- Â Ohanaeze asks courts not to grant â€˜frivolousâ€™ orders against separatists
- Ikpeazu: I canâ€™t box myself into small geographic entity
- IPOB denies burning mosque, says Northerners are safe in Sâ€™East
Omololu Ogunmade, Oyebuchi Ezigbo, Paul Obi in Abuja, Ikechukwu Isiguzo in Enugu, David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka and Amby Uneze in Owerri with agency report
The federal government has said it is aware of the sources of funding of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and is taking steps to block them.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed this Tuesday when he appeared on a live television programme on the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).
He made the allegation just as the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) announced that it has deployed some of its air assets, including the Alpha Jet aircraft, to its 115 Special Operations Group in Port Harcourt, Rivers State to support the ongoing Nigerian Army exercise, Operation Python Dance II, in the South-east and some states in the South-south.
Also, the Igbo socio-cultural group Ohanaeze Ndigbo Tuesday warned courts in the country not to allow themselves to be used to undermine democracy by granting frivolous orders against IPOB.
Ohanaezeâ€™s warning came against the backdrop of the move by the federal government to proscribe the separatists group, which is pushing for the break-up of Nigeria and realisation of the Republic of Biafra.
THISDAY had exclusively reported Tuesday that President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday signed the presidential proclamation proscribing IPOB, effectively initiating the formal process of banning the group in accordance with the provisions of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011.
It also paved the way for the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to head to court to give legal backing to the presidential proclamation.
Speaking on the television programme, Mohammed said: â€œTerrorists do not publish where their funding is coming from. But we know the countries that are supporting IPOB.
â€œWe know the sources of their funding though I am not at liberty to disclose them here.
â€œWe are taking steps to block them and we are also taking a lot of diplomatic actions in respect of the countries that are supporting them.â€
Mohammed observed that most of the countries supporting IPOB were doing so based on ignorance, adding that they had been hoodwinked to believing that â€œNigeria is a country where Muslims persecute Christiansâ€ and a country where there is genocide.
â€œAs we speak today, IPOB has written letters to many governments outside Nigeria and international parliaments, sending fake and cloned videos claiming there is genocide in Nigeria,â€ he stated.
The minister charged the international community not to use double standards in dealing with IPOB and to be more diligent before making any pronouncements.
He said what the countries would never accept in their territories should not be condoned or encouraged in Nigeria.
The minister justified the action of the military for declaring IPOB a terrorist group as well as its proscription by the South-east governors.
â€œThere are a lot of arguments regarding the constitutionality of the action of the military and the South-east governors.
â€œPeople must realise that we are dealing with issues of national security and I do not think that the military and the governors should fold their arms while the country is set ablaze.
â€œI have heard a lot of comments as to whether the military has the right to declare IPOB a terrorist group
â€œWhat the military has done is to catalogue all the activities of IPOB, which are not different from that of terrorist groups,â€ he said.
Mohammed said IPOB set up a para-military organisation, a parallel military group â€“ the Biafra Secret Service and Biafra National Guard.
He alleged that the group was attacking army installations and soldiers at checkpoints and extorting money from innocent people.
â€œIPOB activities are not jokes. If there had not been the proactive actions on the part of the military and the South-east governors, there would have been retaliations from other regions and the entire country will be set on fire.
â€œWe cannot be talking of semantics or procedure when the nation is moving towards a crisis and the precipice.
â€œIt is only in a Banana Republic that you can see non-state actors doing what IPOB is doing.
â€œThe actions by the military and the governors should be seen from the perspective of ensuring internal security and averting chaos,â€ he said.
The minister reiterated his position that IPOB was being sponsored by the association of disgruntled politicians and treasury looters to discredit the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
He admonished the media and opinion leaders to be circumspect in their publications and discussions on IPOB in order not to aggravate the crisis.
â€œThe kind of comments and headlines in the media as well as comments from certain quarters are the type that give oxygen and confidence to the IPOB.
â€œThey must exercise restraint because the only reason we practice our profession or become a commentator is simply because there is peace in the country,â€ he said.
NAF Deploys Air Assets
Coming on the heels of the information ministerâ€™s allegations, the NAF Tuesday stated that it has deployed some of its air assets, including the Alpha Jet aircraft, to its 115 Special Operations Group in Port Harcourt, to support the ongoing Nigerian Army exercise.
