Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has just been granted bail by an Abuja Federal High Court presided over by Justice Binta Nyako. One of the highlights of the bail conditions outlined by the court was that Kanu should produce three sureties one of whom must be a highly respected Jewish leader. Justice Nyako said she had to attach this condition since Kanu claims Judaism as his religion. The bail conditions also require that a senior Igbo in the rank of a senator will have to stand surety for Kanu. And when he leaves the confines of the prison walls where he is at the moment, Kanu must not grant interviews or hold rallies. He must also not be seen in the company of more than 10 persons.
Those who are interested in human rights issues are already up in arms against Nyako and her bail conditions. They have reminded her of the fact that the court is the least qualified institution to curtail or abridge the fundamental human rights of any individual. As a free citizen, Kanu cannot be prevented from associating with people. He has the freedom to speak freely. To seek to gag him as the court has pronounced is to make mockery of the fundamental reason for which Kanu is standing trial. They are reminding Nyako, in case she has forgotten, that Kanu is agitating partly because the Nigerian state has been indulging in secrecy over the Biafran affair. The government outlawed the teaching of any aspect of the Nigerian history that touches on Biafra. The idea was to shield the younger generation of Nigerians from the bitter experience of the war. But that ploy has since failed. Post-Biafra children have been told the story of the war by their parents. They have absorbed the story and they are asking why. They want the Nigerian state to release the ghost of Biafra from the cage and confront it. Seeking to bury it compulsively is one of the reasons Kanu is agitating. To clip his wings in that regard with the stringent bail conditions is, therefore, unacceptable. That is what human rights advocates, IPOB members and other interested parties and concerned Nigerians are saying. They want Kanu to be released unconditionally.
Beyond the arguments raised so far against the bail conditions, what interests me in the matter is its separatist undertone. The bail conditions read like a separatist manuscript. Through them, Justice Nyako is extending the frontiers of sectionalism and sectarianism. Whereas she is expected to bring a broad and nationalist outlook to bear on the issue at stake, Nyako has unwittingly been drawn into the narrow confines of separatism, the very reason that is making the Federal Government to be ill at ease with Kanu.
Kanu is a product of separatism. He professes Biafra. Justice Nyako has also told us that he professes Judaism. It was clearly on these grounds that Justice Nyako had to insist that Kanu’s sureties must include a senator of Igbo extraction and a respected Jewish leader. These conditions, in themselves, are narrow and discriminatory. They sound like another piece of separatism, this time being propagated by the court. By her pronouncement, the Judge is saying that the charges for which Kanu and others are standing trial are not normal. She is insisting on boxing Kanu into his own corner. This is very reductionist, to say the least. If Nyako saw the case before her as a normal human situation in which people can freely come up to propagate an agenda that they believe in, she would not have reduced the Kanu affair to the level where it is only an Igbo senator that can stand surety for him. Any other known Nigerian could also have qualified to play that role, including Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State, who has openly identified with the cause that Kanu is fighting for.
If we move away from Justice Binta’s compulsive Igbo attachment to the Kanu bail condition, we will be confronted with even a bigger sectional interpretation of what Kanu stands for. According to Justice Nyako, Kanu claims to be a judaist. For that reason, he must also bring a judaist to come and stand surety for him. This is clearly strange and not in line with the way our courts have been operating. I do not know of any situation where people standing trial in court can only be suretied by people who are of the same faith with them. This is a new dimension to criminal justice administration in the country.
But then, when we dissect the issue properly, we cannot but conclude that Justice Nyako is being driven by the much talked about relationship between the Igbo of Nigeria and the Jews of Israel. Kanu himself may have taken to Judaism apparently to drive this point home. Judaism, an ancient, monotheistic Abrahamic religion, is practised by most Jews. As an Igbo who feels that there is substance in the Igbo-Jewish relationship, Kanu may have decided to identify with the religion of the Jews. To this extent, Kanu is an Igbo Jew. He is a member of the Igbo people of Nigeria, who practise a form of Judaism even though they are not taken as Jews by the mainstream Jewish community. Jewish Igbo believe that they are descendants of the lost tribe of Israel who settled in Nigeria.
But the bigger point here is that there is a link between the Biafran cause, which Kanu is fighting for and the experience of the Jews in the hands of their persecutors. The Holocaust readily comes to mind here. When we talk about the Holocaust, we are talking about the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million European Jews by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler and its World War II collaborators. The Holocaust is the centrepiece of the Jewish history just as the Biafran War in which about three million Igbo lost their lives will remain the most telling moment of Igbo experience in their relationship with other Nigerians. Kanu and his fellow agitators must be taking solace in the experience of the Jews. The inspiration to be derived from it is that if the Jews, who went through the horrors of the Holocaust can stand tall today in world affairs, the Igbo, who were subjected to state-sponsored genocidal gambit during the Biafran War, can, with determination, rise from the ashes of persecution and hold their own.
Beyond Kanu and his group, the Igbo-Jewish connection resonates with freshness and appeal. There are claims that the Igbo are the Jews of West Africa. In furtherance of this argument, certain Jewish characteristics, especially their migrant nature, are being attributed to the Igbo. We are told that Jewish scientists were in Nnewi, Anambra State, recently to conduct Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) tests on interested citizens to determine the claims about the Igbo-Jewish relationship.
But all of this are mere asides in the issue at stake. The bail granted Kanu, in spite of its stringency, may excite some people. However, after that, we must pause to see what government does with the court order. Will government, this time, respect the order of the court and release Kanu from detention? This is the next thing to watch out for, especially if we recall that this is the third time that he is being granted bail by the courts. Government did not abide by the previous court orders. What should we expect this time?