BY ONUOHA UKEH
Until last month when Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, director, Radio Biafra, was arrested in Lagos, only a few people knew about the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group interested in the actualisation of a separate home state for the Igbo. Today, that hitherto obscured group has come to national limelight, with the “release Nnamdi Kanu” protests across the South East and South South.
Indeed, since Kanu was arrested in a Lagos hotel, a few hours after he arrived the country, members of the IPOB have marched in the streets of Port Harcourt, Aba, Asaba, Enugu, Awka and other cities, to register their anger over his detention. With what is happening, you could wonder how Kanu, who lives in London, was able to have such followership, which is becoming a movement.
When the news of Kanu’s arrest broke, I remembered the first time I met him in London, three years ago. It was a chanced meeting made possible by a man I knew in the course of my job and who, incidentally, knows Kanu. He also lives in London as Kanu. I had travelled to Britain on vacation and called Chukwuma to tell him I was in London. He promised to make out time and see me. The meeting did not hold until about one week. It was a cold Sunday afternoon in September 2012. Chukwuma had called me on phone to announce that he was coming to where I lodged. Since I had a shopping programme that day, I told him I would not be in. I had scheduled that Sunday to go to the famous Liverpool “Sunday Market,” in London to do some shopping. He volunteered to meet me there in the afternoon, after I would have finished my business.
As promised, my friend was at Liverpool Station, in Central London, our agreed rendezvous. When we met, the first time actually as we had been speaking on phone, he told me he was going to introduce me to somebody I may have heard of, who was in a car parked some metres away. We trekked from the Liverpool Station to the car in that freezing weather. In the car was this young man, handsome, smartly dressed and soft-spoken.
My friend had introduced him as Nnamdi Kanu, director of Radio Biafra. It was a pleasant surprise that I was face-to-face, on a platter of gold, with the man behind Radio Biafra, a station, which, at that time, was becoming popular among Igbo across the world. As a journalist and Editor, Saturday Sun at that time, I saw a big news and considered myself lucky. I had instantly asked for an interview, which Kanu approved, but said it would hold in Nigeria when he visited. He eventually visited at about March/April in 2013 andSaturday Sun, which I edited, interviewed him in Lagos.
On that Sunday, in London, Kanu had offered to give me lunch, in a place where we would sit down and have an informal chat. He drove around Central London, to find a restaurant. It took us some time, owing to parking, which is a problem in Central London. Eventually, we ended at a Spanish restaurant, in a street we were lucky to get parking space. Chukwuma had recommended Paola, a Spanish delicacy, which I could not eat eventually. In the Paola, there is rice and half cooked seafood in shells, which I did not find funny. As I pretended to be eating the Paola, we talked, I had sized Kanu up. He’s a smart youngman, well-schooled, likeable and passionate about what he was doing. From the way he spoke, one could see his passion to see that Igbo are better treated and recognised. He spoke of deprivation and marginalisation of Igbo. He was angry with many Nigerians, including Igbo bigwigs, who he said had sold out.
Kanu told me about his relationship with the late Ikemba Nnewi, who led the defunct Republic of Biafra, during the civil war. He spoke of a meeting he and others had with Ojukwu in London, where the late Biafra leader talked about a successor. He boasted how he and his group members made it possible for Ojukwu to appear on BBC’s Hard Talk.
I remember him asking no one in particular: “Who has ever organised Ojukwu to appear on BBC’s Hard Talk? We did it. Nobody has done that for him before. We in London did it. The fact that we don’t shout and come to newspaper all the time doesn’t mean we don’t know what we are doing.”
I must say that before then, the talk about Biafra was synonymous with MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra). Nothing much was heard of IPOB. The other group, which reared its head was Biafran Zionist Movement. However, from what Kanu told me at the meeting, IPOB was getting more global interest than the other groups. He talked about his trips across the world, to meet with Igbo who loved Radio Biafra and wanted to meet one of the men behind it. This had taken him to United States, Canada, Sweden, France, Germany and other nations. He talked about the case IPOB instituted in Owerri against “Nigeria.”
The Radio Biafra director made it clear that he was not just angry with the leadership in Nigeria, which he said had neglected the Igbo people and the South East, as bad roads and decrepit infrastructure dot the landscape, but also with Igbo elite, who he said had compromised and, therefore, do not fight for the interest of the Igbo. He said that was why he always attacked them on Radio Biafra.
What’s his relationship with MASSOB? Kanu said that he had issues with the group’s leader, Ralph Uwazuruike, revealing that he once had a raw deal with MASSOB, whose members kidnapped him during one of his visits to Nigeria. According to him, he had come to Nigeria for his traditional marriage ceremony but ended in MASSOB gulag.
Why would MASSOB or anybody for that matter kidnap Kanu? “I was kidnapped because I told him the truth. I told him that he cannot print Biafran passport and be selling to people when he, as the leader of MASSOB, is travelling with Nigerian passport. You don’t deceive your people. I told him that carrying Biafran passport was tantamount to treasonable felony. It is not right as the leader of a group to be amassing wealth when people are poor,” he said.
The Radio Biafra director revealed two occasions he invited the MASSOB leader to London, where they talked about working together to help Igbo. Said he: “I told him that the best thing for us to do was to have a movement where we can create jobs for our people. And these are the ways we are going to do it. He never listened to any of those pieces of advice we gave. I advised him personally to turn the Freedom House he built with the money contributed by the people in his father’s compound to more or less an open house for the people to come, but that is his private residence.”
He expressed anger that MASSOB was infiltrated by the Federal Government, alleging: “It was then that it occurred to us that the powers-that-be, ostensibly the late Umar Yar’Adua, called the five eastern governors and asked them to ask Uwazuruike what he wanted as a sort of settlement so that he can stop what he was doing. That was why they were campaigning for the PDP. They campaigned for Ohakim the last time Ohakim contested in Imo State. I can tell you today even MASSOB members are revolting now because they know that their leadership is fraudulent and decaying. And unless they get away from the scene completely, we can never get Biafra because their own brand is tainted and we cannot have it anymore.”
When I asked Kanu how he escaped from MASSOB’s prison, he talked about how people he did not name, who learnt about his ordeal, gave the MASSOB leader a 24-hour ultimatum to release him or they would bring down his place.
On Radio Biafra, Kanu said it was a way to expose the bad happenings in Nigeria. He regretted that there was no time to take me to Radio Biafra studio, but boasted that it was equipped to international standard.
The Radio Biafra director revealed that Igbo, who believed in what he was doing, were ready to confront “the enemy head on,” saying that South-easterners were suffering in Nigeria.
In the course of our discussion, I never knew that time was flying, until I looked at my phone’s time and realised that it was 7pm. It was time to go. Kanu and Chukwuma drove me from Central London to Hayes area of London, where I stayed. He promised to get in touch with me any time he visited Nigeria.
In the early part of 2013, he visited and made the first broadcast of Radio Biafra from Nigeria. Using his laptop, Internet and other devices, he hooked onto London studio and broadcast to the world, he later boasted. It was during the visit that Saturday Sun interviewed him in Lagos.