The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is as popular as its leader, Nwannekaenyi Nnamdi Kenny Okwu Kanu, throughout the country, particularly in the South-east. Kanu, who was born in the 1970s, had his secondary education in Umuahia, Abia State, before travelling to the United Kingdom for further studies. He later became a political activist and has since emerged the most prominent face of the Biafran struggle in recent times. He was the director of the then London-based Radio Biafra before his widely reported confrontation with the Nigerian authorities. Since his release from incarceration a few weeks back, his Afara-Ukwu abode has become a mecca of some sort. Sunday Telegraph team led by its Head, Special Investigation, Isioma Madike, who just returned from a tour of that neighbourhood, reports…
It was on Sunday May, 14. Time was 11.30 a.m. and noon was fast approaching. Worshippers had made their way to the churches. Ahamefule, 29, a 2013 graduate of English from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, was just loafing about. He has been unemployed since he finished from the university. The nuisance of unemployment made him to join in the frenzy of agitation that has, for some time now, preoccupied the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) enthusiasts.
As he made his way into a canopy filled with like minds, one needed no prophecy to know that the people were joyous. He exuberantly swept his eyes round the crowd. With him was a woman with a protruding belly. Through their interaction, one could tell she was his mother. Intermittently, the woman joined the ecstatic throng as Ahamefule quickly took over her belongings to a rather safer area within the neighbourhood.
Ahamefule with anger unmistaken in his voice later told Sunday Telegraph that the government is only toying with fire. “Biafra is a reality, let no one make mistake about that. They have tried to break us by sending our leader to prison. Curiously that has emboldened us the more. We are now more determined than ever.
“The bloods of our members they killed are on their hands. We have come to a point where we can no longer retreat. Freedom is the only language we understand. We knew how they planned to kill our leader in prison; they even tried to poison his food and failed. For those who care, Nnamdi Kanu’s incarceration, to us was a litmus test. We were able to know those with and against us. It brought the best out in Biafrians. I can tell you that more 90 per cent of Ndigbo supports this struggle. Victory is near,” he said, confidently.
Ahamefule’s enthusiasm is just one of the thousands of tales that emanates from Afara-Ukwu, the unofficial “State House” of the Biafran nation. It is the abode of Nwannekaenyi Nnamdi Kenny Okwu Kanu, the leader of IPOB. His father, Israel, is the Eze Egwu-Ukwu 11 of Afara-Ukwu autonomous community. Nnamdi is a prince though not crowned because the community’s monarchical system is not hereditary.
His compound which comprises the palace is large with a one storey building and other bungalows within the complex. Although, Nnamdi claimed not to be a chief, what one finds in his modest living room contradicts such assertion. In one corner hung a life size photograph with a bold inscription, Ohama-Dike (1) of Biafra Land.
He though lives like a prince he is, he is not by any standard ostentatious. Dressed in princely attire on this day with accompanying beads to match, he restricted himself to receiving a handful of visitors in line with one of his bail conditions. But outside his compound is a carnival like horde.
Sunday Telegraph team meeting with him was tortious and interesting. Just like many other privileged visitors allowed to see the IPOB leader, the team was searched to the pants, with an instruction not to record or take any photograph. “You have to comply with this simple instruction or you have yourselves to blame,” one of the secret securities, warned.
Meeting with the “warlord” was quite exciting. He was very jovial but frank in his convictions. Here we are, he told the team, jokingly. “Our people are suffering and we have to do something about it. That’s why IPOB came into existence to make sure that all the suffering, pain, anguish and segregation stop as quickly as possible. That’s what we are fighting for; it’s not about hatred, we don’t hate anybody. I don’t hate anybody.
“I have been to Kuwait, I have been to China, and I have been to all over the world. If I hate people, I won’t be trying to see them. What I am trying to say is that we need to arrange something that would suit everyone and for us, what would suit me is a wholly independent entity called Biafra under God to be the guardian. So, that’s what we are doing. I am more determined than ever.”
His wife, Uchechi, said the issue now is how to crystalize their determination even further and to understand that genuinely, “our people are with us. We were getting support and messages of goodwill from areas and constituencies we never expected to rise up to speak out against the injustice they meted out to our people. So, in that regard, it was a good thing.
“Though, we lost a lot of people. That is true. It is a very good thing in the sense that now, we know the people who are with us and it’s nearly 90 per cent of the people. So, Kanu’s detention was a test to gauge the harmony of us and I’m happy to know that quite a good number of people are with us,” she said.
Pressed to speak more, Uchechi said: “I am sure you know Kanu’s bail conditions. He is a law-abiding citizen and would not want to go against the law. So, my brothers, when the veil is lifted, we shall grant an appropriate interview.”
Since his release from prison, it has been merrymaking unlimited on a daily basis. His followers swarm on his community like bees, dancing and chanting solidarity songs. This ecstasy has somewhat become a ritual in the neighbourhood. Men, women and youths, found this a thrilling pastime. Members from all walks of life came in their numbers in buses, private cars, taxis, Keke, and even Okada draped in IPOB’s insignias from different states where the organisation has a foothold. Afara-Ukwu neighbourhood has, indeed, become home to many of these members who loiter round unchallenged.
