MIXED reactions have continued to trail the Abuja Federal High Court order declaring the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, as a terror group and proscribing its activities. Some leaders, especially lawyers pooh-pooh the order with a hard knock while others hailed it. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere, a pan Yoruba group describes the tag as hypocritical because the federal government has not branded the Fulani herdsmen who has been killing, destroying farmlands and raping women across Nigeria terrorists while Junaid Mohammed, a former lawmaker hailed it, saying it will help restore peace in the country.
But a host of others, who picked holes in the court order banning IPOB, said the group was not given fair hearing. The ban was sequel to an ex-parte motion filed by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami on September 20, which the acting chief judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, granted same day.
On March 2, 2017, the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, turned down the government’s plea to make IPOB an illegal body. In a ruling by Justice Binta Nyako, the court struck-out six of the 11-count criminal charge the Federal Government preferred against the then detained leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu and three other pro-Biafra agitators.
Also, the court, in a ruling said the fact that IPOB was not an organisation registered in Nigeria did not make it an illegal society. “It may be true that IPOB is not registered in Nigeria, but does that make it an illegal organisation?” the judge queried.
Arguing that the IPOB ban is right, Mohammed, said though he does not believe that the proscription ‘’has brought an end to the agitation for Biafra, however, it brings some level of peace to the country.
“What the Court has done is to further confirm the President’s declaration and I am happy that government has refused to listen to busy bodies blackmailing the government to withdraw troops from the South-East. I support the military presence in the South-East to restore peace because the zone still remains under Nigeria,” he said.
Uche Achi Okpaga, national publicity secretary of Ohaneze Ndigbo, said: “l would reluctantly respond to the “terrorisation” of IPOB. It is not oblivious that Ohanaeze has differed with the IPOB on some issues including the imbroglio on Anambra election. However, we take exception to the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation. An unarmed and harmless organisation cannot in any guise or pretence be correctly termed a terrorist organisation. Apart from that the Government had already declared the organisation a terrorist group before approaching the court, thereby placing the cat before the horse.’’
Chekwas Okorie, national chairman of the United Progressives Party, UPP, said the order declaring IPOB as a terrorist group, was not fair to the separatist organisation because the court did not hear from the group before it made the declaration. “But now that the Attorney General went to court, the court acted so fast. I expected that the other party would have been given fair hearing. However the government has obtained the order which should be obeyed by the group and the group could also challenge the order in a higher court. It was not sufficiently fair but I expect it will be obeyed while it subsists though they have right to challenge the order in an appellate court.”
Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere’s national publicity secretary, said: “It is a double take for the court. A court had earlier pronounced that IPOB is not an illegal body, now another court of competent jurisdiction has pronounced its proscription and banning. Maybe the group should go to a higher court because since we now have two pronouncements of the same court of competent jurisdiction, they should go to a higher court to pronounce on the matter.”
Monday Ubani, second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, said the Nigerian Military and South-East governors were wrong to have pronounced IPOB a terrorist organisation without following due process because the proscription of any organisation as stipulated by law is through a judicial process. His words: “My take is that judicial process has been complied with, though belatedly. The government had dubbed IPOB a terrorist organisation and proscribed it before running to the court to give it a retroactive effect. There is a problem when you said you have proscribed an organisation and that organisation is not registered in law. “Our laws stipulate that only a juristic person can be sued. I believe IPOB is not registered under our laws. So there is a problem because the court has just proscribed an organisation that is not registered under our laws. If you take a look at the court order, it says IPOB, whereas there is no entity known as IPOB under our laws. This is clearly a complex situation.”
On its part, the IPOB said Justice Kafarati was biased and described it as black market order. Emma Powerful, IPOB media and publicity Secretary, said in statement that by granting the order proscribing and labelling IPOB an unlawful terrorist group, the Judge had placed his judicial reputation on the line by openly siding with evil.
His statement read: “Justice Kafarati is more concerned about this APC government confirming him as the substantive Chief Judge of the Federal High Court than his unbiased dispensation of justice without fear or favour according to his oath of office.
“We must continue to ask what evidence led Justice Kafarati to bow to blackmail and pressure from DSS and Aso Rock to grant this order, when the very brave Justice Binta Nyako ruled in the same High Court sitting in Abuja that IPOB is not an illegal organisation?
“Unarmed peaceful IPOB should never and cannot be labeled a terrorist organization when Fulani herdsmen from Buhari’s tribe, with their Hausa Fulani soldiers in the Nigerian Army are the ones killing IPOB family members.
“IPOB has never bombed or killed anyone. Our rallies are the most peaceful with no recorded incident or fracas or lawlessness, yet Nigeria, along with its judiciary tagged us a terrorist group. We are not terrorists and can never be because our struggle for Biafra self-determination is our undeniable right under the United Nations and African Charter which Nigeria is a signatory to.”
Also speaking, Lawal Pedro, former solicitor-general of Lagos State, SAN, said: “The decision and move by the AGF to employ the rule of law in dealing with the menace is proper and commendable instead of a mere fiat or proclamation by officials of government that the IPOB’s acts in the country amount to terrorism and proscribed the group. “However I observed that many things are wrong with the order and can easily be challenged to set it aside. In the first place, is IPOB a juristic person to be sued and for the court to exercise jurisdiction upon? Secondly this looks like a final order or judgement granted on a motion ex-parte. This cannot be right in law. A different procedure should have been used to achieve the desired result.”
