Nnamdi Kanu, founder of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has announced that he will return to Nigeria in an election season in which he could have an important role / Photo: Screenshot/Nkoli Reporters

Nigeria: Will separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu determine 2019 presidential election’s outcome?

The puzzle over the whereabouts of Nnamdi Kanu, who has not been since 14 September 2017 when soldiers invaded his home in south-eastern city of Aba, was solved in an unexpected manner last week. Videos suddenly emerged on social media on Thursday, showing the founder of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group agitating for a separate country for the Igbos, praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“I’m in Israel,” Kanu said on Sunday in a broadcast on his organisation’s Radio Biafra, a pirate radio station, confirming that he’s indeed alive.

Kanu and his parents haven’t been seen since soldiers stormed their home in 2017, in an action condemned worldwide and which led to the death of many IPOB members. The separatist group had alleged that hundreds of its supporters were killed during the operation.

There have been wide speculations about Kanu’s whereabouts since the military action. Some said he was abducted by the government and detained on a Nigerian war ship while others said he had left the country for Asia. His wife, Uchechi Kanu, told the BBC in February that she believed the government knew where her husband was being held.

Peter Obi, the vice-presidential candidate of the main opposition PDP. His chances of deliving the Igbo vote may be affected by Nnamdi Kanu’s position on the 2019 presidential election / Photo: Screenshot/Channels TV


Now that Kanu has resurfaced, conspiracy theorists are again at work. Some say it’s not a sheer coincidence that the Igbo nationalist came out just when the line for next year’s presidential election had been drawn. The ruling APC and the main opposition PDP have chosen their presidential candidates; incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar respectively. While Buhari is expected to contest with his current deputy, Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo, Abubakar has chosen an Igbo, Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, as his running mate.

If Kanu, who rejects Nigeria as a national entity, sticks to his group’s position that Igbos should have nothing to do with elections, he will definitely have an impact on the polls.

Some conspiracy theorists now say the ruling party might have deliberately released Kanu so that he could dampen the enthusiasm of his Igbo people for the elections thereby sabotaging the prospects of an Abubakar-Obi’s victory at the polls.

Kanu, who was charged with “criminal conspiracy, intimidation and membership of an illegal organisation” in 2015, was released on bail in April last year after spending more than a year-and-a-half without trial on treason charges.

The IPOB founder, who is still wanted by a federal court for the continuation of the treason case, has announced that he was coming back to Nigeria even though he hasn’t named a date for his return. He has however vowed not to appear in the court where he was standing trial before he left the country.

Will he be arrested if he indeed returns or will he stay outside the country and issue directives to his supporters come February 2019?  Nobody knows for sure how the political drama will play out, leaving conspiracy theorists to continue to enjoy their game.  

Kola Tella

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