Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo has said that were he in Muhammadu Buhari’s shoes, he would have held dialogue sessions with the leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu before authorising army invasion of the IPOB father’s home.
Speaking to Newsweek in London, Obasanjo—who served between 1999 and 2007 maintained that Buhari’s “high-handed tactics” against the pro-Biafra activists, have not succeeded, but rather required a more conciliatory approach.
“I don’t see anything wrong in Buhari meeting with Kanu. I would not object to that; if anything, I would have encouraged it.
“I would want to meet Kanu myself and talk to people like him; people of his age, and ask them: ‘What are your worries?’ Not only from the South East but from all parts of Nigeria.”
Kanu, a British-Nigerian dual citizen, has risen to prominence as the leader of modern pro-Biafra agitators.
Kanu was arrested in Nigeria in October 2015, shortly after he returned from London and detained for almost two years before he was granted bail by the courts.
He enjoys large voluntary followership by mainly the youth from the South East, who have voiced their request for an independent Biafra, citing continued marginalization of the zone, which got worse in the Buhari administration.
The Nigerian Army in an operation code-names Operation Python Dance 11, invaded his father’s home and reportedly killed scores of his supporters and arrested several—a charge the military denied.
At the time of filing this report, Kay’s whereabouts and that of his parents and some immediate siblings, who were said to be at home when the Army struck, are still unknown.
President Buhari has openly castigated IPOB on the Biafra issue, but the Nigerian military has come under heavy criticism especially from human right groups, describing the action as a heavy-handed response to protests by Kanu’s group, and other agitators.
Nigerian security forces have reportedky killed over 150 pro-Biafra supporters between August 2015 and November 2016—including some in extrajudicial executions, according to a report by Amnesty International.
The number included at least 60 people who were killed at a memorial gathering in May 2016, when security forces raided homes and a church where IPOB members were sleeping.
The Nigerian military denied Amnesty International’s allegations and said IPOB members had used “unjustifiable violence” against soldiers”.
IPOB members allege that soldiers surrounded Kanu’s home last Thursday and killed several people, but the Nigerian Army said in a statement that IPOB members had blocked the road while army vehicles were on patrol, and had thrown stones at soldiers, leading to their action.
They also attacked journalists engaged in lawful duties at the secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Abia State Council in Umuahia, initially denying they did such a thing.
Obasanjo maintained that the army’s “heavy boot” response to pro-Biafra sentiment is “not the solution,” but noted that the secession craved by IPOB is not the way forward either.
The former president said that some Igbo leaders have severalky complained that President Buhari, who hails from northern Nigeria, has prioritized the development and appointments to other parts of the country to their detriment.
“We need to satisfy the youth in job creation, in wealth creation, in giving them a better, fulfilled life, in giving them hope for the future,” says Obasanjo. “There’s no easy way out,” Obasanjo stressed.