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa a Lagos Lawyer, said: ‘’Legally speaking, the suit filed, the order granted and indeed all the proceedings in this case, constitute a gross abuse of the process of the Court, as it has no jurisdiction to entertain, let alone adjudicate, upon the case. The suit was not initiated following due process of law, as stated by the Supreme Court in the locus classicus case of Madukolu v Nkemdilim (1962) 2 SCNLR 341. The suit filed and the orders granted have no foundation upon which they can stand and be maintained or enforced. The supposed defendant in the case is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which is not a registered entity in law. And even if it is registered, it can only be sued in the name of its incorporated trustees or indeed its accredited representatives.
“Furthermore, unlike other associations like the Nigerian Bar Association, IPOB is not recognised or mentioned or legitimised in any existing statute. For a suit to be competent, there must be proper parties before the court. In this case, the supposed defendant, IPOB, is a non juristic person, against which no action can be maintained in any court of law.
“This issue has recently been settled by the Supreme Court in the case of Sunkanmi Dairo & 6 Ors. v. The Registered Trustees of the Anglican Diocese of Lagos, Appeal Number SC.148/2006, in the judgement delivered on 23rd June, 2017…I do hereby humbly urge the federal government not to rely on this nullity to arrest or prosecute any citizen of Nigeria, alleged to be a member of IPOB. Something cannot be put on nothing and be expected to stand. It must collapse,’’ he said.
Also Festus Mbisiogu, president of Good Governance Initiative, said: “The Nigerian government should be very careful the way it is going about it because they did not start to act on it early. If the government had nipped Kanu’s activities in the bud, it would not have resulted in what it is today. Proscribing the group and labelling it a terrorist organisation is not the best way to respond to a problem of that extent.
“These guys have many supporters in the country and outside the country. That shows that government should be careful in the way it handles the issue so that we don’t have more crises.”
In like manner, the Idemili, Samuel Chukwukelu, Anambra State branch of the NBA said the order cannot stand the test of constitutionality, said such an action which is unconstitutional, amounted to giving a dog bad name in order to hang it. He made these assertions while addressing newsmen yesterday at the Ogidi High Court premises. Flanked by former chairmen of the Bar, Maurice Efobi and Ben Okoko, he warned that NBA would not fold its arms and watch the authorities do things arbitrarily.”
On its part, the Eastern Consultative Assembly, ECA, said the ban was part of the government’s plan to quench the agitation for the restructuring of the country. In a statement entitled: “Blood on the Niger, Season II’’ by its Secretary, Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, the ECA said: “The long expected attempt by the Nigerian State to embark on quenching the restructuring gale currently sweeping the land, through military might, has eventually begun. Everybody in Nigeria was expecting this because the government has run out of arguments and also because it is the only strategy government knows. Nobody is surprised.
“The gentle revolution to restructure Nigeria, brilliantly piloted by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has become very successful. Restructuring Nigeria has become inevitable, thanks to Kanu and IPOB. The anger of the opponents of restructuring towards Kanu is understandable. Kanu has driven Nigeria closer to restructuring more than anybody else, therefore, lovers and defenders of the status quo want to eat him raw.”
“The well-coordinated attack on Kanu and IPOB, packaged and choreographed from Abuja, in cahoots with his own people and complete with media support complemented by politicians who love the status quo, was actually planned for last year, but was shelved. The criminalisation and blackmail of the IPOB began with the allegation of killing and burying 50 people including five Fulanis in Aba, which was designed to justify the intended military action of crushing the agitations through force of arms. The deliberate decision to roll in military equipment into the South East and provoke crisis is also designed towards scuttling the peace process between the IPOB and the government led by Prof Ben Nwabueze, some people are not comfortable with that, because they believe it could lead to restructuring Nigeria which they resent intensely. Python Dance aimed at scuttling the IPOB/government dialogue begun on 30th of August, 2017.
“The pronouncement that the IPOB is a terrorist organization and thereby proscribed are all designed and choreographed to justify the discreetly agreed agenda to crush the agitation by military might in order to sustain the 1999 military constitution and the current unjust status quo, thereby postponing the restructuring of Nigeria for as long as they can…
“The unjust 1999 military constitution and unfair unitary structure it designed, is at the root of the crisis bedeviling Nigeria. Every bullet shot at Umuahia or Aba this week, was aimed at sustaining this status quo and resisting restructuring. The ongoing military action is not targeted at Kanu and IPOB but, at the restructuring breeze blowing across Nigeria and put an end to it. They know it is impossible to proscribe a movement that lives in the hearts and souls of millions; they also know that the Fulani herdsmen are the real terrorists not the IPOB.
“In all these, every effort has been made by the government to avoid discussing the issues that led to the agitation because discussing it will quickly lead to restructuring Nigeria which they don’t want to happen. They rather chose to divert attention from the injustices that forced millions of citizens to lose faith in Nigeria and to desire another country, marching in their hundreds of thousands and enduring persecutions including cold blooded slaughter.
“No amount of intimidation and accusations can restore peace in Nigeria, if the injustices and inequities that gave rise to the loss of faith in Nigeria is not addressed through an early restructuring of the polity in order to enthrone equity and justice. The IPOB are not armed and they are not violent. Some people are just scared of their huge crowd and want to stop them from gathering. Their popularity is continuously eroding the legitimacy of Eastern leaders,’’ he said.
– With reports from Vanguard
– Sept 22, 2017 @ 07:52 GMT /