“Those whose palm-kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble” – Chinua Achebe
Omoyele Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters and factional leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, have a lot in common. Apart from advocating radical changes in Nigeria for which they were both arrested and detained by the State at different times, their bail conditions were among the most stringent in Nigerian judicial history.
Omoyele Sowore is an online publisher, activist, and former presidential candidate, who was on August 3, 2019 Sowore arrested by the Department of Security Services (DSS) for his protest tagged RevolutionNow. Weeks before his arrest, Sowore had met with Nnamdi in public glare overseas ostensibly to “share ideas”. The essence of that ominous meeting was not lost on the Nigerian state. The DSS alleged that Sowore, while declaring RevolutionNow had promised that the Buhari government would be swept away sooner and DSS would be a thing of the past.
Like Nnamdi Kanu, Sowore was picked up in a hotel in Lagos. Flashback, Nnamdi Kanu, before his arrest in Lagos in 2015, after some campaigns for Biafra abroad, had declared he was returning to Nigeria and that he would bring hell with him. He was predictably picked up and processed to Kuje prison for what turned out to be a long sojourn. Several events followed, culminating in Operation Python Dance II, which provided Kanu the smokescreen to disappear from Nigeria around September 14, 2017, only to resurface in Israel a year later.
Following his first public appearance in Jerusalem Nnamdi Kanu declared again: “I am coming back to Biafra land soon and I will bring hell with me, the way it has never been seen before”. He is actually mimicking a historical line delivered by Kurt Russell in the film “Tombstone” when he played frontiersman Wyatt Earp, because it reverberates with victory. Wyatt warned the western gang, The Cowboys, that he was going after them and “hell’s coming with me.” But has Nnamdi Kanu any plan or capacity to bring hell with him to Nigeria? That is a matter for another day. The forthcoming burial of his mother would no doubt test that resolve and capacity.
For today, fast-forward to Sowore, who shortly after his tutorials with Nnamdi Kanu, declared RevolutionNow abroad and fixed a date, against all known canons of revolutionary struggle, to launch it. Real revolutions have always been spontaneous.
Taking both men too seriously and responding to their loafing is nothing but a failure of intelligence, for if the nation’s intelligence community was on top of their game, they would easily discover that neither Kanu nor Sowore posed grave danger to the state and the best response would have been to ignore them. They would have fizzled out naturally. But the rash response of the state to their rather benign activism has given them wings to fly and clothed both men in the robes they hardly deserved.
Meanwhile, there is also one issue that needed to be put in perspective: their stringent bail conditions and how both men grappled with meeting them. In a brief ruling on Kanu’s bail, Justice Binta Nyako, said that she was convinced that Kanu was ill and needed more medical attention than the Nigerian Prisons was giving him. Her words: “Nnamdi Kanu has appealed to the court for bail based on health grounds and it is only the living that can stand trial. So I am minded to grant him bail so that he can attend to his health and face his trial alive”.
She, however, gave 12 stringent conditions, which Mr. Kanu must meet to be released on bail. Some of the conditions were: Kanu must not hold rallies, he must not grant interviews, he must not be in a crowd of more than 10 people, and he must provide three sureties (a serving Senator, a Jewish Rabbi and a renowned businessman) in the sum of N100 million each, and landed property in Abuja, among others.
At the behest of Nnamdi Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Vincent Obetta, the Deputy Senate President of Nigeria Ike Ekweremadu (as he then was) convened a meeting in his residence to rescue Nnamdi Kanu. It was obvious the IPOB family could do nothing. The bail conditions were way beyond them. Ekweremadu and other Igbo political leaders, especially the South East Senators, who gathered in his house, had reasoned it was important to remove the Igbo youths from harm’s way. In fact, the South East Senators had also earlier visited President Buhari in November 2016 to appeal for Kanu’s release to restore calm in their region. So, with the judicial window presenting itself, the herculean conditions were met and Kanu walked out of Kuje prison. However, Kanu’s wilful violation of his bail conditions started from the room where Abaribe signed the bail bond, to the point where he was confronted by Operation Python Dance and vanished in the thin air- most likely what he had always plotted.
Omoyele Sowore is facing a similar trial and his trial has commenced and luckily, his bail was granted much sooner but he has failed to meet his bail conditions, which are much less stringent than those of Nnamdi kanu.
For the avoidance of doubt, the presiding judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, granted bail to Omoyele Sowore, in the sum of N100m with two sureties in like sum. The sureties, who must be resident in Abuja, must also have landed assets worth the bail sum in Abuja, and they are to deposit the original title documents of the assets with the court. The judge also ordered him to deposit the sum of N50m in the account of the court as security.
Like Nnamdi Kanu, Sowore was barred from addressing any rally pending the conclusion of his trial on charges of treasonable felony, among others. She also barred Sowore from travelling out of Abuja and the second defendant out of Osogbo, during the trial. Sowore has so far, failed to meet the bail conditions. The judge has reviewed the conditions downward and yet, Sowore is still behind bars. Even the trial judge could not hide her embarrassment over Sowore’a failure to meet his bail conditions. Some commentators have also lashed out at the Yoruba for this.
However, one does not believe that the whole Yoruba nation cannot rally to meet the bail conditions. Fact is: nobody is prepared to take the risk taken by Ike Ekweremadu and co and incur the wrath of the repressive state as they did and grievously suffered for it. And nobody wants to be “rewarded” for such risks the way Kanu and his boys “rewarded” Ekweremadu in Nuremberg, Germany.
Indeed Ekweremadu’s Nuremberg treatment by IPOB is better appreciated in the face of the Sowore experience. The Igbo say “okuko anaghi erofu onye foro ya odudu n’udu mmiri” (the chicken does not forget the person that plucked off its diseased feathers in the rainy season). Sadly, gratitude is far from Kanu and his misguided lieutenants as urine is alien to the chicken.
Nnamdi Kanu’s faction of IPOB needs to read this portion over and over again in the light of Sowore’s bail to appreciate what sacrifices people made and what could have become of Kanu and the struggle if Ekweremadu, Abaribe, South East Senators, Osita Chidoka and a few others did not stick their necks out. In the words of Kanu’s ex-lawyer, Innocent Obetta: “Once I got the two bails at the Magistrate and High Courts, it was so obvious that the Federal Government was not going to release Nnamdi Kalu or to obey the court judgment in that respect. I became very frustrated and I had to resort to Igbo leaders. But unfortunately, most of the persons I reached out to did not listen to me until I contacted Ekweremadu…. That was when Ekweremadu threw caution to the wind and graciously agreed to help. He quickly called a meeting of South East National Assembly, which precipitated to the bail”.
So, there is every possibility that Nnamdi Kanu would still be languishing in Kuje prison. Biafra agitation and agitators alone could not have freed him. If Kanu and his boys doubt me, he should ask El-Zakzaki and the Shiites. This government does not hear words. This obviously underscores the furry and disappointment at IPOB expressed by the likes of Abaribe, Obetta, Chidoka, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, etc. over the Nuremberg show of shame.
Nevertheless, all said, Sowore cannot languish in detention forever. It is high time some men and women, especially of Yoruba extraction, develop the guts to come to his rescue as done for Kanu! His continued detention is becoming rather too embarrassing.
• Dr. Mefor is an Abuja-based Forensic and Social Psychologist, Author, and Journalist_