Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was arrested in Kenya in June 2021. This was after he jumped bail and fled Nigeria. He was initially arrested in 2015 and released on bail in 2017. In his absence, IPOB which has continued to demand secession of the South-eastern region, was declared a terrorist group by the repressive APC regime of Maj Gen Muhammadu Buhari (RTD), and the hunt for the group’s leader begun. Since his arrest, his lawyers and followers have employed various means to secure his release.
Following his highly contested extradition from Kenya, his lawyers have reported that the IPOB leader is subjected to torture and “cruel and inhuman treatment”, resulting in severe ill health. His family has relayed that Kanu’s complaints of stomachaches and ear pain which might require surgery have repeatedly been ignored by the government. He has also reportedly been denied treatment while under the custody of the State Security Service (SSS). The directorate of IPOB in an address reiterating its commitment to self-determination, demanded Kanu’s immediate release.
Despite the state apparatus’ dismissive actions against Kanu, IPOB has declared that there will be no “sit-at-home” order on the 25th of February in the South-East of Nigeria.
This has been one of the group’s methods of retaliation against state repression and for exerting and maintaining its power in the South-East. However, a faction of the separatist group under the leadership of Simon Ekpa, a Finnish-Nigerian lawyer and self-proclaimed Nnamdi Kanu disciple, is expected to observe a “sit-at-home” order despite the group communiqué stating the contrary. The Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba has revealed the deployment of troops to the South-East to combat threats to the stability and security of the forthcoming elections. Such threats are clearly targeted at IPOB and the Eastern Security Network (ESN), which is the armed group associated with IPOB.
The direction that IPOB will take in the elections remains unclear. Considering diverging factions and instructions, it is also uncertain which position will have a greater influence on the elections in the South East. As of today, IPOB has not officially declared its support for any presidential candidate. It has, however, warned all political parties against the use of Nnamdi Kanu as a bargaining chip to advance their political campaign.
The detainment of Nnamdi Kanu and his ailing health, the emergence of a diverging IPOB faction, and the cryptic question of the IPOB candidate add layers of tension to an already precarious election.
by Iretimide Esther OSUNYIKANMI