By Ejiofor Alike
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has described the proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) by the South-east governors and the labeling of the group as a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian Army as illegal and an act of hypocrisy of the ruling class,.
Falana said in a statement yesterday that neither the Nigerian Army nor the governors were empowered to proscribe or label the IPOB a terrorist organisation.
The human rights lawyer reminded the Chief of Army Staff and the governors that Section 2 of the Terrorism Act 2011 as amended, provides that a terrorist organisation can only be proscribed in the country on the order of the Federal High Court based on an application made by either the National Security Adviser, Attorney-General of the Federation or Inspector-General of Police with the approval of the president.
Falana recalled that when the Nigerian Army declared a journalist and two human rights defenders wanted last year for alleged links with the satanic Boko Haram sect, he had pointed out that it was an act of illegality.
Â According to him, the Terrorism (Terrorism) Act 2011 as amended by the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013 has not conferred any such power on the Nigerian Army.
â€œIn a prompt reaction to my criticism the suspects were immediately transferred to the Department of State Services (DSS) which interrogated them and released them on bail,â€ he added.Â
Falana stated that he had advised the federal government to direct the Nigerian Army to withdraw from Abia State and allow the Nigeria Police Force to deal with the reported criminal offences alleged to have been committed by Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and the IPOB led by him.
He noted that his advice was ignored as the Nigerian Army and the governors of the South-east purportedly proscribed the IPOB.
â€œHowever the alleged intimidation of innocent people by IPOB on account of ethnicity or religion should cease. Since the burning of police stations, killing and harassment of some innocent traders from the northern part of the country allegedly carried out by the IPOB cannot be justified under the law the suspects should be arrested. The suspects should be charged to court to serve as s warning to criminally minded people who may want to direct their frustration at fellow victims of the oppression and poverty unleashed on them by the ruling class,â€ Falana explained.
He argued that though theÂ IPOB members are free to associate for the protection of their interests by virtue of section 40 of the Constitution, he insisted that the group has to agitate peacefully in a way that the rights of other citizens to live peacefully in the south east zone are respected.
The human rights lawyer further stressed that even if the IPOP has decided to declare a war on the State, its troops cannot attack unarmed civilians under the Geneva Conventions.
â€œThe federal government is duty bound to ensure the protection of the life and property of every citizen as the fundamental right to live peacefully in any part of the country is guaranteed by section 43 of the Nigerian Constitution. To that effect, all efforts must be made by the federal government to prevent reprisal attacks on innocent people in the northern part of the country,â€ Falana said.
Responding to the call by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on President Buhari to dialogue with Kanu, the human rights lawyer stated that President Obasanjo ought to have apologised publicly for the military invasions of Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State ordered by him.
Â Falana also recalled that President Obasanjo charged Niger Delta militants, leaders of ethnic militias and separatist movements with treason, which led to their prolonged detention in prison custody.
Â He further stated that since President Obasanjo has realised that the criminalisation of such agitation did not achieve its objective, his suggestion for a dialogue should be seriously considered by the federal government and the South-east governors.
â€œIt is also interesting that President Goodluck Jonathan is calling for a meeting of the Council of State to resolve the crisis. For goodness sake why was such a meeting not called before soldiers were deployed in the Niger Delta to deal with militants. Or did President Jonathan call any meeting before deploying soldiers all over the country for the 2015 general election in defiance of the judgments of the Federal High court and the Court of Appeal? Instead of suggesting irrelevant meetings the root causes of the increasing loss of faith in the corporate existence of Nigeria by unemployed youths and other poverty stricken people should be urgently addressed by the ruling class,â€ Falana said.