However, security at the entrance to the street leading to the vicinity is watertight. Stem-looking young men, mostly on all black attire, sniff around to make sure nothing untoward happens. There are others not easily identified, requesting and directing everyone in the locality to submit their cell phones, cameras and other electronic gadgets. But the most dreaded are those at the gate of the compound. This group comprises young women. They searched visitors intending to see Kanu to their pants and only pass those cleared to meet with their leader. Yet, they were civil in their approach.
An aged woman, who identified herself simply as Ada, is understandably very angry. She is over 70 years of age. Her home was one of those perched on poles in the area. She told Sunday Telegraph in her wacked voice: “I was born, got married and had all my kids here. We had been free all these years before this Biafra agitation. Nnamdi was just like any other child in the neighbourhood until his return from abroad.
“These days however, we can only sleep with one eye closed. We are now in constant fear of possible harassment from the authorities. We hear that they are coming to bomb this community. Only God knows what would be our lot after that. We are also afraid that these boys and girls rooming everywhere could cause mayhem if not properly controlled. We just pray this cup will pass over us,” she lamented.
Her story is not an isolated one. Many in the neighbourhood echo this sentiment. To them the activities of Kanu is more like a curse than blessing. This, according to one of the natives who refused his name in print, explains why no one could be found in the community in the day time.
“If you come around in the day time you will find almost all doors locked. We only return to our houses at night to sleep. Nobody wants to die. No one is sure what will happen the next minute so the best is to be on caution side,” he said.
But there are also those who believe Kanu and his Biafra agitation has made their community famous. Our locality is so popular that no one comes to Umuahia without paying a visit to this place, one of such people, said. He added: “You can see for yourself. This place for some time now has become the most visited neighbourhood in the whole of Abia State. We are enjoying the fame and we support our son totally. Biafra is all we know and no one can change that. They can go with their Nigeria and allow us to be.”
Outside the compound is Kanu’s portraits firmly and beautifully placed in conspicuous sites within the community. People who troop to pay solidarity visit take photographs where those portraits are hung. Many go the extra mile to kiss the portraits and pray for their leader. In fact, Kanu is seen as a mini god.
Kanu, a pro-Biafra agitator and leader of IPOB who was detained in October, 2015, in Kuje prison, was released after meeting his bail conditions on April 28. Before he was let go, however, dedicated members of IPOB, according to neighbours had been keeping vigil. “This has become their “State House”, one neighbour said. Food has never been in short supply as volunteers donate both foodstuffs and money to support the struggle.
Afara-Ukwu community could be accessed through many routes including the road leading to the famed Emeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu’s bunker, which is right behind in the same community. The bunker, neighbours said, gives a kind of mysticism to the Biafran agitation. It is rare to see people who troop to Kanu’s place without visiting the bunker.
Ojukwu, it was, who led Biafra to a 30-month war. He lost the war, according to Uchechi, because he had no time to plan. Since the time of Ojukwu, no organisation meant to actualise the Biafra nation has been as popular as the IPOB.
“Ojukwu was stampeded into the war. He never had time to plan. That is the difference today. We have time and we can plan our strategies very well. We are not violent and we don’t want war. Is it not curious that the spirit of Aburi Accord is still reverberating till this day in what they call restructuring? If the Nigerian authorities really want to test the popularity of IPOB let them call for referendum as it is done in civilised societies. We want to go because of the perceived injustices. That is our demand,” she said.
However, the journey to Afara-Ukwu, Umuahia, was both duty call and adventure. But going to the ‘war zone’ was not that easy. It was rough. At the foot of the road leading to the enclave were some young men, who busied themselves with sips of Ogogoro (local gin), looking tired like destitutes.
On sighting the team walking towards them to ask for direction, the tall, lanky one in the middle, who should be about 32 years of age, stood to enquire in a wacked voice with deep Igbo accent. After explaining our mission, they demanded our identity cards to ascertain our true personalities. Satisfied with what they saw, they then mandated one of them to lead the way to avoid any form of molestation.
Right at the heart of the enclave was evidence of a people still in celebratory moods. Some appear to be shock still, distraught but united in grief about the continuous detention of their other members as well as those who have lost their lives in the struggle. Once in a while, enormous sorrow would envelope the air around the community, especially when the number of IPOB members killed rants the air.
Interestingly, everybody in Umuahia, capital of Abia State, knows the way to Afara-Ukwu where Kanu lives. The state government in its wisdom imposed a kind of curfew. It restricted movement of Keke from 7am to 7pm and banned Okada outrightly within the metropolis. The Commissioner of Police, Abia State Command, Leye Oyebade, told Sunday Telegraph that IPOB members have been peaceful.
“They have so far conducted themselves in a peaceful manner. This is unlike what many were expecting and I can tell you that there is no threat of violence whatsoever associated with the organisation. Nnamdi Kanu is a gentleman and he has been able to moderate his members to steer clear of any kind of trouble that could ridicule the organisation. He is one man that is conscious of his image and would not allow anybody to tarnish it,” Oyebade said.