A statement issued by the spokesman of NAF, Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, said the deployment was done in line with its commitment to entrench national peace and security.
â€œThe essence of the deployment is to provide the necessary air cover to the ground troops to enhance overall operational cohesion and efficiency,â€ he added.
He recalled that Operation Python Dance II began officially on September 15 and was planned to cover the entire South-east, adding that the wide expanse of the exercise area and the request by the army for close air support had made the involvement of NAF inevitable.
â€œExercise Operation Python Dance II is aimed at combatting the security challenges in the Southeastern part of the country. The deployment of the air assets in support of the Nigerian Army is thus in fulfillment of one of the constitutional mandates of the NAF,â€ he said.
But as the air force deployed its air assets in the South-east, Ohanaeze cautioned courts in the country not to allow themselves to be used to undermine democracy by granting frivolous orders against IPOB.
Ohanaeze said in a statement issued Monday night and signed by its president general, Chief Nnia Nwodo, that it had credible intelligence that the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Alhaji Abubakar Malami (SAN), has secretly approached courts to obtain an order to designate IPOB as a terrorist group.
The Ohanaeze boss said the move was not only illegal but aimed at furthering the harassment and intimidation of Igbo youths who have been pursuing their constitutionally guaranteed fundamental human rights.
He said Ohanaeze had dispatched letters to courts to be wary of such spurious moves, as it was capable of aggravating the already frayed nerves and disrupting the genuine moves by Ohanaeze and critical Igbo leaders are making to bring peace and concord in the land.
Ikpeazu Meets Osinbajo
However, in a bid to resolve the crisis in the South-east and particularly his state which was at the epicentre of clashes between IPOB members and the military last week, Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, Tuesday met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on the security situation in the South-east.
Answering questions from State House correspondents after holding talks with Osinbajo in a closed-door meeting, Ikpeazu said being restricted to a small region in the name of secession was unwise, adding that having been a leader of a federating unit of the federation, it was imperative for him to brief the president or his deputy on the state of affairs in his state.
â€œWell, naturally, Iâ€™m heading a subnational government. When this kind of thing happens which we had in terms of dimension of national proportion, it is right that you will come and brief the C-in-C or his vice and that is exactly what I have come to do,â€ he stated.
He dismissed allegations that the emergence of IPOB and its agitation were caused by a failure of leadership in the South-east, saying it was not his responsibility to investigate the claim.
However, he said even though all might not be well yet with the region, concerted efforts were being made to make it a better place.
Dissociating himself from the IPOB agitation, Ikpeazu said he would not be content with limiting himself to the small geographic entity of the South-east and deprive himself of the opportunity of inclusion in the Nigerian entity.
â€œAllegations are supposed to be investigated by investigative officers and Iâ€™m not trying to investigate such things. So it is just the masses especially the press.
â€œYou know, we are perception builders. We should try to say things that are good about our country not things that are bad. I think there are enough reasons to see that under our circumstance, we may not be Eldorado yet, but there are concerted efforts and attempts to make our place a better place.
â€œI do not see how as an Igbo man, I can box myself into a smaller geographic entity without recourse to the most widely travelled people in Nigeria. There are Igbos in Sambisa. What are you expecting of them if I narrow their geography of coverage.
â€œBut agitation, marginalisation, infrastructure deficiencies, these are issues which are germane and they can be discussed. They can be spoken about. They can be addressed.
â€œBut I do not know how in the 21st century, carrying arms in my kitchen will grow the prosperity of my people,â€ he said.
While putting the population of the Igbo outside the South-east at 11.6 million, Ikpeazu said it was important to establish a good relationship with Northerners to avoid putting the lives of such a huge population in danger.
â€œFirst and foremost, I think our relationship with our brothers from Northern Nigeria, the governors… they have assured that every part of Nigeria is safe for every Nigerian including Igbos to continue in their business and enterprise.
â€œI want to announce that the population of Igbos outside Igbo enclave is about 11.6 million. You donâ€™t play with the lives of 11.6 million.
â€œSo we all have to be careful â€“ the press, the leadership at the state level, the leadership at the federal government level, everybody. I think we should be guarded by the rule of law and grow confidence in the Nigerian citizen that under our laws, he is protected,â€ he added.
Speaking on South-east governorsâ€™ meeting with their Northern counterparts, Ikpeazu said he assured the governors of the safety of Northerners in the state in accordance with the oath he took when he assumed office.
