Over A Century After Achebe’s Okonkwo, Another Is Here With Us

By Tai Emeka Obasi.

One of my greatest sources of pride as an Igbo man is having come from same tribe with Chinua Achebe. And God blessed me further with coming from same state with this literary iroko. Imagine what people from Ogidi, his community, had but seemingly didn’t and evidently don’t appropriately appreciate. This is a matter for another write-up.

His novel, Things Fall Apart, is known by any literate or even semi-literate African and beyond. That great work of creative art mainly draws its flowing appeal from just one character – Okonkwo.

I’ve not really read any other book (and believe me, I’ve read plenty) that built a character so imaginatively strong that you could feel this warrior while turning the pages. We all know he had a tragic end, an end that made me weep bitterly the first time I read through the book as a 14-year old in my class three in the secondary school.

Till this day that I’ve matured enough to understand every word in that classic work of a genius, that feeling I got as a small boy persists. A hero like Okonkwo died like a villain! But he never was a villain. He was a hero all through. A man who believed his peaceful community was being besieged by an alien force that meant no good.

He took his life, not that he was afraid of what the white man would have done to him. He rather did because he didn’t want to witness further betrayal from his kinsmen, who bizarrely succumbed to the invasion of those aliens without as little as a fight. Chinua Achebe’s Okonkwo was an ideal demonstration of the fate that befall warriors that strongly believe in a cause in a world full of the lily-livered, who betray another at something as little as a drop of the hat.

Go through that novel again and notice there’s another Okonkwo in our midst today. His name is Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. But where Okonkwo stopped, MNK went further. He refused to commit suicide. God bless him for that. He rather fights back to add his betrayers to the enemy list. And they’re even hating him more for it.

However, while the character in the epic fiction fought against invading his cherished norms and traditions, the true-life modern-day character is fighting to end the slavery that came out of the failure to stop the invaders over a century ago.

MNK founded the Indigenous People Of Biafra, IPOB. His major goal was to achieve the not so mantra of Self-Determination. They consistently call for a Referendum, a call that should define the continued existence of Nigeria as an entity worthy to be called a country.

Armed with his Radio Biafra, his message was cutting across to his tribes’ people, especially the young, who are the direct victims of the inhuman marginalisation impudently going on in their own country. Seeing his message has been garnering support, they added peaceful demonstration to attract the attention of the people in power. It is a democratic setting and within their standard human rights to express dissatisfaction through any peaceful means.

And they got the attention but not really the type they desired. They demonstrated without arms, without any element of violence. But the government in power reacted by shooting and killing some of them. The same government didn’t stop there. They termed the armless agitators terrorists and instantly proscribed them. This seemed extreme to both local and international observers. But some believed it wasn’t unexpected from a government headed by an ex-general, who had once served as head-of-state via coup d’etat.

Now, Kanu saw the betrayal Okonkwo saw from his own people! All the five governors of his region quickly proscribed his IPOB without arguing that these youths were not terrorists. Not quite long after, this courageous young man was arrested, dehumanized, and incarcerated. When it was becoming too fragile, the same Federal Government, through the court, granted him near-impossible bail conditions. Thanks to Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, and few others that genuinely fought for it, those conditions were met in a record time.

From the onset, Kanu was a brave soul, who friends and foes alike grossly underrated. Those hard days in detention, instead of softening him did exactly the opposite. Even under court bail, his movement converged and garnered unprecedented momentum. Still without arms, the agitators raised their voices even louder, unwittingly attracting a surprising cruelty from the same Government.

Termed Operation Python Dance, the Nigerian combined team of military marksmen invaded Kanu’s home in Afara Ukwu, Umuahia – brutally murdering 28 of his close allies while missing the surprised leader by the whiskers. Then started a life in exile – exactly what happened after Okonkwo killed Ikemefuna. Kanu must have recollected all his travails, finding out that many of the people he was fighting for had betrayed and worse, would even betray him further. When he resurfaced after all the processes that almost ended his life prematurely, he decided to change tactics. Whoever didn’t believe in his cause and method became an enemy to be treated with same measure with the real enemy.

At this point, neutrals and even sympathisers started witnessing some extreme tendencies. He was losing some admirers but was more than making up with new converts, who understood his ‘taking-no-prisoners’ posture as assurance of seriousness. His new tactics generated so much tension, culminating in a security outfit being set up to stop the enemy from invading his homeland of Biafra. With claims and counterclaims, no observer could swear to who actually did what while the Southeast boiled with a litany of killings and destruction of property.

Today MNK is re-arrested and under the custody of same Government. Many of his people are distancing themselves even farther than was done during the first incarceration. Any Igbo person must do the least of not castigating this courageous Igbo son. Yes, I must admit there are areas he excessively derailed in his broadcasts, but the question is – are the issues Kanu and IPOB agitating against real?

My answer is YES.

And based on that, any Igbo son/daughter and any positive-minded Nigerain should be calling on President Muhammadu Buhari’s Government to deal with the issues Kanu and IPOB raised first before trying to intimidate them into silence. Every Igbo son/daughter should do everything to make certain this freedom fighter doesn’t go through the pains Okonkwo went while his kinsmen he regarded as warriors abandoned him when he led the battle from the front.

We’re in the era of supersonic advancement. No set of a serious-minded ethnicity should bury the issue of self-determination just because their leader has been incarcerated. Nelson Mandela was manhandled for 27 years in prison, but the result was end of apartheid. #ReleaseNnamdiKanu should be the slogan of every Igbo person now!

A young woman, looking young enough to even be my own daughter, inspired this piece. Her name is Gloria Ogo. May God propel that young girl to greatness wherever she comes and writes from. She should inspire you too. Add your voice to Kanu’s freedom. He’s a hero. Don’t treat him like a villain.

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