The Number 20

Nnamdi Kanu

By Adesegun Damazio

As young children who grew up in one of Nigeria’s most atmospherically unpredictable neighborhoods, Lagos Island, we were exposed to life’s intricacies perhaps earlier than we should have. School was the virtual classroom and the streets were the real classrooms where you learnt what others paid handsomely for.

As young kids, we were also taught basic principles – fame, fortune and most often, power. If you’re conversant with the 80s, 90s and early 2000s Lagos Island, you must have heard stories of former street kids who rose to notoriety, commanded (and are still commanding) unbelievable sums of money with clandestine government backing for full measure. In the same vein, you must have heard of how these notorious kingpins recruit a teeming population of supporters and engineer their allowances through backdoor funding.

Rumour mongers would even have you believe their sponsors were government agents while others would mention the names of benefactors you’d never heard of in your entire life. While this situation lingers, one thing is certain, the mob bosses receive lump sponsorships from unspecified quarters. But we’ll come back to that.

As kids, we also played games – board, street, virtual and electronic – depending on the catalysts of the circumstantial euphoria. PS One, Nintendo and Sega Mega were fan favorites given the visual appeal they brought to those of us who had never imagined such animated digital paradise. And for those who either as a result of insufficient funds or individual preference, resorted to board games, we sunk our attention deeply into the convivial engagement as a cure for primal boredom.

Some played Dominos, Ludo, Snakes & Ladder and others simply preferred Whot. If you played the olden days Whot, you’d realize the kind of power the number 20 yields, though I can’t tell for sure whether it’s still of any value in the game today. Besides, I don’t want to bore you with the details of how the numbers 14, 2 and 5 earned you unwanted (and sometimes beneficial) one, two and three extra cards respectively with which you either disarmed or strengthened your opponent. Or how the numbers 1 and 8 heralded untimely suspension much to your detriment or advantage. I’ll instead reiterate the role of number 20, colloquially termed “whot”.

With that card, you could literally “command” your opponent and force them to tender a shape you wanted. And if they ever failed to present it, the game rules stipulated that they be sent to a “general market” where an extra card would be added to their deck while you dealt them a ghastly or wimpy blow, depending on how grounded your strategy was. What’s more, there were four or five number 20 cards in a deck. However, it’s one thing to possess the number 20 card, it’s another thing to have the sense to utilize it and that’s precisely where I’m going.

When Nnamdi Kanu first came into limelight, all we saw in him was an angry man blinded by the biased records of Nigerian history. And what incensed us further was his dual-citizenship which many thought was a rosy bed from which he could occasionally mumble his expletives. His vitriols eventually caught our attention and those who sought his deportation were constantly met with the disappointing reminder about how a UK citizen could not be deported from the UK. Unlike a country whose leaders exalted an hierarchal mode of operation amongst the numerous tribes, the Brits constantly dismissed public outrage from Nigerians who sought punishment for Kanu on U.K. soil.

Following repeated taunts asking him to “stop making mouth from abroad”, Kanu eventually brought the fight to us and made enemies in those (especially his kinsmen) who adjudged him for being no match for Buhari. He then began to grant several radical radio interviews until he successfully cursed his way into federal prison. Unless you believe dogs are synonymous with monkeys, then you can’t possibly believe Kanu didn’t know he’d end up in prison. With a despotic government that had no respect for human rights, disgust for Kanu’s personality soon became an indescribable interest, and later, support and admiration from a teeming number of young and old people who still feel agonizingly blighted by the travails of the civil war.

As of today, several video/audio recordings and online/traditional publications involving Nnamdi Kanu have been released on different platforms, arguably more than has been aired about Buhari since the latter became president. The Kanu we once knew for barbaric vituperations has now become a conduit of magnetic charm. Kanu used to be a deafening talker but has somewhat become a ferocious listener. While a flash of Buhari’s gap tooth once sent millions of Nigerians into unplanned orgasm, tens of thousands now roar whenever Nnamdi Kanu throws a fist in the air as an expression of solidarity. In our lifetime, we are watching a reenactment of King Saul and David. The more Buhari messes up, the better for Kanu.

Furthermore, if the “most recent” video you’ve watched featured Kanu’s expletives, then I dare say you watched a very old video. In fact, as things are, dozens of local and international journalists jostle for Kanu’s audience, except for those in support of Nigeria’s inept government. Kanu has arguably become more politically relevant than most politicians of today and if you doubt the cogency of this assertion, ask yourself whom you’d prefer between Kanu and any of Nigeria’s current serving senators, like Dino Melaye for example. Poetically, Kanu has morphed from a paper tiger to a societal behemoth. While others prefer to rant from the comfort of newspaper stands, offices and homes, Kanu has taken up the gauntlet with his seemingly proactive moves. Unfortunately, the most outspoken anti-Kanu proponents of Igbo extraction have become the society’s laughing stock. So, what more you, a closet noisemaker?

Don’t you for a second think the newly-militarized BSS (Biafra Secret Service) will go about wielding guns or fomenting havoc. Read more about the modes of strategic recruitment employed by powerful figures in history and see if you can sync it with Kanu’s. By the way, it’s no longer news that the BSS agents are being incentivized – above the national minimum wage. So, next time you make to ask why Kanu appears to be gaining grounds at an alarming rate, also ask to know what options Nigeria has made available for the BSS recruits. The details of who sponsors them is talk for another day.



    For now, we need to start paying close attention to Kanu, for those who so far haven’t. There’s no sugar-coating the impending casualty that will be incurred if this despotic government decide to “recapture” Kanu from his base in the East for flouting bail conditions, so one reckons it mightn’t happen anytime soon – if ever at all. Now, the major litmus test for Kanu will be the guber elections in Anambra. I wager that whomever Kanu supports will not just win but by a mind-blowing landslide. Maybe then will we all begin to take that man seriously.

    Just as the “whot” could make or mar the handler, so can the power being handed to Kanu catapult him to the hero or villain status.

    For now, Kanu currently possesses one of Nigeria’s “whot”.

    Hate him or love him, he’s a number 20.

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