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To understand what happened to Nnamdi Kanu that led to where his case is at present, you must look in places you have not looked before

10 min read

I always felt that Nnamdi Kanu was forced into the role he found himself in by circumstances that would overwhelm most men. Kanu is the effect, rather than the cause, contrary to what most people think. Before Kanu was first arrested in 2015, he was relatively unknown. He was just a fast-talking angry former lieutenant of Uwazurike’s MASSOB. Most people did not take him seriously. He had only just started discovering the potent power of Radio Biafra and the effect his words could have on people. But otherwise, most Igbos would easily dismiss him at that point. It was the arrest of Kanu in 2015 that transformed him from what he was to the mythical leader of millions and personification of the renewed quest for Biafra.

Before you delve further into what made Kanu, you should first ask: what caused the Nigerian Government and its security forces to have a knee-jerk reaction that led to the arrest of Kanu and the trumped up charges of treason and terrorism in 2015? At the time Kanu was arrested in 2015, there were only two possible charges that could be maintained against him, and those were not charges that the DSS would be the appropriate agency to prosecute. Those charges could have been: (1) Entering Nigeria without inspection by immigration. This meant that he did not submit his passport for it to be stamped in by the immigration official at the border when he arrived in Nigeria. That is probably not even a crime. It is merely a violation that would at worst have resulted in a fine. (2) Obtaining by false pretense. This charge would have been based on the fact that Kanu was seen on video asking his audience to contribute money for him to buy guns and bullets, but ended up not buying any gun or bullets. It could have been argued by the government that he did not use the money raised for the stated purpose and therefore he deceived those who contributed money to him. But this charge could not have been sustained because nobody was willing to come forward to say he actually gave money for the purchase of gun or bullet.

Instead of the Nigerian Immigration and the police charging Kanu with these probable offences, the DSS stepped in and to justify their involvement, they charged Kanu with Terrorism and Treason, without any evidence to back the charges. Why such a knee-jerk reaction? If you can answer that, you will be able to understand the making of Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB.

The reason for the emergency of Kanu and IPOB-like agitation is the poor manner Nigeria ended the civil war. Rather than seek effective resolution to the root causes of the war and to redress the unjust effects of the war, successive Nigerian governments appeared to have focused on how to keep the Igbos down and unable to fight another war, and how to blame them for the war. On their own part, those who led the Igbos to war focused on how to justify their decision to lead their people to a war that caused the loss of 3 million lives and a humiliating surrender. The mutual suspicion and hatred that led to the first civil war never died. The only thing that happened since 1970 was that the Biafran territories and peoples were rearranged in such a way that they could not make war again. Not much was done to assuage the brooding sense of injustice that led to the war and which continued as a result of the poor management of the peace that was to follow the end of the war. In short, Nigeria remained at war against Biafra but without the gunshots. That was why the mere mention of Biafra by Nnamdi Kanu in 2015 was interpreted as a declaration of the second Biafran war. Hence the rush to crush him in 2015 through an indictment with fabricated capital offences.

The consequence of the fabricated indictment and detention, while doing everything to deny him a fair hearing, was understood by many Igbos as a continuation of the war against them. Hence the visceral support for Kanu from the moment he was arrested for Biafra. Thousands of Igbo traders from Kano, Lagos, Onitsha, etc began to hire buses to travel to Abuja each day his case was coming up for trial. That is the summary of how the Nigerian Government ended up in a quagmire over Kanu. That was how they made him the leader of the Igbos, to the shock of the Igbo politicians who had seen themselves as the political leaders of the various Igbos states.

Now, for the first time, Nnamdi Kanu was confronted with the new reality of his life, which was that millions of people began to identify him with their salvation and deliverance from injustice and oppression. He became Ohamadike. He became a prophet. He became a messiah. He became the new Ojukwu. Not many will understand what happens to a man if he suddenly sees himself being called a messiah by millions. The reason many don’t realize the effect is that not many people have experienced that. But the same thing happened to Ojukwu in 1966 and 1967. Ojukwu probably would not have gone to war. But he felt he would be letting down millions of people who thought he should go to war to defend them. Ojukwu’ greatest failing was that he could not find a way to lead his people without following them. He suspended his knowledge and training about armed conflict and submitted himself to the sentiments and emotions of the millions, whose technical know-how about war was equal to that of an ordinary man.

The young colonel was adored by millions who saw him as the savior and who believed that armed resistance was inevitable. Otherwise, Ojukwu, a military officer, knew that there was no way Biafra could win an armed conflict with Nigeria, especially without preparation. Yet, he could not resist the pressure. There were rallies and speeches in University of Nigeria, Nsukka then. Ojukwu attended several of such rallies. He would fly in a helicopter, an unbelievable rarity of that time. And students were overly excited and were in love the handsome Oxford graduate and British accented military officer, and they called on him to lead them out of Egypt, far away from the land of the cruel Phareo. The effect was magical on Ojukwu. Nnamdi Kanu found himself in a similar situation while in prison and after he was released. He was feted and worshipped. He became transformed and he began to conform to the role and expectations of millions of followers that gathered around him. Whether it is an Oxford-trained senior military officer like Ojukwu or a more regular individual like Kanu, the effects of millions of people adoring you as their savior will change any man and cause him to unimaginable ambitions and incredible risks. When millions cheer for you, the first thing you lose is your ability to think logically and consequentially. You are gripped and lost in the moment. That happened to Ojukwu and it happened to Kanu, and it can happen to most humans.

