In my column of September 7 2017 entitled, ‘Nnamdi Kanu and the Redeemer Complex’, I made a few propositions about Nnamdi Kanu that now seem prophetic. I will like to quote two passages from that piece:
“…a redeemer movement becomes dangerous when the leader starts believing so much in his own hype or the hype of his followers that he loses all sense of proportion. At this stage, the danger of doing something really stupid is high. I have read people telling Nnamdi Kanu that he is bigger than Buhari or that no one can touch him. He will be a fool to act on such hype.”
“Standing in front of a moving train is stupidity, not a demonstration of courage. It will be naive to mistake the defence of ethnic pride that led to the mobilization to get him out of detention with a blank cheque to force his vision of Biafra and how it will be actualized on everyone – without debate. The meeting with the Five Governors of the Southeast is a golden opportunity, a soft landing if you like – for Kanu to start ‘normalizing’ his agitation within the framework of the Igbo political mainstream. As the Igbos would say, a fly who listens to no advice, invariably gets buried with the corpse.” Apparently Nnamdi Kanu only listened to his own hype and the hype of his followers.
Now that the military’s Operation Python Dance 11 exercise has managed to lower the tension in the Southeast (despite inconveniences to the civilian population) and IPOB’s activities have been proscribed, it is important to reflect on the lessons learnt from the whole situation:
One, is the danger of groupthink. In groupthink, loyalty to the group requires individuals to avoid raising controversial or non-conforming issues and ideas or even alternative solutions. One of the consequences of this is that the “in-group” often significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making, significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “out-group”) and believes passionately, even irrationally, in the inherent morality and rightness of the cause(s) they espouse. Groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions and utterances against the “out-group” in the forms of stereotyping, hate speech or even premeditated violence. Groupthink is not just instinctive conformity, it is also conformity for fear of being maligned, regarded as a traitor or being shunned or even ostracized by the ‘in-group’ especially where you have several self-appointed ‘mindguards’ or conformity police defending the in-group’s symbols or assumed values.
Nnamdi Kanu and his sympathisers in the Southeast and on the social media were aggressive purveyors of groupthink – in the same manner that Buhari’s fanatical supporters did during the 2015 campaign and in the early years of his presidency. I was among the targets of the mind-guards of Buhari’s groupthink. But I ignored them- as I also ignored those of Nnamdi Kanu. In fact my reply to them was an article in The Daily Trust of May 21 2015 entitled ‘Between Grouthink and the Marketplace of Political Ideas’.
Under Nnamdi Kanu the fear of being targeted by IPOB sympathisers literally silenced many otherwise vocal Igbo writers – and even ordinary people on the streets in Igboland. For instance when some of us noticed the dangerous tones IPOB’s rhetoric was taking; I contacted a few prominent Igbo writers and columnists (including Uche Ezechukwu and Okey Ndibe) for us to refuse to be intimidated. One after the other they regaled me with the insults they received from IPOB’s mind-police for their refusal to buy into the group’s ideology on Biafra. In fact my friend Okey Ndibe gave up his column writing altogether – just to have peace of mind. In essence, Operation Python Dance II and the proscription of the activities of IPOB appeared to have liberated many Igbos from the fear of IPOB’s mind-guards. The result is that many Igbos and Igbo groups are increasingly finding their voices and disowning Nnamdi Kanu.
Two, as we condemn Nnamdi Kanu – and rightly so because he literally grew wings – we must also look ourselves in the mirror on how some of us might have contributed to the creation and gestation of the Kanu phenomenon – not just the Nnamdi Kanu of IPOB but the Nnamdi Kanus that we find across the country. Let me just give example with Boko Haram. While Jonathan’s supporters and his inner circle convinced the former President that Boko Haram was a creation of the Northern politicians to undermine his government, conspiracy theorists from the North convinced the ‘talkawas’ that Boko Haram was actually a creation of the Jonathan government to depopulate the North ahead of the 2015 election or to make Islam look bad. In fact when Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in some states in the North-east, some Northern elders screamed that the measure amounted to a declaration of war against the Northern region. These unfavourable environmental variables, propagated as groupthink, are precisely why I believe that people have been simplistic in their criticisms of Jonathan’s handling of Boko Haram.
Three, the Kanu phenomenon and the roles played by ethno-cultural groups like Ohaneze and various Arewa groups (and some elders from both divides) in escalating the tension raises question of whether it is time we engaged in conversations about the role of these forces in the country’s nation-building processes. True, these groups could help to articulate the interests of its members and play countervailing functions with similar groupings, their aggressive competition for the moral high-ground and for the limelight helped to fuel the tension. I believe it is time these groups (and some ‘outspoken’ elders) are encouraged to self-regulate their activities and brinksmanship.
Four, another important lesson from the Kanu phenomenon is that the memory of the civil war remains very strong among the Igbos (even among those born decades after the end of the Civil War) – just as the memory of the January 15 1966 coup which killed several leaders of the North and West – is also very strong in the North, and to a less extent the rest of the country. It is possible that Igbos’ bitter memory of the war and their attempt to aggressively contest the narratives about the war creates residual anger among those who fought on the federal side or animates among many in the North the bitter memories of their lost leaders during the January 15 1966 coup. The anger and suspicion around the agitations for Biafra maybe subtle but they help to feed into Igbos’ feeling of being unwanted, which in turn fuelled separatist sentiments.
Based on the above, I feel it may be worth exploring whether an apology by the Igbos to the North and the South-West for the January 15 1966 coup could help mollify them for the pains caused by the January 15 1966 coup. At the same time it may be worth exploring if an apology to the Igbos by the North for the pogrom that followed the revenge coup of July 1966 and by the rest of the country to the Igbos for some of the excesses of the Civil War such as using starvation as an instrument of war, could mollify Igbo separatists.
Five, we should all be happy that Nigeria (which has hanging on the cliff as its comfort zone) once again did not fall off the cliff. But listening to both the IPOB propagandists and those preaching a ‘final solution’ against the ‘troublesome Igbos’, I saw a lot of naivety and lack of understanding about the nature of war. I teach a course on war to post-graduate students and can therefore claim to know one or two things about war (of course war on paper – being a ‘bloody civilian’). For instance IPOB propagandists believe that in the event of war Israel and some countries will fight on their side but when asked of the strategic interests that would make such countries put the lives of their nationals on the line, they fail to be convincing. The truth is that war differs from any other form of violence because it is a rational activity driven by clear objectives. Similarly when the internet warriors from the North preaching ‘final solution’ against the Igbos are reminded that Boko Haram will most likely capitalize on the war and the chaos to set up their Caliphate in the North and elsewhere, they also fail to be convincing in their responses. In the same vein, when those who capitalized on the IPOB situation to propagate anti-Igbo sentiments are reminded of what I often call the ‘class idiot theory’, they also fail to be convincing. Under this theory, once the class idiot is intimidated out of school, the class will quickly create his/her replacement. So following this theory, if the Igbos leave, another group, most likely the Hausa-Fulanis, will become the next target. They will be followed by the Yorubas, then the Ijaws – until no one else is left.