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Kanu, their lord, master and saviour in a show of shame

Nnamdi Kanu and the cult of personality

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6

Anyone in need of evidence of this lacking in knowledge should try a conversation about Biafra/Nnamdi Kanu (the self-proclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, who are agitating for the secession of southeast Nigeria from the rest of the country) with Kanu’s supporters. Earlier this month, while discussing those subjects with a friend and his cousin, the cousin said he was once told that if he ever got tired of living, he should go to a market in southeast of Nigeria, maybe in Onitsha for example, and criticise Kanu.  That would likely be the last thing he ever did.

Trying to have a sensible conversation with Kanu’s supporters about the man and their Biafran pipedream is an exercise in futility. They seem to believe that they are exempt from the requirement to make sense and they have all been consumed by the cult of personality that Kanu has been cultivating since he was arrested by Nigerian security agents in October 2015.

Following his release on bail, we have seen unedifying images of grown men and women bowing at his feet, crowds following him wherever he goes and just mere words like “leader” of a separatist movement no longer adequate enough to describe Kanu for his followers. He is now their “supreme leader”, their “saviour” and possibly Moses and Christ rolled into one.  One guy on Facebook likened Kanu to Christ: “I remember when Christ came, not everyone saw him as saviour”.  This was in response to the “non-believers” like yours truly.

Bowing in the presence of silliness

Kanu is reportedly a convert to Judaism and he and his followers never hesitate to wax biblical about the Biafran cause being a mission from God. Another guy on Facebook claimed Kanu is “a man who God sent to fight for the freedom of his people”.  How do you beat that?  Opposing Kanu or Biafra now means you are opposing God!  The irony, obviously lost on Kanu fundamentalists, is that one of the biggest beefs of pro-Biafrans against Nigeria is the hold of Islamic extremism especially in the north of the country and the fact that many Igbos have died from violence from the extremists.  But Kanu and his followers are quite comfortable with their own Biafran extremism and exceptionalism.

When ignorance mixes with a poor understanding of religion and a personality cult, you are guaranteed the sort of destruction mentioned by the prophet Hosea.

Even the governors of south-eastern states grovel in his presence in search of relevance

Kanu said in a recent interview, in response to how the public would respond to his call for a boycott of the (s)election in November for governor of Anambra State, that the people were not going to vote because “we control them 100%”. The notion that he may “control” a lot of people is a very dangerous one for both the “controller” and the “controlled”, and is one that is at odds with democratic values and the republican spirit of the Igbos that Kanu has pretensions of leading. This may well be over the heads of Kanu and his followers, who seem to have suspended critical thought – as was manifested by their fervent belief that a Donald Trump presidency would bring Biafra to reality.  But those Igbos that are still refusing to fall under Kanu’s “control” should wise up to the reality that little good comes out personality cults.

Appetite for destruction: The crowds in Umuahia follow their “supreme leader” and “saviour”

In, The ABC of Sycophancy: Structural Conditions for the Emergence of Dictators’ Cults of Personality, Adrian Teodor Popan defines cult of personality as a “quantitatively exaggerated and qualitatively extravagant public demonstration of praise of the leader”.  On how personality cults emerge, he wrote about “necessary, but not sufficient, structural conditions, and a path dependent chain of events which, together, lead to the cult formation: a particular combination of patrimonialism and clientelism, lack of dissidence, and systematic falsification pervading the society’s culture.”

Nigeria’s failed state conditions, Kanu’s detention and subsequent Nollywood-style antics on release, the false claims about the divinity of Biafra, and the suppression of dissent have all contributed to the current phenomenon of fanatical followership that the Nigerian authorities are clueless about how to cope with. Former FBI agent Joe Navarro wrote:  “From my studies of cults and cult leaders during my time in the FBI, I learned early on that there are some things to look for that, at a minimum, say caution, this individual is dangerous, and in all likelihood will cause harm to others”.

He then outlines some worrying traits “of the pathological cult leader … you should watch for and which shout caution, get away, run, or avoid if possible”.

  • He has a grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve.
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance.
  • Demands blind unquestioned obedience.
  • Requires excessive admiration from followers and outsiders.
  • Has a sense of entitlement – expecting to be treated special at all times.
  • Is exploitative of others by asking for their money or that of relatives putting others at financial risk.
  • Is arrogant and haughty in his behavior or attitude.
  • Has an exaggerated sense of power (entitlement) that allows him to bend rules and break laws.

Other troubling traits include:

  • Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy, Haughtiness, grandiosity, and the need to be controlling is part of his personality. Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy.”
  • Refers to non-members or non-believers in him as “the enemy.”
  • Acts imperious at times, not wishing to know what others think or desire.
  • Believes himself to be omnipotent.
  • Has “magical” answers or solutions to problems.
  • Is superficially charming.
  • Habitually puts down others as inferior and only he is superior.
  • Is constantly assessing for those who are a threat or those who revere him.
  • The word “I” dominates his conversations. He is oblivious to how often he references himself.
  • Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems.
  • Believes himself to be a deity or a chosen representative of a deity.
  • Rigid, unbending, or insensitive describes how this person thinks.
  • Tries to control others in what they do, read, view, or think.
  • Has stated that he is “destined for greatness” or that he will be “martyred.”
  • Seems to be highly dependent of tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments.
  • Uses enforcers or sycophants to insure compliance from members or believers.
  • Sees self as “unstoppable” perhaps has even said so.
  • Conceals background or family which would disclose how plain or ordinary he is.
  • Doesn’t think there is anything wrong with himself – in fact sees himself as perfection or “blessed.”
Seeing himself as a deity: Kanu and a misguided follower

Even a casual Kanu watcher would recognise all the above narcissist traits in the man. Navarro warns that: “When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects, or organizations known to you then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer even if they don’t know it, yet”.

They may not know it yet, but that lack of knowledge will destroy my people.

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