Nnamdi Kanu, Ndigbo and Nigeria

Posted by News Express | 5 October 2017 | 2,948 times

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The young Yoruba man was leaving office early to go and receive his visiting Igbo wife undergoing her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) primary assignment in a neighbouring town when he encountered a co-worker who planted in him the seed of doubts that eventually destroyed a beautiful union and set his own life crashing down. The careless remark that would play in his head again and again was that he was being naive to believe that his wife would remain faithful, especially considering that “she is young, she is a corper…and she is Igbo!”

The predilection to stereotype and label people by blaming the conduct of one person on an entire group he or she belongs (age, class, religion or ethnicity) is for me the central message in Tunde Kelani’s movie, ‘Magun’ (Thunderbolt). It speaks to a time like this in our nation when some Yoruba and Igbo irredentists are promoting hate speech in the name of a meaningless superiority war that glorifies some distorted accounts of the past.

The cast of the movie, written by Professor Akinwunmi Isola, included seasoned professionals like Adebayo Faleti, Bukky Ajayi, Uche Obi-Osotule, Lanre Balogun, Wale Macauley, Ngozi Nwosu and the Dr. Larinde Akinleye. The story is woven around Ngozi, (played by Uche, one of Nigeria’s most adored actresses who for some inexplicable reasons, doesn’t feature much in Nollywood) and Yinka (played by Lanre Balogun). The duo met and fell in love at the NYSC orientation camp.

With the insinuation that an Igbo woman could not be trusted and feeling rather insecure and jealous—notwithstanding the fact that he actually met his wife a virgin—Yinka eventually sought the diabolical power of ‘Magun’, the mysterious chastity control which instantly terminates the life of any man who dares to ‘climb’ a straying wife. The snag though is that if the woman played no ‘away game’ within a specified period while still being laced with ‘Magun’, she stood the risk of death. Being a faithful wife, it was Ngozi’s life that was in danger in the movie.

‘Magun’ is fatal and remedies are rare and often not foolproof. So the efforts to break its life-threatening effect on Ngozi provided the entertainment and the drama of existence captured in the movie. But in the final analysis, Ngozi’s redemption came from the family of her irresponsible Yoruba husband, the Yoruba native doctors, her local Yoruba guardian and finally the love-struck Yoruba medical doctor who offered himself as a guinea pig to test the efficacy of ‘Magun’ on the altar of a five-minute enjoyment. He was lucky to survive with an experience he would never forget!

When her tribulation was over and she was confronted with the prospect of another Yorubaman as suitor, Ngozi, quite naturally, was hesitant but her father, who started out as a Yoruba antagonist, saved the day by advising her to follow her heart. He said it would be wrong to blame a whole ethnic group for the misconduct of one man, before giving us that memorable line: “A man is a man; and a race is a race”.


I wrote the foregoing on this page on 22 August 2013 in my piece “Yoruba, Igbo and Media Warriors” at the height of the Igbo-Yoruba verbal confrontation following the unfortunate ‘deportation’ to Anambra State of some Nigerian citizens by the Lagos State government at the time. The “Igbo this, Yoruba that” argument that dominated the period, I argued in my piece, “is unhelpful and detracts from what should be the focus of our attention. I believe it will serve us well if we return to what the real issue is, or at least should be: Whether they are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba and regardless of their ‘state of origin’, no Nigerian should be discriminated against in any part of the country on account of his or her social status. It is time we put an end to the on-going nonsensical debate between some Igbo and Yoruba commentators and face the real issues of poverty, development and national unity.”

Eventually, sanity prevailed but the madness resurfaced after the 2015 presidential election. With the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan who was heavily backed by South-east voters and the public declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari that the distribution of opportunities would be according to the number of votes he got in each region, there was always going to be trouble. Then came Nnamdi Kanu who, as I said on Monday, was “egged on by the mob, comprising mostly okada riders with online support from several of his kinsmen in the Diaspora” and was “allowed to take hate speech to an unprecedented level, even by the standards of our country”.

Before I go further, let me commend the Senior Pastor of the Covenant Christian Centre, Pastor Poju Oyemade for his vision in bringing critical stakeholders together every year on the anniversary of our independence so that we can share our fears and aspirations while provoking national engagements for the peace and progress of our country. Every year, people look forward to ‘The Platform’ where I was privileged to speak for a record sixth time on Monday. Meanwhile, some sympathisers of the so-called Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), who were evidently not happy with my presentation, have asked me to explain what I meant by saying Kanu is spreading hate speech.

