Dealing with IPOB: Ban the game or steal the audience?

by Alexander O. Onukwue

Besides restoring the economy from recession, the biggest challenge of the Nigerian Government, under Muhammadu Buhari has undoubtedly been about dealing with Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB.

From October 2015, when Kanu was arrested and jailed, IPOB became vivid in everyone’s consciousness. The demonstrations began from all quarters, the cries of illegality and injustice in detaining him without trial was the story of 2016. The pressure became much and when it had enough, the Government released Kanu this year on bail conditions that were doubtful of being obeyed from the beginning.

Because Kanu left the Kuje prison and met an army of believers in Umuahia. He was not just going to back down from enjoying all that popularity. He did not have the money to lead them but they were already signed up on his cause anyway. The Government and Buhari, in particular, had never been their cup of tea from before the elections, and he, Buhari, had now given them reason to even rise more against him by raising a hero for them in Kanu.

There is the reasonable argument that Kanu and IPOB are famous and problematic today because of the attention given to them. What is more important, however, is that they have a massive following of people of all ages, but mostly young people who are either jobless or wholly abandon their businesses to follow Kanu. When they take up stones or Molotov cocktails, donning green, black and red bandanas, in Kanu’s name, they believe they are fighting against those who have been living the Gucci life and have left them underdeveloped. That assertion, of course, is subject to debate; marginalization has spread well in the country. Kanu and group managed to be louder than most and they have gained everyone’s irrevocable attention.

In the past week, former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, came under fire for not mentioning IPOB or Kanu in her tweet storms against Buhari’s deployment of soldiers in the East. According to her, by not mentioning their names, she chooses not to “dignify” them, but focusing rather on the state’s legitimate authority who has been endowed with the authority to do right. It’s a view that has not gone down well with all, but not without its merits. There are calls for terrorists in Europe and the Western world to not be shown on TV or have their names broadcast after they have committed an attack. That, it is argued, would make them not become popular in society and not encourage their folk.

In the Nigerian case, mentioning Kanu and IPOB has become mainstream and it would have not much of an effect if they are unnamed but continue to create street blockades. And naming them terrorists cannot be the solution either; radicalization is no route to restoration of normalcy. Two wrongs will not make a right.

Instead, dealing with IPOB should be about reconstructing the narrative, by reducing the number of persons who turn out for the group. Jobs creation and changes in the nature of the environment are places to begin with. Education is not among the top problems in the South-East but vocationally engaging young people to keep them off the streets is a way forward.


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