From Terrorist To Folk Hero - UPLOADMOON

From terrorist to folk hero

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The 2023 presidential election in Nigeria has been thrown into a tailspin following the judgment of the Court of Appeal, last week, October 13, 2022, which threw out the criminal charges against Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, on the ground that the Federal Government had violated his fundamental human rights by yanking him off the streets of Kenya in a gangland kidnapping-like fashion and hauling him before the court to stand trial in Nigeria. Think about this. The judgment was delivered on the same day the Nigerian Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, was stretching out a begging bowl to the financial world in Washington DC, at a multilateral meeting of finance ministers, telling them that Nigeria is literally broke, as it spends, according to the minister, 65% of its revenue on debt servicing. Many independent analysts put the figure at 100% or thereabouts.  And, as Ahmed was speaking, Nigeria’s Eurobond got pushed to a junk status, making a bad situation even worse.  By contrast, at the same Washington DC meeting, the UK Finance Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng’s policy of unfunded tax cuts in his mini-budget a couple of weeks prior, caused such turmoil in the market, especially in the UK ‘gilt’ (or bond) market, that he was recalled from the Washington meeting and given the sack on the spot. The irony is Kwarteng lost his job, while Ahmed keeps hers. That is the difference between sit-tight ministers and democratic accountability.

Furthermore, the same day when a damaging university teachers’ dispute was “suspended” by their union, the Academic Staff Union of Universities, leaving the question of the long-term funding unresolved. Notwithstanding any of these, the incendiary issue of separatism has been allowed to burst into the political space, beclouding and submerging thoughts on the economy and pretty much everything else. For those quick to hail the Kanu judgment as a victory for the ‘rule of law’ or those latching onto that hollow piffle; ‘the judiciary is the last hope of the common man’, I have news for you. The ruling is as much judicial as it is political. Judicial as it was a pronouncement of the learned Justices of the Court but, more significantly, political, as the current regime is at the fag end of its life. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is in office but no longer in power. This ruling could not, and would not, have been delivered either in 2015 (when the ‘no-nonsense’ Buhari came to power) or 2019 (when a reinvigorated Buhari was re-elected).  The beauty of even the most potent of political powers is that it withers away with time.  The taciturn President Buhari’s infamous ‘body language’ that had cast a spell over the institutions of governance for over seven years is finally being exorcised, in one respect, through this judgment.

Throughout his term in office, Buhari had cultivated the demeanour of a Third World Monarch, above the fray, and above the law, with a penchant for ignoring court orders. It has usually been on the pretext of safeguarding the country’s ‘national security’. An ultimately futile effort since the nation’s security has never been more fractious, more fragile and more highly contested than it has been since the All Progressives Congress took power in 2015.  It is indeed a reflection of the fundamental weakness of the Nigerian state itself, that a hitherto nonentity like Nnamdi Kanu, could be turned into the folk hero that he has become even amongst the brightest and the best in Igboland and beyond. He has become the ‘Third Force’ in Nigerian politics, strong enough to determine the fate of Peter Obi in his South-East stronghold and, by consequence, the trajectory of the 2023 presidential election. It is thus ironic that while there has been widespread jubilation for the judgment in the region, a core of the political elite there would rather keep him in jail at least, for now. The Buhari regime is likely to oblige them in a combined effort to shore up the state from his corrosive influence as they see it. Nonetheless, the Appeal Court’s judgment was direct and unequivocal: “By the illegal abduction and extra-ordinary rendition of the appellant, there was a clear violation, by the respondent (the Federal Government) of international treaties, conventions, as well as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights” per Justice Oludotun Adefope-Okojie. Remember, this is a reversal of the earlier judgment of Justice Binta Nyako, of the Federal High Court, who had held: “Repatriation could not be said to be illegal when there was a surviving bench warrant for the arrest of the accused.” That was 2018, at the height of Buhari’s power.

The learned Justices in both courts mixed up one crucial thing. The Federal High Court used the word “repatriation” of Kanu, which the Court of Appeal, in its wisdom, re-christened “illegal abduction.” They are both incorrect. First, ‘repatriation’ pre-supposes due process which the learned Justice knew or ought to have known was not the case. Second, there is no such thing as ‘illegal abduction’, as it pre-supposes the existence of a ‘legal abduction’.  All abductions, by definition, are illegal pronto! In retrospect, though, ‘repatriation’ was a convenient word that made Kanu’s detention palatable and justifiable in the eyes of the court in 2018. There was a political imperative to have him locked up. There is still a political imperative to have Kanu locked up now, in 2022, but, for fundamentally different purposes.  By consequence, the Attorney General’s office issued a tepid statement saying Kanu was only “discharged,” not “acquitted.” If you trample on a person’s fundamental rights in the process of trying him, the charges against him fall in its entirety. It is as good as an acquittal since the accused can never be tried on the same charges again. No court of law would see fit to reverse that. Any appeal to the Supreme Court on the ruling ought to be denied ab initio if the Attorney General was ever so unwise as to institute one. On his part, Kanu should sue the Federal Government for a substantial sum in compensation for the loss of his liberty.

Based on the foregoing, therefore, the Federal Government is unlikely to approach the Supreme Court for a reversal of the judgement.  Instead, they are likely to freshen up some old charges upon which Kanu could be re-tried and held in detention. Let’s not forget, Kanu did not become a cause celebre until he was declared wanted by the security services and IPOB did not gain sufficient notoriety until it was proscribed by the Federal Government. The ideal of a rejuvenated ‘Biafra’ embodied by the two has slipped into the consciousness of the electorate in the eastern region in large numbers. That said, wanting an autonomous homeland within a given entity is a universal right sanctioned by the United Nations. It is called; ‘right to self-determination’. But, the UN also safeguards the ‘territorial integrity’ of sovereign states. The two principles are not as contradictory as they appear. This is where democratic politics plays a major part. Freedom of expression and referenda are the tools to settle agitation for autonomy, not prohibition, not persecution and not suppression. Let IPOB be unbanned as long it renounces violence. This point has been made here before.  See; (“Buhari should lance the boil of separatism.” PUNCH July 13, 2021). The central theme of the piece ran thus: “On any objective analysis, the basis for separation or secession does not appear to exist, neither has the political case for it been made or rejected. It is precisely the stifling of democratic debate around the issue that has given rise to the rhetoric and agitation for separation.”  Anyone arguing?

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