Addressing Radio Biafra’s Divisive Commentaries, By Ahmad Salkida and Chinedu Edwin

In African

Last week, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) urged Nigerians to simply ignore Radio Biafra, a broadcast platform that has committed time, energy and resources to peddling resentful communication about Nigeria and its constituted authorities.

In two separate newspaper articles published in 2006 and 2009 in the New Sentinel and Sunday Trust, and credited to one of us, the manner of Boko Haram’s total disregard for civil values was the point of discourse. The report in question warned that the government’s disregard of the rebellious inclination of the group would amount to a calculated catastrophe to society. The authorities ignored this at society’s general peril.

Last week, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) urged Nigerians to simply ignore Radio Biafra, a broadcast platform that has committed time, energy and resources to peddling resentful communication about Nigeria and its constituted authorities. The management of NBC claims that they are aware of the pirate radio station, which 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.”

… it serves every society well to pay due attention to signals and other sub-signals with the potentials to erupt into disturbing cauldrons of widespread violence.

Nnamdi Kalu, the name behind the radio, who is fondly called ‘Director’, has not been going about his endeavour in a manner that prevents the agitation of other members of the public. As it seems, the radio is winning several admirers among southerners in Nigeria on a daily basis. According to a random survey for the purpose of this article, an increasing number of traders, men and women in villages, schools and in commuter buses tune in to the 97.6 band width. In Aba, Abia State, the radio’s audience is growing steadily among young people.

A public commentator known on Twitter as “Onye Nkuzi” (@cchukudebelu), recently dissected this phenomenon, lamenting on the social media platform 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 North-East Nigeria feeds on alienation to peddle a culture of violence as retribution for real and perceived injustice.

Many listeners who do not know otherwise or who have a distorted understanding of what led to the Nigerian-Biafran civil war in 1967 and its concomitant effects of seemingly irreconcilable differences listen spellbound to the voice of “director” as it resonates over the waves with ceaseless histrionics.

Meanwhile, it serves every society well to pay due attention to signals and other sub-signals with the potentials to erupt into disturbing cauldrons of widespread violence. In Asaba, Delta state, an Igbo man brought the consciousness of Radio Biafra to some of us one evening, with frightful alacrity, and implored everyone present to tune to the station. As soon as the bandwidth was accessed, the voice of ‘Director’ Nnamdi Kanu came through forcefully over the airwaves. It was an arresting, almost hypnotic voice, to say the least, but it was not the voice that was the issue but the substance of what he was saying and how he said it that called for concern.

Many listeners who do not know otherwise or who have a distorted understanding of what led to the Nigerian-Biafran civil war in 1967 and its concomitant effects of seemingly irreconcilable differences listen spellbound to the voice of “director” as it resonates over the waves with ceaseless histrionics. He seems tireless, 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 hypocritical South-West”, to quote the words of the radio’s presenter.

Our investigations have observed, most painfully, that the Director has a growing influence on many from the other side of the Niger. The danger in this is that people in the region are beginning to accept whatever he says as gospel truth; to the unreasoning, Director, as he chooses to be addressed, is framing the minds of many of such listeners and predisposing them to dangerous tendencies. Without going into specifics, relevant authorities should know the peril of a collective mind-set propelled towards a particularly dangerous direction.

…both Mohammed Yusuf and now Nnamdi Kalu of Biafra Radio have one thing in common – their messages have the undivided attention of teeming youths in their regions.

On a bus from Asaba to Onitsha, the conductor was busy regaling passengers about the resurgence of the Biafran agenda, the Biafran currency, flag, identity card, and how personnel of the Nigerian Police are according great recognition to the Biafran identity card, including their disposition to setting people free of any offence the moment s/he brandishes the card. The bus conductor was very vociferous in his claims and on an attempt to draw the passengers’ attention to the folly of these claims, one suddenly realised that the commuters were more given to emotion than reason, and to avoid the rising belligerency of some of the passengers, including the driver, one was compelled to channel the discussion to safer grounds.

Late Muhammad Yusuf, the founder of what started as a ragtag band of fundamentalists in Maiduguri, which subsequently transformed into a dreaded Jihadi movement with global affiliations, did not have a radio of his own. He relied on cassette recordings of his messages which were influenced by hardline Salafi teachers to woo youths to his flock. However, both Mohammed Yusuf and now Nnamdi Kalu of Biafra Radio have one thing in common – their messages have the undivided attention of teeming youths in their regions.

It is important to note here that ‘terrorism’ means different things to different people. While a huge number of people in the Islamic world do not view groups like Al-Shabab, Taliban, Islamic State and their affiliates as terrorists, the majority consider them as full blown terrorists. It is the same with the Biafran movement, with a growing number of people considering the rebellion as an inalienable right that may offer Igbos freedom from the Hausa/Fulani hegemony.

The Hutu run Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) that heralded the 1994 Rwandan genocide should be a relevant example of how dire consequences could result if this sort of propensity for the rendition of hate, not only by Kalu but also championed by different groups across Nigeria, is left unchecked.

Indeed, Radio Biafra is a ticking time bomb. We must accept that some of the claims made by the late Mohammed Yusuf, over a decade ago, and now Nnamdi Kalu, on the air waves, have merits, including the alienation of their people, a fact which is very obvious to any discerning person. Yet, the general thrust of Radio Biafra’s mono cast is more emotive than rational. Hopefully, the new government of Muhammadu Buhari should get set to combat some of these obvious imbalances and marginalisation which underpin the restiveness.

The Hutu run Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC) that heralded the 1994 Rwandan genocide should be a relevant example of how dire consequences could result if this sort of propensity for the rendition of hate, not only by Kalu but also championed by different groups across Nigeria, is left unchecked. As people with backgrounds in media studies, we need not overemphasise the power of the media and its inherent capacities to be commandeered as willing instruments for negative or positive ends. The power of the media should never be underestimated, at least not in this case. Every part of this country should be mindful of the insidious influence of divisive rhetoric within its midst and the potentials to nurture and fan the embers of schismatic discords.

Ahmad Salkida and Johnson Chinedu Edwin are journalists from the North and South of Nigeria respectively.

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