HRM Eze Israel Okwu Kanu, the traditional ruler of Isiama Afara, a community in Umuahia, Abia State, speaks with IHUOMA CHIEDOZIE about his son, Nnamdi Kanu, the embattled Director of Radio Biafra
Who is Nnamdi Kanu?
Nnamdi Kanu is my son. While growing up, he was a very bright boy, very intelligent and brilliant and he was very serious with his studies. He was quite serious-minded for his age, which obviously informed his decision to leave the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where he was studying as an undergraduate, for Europe, in order to finish his studies, following delays occasioned by incessant strikes by the university’s academic and non-academic staff.
Before he left for Europe, he complained to me about the constant strikes. He was worried that, sometimes, the school would be shut for more than three months due to one strike or the other, and he wondered when he would have time to learn, not to talk of graduating. At that point, he told me that he wanted to travel abroad to continue his studies. I was worried; I asked him, ‘Who will you stay with? Do you know anybody there?’ He said I should not worry, that there was somebody from our town there in Europe, who would help him. Incidentally, the said person knew me and was willing to help Nnamdi because of the relationship we had. He (the man who helped Nnamdi in Europe) said as long as the boy was my son, he would be glad to be of help. He said he would help Nnamdi unconditionally, because, according to him, there was something I did for him in the past which he would never forget.
When he got to Europe, the authorities there were impressed with him and took him up; they gave him admission, noting that he was very brilliant. It was determination that propelled him to move to Europe to complete his studies.
Do you have other children apart from Nnamdi?
I have three sons and two daughters but he (Nnamdi) is the first. The second son is in Germany while the third is in London. But I told him (third son) to come back home because my wife and I are the only ones here with their sisters. He (the third son) is the one we call ‘Fine boy.’
Did Nnamdi show any sign that he would grow up to lead the type of movement he is leading today?
I used to observe him with his peers, whenever they were arguing or debating one thing or the other, he would usually enlighten them, telling the others what was the real fact. He was very knowledgeable and sometimes his mates would wonder how he knew more than them. They would ask him, ‘How come you know all these? Where did you get the information?’ With time, I discovered he was talented, especially in current affairs and history. He was really versatile and had vast knowledge on most subjects. Beyond that, he was a well-behaved boy who always did what was expected of him.
As a child, was he troublesome, considering his activities with Indegenous People of Biafra and Radio Biafra?
No, he was not a troublemaker. In fact he went out of his way to avoid trouble. If anything would cause a quarrel between him and anybody, he would rather avoid such a matter. He was actually peace loving and gentle. Also, he was not a person of many words, he was reserved. But what I noticed about him, as he was growing up, was that he detested injustice. He did not like to see a fellow human being victimised. He would never be part of anything that involved the persecution, or victimisation of a fellow human being. He was very straight forward and honest to a fault. Nnamdi would never see the truth and keep quiet, he would speak out, not minding the consequences.
What do you think are the reasons behind his involvement in the struggle for the actualisation of Biafra?
He reads a lot of history, he knows so much about history and I think that is a major factor. Apart from that, he witnessed how Ralph Uwazuruike (former leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of Biafra) was running MASSOB then. He went there (MASSOB) and found out that what Uwazuruike was doing was not right. He called Uwazuruike aside and asked him: ‘The money you are collecting (in the name of Biafra), can’t you give some of it to these poor ones among your members so that they can at least feed themselves and their families?’ Uwazuruike got angry and asked who gave him (Nnamdi) the right to make such comments. That led to problems between him and Uwazuruike.
When Nnamdi came home to get married, Uwazuruike stormed the venue of the traditional wedding with his people to disrupt the wedding. Uwazuruike and his group came in 10 buses to cause disturbances at the venue. I was at home waiting for them to bring the new bride to me, as Igbo tradition demands, when I got information that Uwazuruike brought his men to cause trouble there. It got to a point that the youths from my son’s wife’s community rallied together to confront Uwazuruike’s boys, captured about 20 of them and took them to the police. But Nnamdi was beaten up seriously and he sustained injuries. When he returned home, I took him to the hospital for treatment. After he recovered, he swore to go ahead with the struggle for Biafra, but without Uwazuruike. He said the struggle could be successfully undertaken in a different way, without it being used as a means for self-enrichment, as was done by Uwazuruike. That was how he got involved in the struggle for Biafra.
