Separatism: Buhari’s ‘political solution’ must go beyond Kanu, Igboho

By Olu Fasan

ABUBAKAR Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, recently hinted that the Federal Government might consider a “political solution” to the crisis triggered by separatist agitations in Nigeria.

Like most Nigerians, I welcome the intervention. Truth is: there’s no military solution to separatism which, at its core, is a political problem, and thus calls for a political solution. However, any political solution must address the root causes of separatist agitations in Nigeria, not just the symptoms.

Unfortunately, some people have interpreted “political solution” to mean merely the release of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, who is currently in detention facing trial, and Sunday “Igboho” Adeyemo, the Yoruba Nation agitator, who is being detained in Benin Republic and who the Nigerian government wants to extradite to the country to face trial. Since Malami’s statement, there have been calls for the release of the separatist leaders.

Indeed, recently, prominent Igbo leaders under a group called “Highly Respected Igbo Greats”, led by Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, the only surviving First Republic Minister, went to Abuja to beg President Muhammadu Buhari to release Kanu.

On the tail of that visit, Yoruba leaders were under pressure to meet President Buhari and beg him to free Igboho. But while these leaders are well-intentioned, they are wrong. For by begging President Buhari to free Kanu and Igboho, they allow him to take the moral high ground, which is utterly undeserved!

Truth is: Kanu and Igboho are political prisoners. Their offence or “crime”, which is advocating self-determination for their people, is protected under international law.

The principle of non-extradition of political offenders is universally recognised, so is the right of self-determination. Therefore, the extraordinary rendition of Kanu from Kenya and the fatal brutalisation of Igboho’s household are condemnable acts of state violence. In that respect, the Federal Government should release Kanu and Igboho without octogenarian and nonagenarian elder statesmen having to kowtow before the president and beg for their release.

Strangely, President Buhari said the Igbo leaders “made an extremely difficult demand” on him by asking him to release Kanu. Why? Well, according to Buhari, that would make him “interfere in the work of the Judiciary”, which would “run contrary to the doctrine of separation of powers.” But that’s disingenuous.

The state is the prosecutor in both cases and can always terminate the proceedings and withdraw the cases from court. A few months ago, I was a juror in a criminal case in London. Three days into the trial, the judge told us, the 12 members of the jury, that the prosecutor, that is, the Crown Prosecution Service, a state agency, had decided to terminate the proceedings due to the insufficiency of the evidence.

Under the UK’s Code for Crown Prosecutors and, indeed, under the code for prosecutors in any truly democratic and civilised society, prosecutors must terminate proceedings in a case if there is not enough evidence against the defendant and/or if it is not in the public interest to continue the prosecution. Both conditions for termination of proceedings exist in the Kanu and Igboho cases.

First, the charges levelled against them, such as linking Igboho with Boko Haram, are so frivolous and politically motivated that there can’t be enough evidence against them.

Second, it’s not in the public interest to continue the proceedings against them, not least because they are political offenders and their political “crime”, albeit involving isolated incidence of violence, pales into insignificance when compared with the murderous activities of Boko Haram terrorists and the bandits, who have just been declared as terrorists by a court.

So, on evidential and public interest grounds, the Federal Government should free Kanu and Igboho without the ugly spectacle of respected elder statesmen grovelling before the president!Which leads me to what Chief Amaechi said during the Igbo leaders’ visit to President Buhari.

The elder stateman, First Republic Minister of Aviation and the only surviving minister from that era, said that if Buhari released Kanu to him, “he (Kanu) would no longer say the things he had been saying”, adding that he could control the IPOB leader!

That’s extraordinary! Was Chief Amaechi saying that if Kanu was released from detention, he would no longer agitate for an independent state of Biafra?

It would be utterly strange if Kanu’srelease from detention leads to his Damascene conversion. Surely, the only commitment Kanu could give to Chief Amaechi is that he would not advocate violence. But he won’t promise to repudiate his beliefs and stop calling for an independent Biafran nation.Take the Spanish case.

In June this year, the Spanish government pardoned and released from jail nine Catalan separatists, who led a failed independence attempt in 2017. But as they walked through the prison gates, they posed for a photograph alongside a Catalan independence flag and a banner reading “Freedom for Catalan”. In other words, the prison sentences and the pardon did not extinguish their belief in independence for Catalonia.

What’s more, the Spanish government did not ask them to abandon their beliefs. Rather, the prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, said that his government decided to pardon the separatists in order to “draw a line under past confrontations” and “open the way for talks”.

That’s precisely what should happen in Nigeria. Any political solution to Nigeria’s separatism problem cannot just be about Kanu and Igboho. Rather, it must involve opening the way for dialogue, negotiation and agreement that would tackle the root causes of the separatist impulses.

Of course, separatism in Nigeria is not without a cause; it’s rooted in a deep-seated sense of injustice and fear of ethnic domination, caused by Nigeria’s structural imbalance.

Truth is, with genuinely autonomous regions and equitable sharing of power at a leaner centre, the embers of separatism in Nigeria will die away. Simply put: with proper restructuring, Nigeria’s unity will be assured.

So, yes, release Kanu and Igboho, but set in motion the process of restructuring Nigeria!