint on freedom of the press, or on the independence of the judiciary, etc, has the great potential to generate global interest at all time in the conduct of the trial.
•Prof Akinterinwa is a former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos