￼Three decades ago, January 31, 1985, to be exact, in faraway South Africa, something happened. The State President of the then apartheid South Africa, Pieta Willem Botha, speaking in parliament, offered the then imprisoned Nelson Mandela his freedom on condition that he ‘unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon’. This would not be the first time Botha would make this offer to Mandela; in fact, it would be the sixth of such offer. There had been earlier ones that required that Mandela accept exile in the Transkei as a condition for freedom.
What was unique about this sixth offer, however, was that it was the first time that Mandela took his time to pen a thorough response to Botha’s shenanigans. His daughter Zinzi Mandela read her father’s reply to this offer before a mass gathering in Jabulani Stadium, Soweto, on February 10, 1985. Below is the full text of Mandela’s response as read by Zinzi:
I am a member of the African National Congress. I have always been a member of the African National Congress and I will remain a member of the African National Congress until the day I die. Oliver Tambo is much more than a brother to me. He is my greatest friend and comrade for nearly fifty years. If there is any one amongst you who cherishes my freedom, Oliver Tambo cherishes it more, and I know that he would give his life to see me free. There is no difference between his views and mine.
I am surprised at the conditions that the government wants to impose on me. I am not a violent man. My colleagues and I wrote in 1952 to Daniel François Malan asking for a round table conference to find a solution to the problems of our country, but that was ignored. When Johannes Gerhardus Strijdom was in power, we made the same offer. Again it was ignored. When Hendrik Verwoerd was in power we asked for a national convention for all the people in South Africa to decide on their future. This, too, was in vain.
It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us, that we turned to armed struggle. Let Botha show that he is different to Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd. Let him renounce violence. Let him say that he will dismantle apartheid. Let him unban the people’s organization, the African National Congress. Let him free all who have been imprisoned, banished or exiled for their opposition to apartheid. Let him guarantee free political activity so that people may decide who will govern them.
I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. Too many have died since I went to prison. Too many have suffered for the love of freedom. I owe it to their widows, to their orphans, to their mothers and to their fathers who have grieved and wept for them. Not only I have suffered during these long, lonely, wasted years. I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and of your organization, the African National Congress, which was banned.
What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offence? What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in banishment in Brandfort? What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?
Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Herman Toivo ja Toivo, when freed, never gave any undertaking, nor was he called upon to do so. I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.
I want the spirit of that Mandela letter to guide you for the rest of this piece, as it provides a comparative hermeneutic framework for this long essay. I had on several occasions called for Nnamdi Kanu’s unconditional release, seeing as his arrest and detention was bad politics for which the Buhari government was paying a huge logistic, strategic, and PR price. The latest of those calls was on January 11, 2017 when I penned my reaction to Nnia Nwodo’s election as the president of Ohaneze. In that piece, I maintained that top on Nwodo’s priorities should be Nnamdi Kanu’s unconditional release from detention.
Well, Nnamdi Kanu was finally granted bail on April 27, 2017 on the strange, stupid, and silly conditions that he must produce three sureties, including a “highly respected and recognized Jewish leader”, a “highly placed person of Igbo extraction such as a Senator”, as well as “a highly respected person who is resident and owns landed property in Abuja”. The sureties were to deposit N100million each in bond, and Kanu was expressly barred from attending any rally or granting any form of interview. Kanu was ordered to surrender his Nigerian and British international passports. Also, Kanu was required to sign an undertaking to make himself available for trial at all times. However, Kanu’s co-defendants, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who gave their loyalty to Kanu, even to the point of going to jail with him, were denied bail by the court, which has fixed July 11 and 12 for the commencement of their criminal trial. At this point you may want to reread Mandela’s letter above.
For students of history, the event of April 27, 2017 – the day Justice Binta Nyako granted Kanu bail on those outrageous conditions, reminds one of January 31, 1985 – the day Botha offered Nelson Mandela his freedom on the relatively ‘simple’ condition that he “unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon”. It is a comparison that I have chosen to make, not because I want to compare Kanu to Mandela, but just to show why that comparison cannot be made, not now, not ever.
