In two separate newspaper articles published in 2006 and 2009 in the New Sentinel and Sunday Trust, which can be credited to one of us, Boko Haram’s total disregard for civil values was the main point of discourse. The report in question warned that the government’s disregard for the rebellious inclinations of the group would bring a calculated catastrophe to society. The authorities ignored this and did not consider the imminent peril of society.
Last week, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) of Nigeria urged Nigerians to simply ignore Radio Biafra, a broadcast platform that has committed time, energy, and resources to peddling resentful communication about Nigeria and her constituted authorities. NBC’s management claimed that they were aware of the pirate radio station that is “transmitting seditious and divisive content contrary to the provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code and law” and they are “working with security agencies to track the source of the broadcast.”
Nnamdi Kanu, who is fondly called Director, is the name behind the radio show. On a daily basis, the radio is winning many Southern, Nigerian admirers. According to a random survey conducted for the purpose of this article, an increasing number of traders, men and women in villages, schools, and commuter buses tune to the 97.6 band width. In Aba, Abia State the radio’s audience is growing steadily among young people.
A public commentator known as “Onye Nkuzi” on Twitter (@cchukudebelu), recently dissected this phenomenon, lamenting that “the Nigerian State doesn’t have a narrative to challenge alienation – we’ve seen it in the North East and Niger Delta. It pops up again.” Radio Biafra, like the ongoing insurgency in northeast Nigeria, feeds on alienation to peddle a culture of violence through retribution of real and perceived injustice.
Meanwhile, it serves every society well to pay attention to signals and other sub-signals that have the potential to erupt into other disturbing cauldrons of widespread violence. In Asaba, Delta State, with frightful alacrity, an Igbo man brought the consciousness of radio Biafra to one of these writers one evening in the southeast and implored everyone present to tune into the station.
As soon as the right bandwidth was accessible, the voice of the ‘Director,’ Nnamdi Kanu, came through forcefully over the airwaves. To say the least, It was an arresting, almost hypnotic voice, but it was not the voice that was the problem, but the substance of what Kanu said and how he said it that called for concern.
With a warped history of the causes and effects of the 1967 Biafran Civil War, many unsuspecting listeners were spellbound as the voice of “director” resonated over the airwaves with ceaseless histrionics. With his commentaries on a wide range of subjects all geared towards the need for the burdened southern region to secede from the north and “the hypocrite southwest,” he seemed tireless.
Our investigations have observed that the Director has a growing influence on the minds of many who come from the other side of the Niger. The danger in this is that people in that region are beginning to accept whatever he says as the gospel truth. To the unreasoning mind, the Director is framing the thoughts of many of his listeners and predisposing them to dangerous tendencies. Without going into specifics, but to underscore what one is trying to say, the relevant authorities should know the danger of a collective mind-set propelled towards a particularly risky direction.
On a bus from Asaba to Onitsha, the bus conductor was busy amusing passengers with the resurgence of the Biafran agenda, Biafran currency, Biafran flag, and the Biafran identity card. Moreover, he spoke about how personnel of the Nigerian Police tactfully accord great recognition to Biafran I.D. cards and are liable to set someone free of any offence the moment he brandishes the I.D. card. The bus conductor was very vociferous in his claims, and one suddenly realised that the commuters were prone to give into emotion than to reason.
The late Muhammad Yusuf, the founder of what started as a band of fundamentalists in Maiduguri and then transformed into a dreaded global Jihadi movement, did not have a radio of his own. He relied on cassette recordings of his messages, which were influenced by hardline Salafi teachers. However, both the late Yusuf and now Kanu, have one thing in common: inasmuch as their messages are in sharp contrast to one another, they both have the undivided attention of teeming youths in their regions.
It is important to note that ‘terrorism’ means different things to different people. While a weighty number of people in the Muslim world do not view groups like Al-Shabab, Taliban, Islamic State, and their affiliates as terrorists, a majority of people consider them full blooded terrorists. It is the same with the Biafran movement: a growing number of people consider the rebellion an inalienable right that will offer Igbos freedom from the superficial Hausa/Fulani hegemony.
Indeed, Radio Biafra is a ticking time bomb. While we must accept that some of the claims made by the late Yusuf over a decade ago and now by Kanu have merit, like that of the alienation of people, what is generally said on radio Biafra is more emotive than rational. Hopefully Muhammadu Buhari’s new government combats some of these obvious imbalances.
The Hutu power radio that heralded the 1994 Rwandan genocide should be a relevant example of what could result if such hate is left unchecked not only by Kanu, but championed by different groups across Nigeria. As people with a background in media studies, we need not overemphasize the power of the media and its inherent capacities to be instruments of negative or positive ends. But, the power of the media should never be underestimated, at least not in this case. Every serious federating unit should be mindful of the insidious influence of proponents of divisive rhetoric within their midst and their potential to nurture the embers of schismatic discords.
Salkida and Chinedu are both journalist from north and south Nigeria respectively