Nnamdi Kanu and the Triumph of the Egbe Ọnụ Strategy  

Nnamdi Kanu and the Triumph of the Egbe Ọnụ Strategy

By Azuka Onwuka
Nnamdi Kanu
“Egbe” means gun in Igbo and “ọnụ” means mouth. So “egbe ọnụ” literally means “mouth gun.” Nnamdi Kanu has used the egbe ọnụ strategy to his advantage in his quest for the independence of Biafra from Nigeria. 
While those who use the real gun fire shots and record casualties, users of the egbe ọnụ strategy “shoot” with their mouth with the aim of instilling fear into the mind of the opponents. They make all kinds of threat without actually carrying out their threats. Someone who does not understand the egbe ọnụ strategy may panic and run away or even attack theegbe ọnụ proponent to prove superiority. But if the case is adjudicated by elders, the person who made the physical attack is declared guilty, for it is believed that everybody has a mouth and talk is cheap. In addition, it is believed that the appropriate response to egbe ọnụ is egbe ọnụ or silence. One can only respond with physical attack if physically attacked.
So in such a case, the elders would ask: “Who was the first to touch the other?” The assailant would complain: “But he was the first to call me a monkey from a family of monkeys, and warned that he would break my head into two and use my brain to paint the wall.” 
The response would be: “Did he touch you? Don’t you have a mouth with which to call him a baboon and tell him that you would cut his tongue into two and use it to tie a broom?” 
In today’s world where it is an abomination for a man to beat a woman, women have become masters of the use of egbe onu. A woman would taunt her husband and call him names for years. But the day the man can no longer bear it and strikes her, he is branded a “wife beater” and ridiculed by the public as a beast. He may even be arrested and charged, if the wife reports to the police. The man would be asked why he did not walk away during the taunts from his wife. He would be asked if such taunts had been made by his female colleague or boss in the office, if he would have used his fist on her. The wife would become the saint, while the man would be the devil.
As a child, I was a victim of the egbe ọnụ strategy several times. I did not know how to use the egbe ọnụ. I took such seriously and reacted to it with physical attacks. On every occasion, I was found guilty. I was found guilty even by my father when judging such a case between other children and me. But I eventually learnt how to react to egbe ọnụ: silence, derisive laughter or double measure of egbe ọnụ.
There are Nigerians who have dissipated much energy on the egbe ọnụ employed by Mr Nnamdi Kanu and members of his Indigenous Peoples of Biafra. Kanu began his Radio Biafra in 2012 and was arrested in 2015. In spite of all that he is alleged to have threatened to do, five years after, there has been no report that IPOB members attacked or killed even one person or even dropped a bomb on any government facility in protest.
Amnesty International gave a report of how IPOB members were killed while praying inside National High School, Aba; while commemorating the Biafran Day on May 30, 2016 inside a church at Nkpor; while celebrating the inauguration of President Donald Trump of the United States in Port Harcourt; and while peacefully protesting the detention of their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, despite repeated court rulings granting him bail. Amnesty International did not stop there: it showed pictures of IPOB members who were poured acid upon by the Nigerian security agents after being shot and presumed dead. 
Despite these acts of aggression and callousness from the Nigerian security agents, IPOB has never been reported to have attacked a policeman or soldier, least of all killing any. Yet many Nigerians dissipate their energy over comments credited to Kanu before he was arrested in 2015.
Why were communities like Odi and Zaki Biam almost wiped out in 1999 and 2001 respectively? Policemen and soldiers were killed in the two communities during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In their usual aggressive manner, soldiers invaded the communities and virtually wiped them out, to the shock of Nigerians and the world. 
When some Northern elders made all kinds of threat before the 2011 election, including threatening to make Nigeria ungovernable, it did not end in threats. Hundreds of people were killed, including a dozen members of the National Youth Service Corps, and houses were destroyed, once it was becoming obvious that Major General (retd.) Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, was losing the election. Consequently, because of the threats that heralded the 2015 election, including the infamous threat by Buhari that the dogs and the baboons would be soaked in blood, many Southerners fled the North just before the election day. Thankfully Buhari was declared winner: Jonathan conceded defeat and no single person was killed, neither was any property destroyed. 