Hate speech, as I understand it, is any verbal or written statements deliberately meant to offend, insult, intimidate or threaten a person or group of individuals based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. In case that sounds a bit vague let me try to be more direct. Basically, if I say ‘I hate this Yoruba man because he is a thief’ that does not qualify as hate speech but if I say ‘because this Yoruba man is a thief all Yoruba people are thieves’, then I am on a slippery slope. That is the kind of things Kanu has been saying about non-Igbo Nigerians. For instance, when Kanu says “anybody attending a Pentecostal church with a Yoruba pastor is an idiot, a complete fool and an imbecile” before adding, “if your pastor is Yoruba, you are not fit to be a human being” or “Pastor Kumuyi should be stoned and dealt with thoroughly if he comes to Aba for his planned crusade”, am I expected to clap for him?

Whatever may be the disposition of anybody to this government, it was bad politics to have allowed Kanu to run riot the way he did, saying unprintable things about several people, including the president. So, when some grandfathers under the aegis of Arewa Youth issued an ultimatum for Igbo people in the North to quit the region, it was obvious that they were responding to the fact that Kanu was allowed to abuse, malign and threaten other Nigerians without anybody in the South-east restraining him.

Therefore, it was on the basis of the foregoing that when on Tuesday I got a rather instructive mail from a regular reader of this page who lives and works in Canada, I decided to raise a critical point about Kanu and the Ndigbo question to which he also responded. With his permission, I want to reproduce our exchanges:


Dear Segun,

I read with dismay President Buhari’s independence message where he premised the recent calls for secession to be based on calls for restructuring. Unfortunately, Nigeria is missing another opportunity to truly evolve into a nation by refusing to answer the Biafra question sincerely; not by brute force but by serious engagement, with a genuine intention to repair and reconcile.

To be clear, I am not in favour of Nnamdi Kanu’s method or message but any objective observer cannot deny identifying with his sentiments on the place of the Igbo in Nigeria. For perspective, the US after their bloody civil war engaged in deliberate healing which included accurate history of events regardless of who would be portrayed as the villains and heroes especially since the events leading to the civil war pertained to slavery. Regardless of their intentional efforts, the flashpoints of the civil war still remain as we have seen recently with the controversies surrounding the confederate monuments that defined that era. We are talking about resurrecting an event that occurred over 150 years ago!

Last month, Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, stood before the UN general assembly, not to advertise Canada to the world or promote her contribution to international fights against terrorism or humanitarian crisis but rather to apologize for the ill-treatment meted out to the indigenous people when the Europeans first arrived Canada. Trudeau apologized for an event that occurred over 150 years ago because the hurt is still being felt among the indigenous population and has always haunted the country since. Germany only healed from the World War II because of deliberate efforts at reconciliation and reconstruction but even at that, we are seeing a gradual resurgence of such sentiments from the results of the last parliamentary elections. The agitation of the Scottish people from the larger UK is rooted in hundreds of years of acrimony between both peoples.

Therefore, the premise that the hurt from the Nigerian civil war will dissipate with time is simply childish and whoever subscribes to that idea has failed to learn from history – our own history and the history from elsewhere. The civil war is only 50 years old and we somehow expect the emotions from it to be overtaken by events without any deliberate efforts to address both the factors that led to the war and the fall-outs thereof. And it is most expedient for Nigeria to confront this monster because there seems to be no unbiased documentation of that dark history.

Unfortunately, the history will still be passed on from generation to generation with the added consequence that such oral transmission will be mixed with emotions on both sides thereby deepening the hurt. Little wonder, unarmed IPOB members, most of who did not witness the war will stand and confront armed military men during the last Operation Python Dance. That many Igbos have moved on to establish businesses and residences across the country does not negate the emotional hurt they still carry.

While it seems more convenient and lazy to ignore this past and pretend it did not happen, the consequences will be greater for future generations to handle. The blanket statements and ideological underpinning of non-negotiable Nigeria may ultimately result to her implosion. Therefore, it is incumbent on Nigeria to summon the courage to sincerely heal this hurt and build a nation from there. Incidentally, genuine truth and reconciliation does not necessarily equate to secession or even confederation as the authorities seem to equate; that is just shallow reasoning. When genuine efforts are made, it will be surprising that what is needed to bind Nigeria together may be very simple after all.


Dear Bright, thanks for your mail. In as much as I do not want to discuss President Buhari because I hold him partly responsible for this problem by not rallying the nation together after he was elected, I must also point out that I am worried about the damage Nnamdi Kanu has done to the Igbo cause within a multi-ethnic Nigeria and the fact that many Igbo people do not see it. If you notice, you will realise that the Igbos are practically carrying their cross alone at this period without much sympathy from the rest of Nigeria, save for a few opposition politicians in the South-west and South-south who are using him (Kanu) as a proxy to fight President Buhari. Talk about an enemy’s enemy being a friend!

You wonder why?

