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Op-Ed: Democracy rocks in Buhari’s Nigeria

Since Extraordinary Rendition is a crime against international law, who gets punished for its perpetration against Nnamdi Kanu, a British citizen, and a Nigerian, apparently conducting lawful business in an African country, asks Chuks Iloegbunam

THE two dates: July 5, 1984 and June 27, 2021! What do they have in common, in so far as Nigeria is concerned? Only an extraordinarily gifted genius would be in a position to readily hazard a rationale answer to this poser. To save readers from needless mind racking over dates separated by a chasm of 37 years, the answer is here provided: Muhammadu Buhari! How is this so? Please read on.

On the last day of 1983, the democratically elected government of President Shehu Shagari was toppled by selected factors in the hierarchy of the Nigerian Army which set up a regime that drove into exile and jail houses scores of politicians they had quite thoroughly discredited. One of those that luckily escaped the dismal prospect of a dreary stretch behind bars was Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the influential Transport Minister in Shagari’s government, who relocated to London for what he thought would be a peaceful, even if lonely, sojourn outside the shores of his fatherland. He was rudely disappointed.

“On a summer’s day, (July 5, 1984), Mr Dikko walked out of his front door in an upmarket neighbourhood of Bayswater in London. Within seconds he had been grabbed by two men and bundled into the back of a transit van,” reported a BBC Witness programme. Said Mr. Dikko to the BBC a year after the nightmarish experience: “I remember the very violent way in which I was grabbed and hurled into a van, with a huge fellow sitting on my head – and the way in which they immediately put on me handcuffs and chains on my legs.” The plan was to kidnap Mr. Dikko, drug him, stick him into a specially made crate and put him on a plane back to Nigeria – alive.

Alexander Barak, said to be an ex-Mossad agent led the kidnap team that included a Nigerian intelligence officer, Major Mohammed Yusufu, and two other Israelis, Felix Abitbol and Dr. Lev-Arie Shapiro, who was to inject Dikko with an anaesthetic. Crated, Dikko was driven to Stansted airport, 40 miles (64km) north of London where a Nigerian Airways Boeing 707 aircraft was on the tarmac with engines revving. Two crates waiting to be loaded into the aircraft lay on the tarmac. But the elaborate plan was aborted by Mr. Charles David Morrow, an eagle-eyed customs officer, who contacted higher authorities. The crates labelled diplomatc baggage were prised open. Airport officials found an unconscious Dikko and Dr. Shapiro in one of the crates. The second crate had in it the other two Israelis – Barak and Abitbol. The incident, an international scandal, caused a diplomatic row between Britain and Nigeria.

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the separatist group known as the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB)

During June 2021, something somewhat similar to the Dikko Affair happened in Africa. On June 19, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the separatist group known as the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) and a remorseless nemesis of the controllers of the levers of political power in Nigeria thought that a quiet, anonymous drive to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport will, after a couple of hours, terminate inside the hotel where he had checked in a day earlier, one of the businesses that made him wing his way from Europe to the East African country nicely tied up. How wrong he was. He ended up repatriated to Nigeria, from where he had escaped a few years earlier, one step ahead of cadres minded to do him in.

His Special Counsel, Mr. Aloy Ejimakor, told the BBC Igbo Service what happened. He said that Kanu was abducted on June 19, 2021 in Nairobi, held incommunicado for eight days during which he was chained to the bare floor by Kenyan security operatives who then bundled him on a plane and flown to Abuja.

“The people that abducted him said that they were told by their sponsors that Kanu was a Nigerian terrorist linked to the Islamic terrorists in Kenya, presumably Al-Shabab.

“But after several days when they discovered his true identity, they tended to treat him less badly. Despite that, they told him they felt committed to hand him over to those that hired them.

“Kanu was, in point of fact, tortured and subjected to untold cruel and inhuman treatment in Kenya. He said his abductors disclosed to him that they abducted him at the behest of the Nigerian government. He was blindfolded and driven to the tarmac very close to the plane without passing through the airport immigration. The plane departed Nairobi at about 12 pm and arrived Abuja in the evening.”

In both London of 1984 and Nairobi of this year, Muhammadu Buhari looms large as the political leader of Nigeria, first as military Head of State, and then as elected President. The Dikko Affair ended in dismal failure for the perpetrators. As is common knowledge, failure invariably comes at a rather high cost. The three Israelis involved in Dikko’s kidnap and a Nigerian were in February 1985 convicted by the Old Bailey Central Criminal Court for kidnapping and drugging Dikko and sentenced to jail terms ranging from 10 to 14 years. Barak got 14 years. Shapiro and Abitbol each got 10 years. Major Yusufu got 12 years.

In Kanu’s case, only one benefit has, so far, accrued to ordinary Nigerians. It is something tied to language. Nigerians have since learnt from Kanu’s lawyers that the abduction, torture, and forcible repatriation of Kanu to Nigeria amounted to Extraordinary Rendition. It is legalese. It is high-sounding. But people have got the hang of it.