Notice that by the date that Botha offered to release Mandela on that simple condition, Nelson Mandela had already spent about 22 years in prison. Compare that to April 27, 2017 when Justice Nyako granted Nnamdi Kanu bail on those strange, stupid, and silly conditions. As at that date, Kanu had been detained for one year and a half. Now, if you had just been dropped from Mars, and had never heard or read of Nelson Mandela or Nnamdi Kanu, who of the two do you think would have greater incentive to embrace the conditional offer of freedom extended to him? Mandela, right? But you are wrong. Mandela turned his own offer down, and his reason for that decision is amply contained in the letter above. On the other hand, however, Nnamdi Kanu’s bail, as strange and ridiculously onerous as its conditions were, was perfected, almost promptly. Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (Chairman of Senate’s South East Caucus), Immanuel Shalom (a Jewish priest), and one Toochukwu Uchendu (an accountant and Abuja resident), came forward as sureties for Kanu, presumably dropping N100million each in bond. With that, Nnamdi Kanu, the self-acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) became a freeman.
On a personal level, I am happy for Nnamdi Kanu. Freedom is sweet! But I have some questions for him:
1. What was all that about?
2. Did you and do you understand that some causes are bigger than your personal pain and comfort?
3. Did you not foresee prison, even death, as a possible consequence of your rebellion? How could you not?
4. Okay, you are free; now what?
Truth is that for those who believe in the IPOB cause, Nnamdi Kanu, by the terms of his release, which he accepted, has effectively abandoned the IPOB cause. And in doing that, he has shown himself to be a very bad leader and an unworthy general. But for Nnamdi Kanu, the trio of Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu, and David Nwawuisi would not have been in prison today. In loyalty and solidarity to Kanu, their master and their general, these worthy troops marched into prison. Nnamdi Kanu is not a worthy general. No worthy general leaves his troops behind. What about the scores, if not hundreds, of young Igbo men and women who followed Nnamdi Kanu’s rebellious crusade into their untimely graves?
Does Nnamdi Kanu even understand the symbolism, significance, and consequence of having Senator Abaribe, Rabbi Shalom, and Tochukwu Uchendu stand surety for his bail? Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe is part of the compromised Igbo power elite that has forged common cause with the national power structure that has marginalized and systematically dehumanized the Igbo, the very centerpiece of what is supposed to be Kanu’s IPOB cause. If IPOB is a grassroots movement, which it should be, Nnamdi Kanu should not have accepted politicians, the same ones who have mortgaged and pawned away the destiny of the Igbo, to be his sureties. By accepting his bail conditions and allowing the likes of Abaribe to surety his bond, Kanu has given himself away as an emasculated man, and has effectively become their bitch, and they his pimps. And if there is one thing we know about politicians generally, and Nigerian politicians, in particular, it is that they will instrumentally exact him to his last blood drop. After all, he now owes his freedom to them.
Already, Kanu is palling with politicians of different political hues and intentions. He was picked up upon release from Kuje prison in a Mercedes SUV by one of the governorship aspirants in Anambra state. The optic was opportunistically deliberate. Kanu has also been sighted and photographed palling with members of the Nigerian political power structure, the same structure that has imposed an endemic, systemic, and systematic existential and structural burden on the Igbo. And it is just getting started. They will exploit his little popularity to political ends until Kanu’s self-oriented bail calculations become a subject of common knowledge.
And what is it with Nnamdi Kanu’s Jewish personae? When, how, and why did Kanu convert to Judaism, adorning himself in kippah skullcap and shawl? Is Nnamdi Kanu that confused? Does Nnamdi Kanu understand that the Jews are occupiers, just like the Nigerian authorities whom Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB crusaders have accused of occupying Biafra? Is Nnamdi Kanu too naïve to see that the Palestinians are the victims of Jewish occupation, just as the Igbo are in Nigeria? Yet, the Igbo champion has chosen to become a Jew? Whose idea was that ignoble contradiction?
Did Kanu and his aides even realize the countervailing significance of that Jewish stunt? What strategic goal is in play that will make a self-styled champion of a nationality that is ninety-nine percent stubbornly Christian embrace Judaism? Does Kanu even know that Jews and Judaism don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the messiah? How does Rabbi Nnamdi Kanu intend to square that circle for the people he wants to lead? Again, I ask: is Nnamdi Kanu in a state of identity crisis or is he engaged in a higher strategic gamble? Is it possible that by giving off Jewish vibes, Nnamdi Kanu was courting Israeli solidarity? Does Nnamdi Kanu want Israel to view Biafra as its client state, thus creating an obligation on Israel to assist in the liberation of Biafra? That would have been a noble strategic calculation except that the Jewish State of Israel is not in the business of liberation. Israel is in the business of occupation, exclusion, and bondage. Israel is on record as being willing to pay non-Jews to leave Israel. Or was Nnamdi Kanu’s rabbi paraphernalia intended to simply maximize his personal power among his followers? Rabbi in Judaism means teacher of Torah. It is a title that derives from the Hebrew word rabi, meaning “my master”, and the word master literally means “great one”. If that was the calculation, he failed. A good and great master does not abandon and leave his disciples behind.