How did your son get involved with Uwazuruike in the first place?
Those days, people were hearing a lot about Uwazuruike and his activities with MASSOB, and Nnamdi went there once. I am speaking from what I heard. When Nnamdi went there (MASSOB) and found out what Uwazuruike was actually doing, Nnamdi challenged him and they began to have problems. They nearly killed Nnamdi at that time. Initially, Nnamdi opened a radio house in Enugu, but Uwazuruike and his group went there to destroy it. There were so many other cases. That was how it happened.
Are you saying that Nnamdi fell out with Uwazuruike because he was not happy with the way Uwazuruike was going about the pro-Biafra struggle?
The problem was that Uwazuruike was allegedly using the money he was getting in the name of the pro-Biafra struggle to enrich himself and develop his estate, but not helping his members and followers, most of whom were very poor. Nnamdi did not like that and spoke out but Uwazuruike felt he was challenging him and decided to fight him. But he (Uwazuruike) did not know that the more he fought Nnamdi and tried to destroy him, the more God lifted him (Nnamdi) up.
As a father, how did you feel when your son formed the IPOB and started broadcasting pro-Biafra messages on Radio Biafra?
I am in support of what he is doing. I am not afraid to say it. If anybody will come out to champion fairness and justice and fight for the common good, I will definitely support the person. He is not fighting for his selfish interests and he is being straight forward; he has kept his hands clean. I am happy to know that he is not using the struggle to enrich himself. He has not hurt anybody and I am asking God to help him.
How did you feel when you learnt that he had been arrested?
No father will be happy to hear that his child has been arrested. The first time he was arrested and taken to Abuja, I left my palace and went to the DSS office in Abuja. The next day, I was able to meet the person in charge and I explained my mission that ‘I learnt my son was arrested and being held.’ Eventually they brought him out of the cell and released him to me, because he did not do anything. It was Uwazuruike that set him up. But still, he was tortured before he was released.
Does it mean Nnamdi had been arrested in the past before his current incarceration?
When was that?
I think it was in 2008 or thereabout.
What was he arrested for then?
His arrest was engineered. Nnamdi was enlightening the others involved in the pro-Biafra struggle and Uwazuruike was not happy about that. After that, he (Nnamdi) returned to London to continue the struggle from there.
Since he formed IPOB and started Radio Biafra, did he visit Nigeria before his latest arrest and detention?
He has been visiting Nigeria. He visits home and goes back.
What do you think about his current travails, considering the fact that a court ordered his release at some point but he was not freed?
I have left everything in God’s hands, because nobody should be killed for saying the truth. He saw the truth and said it, is that why he should be killed? He has my backing, as long as he is saying the truth. If they took him to court and the court ordered that he should be released on bail and they refused to release him, is that really democracy? Why did they refuse to release him on bail? What do they want? The President should respect the laws of the land, because he is the one that should defend the laws. My son is just saying the truth — he has the right of freedom of speech; they should release him. Nobody should be killed for saying the truth.
Nnamdi was accused of running an illegal organisation, among other charges. What are your thoughts on the charges brought against him by the Federal Government?
I don’t know about the charges levelled against him, they were just formulated by the government to trap him.
Have you been to the prison or court to see him recently?
I have not been feeling well. I have been going to the hospital hence, I have not been able to go to see him. But my other children have been going to see him; two of them are in Abuja now because of him.
Do you receive messages from him? Do they give you reports about his condition?
When he was in the custody of the DSS, we had no access to him but now that he is in the prison yard, it is easier to reach him. My primary concern is his health, and as long as he is in good health, I am happy. He usually tells them to greet me, and inform me that he is in good health.
What do you think about the ongoing protests and rallies held by the IPOB and MASSOB to demand Nnamdi’s release?
My message for them is that Nnamdi Kanu was not fighting for his personal interests; he was fighting for the generality of the Biafrans. It should not be a crime when somebody comes out to say that he wants to stay on his own, to be on his own. It should not cause any quarrel. It is because of marginalisation against the Igbo that the people of the South-East and others are supporting him, telling him to carry on.