The answer is simple: Many people have the tapes of what Kanu has said about other ethnic groups so you can easily situate their resentment against him and those they consider his enablers. For instance, I have watched several of Kanu’s videos because I know those who have the collections and I cringe at the kind of bitterness and hate spewing from the mouth of the young man. He abuses, maligns, curses and threatens Yoruba and Hausa people as well as their leaders. And when I see Igbo people following and hailing such a person, how do you think I would feel?

Even if Kanu hates Yoruba and other ethnic groups, he ought to understand that he cannot fight everybody at once. But in his folly, that is what he tried to do. And with that, especially when he was being hailed by those who should call him to order, he brought resentment against his kinsmen from other Nigerians who feel injured by his violent outbursts and hate rhetoric. And that is why many people, including those sympathetic to the Igbo cause, also do not want to hear any talk about Biafra or IPOB, especially if what it means is to demonise them and their leaders.

Believe me, I speak to a lot of people across a broad spectrum of the Nigerian society, including those who may appear quiet, so I know what I am saying. Kanu is damaging, not promoting, the Igbo cause, regardless of the anger that may make some people to think otherwise, and I say that with every sense of responsibility.

I have always fought the Igbo cause not only because, for some inexplicable reasons, some of my closest friends as well as mentors (professional and spiritual) happen to be Igbo, but also because I can see the injustice, especially in the distribution of opportunities by this administration. But when I see respected Igbo people venerating Nnamdi Kanu not only do I get offended, I take it as an endorsement of his hatred against other Nigerians, including Yoruba people of which I am one.


Dear Segun,

Thanks for the reply and for your perspective. You are right about how Nnamdi Kanu’s comments have affected the mood of other ethnic groups and based on his actions and utterances, we may be tempted to ‘leave him to his fate’. However, I have since adopted Michelle Obama’s catchphrase, “when they go low, we go high”. I think Nigeria should rise above Nnamdi Kanu’s irresponsibility and provide leadership for the future of her country. Besides, Nnamdi Kanu only tapped into a hidden sentiment that has not healed.

Before him, there was Ralph Uwazurike and his MASSOB movement and government’s intimidation and arrests of his members didn’t erase the sentiments. Nnamdi Kanu came with a different approach, a disgusting approach I must confess, but an approach nonetheless and tapped into that sentiment. We may spend a lot of time trying to analyze all the factors that led to his successful mobilization of such a huge following but that is a topic for another day. In a nutshell, I think his success at mobilizing supporters is a consequence of government’s immediate and progressive failure over the years in properly educating her citizens beyond paper qualifications and ability to read and write. Similar argument can be made on why USA elected Donald Trump and why Zimbabwe is comfortable with Robert Mugabe despite a so called 97% literacy level.

My fear is that after Nnamdi Kanu, someone else will rise. It is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. When such person arises, s/he will tap into the hidden sentiments again and mobilize supporters. Therein lies the problem. We have seen how advances in technology helped fuel the crumbling of the dictatorships in Algeria, Egypt and Libya. We have also recently seen the sonic attacks in Cuba. We do not know which direction technology is going years from now and it is scary to imagine that a future Kanu might have access to technology that can cause serious damage to Nigeria should s/he go that route.

The direction of spending of the US military indicates there is a gradual shift away from brick and mortar type of warfare. In that regard, Nigeria is not future-proofing herself by addressing the most uncomfortable but necessary questions now, but is rather delaying the seeds of discord to a future date. That is my worry and that is why standing aloof and watch Kanu implode is not very helpful to Nigeria’s future. This is compounded by the fact that we seem not to care about objective and accurate accounts of events, which is was why I was happy you documented the 2015 presidential election into a book.

I remember raising this same concern with you when President Buhari’s biography was published and the half-truths therein. Lack of accurate account of event promotes room for distortion with an emotional slant. That I believe is what gave IPOB supporters the conviction to stand up to armed military and the Arewa Youths the conviction to issue quit notice. These are people who most likely did not witness the civil war but can recount it based on the emotions that came along with what they were told. The history of the civil war is still being passed on but from an emotional stand point on both sides and that is driving the wedge even further. By delaying a sincere and genuine truth and reconciliation, Nigeria may inadvertently be preparing for her demise.

NOTE: This conversation shall continue.

Platform: Where You Got it Wrong, By Musa Yahaya Dawha

Dear Segun,

Your presentation at this year’s edition of ‘The Platform’ was, http://wp.me/p7LdSh-z0R, as usual, engaging and very insightful. However, I think you misunderstood the point raised by the Health Minister, Professor Isaac Adewole, regarding the disparity in the number of doctors working at the Federal Medical centre, Zamfara compared to those in the employment of the state government. Unfortunately, you cited it as an example of some of the maladies of Nigerian state and I believe you misled your audience. Please permit me to elaborate.