Did Nnamdi Kanu walk right into a mousetrap? By bonding out, on the conditions he did, Nnamdi Kanu may have taken his Igbo nation deeper into bondage. Like the sons of Israel who rebelled against Moses and Aaron in the flight from Egypt, crying, “Would we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!”, is it time for the Igbo to cry out against a leader who has ostensibly abandoned them after exposing them to risks? Why did Nnamdi Kanu accept a release condition that required him not to hold any form of rallies or grant any form of interviews? Why did Nnamdi Kanu accept a bail condition that essentially required him to renounce the Biafra and IPOB cause after leading young Igbo men and women out into a treacherous national battlefield? Did Kanu need his freedom that badly? Did he even think this IPOB campaign through? Did he not see prolonged incarceration, even death, as a possible personal sacrifice for an existential cause?
How much was Nnamdi Kanu paid by the federal government to accept his ridiculous bail conditions, including the renunciation of the Biafra and IPOB cause? Does Nnamdi Kanu even realize that by his release on those terms, he has been permanently captured by the same federal establishment he claims to be fighting? That by his release on those ridiculous terms, the Igbo have lost a crucial strategic and propaganda leverage they held against the government? Again, I ask: how much was Nnamdi Kanu paid to sell out? Who paid the N300million bond money? It is either that money was never paid, as it was always designed as a subterfuge by the courts and the government authorities, or it was paid by the Buhari government, which needed Nnamdi Kanu out of its hairs. His continued detention was presenting a logistic and PR nightmare for the regime. Nnamdi Kanu was an item Buhari and the APC did not want on their balance sheet in a general election year. He was a bad asset, certainly a toxic liability.
Kanu blew it!
If Nnamdi Kanu believed in his IPOB cause, then he should have been prepared to die in detention. Accepting ridiculous release terms on health grounds is a hogwash. Nnamdi Kanu is not sick; he is a quitter! Since his release, Kanu has been basking in the glory and euphoria of his fame, meeting and making common causes with the same political and power elites who have compromised and even sabotaged the Igbo cause. The image of Kanu with Femi Fani-Kayode, an avid Igbo hater who has stridently sought to divest the Igbo of any stake in Lagos, is nauseating. Is Nnamdi Kanu that naïve, or simply foolish? If the reason Kanu accepted his bail conditions that required him to essentially renounce Biafra and IPOB was his failing health, why is he not hospitalized? Why is he busy meeting batches and batches of politicians instead?
And why were some Igbo jubilating at, and celebrating, Nnamdi Kanu’s release on those ridiculous terms? Do they even know that by accepting those release terms, Nnamdi Kanu has jumped ship? Do they know that Nnamdi Kanu, by accepting those release terms and Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe as a surety, Nnamdi Kanu has abandoned Aba, Enugu, Owerri, and has joined Abuja?
Obviously, Nnamdi Kanu was hastily canonized. He did not think through the heavy sacrifice and the tortuous path of a revolution. He led his people down a dangerous path, and abandoned them, leaving some behind in prison; others maimed; and others in their untimely graves. It is time to demystify and decanonize Nnamdi Kanu. It needs to happen else his conduct leaves a permanent scar in the Igbo psyche. They believed him; they were ready to fight alongside him; and they were prepared to die with him. One thing they were not prepared for was to have their cause betrayed by him. It hurts. It really hurts – deeply.
Anyway, when F. W. de Klerk signed off on Mandela’s eventual release in 1990, he was very careful to make certain that Mandela’s freedom would be unconditional – totally unconditional. Mandela was free to lead political rallies. And in 1994, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was sworn in as the first president of a free South Africa. I guess Nnamdi Kanu is no Mandela. Yep, not by any long shot.
And the search for a credible Igbo leader continues…
Credit: IKENGA Chronicles.
Categories: Igbo news