When Niger Delta Avengers threatened to cripple the oil economy of Nigeria, it was not egbe ọnụ. They went to work immediately, blowing up major oil facilities. They almost succeeded in crippling Nigeria’s oil economy if not that they were begged to stop. 
When the O’odua People’s Congress issued a threat to Northerners in the Southwest in 1999, it was not egbe ọnụ. They went to work and many Northerners were killed. They also killed policemen. Fiery human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who had been their lawyer, condemned them in very strong terms and dissociated himself from them forever. That incident motivated the musician African China to release his classic track “Crisis” in which he sang: “If I say O, you say P, another man say C, ọmọ na you sabi; I say dem burn man, dem kill man o for inside Ajegunle”. 
The reason many Igbos do not condemn Kanu’s utterances, especially those made before his arrest of 2015, is that they understand the concept of egbe ọnụ. Also the reason many top Igbos don’t condemn Kanu’s Biafran cause is because it has not involved violence or killing of others. On the contrary, his members have been killed unlawfully in peaceful protests, even though the right to protest is a right all over the free world, including Nigeria. The day he adopts violence, many Igbos will distance themselves from him, because the Igbos abhor violence and believe in the sacrosanctity of the human life. They believe that people can disagree without any recourse to physical force. That is the concept of egbe bere, ugo bere (let the kite perch and let the eagle perch.) 
When in March 2014, a group called the Biafran Zionist Movement stormed the Enugu Government House, purportedly without arms, to take over the place, leading to the death of one person, Igbos condemned it in very strong terms, and called those involved senseless people. Many questions were thrown at them. What did they intend to achieve? Even if they took over Government House, Enugu, would they be able to rule the state? Would taking over Enugu Government House be tantamount to the emergence of Biafra? Did they have any army to withstand the onslaught that would be unleashed on them?
Those men who took that action seem to be facing trial till today, but nobody pays them attention or even asks for any reprieve for them. Their action was irrational. Violence is frowned at among the Igbos except in self-defence. 
So those who are shouting about war and Syria and Yemen should save their breath. No war is about to break out in Nigeria. If any war will ever start, it will never be started by the Igbo. The Igbo can only defend themselves if attacked. 
No doubt, ethnic and religious taunts can be irritating. Not everybody takes it lightly or condones it. But as long as Kanu uses egbe ọnụ without touching anybody, don’t expect him to be tongue-lashed by most Igbo people. The argument will always be: Is it not his mouth that he is using; don’t you have your own mouth with which to respond? 
Some IPOB members claim that the egbe ọnụ strategy of Kanu was just to get the attention of Nigerians. And indeed Kanu has used it to get the attention of every Nigerian. Even those who felt unconcerned are now talking about what to do over this unworkable Nigerian system and structure. That is the positive that has come out of it.
Having got the attention of Nigerians, Kanu seems to be dropping his egbe ọnụ approach for a softer approach. Now that he is seen as a leader of millions of people, he should adopt a more conciliatory approach for more effectiveness.
However, the recent complaint of the Arewa Youths to the United Nations to designate IPOB a terrorist group is ridiculous. It is another testimony that IPOB is really getting the attention it is looking for. How could Arewa Youths be asking for a group that has not fired a bullet or killed an individual but has had its members killed repeatedly to be designated a terrorist group? Shouldn’t the Arewa Youths be more concerned about the Fulani Herdsmen and Boko Haram that are exploding bombs every week and wiping out villages than with a group that is using “mouth gun”?
Those who feel angry with IPOB’s verbal attacks should direct their anger towards seeking a solution to Nigeria’s unworkable structure. Nigeria has been degenerating in the last 50 years. If it will take the caustic words of Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB to shock Nigerians out of their slumber to seek a solution to Nigeria’s backwardness, so be it.
Nigerians must start talking on how to save Nigeria from its sad situation.


  1. Ayodele Adeyemi July 15, 2017 Reply
    • Azuka Onwuka July 15, 2017 Reply
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  3. Ayodele Adeyemi July 15, 2017 Reply
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  4. Ejykman July 15, 2017 Reply
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