120 medical doctors working in the ONLY tertiary hospital serving a population of about three million people is grossly INADEQUATE. A modest number should be 300. I should know because I work in the Federal Teaching Hospital, Gombe. Until the last two years or so, it was also a medical centre like that of Zamfara. For any given population in the underdeveloped world, 5% will have a health challenge at any point in time thus needing a physician’s attention and about 10% of that number will require specialist care. That comes to about 15,000 people in Zamfara needing specialist care at any point in time. Now, how is it humanly possible for these 120 doctors to provide such care? And remember, these 120 are not all specialists.

Just in case you do not know, the mandate of tertiary hospitals is to provide healthcare, train new medical personnel and engage in research. So a typical unit in the Federal Medical Centre you mentioned OUGHT to have at least two consultants, a few residents, perhaps six to 10 at various levels of specialist training, and about three house officers undergoing internship. That gives you a minimum of nine doctors in a unit. This is the minimum number and I am dead sure it is not being met.

Meanwhile, Tertiary hospitals are made up of five major departments and each, give or take, will comprise of several sub specialties and may have several units. For example, in Surgery, there must be: Orthopaedics, General Surgery, Plastic Surgery, Paediatric Surgery, ENT, Ophthalmology and others while in Medicine, you have Neurology, Respiratory, Gastroenterology, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Dermatology, Nephrology and many more.

Now, you must understand that these are just two departments. Therefore, if we assume that each of these sub specialities has two units (they usually have more) with the minimum number of nine, it means that these units will require 81 doctors. You can see that the 120 doctors are not enough since I have not elaborated on the other three (Obsterics and Gynaecology, Paediatrics and Laboratory Medicine) that a single tertiary hospital catering for a population as large as Zamfara State ought to have.

I do not want to believe you were quoting Professor Adewole when you said these doctors were idle. Having spent much of his professional life practising in a tertiary hospital, I find it hard to believe he would say that since he knows the set-up of such hospitals. That must be your assumption, given your limited knowledge of the field of medicine. What the minister was drawing the attention of the state government to was the fact that they needed to employ more doctors. Why would the Federal Government with a single hospital in the state employ 120 doctors while the state government, with 24 hospitals, have only 23 doctors? That I believe was his point.

A situation where 23 doctors were manning 24 general hospitals should indeed worry all of us. Only God can save the patients accessing healthcare in such hospitals. It will be a harvest of unnecessary deaths and complications that are all avoidable. Segun, how can a single doctor man a general hospital day and night, 24/7, 365 days of the year? Such a doctor, who is not a magician, will definitely not save many lives and may in fact take some, through negligence that comes with overwork.

As I said, your presentation at Platform was spot on except for the inference to the number of federal medical doctors in Zamfara. I believe it is an entirely different issue if you want to raise the impropriety or otherwise of the Federal Government running such hospitals in the larger debate about the need to reorganize this country. But the fact is, as things stand today, the 120 doctors running that health institution compared to the 24 of the state government has nothing to do with the larger wallet of the Federal Government. Well, at least not in the sense you alluded to it. Like I pointed out earlier, that number is insufficient.

The disparity in the number of doctors working in Federal health institutions and those in the State Governments is what obtains in a significant majority of states in Nigeria but it is particularly worse in the north. The State Governments have all abdicated their responsibility in providing health care to the centre, and as we all know, the tertiary hospitals have become overburdened and cannot cope (like Zamfara even with their 120 federal doctors).

The pertinent question here is: Why is this so? It is so because these Governors simply do not care and would rather appoint hundreds of special advisers and assistants and pay them salaries and allowances in the hundreds of thousands for doing practically nothing. A fraction of what they pay these so called advisers and assistants is more than enough to pay the salaries of enough doctors to man their hospitals. Let me also draw your attention to the fact that even if the Zamfara State government has 300 doctors in its employment, the 120 in the tertiary hospital will still be insufficient. Remember, the health institutions in the state are secondary health institutions and are not equipped to do the task of tertiary hospitals.

Have you or anyone you know ever sought for an appointment to see a specialist in a tertiary hospital in Nigeria? If yes, I do not need to tell you how long you probably have to wait if you follow due process, without anyone pushing you up the appointment list of course. This delay is occasioned primarily (I admit there is the typical “Nigerian attitude” contributing) by insufficient numbers of doctors in the health institutions. Therefore, the malaise afflicting our health sector, like every other sector in this country, are very challenging indeed.

•Dr. Dawha is a Chief consultant gynaecologist at the Federal Teaching Hospital, Gombe.

•This column originally appeared in today’s edition of ThisDay, of which Adeniyi is Editorial Board Chairman. 


Source: News Express

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