A question now arises. Since Extraordinary Rendition is a crime against international law, who gets punished for its perpetration against Nnamdi Kanu, a British citizen, and a Nigerian, apparently conducting lawful business in an African country? Nigeria has not said a word on the circumstances of Kanu’s return to Nigeria. It has returned Kanu to the Federal High Court in Abuja, for the continuation of a trial truncated when he jumped bail and fled the country in 2017. How does one talk of sanctions when the prime suspect has neither been formally charged nor entered a plea? The other corporate entity involved is another country – Kenya. If the country’s leader, President Uhuru Kenyatta, has heard of Kanu’s extraordinary rendition inside the country he is president of, he has not as much as favoured the story with a single word. Ashen-faced, his High Commissioner in Abuja called a hurried press conference, denying that Kenya was in any way involved in Kanu’s plight. He has since slammed shut his lips when it became proven beyond any iota of doubt that Kenyan authorities had handed Kanu over to their Nigerian counterparts.

But there is a third country in this triangular charade – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – the bastion of protocol and constitutionalism.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is yet to say a word on the absurd affair involving Kanu, a holder of the British passport

. Nor has the Foreign Office. Would all of Britain have remained tight-lipped had Kanu, instead of being born an Igbo from an area of Nigeria formally known as Biafra was a blue-eyed son of pure white parents from Birmingham or Bristol or Cambridge or Cardiff or Derby or Dover. Two weeks after Kanu returned to detention in Abuja, Johnson met with Buhari and Kenyatta in London, the communiqué issued at the end of their meeting being, in so far as the Extraordinary Rendition was concerned, a silence of deafening proportions.

While political prevarications play out, one thing is sure about Nnamdi Kanu. Of the numerous thoughts that must be fleeting through his restless mind, one must stand out for its uniqueness. That is whether or not Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho would, sooner or later, become his co-tenant at the detention facilities of the Department of State Services (DSS) in Abuja. Like Kanu, whose eternal mission is the restoration of the defunct Biafran Republic, Igboho recently had the temerity to agitate for his Yoruba ethnic group’s independence from Nigeria, something anathema to Buhari’s ears. Unlike Kanu, who has been a constant in the Nigerian psyche for nearly a decade, Igboho was to most people outside Yoruba land an unknown quantity a spare six months ago. But he got roused into activism because of the peculiar rocking of Nigerian democracy under Buhari.

When herdsmen of Buhari’s ethnic Fulani nationality killed Dr. Aborede in Ibarapa in January 2021, Igboho gave them an ultimatum to leave the place, and enforced it! That was audacity at its most prominent display. The Fulani herdsmen are all over the place, burning, looting, raping and killing people in their traditional homes without a word of condemnation from the Federal Government and without any of them ever being arrested, let alone prosecuted. Thus, Igboho, for achieving the unimaginable became an instant Yoruba hero. He called demonstrations and drew tumultuous crowds across many Yoruba towns and cities agitating for Yoruba independence. Abuja did not find his effrontery funny.

On July 1, 2021, A joint security team led by the DSS stormed Igboho’s Soka, Ibadan residence in the dead of the night. By the time they left, the place stood ransacked, two of Igboho’s supporters lay dead while 13 others were seized and taken away. A DSS spokesman told the Nigerian press that Igboho’s aides subjected the joint security team to heavy gunfire as they approached. A “gun duel” naturally ensued during which two of Igboho’s men were shot dead. Igboho escaped. The DSS claimed it searched the premises and recovered seven AK47 assault rifles, three pump action guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and charms and amulets! Igboho was next heard of in neighbouring Benin Republic where he was arrested as he attempted to board a flight for Germany. He has German residency permit. Officials in Benin did not consider Igboho’s Extraordinary Rendition to Nigeria an option. They paid scant attention to Abuja pressures for the fugitive to be turned over. Instead the matter ended in a Cotonou court where Igboho is fighting against extradition.

It is obvious that anyone or body propagating self-determination in today’s Nigeria has pitted themselves against the Buhari government. In some quarters, this is puzzling because of positions taken by President Buhari at international forums. In 2015, Buhari urged the United Nations to grant the State of Palestine self-determination and recognise it as a sovereign nation. This was during the United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform held from 25 to 27 September 2015, in New York.

Recently, President Buhari said on the network service of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that the ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar should be protected and granted self-determination by the United Nations. He appealed to the global organisation to impose one of its principles which protects ethnic minorities fighting for self-determination and facing brutality and murder in the host country. Both Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo Igboho have ben shouting from the rooftops that their people are facing brutality and murder at the hands of Buhari and his brand of democracy.

Chuks Iloegbunam is a Nigerian writer and jounalist

This article is published in the September-October edition of Africa Briefing Magazine

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