- Northern elders constitute panel on pressing regional issues
Abimbola Akosile in Lagos, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja, and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said on saturday that the attempt by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to secure the re-arrest of the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, was an exercise born of prejudice and discrimination. In a statement by its president-general, Chief John Nwodo, Ohanaeze accused Malami of gratifying the treasonable sentiments of the Arewa youths of northern Nigeria who had issued an ultimatum to Igbos in the region to leave and also demanded Kanu’s return to detention.
IPOB reacted yesterday also to the moves to arrest Kanu, calling it one of the several acts of intimidation by the President Muhammadu Buhari government, and vowing to resist any attempt to return the IPOB leader to custody.
In a related development, the Northern Elders Forum yesterday announced the constitution of a special intervention committee to look into some pressing issues affecting the 19 states in the region. A member of the forum, Alhaji Mustapha Wali, stated this in Makurdi, when the group paid a courtesy visit to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State at the start of NEF’s three-day meeting.
The AGF had on Friday announced the commencement of processes to secure the revocation of the bail granted Kanu in April by the Federal High Court in Abuja, alleging that he has broken the bail conditions. Kanu was released from Kuje Prison, Abuja, on April 29, four days after he was granted bail by Justice Binta Nyako, and after nearly two years in detention for alleged treasonable offences. The bail conditions, which were criticised as very stringent, included that the IPOB leader should not be seen in a crowd of more than 10 people, he should not grant any interviews, and he must not hold rallies.
But barely one month after Kanu’s bail, on June 6, some youth groups in northern Nigeria, under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups, met in Kaduna and issued what they called “Kaduna Declaration”, ordering all Igbos residing in the North to leave the region within three months. They also advised northerners in the South-east to leave the area. The groups, which said their action was based on the activities of IPOB, warned that as from October 1, which is also Nigeria’s National Day, they will commence “visible actions” to isolate Igbos from the region and treat them as unwanted foreigners.
The security agencies maintained a loud silence over the meeting and declaration of the northern youths, which were widely condemned as seditious, fuelling widespread allegations of sectional bias. Though, the groups withdrew their so-called quit notice to Igbos on August 24, five days after Buhari’s return from medical leave in London, and after his terse national broadcast on August 21 in which he weighed in with some stern warnings on the activities of groups like IPOB, calling them “irresponsible elements”. He also said every Nigerian was free to live in any part of the country, in apparent disapproval of the anti-Igbo moves by the northern groups.
Nonetheless, Malami approached the Federal High Court in Abuja last week to seek Kanu’s return to prison custody, saying he has flouted his bail conditions.
But Ohanaeze condemned the move as discriminatory and against the oath of fairness to all, which the AGF had sworn.
“I am amazed that the distinguished attorney is prepared to contest the superiority of the provisions of the constitution on fundamental human rights of freedom of movement and freedom of association over an erroneous judicial proclamation violating those rights. I am equally miffed by the audacity with which the Attorney-General displays his bias without regard to his oath of office,” Nwodo stated.
Referring to Buhari’s broadcast and the activities of the northern youths, the Ohanaeze leader said, “A few hours ago under the watchful eyes of the chairman of the Northern governors forum and in total defiance of the Head of State’s proclamation of the rights of a citizen of Nigeria to live anywhere in Nigeria and to do business anywhere in Nigeria, the Arewa youths, pretending to withdraw their quit notice, gave qualifications to the Head of State’s proclamation, issuing conditions for enjoyment of citizenship status
“These same Arewa youths are supposed to have been arrested on the orders of the governor of Kaduna State and the Inspector General of Police for acts of treason, conversion and sedition. As the chief law officer of the federation, the Attorney-General looks the other way. He does not go to court to seek an order of arrest or prosecution.”
Nwodo said though he disagreed with some of Kanu’s views, “Nnamdi, as a citizen of Nigeria, is free to hold any point of view, no matter how displeasing to anyone, so long as they are not inciting or provoking any criminal activities.
“I and some Igbo leaders have differences of opinion with Nnamdi on a number of issues. We have been insulted and abused by Radio Biafra, but we concede them their right to differ from us. We concede them their nature to be exuberant as youths, but we cannot be judgmental about their rights.
“This is a democracy. In democracies, leaders are abused, pelted with rotten eggs and booed at, as the former Edo State Governor was booed in Abuja a few days ago. These acts are not necessarily criminal.
“I urge the Attorney-General not to exacerbate our already tense nation by commencing a legal action which portrays him as biased, insensitive and misdirected.”
Reacting to the attempt to re-arrest Kanu, in a statement by its media and publicity secretary, Mr Emma Powerful, IPOB said, “This dangerous path of intimidation smacks of state sponsored terrorism designed to silence free speech and infringe on our rights to peaceful assembly. Merely asserting that Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is a threat to the Nigerian government is not a crime unless accompanied by legally definable crime or offence.”
The group, which had threatened to enforce a total boycott of the November 18 governorship election in the South-east state of Anambra, said, “Should Justice Binta Nyako choose to listen to Buhari and revoke the bail application granted to our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, during his appearance on the 17th of October 2017, IPOB will ensure 100 per cent compliance with the Anambra elections boycott order.”
IPOB alleged that Kanu’s bail conditions had been deliberately designed to ensure his continued detention.
It said, “As soon as the illegal, unconstitutionally draconian conditions of the bail were spelt out by Justice Binta Nyako, we knew such a day would come when they will use the cover of broken bail condition to launch an attack.
“The federal government must also state where it is written in the 1999 Constitution that being in a crowd of more than 10 people, calling for election boycott, and attending rallies is a crime. Our teams of local and international lawyers are following the developments closely.
“That Nigeria is dangerously close to the brink of collapse today is a direct result of the first illegal arrest and detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, arresting him again will plunge Nigeria into an unimaginable crisis.”
Meanwhile, the northern elders meeting in Makurdi said their special intervention committee was set up to study issues bothering the region and make recommendations on their solution. Wali, who spoke on behalf of the group during their visit to the Benue State governor, said, “Any issue that threatens the peace and unity of the north of Nigeria is our primary concern. Currently, our major concern is the herdsmen/farmers crisis.” He called for the federal government’s intervention so as to settle the issues and douse all tensions. Wali suggested a uniform policy on grazing and ranching of cattle as part of efforts to address the clashes between farmers and herders, which has led to many deaths and destructions in the North and other parts of the country.