The interception of Nnamdi Kanu and the storming of Sunday Igboho’s mansion last week were clearly and deliberately orchestrated by the government’s security forces.
These were not isolated or coincidental events. They show a determined effort by the government to stamp out any attempt towards separatism. Mr Kanu was brought in from abroad; it needed months of preparation to carry out.
The assault on Mr Igboho’s house probably needed a week or two of planning, possibly more. Both events not only show the capacity of government to do so much damage and project state power, but they also indicated very disturbingly the limited capacity of government to consult very widely before embarking on critical missions.
This limited capacity has been a leitmotif of the current administration. It borders on naivety. The government spent so much time planning the two events; it is not clear that they spent as much time on, anticipating the fallout. For a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society, everything is not about force or the projection of state power.
The interception of Mr Kanu is certain to have its consequences, domestically and internationally. Questions are going to be asked concerning how the government pulled it off and whether it violated international and diplomatic rules. The county from where Mr Kanu was intercepted, when the whole story comes out, will experience some uproar, particularly if it is a democracy. Questions are going to be asked about whether Nigeria has extradition treaty with that country and what are the details of that treaty.
Was the treaty respected to the letter, or was it abridged, or was it flagrantly violated? If there is suspicion that any diplomatic or extradition rule was violated, that country, if it is a democracy, will have it tough explaining to its electorate and cabinet.
But if that country is like Nigeria where democracy has been severely abridged, then the questions may be stifled. Importantly too, because Mr Kanu holds a British passport, and is, therefore, a British citizen who is a victim of possibly questionable extradition, the matter as to how Mr Kanu was intercepted is unlikely to die down any time soon.
Nigeria may have ceased to be a robust democracy, it will be optimistic on its part to expect that other democracies are as eager to subvert their own rule of law and constitutional rule.
The assault on Mr Igboho’s house clearly yielded very little, despite the government’s rose-colored narrative of the assault.
From all indications, given the instability in the country and the total lack of security, Mr Igboho was not prepared to wage war on the state.
He was prepared instead to defend himself to death. The legality of the arms and ammunition allegedly found in his house is a different thing altogether. What the government sought to do is not to prevent any ‘waging of war’ on the part of Mr Igboho; it was to take him out of circulation considering what he stood and still stands for.
The manner in which the government executed the assault is going to raise speculations as to the motive of the administration. Questions are going to be asked about what is motivating the government: Is it Mr Igboho’s ‘war’ against herdsmen and other criminals making the Southwest countryside unsafe? Or is it the transformation of his campaign against herdsmen to his advocacy for secession that has troubled the administration? Mr Igboho was unwise not to have limited his campaign to restoring peace and tranquility to Southwest countryside.
It would have remained a popular campaign, a campaign that would probably have stood the test of time. By making a detour to the highly politicised subject of secession, he entered the murky waters of politics.
The consensus that propelled his entrance into the consciousness of most south-westerners was unlikely, in the matter of secession, to sustain him throughout the region in particular and Nigeria as a whole.
Up till now, there has been no concensus either in the Southwest or Nigeria as a whole as to the attractiveness or viability of secession. Mr Igboho should have restricted himself to his initial objective.
But regardless of Mr Igboho’s missteps, and not withstanding the government’s post-assault justifications, the midnight assault by the Department of State Service (DSS) cannot be justified in any way. The timing was hideous; and the style was gangster-like.
Worse, questions will and should be asked as to the quality of intelligence available to the government. Already, many people suspect that the government was simply out to neutralize Mr Igboho.
The scale of destruction leveled against Mr Igboho’s property, the controversy over looted money, and the killing of some people during the assault are bound to further exacerbate tension, not only in the Southwest but in the country. More and more, people will begin to lose faith in the country.
The overall implication of the interception of Mr Kanu and the assault on Mr Igboho’s residence will be to worsen insecurity. Mr Kanu’s supporters will completely lose faith in the country they have been indoctrinated to hate.
They will now see no reason to dialogue with the government; they will see the government more or less as an outlaw; and they will dismiss the government as one committed to their destruction.
Mr Kanu himself can be trusted to exploit his trial. He will exploit it to the hilt. Mr Igboho is not the perfect embodiment of the Southwest’s angst against insecurity in their countryside and highways. As imperfect as he is as a manifestation of regional anger against a government that seems to have no clue as to how to restore peace and security, the assault on him will not lessen regional grievances.
It is even more likely that he and his supporters will go underground and have no other way to ventilate their animosity against a state that has proved incompetent to keep criminals at bay.
If the administration had been less pigheaded in approaching the issue of insecurity and alienation, they would have let Mr Kanu stay abroad, run his mouth as much as he wanted, while the government walked cautiously in undermining and counteracting his message.
What Mr Igboho needed was not a brutal assault on his property, but a carefully cultivated message to restore hope and security in the Southwest. Neither Mr Kanu nor Mr Igboho was as popular as when their campaigns began; their messages were already wilting and needed only time.
But since the government was not willing to wait or be disciplined in their approach, they have now demonstrated dangerous naivety in thinking that their approach will exterpate the grievances by the Southwest and Southeast against the state.
Just when Nigerians thought they had plumbed the depths of despair in their politics, something far worse comes from the sewers.
Two Fridays ago, when the APC caretaker committee went to brief the president on what they had done with the two six-month extra time they had been given to rearrange the affair of a party that was not broken but had secured back-to-back poll victories, they baited him with the rechristening of their party headquarters in Abuja. It would henceforth be known as Muhammadu Buhari House, they announced.
The president accepted the flattery, just as he strangely thought nothing of the unseemly decision by Transport minister Rotimi Amaechi to site the new Transportation University in Daura.
If you thought this was bad enough, you were in for a worse shock days later when, during the swearing-in of new Court of Appeal justices, one of the justices, Olasumbo Goodluck, decided unilaterally and for reasons not unconnected with religion, to replace God in the oath with Allah.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria compelled her to retake the oath. Was she trying to provoke another round of religious controversy by that heedless and unnecessary gambit? Did she not realize that such indiscretion could serve as a ground for some litigants to ask her to recuse herself from a case before her on the grounds that impartiality and neutrality could not be guaranteed?