In January of 2017 when I first visited Nnamdi Kanu in Kuje Prison, I estimated that his followers were up to five million people. He was more popular than any other Igbo man alive. If he had utilized that numerical strength in the direction of electoral votes, he would have been able to unseat every Governor in Igboland.

I have considered various theories of leadership in my effort to explain that it was the followers that made Nnamdi Kanu, not the other way round. He was responding to the demands of his followers, not that he was pushing his followers. Ironically, he was led by his followers.

Defining leadership as a process means that it is not a trait or characteristic that resides in the leader, but rather a transactional continuum that exist between the leader and the followers. Being a process, leadership situation implies that a leader affects and is affected by his followers. In fact, Hollander provides a definition of leadership that captures the assumption that “leadership is a process of influence between a leader and those who are followers” (Hollander, 1978). The emphasis on the followers in leadership effectiveness reflects the reality that it is the followers who accept or reject the leader. Regardless of what the leader does, the group’s effectiveness depends on the actions of the followers. Whenever a leader tries to resist his followers, very likely, he will lost his position as the leader.

It is a legitimate question to ask: How do followers’ willingness and ability influence the leader? Can a leader exist without followers? The role of the followers in what the leader does cannot be ignored. Nnamdi Kanu would not exist if there were not millions of people willing to follow his message to their death. In other words, you cannot think or do anything about Nnamdi Kanu without thinking about those millions that follow him. Even while in detention for two years, many still follow him.

I believe this was the most significant factor that made Nnamdi Kanu dangerous in the eyes of Nigeria. It doesn’t matter that it was largely Nigeria that created Kanu, the fact is that he is indeed dangerous by the classic analysis of any government of the world. Anybody, whether a prophet, a scholar, a demagogue, etc, who could command unquestionable obedience of millions of people is a threat to any government, especially if that person is not in the government. This is why both the Igbo Governors and the Federal Government alike feared Nnamdi Kanu. Also Kanu was aware of this power that he possessed. Hence, he was said of himself: “I am a very powerful man. I have the power to choose who lives or who dies”. This may sound boastful and arrogant. But it was an undiplomatic admission of reality, at least at some point in time. If we agree that Nnamdi Kanu is a product or an effect rather than a cause, we ought then to look for the cause. I have tried to trace the cause to the remote point of how the war ended in 1970. A more immediate cause is the existence of millions willing to accept and obey Nnamdi Kanu. I believe that is the greatest worry of the Government in the way they deal with Nnamdi Kanu. And this is what Ohaneze does not seem to understand.

When Ohaneze and other Igbo leaders beg for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, they are actually begging the Federal Government to help them. They lost power and influence to Kanu. They became hostages to Kanu’s influence in Igboland. They ought to be more open and frank in their quest for help. Ohaneze and other Igbos pleading for the release of Kanu do not seem to understand that Kanu is not the problem. The problem is the millions of Igbos who are willing to obey Kanu. Ohaneze cannot control that group. And in so far as Ohaneze cannot control that group, Ohaneze is virtually ineffective in persuading the Government on Kanu. To effectively persuade the Government, Ohaneze had to do something about the millions of Igbos who are ready to lead the next agitation for actualization of Biafra.

Does this analysis suggest that Kanu had no responsibility whatsoever for the group he led? No! Rather, the problem is that Kanu could not resist the pressure on him because he had no effective advisers. The man he hired as his lawyer who could have guided him actually lacked the knowledge and experience needed for that sensitive job, and also, the man happened to be a follower of Nnamdi Kanu, rather than his adviser. Otherwise, his role was actually to continually bring Nnamdi Kanu back to reality each time he tended to be carried away by the euphoria of the support coming from his followers. Like the page that would ride in the chariot beside a Roman General during victory parades, Nnamdi Kanu needed a lawyer who would have been reminding him that every glory is fleeting and that power intoxicates. A good lawyer was to have been a counterforce to the intoxicating influence of the cheering masses that pushed Kanu in the direction he went.

To illustrate the sobering effect of a good lawyer, it was obvious that if Kanu violated the terms of the bail granted him in 2017, he would be rearrested and detained. It was obvious that the British Government would at some point become intolerant of the incendiary messages Kanu delivered on his Biafran Radio. It was actually the pressure from the British authorities that forced Kanu to start spending long periods of time in Nairobi, Kenya, which exposed him to an easy rendition. A good lawyer would have known that the Nigerian Government and the British intelligence would conspire to have Kanu rendered to Nigeria. Indeed, a good lawyer would have reminded Kanu that there were several rogue intelligence operatives in this world that could be used to kidnap him and take to Nigeria. After all, the President of Nigeria then was the same Head of State who almost succeeded in kidnapping Umaru Dikko from the same UK. A good lawyer would have told Kanu that he could be kidnapped or arrested in the UK. A good lawyer would have told him that all that is happening to him now could happen. A good lawyer would have told him the implications of establishing the Eastern Security Network. A good lawyer would have told him the likelihood of the ongoing infighting in IPOB. Unfortunately, Kanu hired Ifeanyi Ejiofor, probably the worst lawyer for the job. That is why he is where he is today.

The next part of this article will be a reconstruction of how Kanu was captured in Nairobi and brought to Nigeria, and how Nigerian authorities again bungled their own operation and the agreement they must have had with the British Government on how to handle Nnamdi Kanu.


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