It seems that, among the Igbo, only the masses are really supporting the struggle for Biafra. The elite and those in public office have been silent. Are you comfortable with that, considering the fact that your son is at the forefront of this struggle?
I don’t have anything to say about that, except to point out that this world is a funny place. It is always the same, whether one is Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. When people are in position where they are getting money, it will be difficult for them to see a bad thing and speak out. In such positions, people see bad things and claim all is good. Money and material things control people. That is all I can say. Some of them are afraid to speak out because of the positions they are occupying. They know the truth but are afraid of losing their positions.
So far, not many political office holders in the South-East, including governors, have come out publicly to call for Nnamdi’s release. Are you not worried about that?
It is left for them to do what they want. But all I do is pray to God Almighty everyday, because all power is in His hands. I follow the matter on the pages of newspapers and on the radio everyday.
Does it mean you monitor media reports concerning your son everyday?
I don’t go out, these newspapers are brought to me everyday and I follow what is happening. I notice that so many newspapers report the truth, but some twist the story to suit certain interests.
How do you feel when you read about your son on the pages of newspapers?
When I read some accounts between Nnamdi and the prosecution, I see it as when one is fighting with an enemy. They will do or say anything to put one down. What one can do is try one’s best to overcome. The day he refused to remove the handcuffs in court until his lawyer told him to mellow down, I got the information from the newspapers. My children who were in the court also told me about it.
Considering everything, are you proud of your son Nnamdi?
Why shouldn’t I be proud of him? The boy is bold, and he says the truth. He believes in truth and justice. He is just like me. Before I became the traditional ruler of this town, so many obstacles were put in my way by some people, even though the generality of the people wanted me to be their traditional ruler. A day to the coronation, some people struck out my name.
What was their grievance against you?
Some of the people that were with me turned against me, they vowed that I would not be the Eze. But the governor then, Orji Uzor Kalu, looked at the list and saw that my name was not there, thus, he asked about me and that was how I became the traditional ruler. As you see me here, I don’t think evil of any human being, even if you wrong me.
Has your son’s activities affected you in any way?
Nnamdi is not fighting for me, he is fighting for the common good of the Igbo, he is fighting for everybody.
How do your subjects feel about Nnamdi’s activities?
They follow his activities; everybody is talking about his incarceration. Like I said, he is not fighting for himself or for me, he is fighting for all of them and they appreciate his efforts.
Do you believe Igbos should have their own country?
I believe that the Igbo should be free today and tomorrow.
But there are people, even Igbos, who believe Igbos are better off in Nigeria. They argue that Biafra as a country might not be economically viable, considering the fact that the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta may not want to be part of it.
Anybody who feels that Biafra will not be economically viable is not knowledgeable. Do you know the amount of mineral resources in Biafra? There are so many mineral resources that can sustain Biafra. There are oil producing areas in Igboland but we know that the Niger Delta will follow Biafra, even some parts of Yorubaland.
Coming back to Nnamdi’s childhood, was he an extrovert?
Nnamdi was a quiet boy, very reserved, he was not an extrovert. He never talked back to me or challenged me any day. He thinks before he talks. He respects his elders.
But he was accused of insulting President Muhammadu Buhari and some Igbo leaders in his broadcasts on Radio Biafra.
I don’t know about that, I have not heard that. But the fact is there are things people will tell you and you will feel they have insulted you, while they are only giving you advice, or trying to correct you.
There were reports that Nnamdi’s wife gave birth to a baby while he was in detention. Is it true?
Yes, she gave birth to a baby almost two months ago.
Has Nnamdi seen the baby yet?
I don’t think so. I have not seen them. But I know it will hurt him so much.
What do you want at the end of the day?
I am pleading that the government should free him, he did not commit any crime. Maybe the Federal Government should come to this area and conduct a plebiscite, and know the feelings of the people.
Are you saying the Federal Government should conduct a plebiscite on the Biafra question?
It is left for them, I can’t advise the Federal Government but I plead with them to please free my son.