Nnamdi Kanu’s arrest leaves Nigerian separatists confused

Monday, July 5th, 2021 00:00 |
Nnamdi Kanu.

Abuja, Sunday

The arrest of Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu has dealt a serious blow to his group, and could even spell the end of his movement.

The leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob), a group that wants a breakaway state in south-east Nigeria, remains a cult hero to his hundreds of thousands of followers.

For more than a decade, his fiery radio broadcasts and social media posts were thorns in the side of the Nigerian government but his transition to an armed struggle in 2020 was seen as a step too far.

The armed wing of Ipob - the Eastern Security Network - has been accused of killing at least 60 people in recent months, most of them police officers, although the group denies the allegations.

Kanu’s arrest on Sunday is seen as the final act by a government determined to quell the uprising.

The images of his arrest, more than anything else, would have seriously undermined the confidence of even his staunchest supporters.

It was not the first time the 53-year-old Jewish convert has been paraded in handcuffs, but unlike previous occasions his customary defiance was missing. His days-old grey beard gave him a dishevelled look that not even his Fendi designer clothes could mask.

Paraded in handcuffs

Kanu was said to have turned the organisation into a one-man show, alienating some of his most trusted followers, and so there is now a leadership vacuum.

“Money disputes and accusations that he didn’t consult key stakeholders over the formation of an armed wing did not go down well with many,” said the BBC Igbo’s Chiagozie Nwonwu, who interviewed Kanu in 2019 while in exile.

One of those who fell out with Kanu and left the organisation last year was his former deputy, Uche Mefor, a respected member of the group who took over when the leader was previously incarcerated.

Allegations of misappropriation of donated funds have also led to the exit of loyal supporters in the US and UK.

Locally, the spine of the movement is also gone, as battle-hardened members have either been killed or arrested by Nigeria’s security forces.

Igbos discontent

Kanu was seen by many as a dangerous propagandist, but he was also considered a lightning-rod for the discontent many Igbos still feel about Nigeria, decades after a three-year civil war between 1967 and 1970. Many Igbos feel sidelined in Nigerian politics and there are cries of marginalisation.

Nigeria’s third-largest ethnic group, they are yet to produce a president since the 1960s and accuse the federal government of neglecting their region.

These feelings have heightened since President Muhammadu Buhari came into power in 2015, and his rhetoric has not helped.

He recently referenced the civil war while vowing to crush Ipob, prompting Twitter to delete his tweet, and in the past said those who gave him 5 percent of votes [such as the south-east] should not expect to be treated same as those that gave him 95%. - BBC

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