The news of the arrest of the man behind Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kalu, by the Nigerian government has turned him into a major international “cause célèbre” with major world leaders and influential human rights NGOs openly supporting him or condemning the government for it. It is easy to brand such proclamations as “imperial interference” or the “undermining of Nigerian sovereignty” but non-Nigerians see Nigeria through their own cultural lenses which may please or displease Nigerians. It is the case that Nigerians should sympathise with their government and forget all outside influences but can they?
Due to modern internet and mobile technology, especially Google and YouTube, the graphic story of Biafra as told by non-Nigerians is very easily accessible to millions around the world. While Nigerians, especially non-Igbos, see the Igbos as an aggressive ‘materialistically obsessed’ ethnic group, Igbos do not see themselves as such and non-Nigerians mostly see them a people with an overwhelmingly traumatised ‘social memory’ stacked with genocide, dispossession, starvation and endless marginalisation. Most non-Igbo Nigerians will disagree with such a dark perspective but the objective evidence as ‘presented’ goes a long way in favouring it and the recent arrest of Kalu is unwittingly one more confirmatory example. Who will support from outside go to?
Nigeria is a nation in perennial need of much direct foreign investment and multi-lateral loans; this is a monumental reason why the opinion of the international community counts a lot. Quite unwittingly, the Nigerian government has increased the already high country risk to investors with the arrest of Nnamdi Kalu. Is that where the Nigerian government wants Nigeria to be? Nigeria’s high country risk to investors is due to high levels of corruption, poor governance, the dormant Niger Delta crisis, Boko Haram violence, poor security, very poor infrastructure and pollution in its most lucrative environments.
In the criminal code, the crimes of sedition and treason where proven are serious in virtually every nation. One wonders if Nnamdi Kalu and his Biafra Radio posed substantive threats to the existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There is a long history of revolutionary, dissident and separatist figures who from virtually nothing became irresistible international ‘cause célèbres’ attracting strong enduring sympathy and support at the expense of the persecuting nation seen with hindsight to have acted in error. The widespread protests for Kalu’s release in Nigeria is evidence of unexpected support.
Was Kalu a big time figure before his arrest? He is now. Unlikely personalities like Mexican peasant rebel Pancho Villa; everyday Irish guy Bobby Sands; dock worker organiser Lech Walesa and the list goes on. In each case the expedition against; the jailing and hunger strike death; arrest and proscription of activities; respectively, all led to massive increases in internal and international support for them and their activities. Within Nigeria look at the ‘jumped up status’ of Dokubo Asari and Gani Adams or the martyrdom of Dele Giwa and Ugonna Omereonye. One can only wonder what the Nigerian government stands to gain strategically, considering it global potential, from directly arresting Nnamdi Kalu and proscribing Radio Biafra.
Separatists exist all over the world and much has been learned how to handle and frustrate them. Nigeria does have security experts competent in non-violent solutions to threats they should be used. Revolutionaries and separatists only succeed when there is a real need for such action, a strong leader who the people trust to champion it, the action itself is free of ulterior motives and it is executed in a thorough and proper manner. Nnamdi Kalu and Radio Biafra do not have those endowments.
The elevation of insults by Radio Biafra for calling Nigeria a “zoo” and Nigerians “animals” to treason is very interesting. It is not too hard to find non-Nigerian politicians and personalities that have called Africans or Nigeria ‘apes’ but there is hardly ever any public outcries when they are pronounced. Insults are bad, can very nasty and very painful but not those two.
The Nigerian government has acted as it has deemed fit and should handle the problem with a thoroughly rational response. Or is it just another distraction? From where most stand ‘One Nigeria’ remains by far the strongest geopolitical reality Nigeria has unless something ‘changes’.