He also said trade and commerce were the mainstay of the economy of the state and it was only reasonable to avoid anything that could make Abia State insecure for its economy to thrive.
â€œI assured them of safety of lives and property of everybody that resides in Abia, whether you are an Abian or not an Abian. I swore with the Bible to protect lives and property and because I take such things seriously, I will continue to protect the lives and property of my brothers and sisters irrespective of where they come from.
â€œYou know that the main stay of our economy in Abia State is trade and I do not think it will augur well for our economy if we make our kitchen the theatre of Biafra.
â€œA native wisdom in my place says you shouldnâ€™t allow a fight to ensue from your motherâ€™s kitchen. It is my responsibility also to grow prosperity from my state,â€ he said,
He said he had no plan to mete any punishment to the father of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is a traditional ruler in his state because of the activities of his son, saying both of them are not the same.
â€œI clearly separate Kanu from his father. The processes of handling traditional institutions are enshrined in the laws of our land and traditional rulers who are members of our constituency have leadership roles.
â€œThey will do the needful at the appropriate time. But for me, I think there is a clear distinction between Nnamdi Kanu and his father,â€ he said.
IPOB Denies Burning Mosque
In a related development, IPOB has denied allegations that it was responsible for the burning of a mosque in Enugu State on Monday.
Speaking through its spokesman, Mr. Emma Powerful, Tuesday, the group disassociated its members from the alleged arson and any other news of attack or vandalism on Muslims and their places of worship.
It assured the public of its non-violent stand and called on Muslims and Northerners living in parts of Igboland not to entertain any fear of attacks, but to go about their worship peacefully.
Powerful said: â€œIPOB is not unaware of the desperation of the Nigerian Army of occupation to cause mayhem and blame it on IPOB as a way of instigating counter-violence against Southerners in the North.
â€œThe aim of this army of occupation led by exclusively Hausa Fulani officers is to distract our focus and firm resolve to force a peaceful referendum within the law.
â€œNo amount of violence visited on our family members will dissuade us from this historic and legitimate course.â€
The group said Biafrans in particular and Nigerians in general should therefore blame any of such attacks on what it described as the â€œcriminal gangsâ€ assembled by South-east governors and federal government â€œsponsored gangsâ€ who are baying for blood and whose aim is to cause misunderstanding between law abiding Biafrans and other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
It said: â€œWe wish to further state unequivocally that Muslims and other non-Biafrans living in the South-East and South South have nothing to fear from IPOB, as our members are committed to a non-violent, unarmed struggle for self determination, which is guaranteed in charters of the United Nations, international laws and other extant laws on fundamental human rights.
â€œIPOB does not need to remind Nigerians that it is the culture in Biafraland to protect our visitors and any of these alleged heinous acts are viewed by the great family of IPOB as abomination which our leadership and members condemn in their entirety.
â€œIPOB members should be vigilant and stay away from the provocative government-sponsored death squads whose main objective is to draw we Biafrans to another unplanned civil war, but God forbid.
â€œWe shall overcome all our enemies and emerge triumphant in the end.â€
Giving fillip to its statement, the Enugu Police Command also dismissed as false, misleading and mischievous reports on the social media that a mosque was burnt down in Ogrute, Igboeze North Local Council of Enugu State by IPOB.
A statement by the police spokesman in Enugu, Ebere Amaraizu, also cautioned residents against peddling falsehood which could undermine the existing peace and tranquility in the state.
He said it had become imperative to issue the statement, as some Muslim faithful in Igbo-Eze North had alleged that their mosque, located in Ogrute community, was set ablaze by suspected members of IPOB.
According to him, preliminary investigations showed that an electrical spark was responsible for the inferno at the mosque.
â€œThe issue is that there was an incident and that incident involved an inferno. When we first heard about it, we moved in with a view to finding out what actually happened.
â€œThe incident happened in the wee hours on Saturday (Sept. 16) at about 2 a.m. When we got there, following our preliminary investigations, we discovered that it could have been as a result of a power surge.
â€œHowever, the following morning, we started hearing all sorts of things that were blatant lies. We need to put things in proper perspective to avoid mixing up issues.
â€œWhen there is burning, we will say there is burning, when there is an inferno, we will say there is an inferno. So we want to draw a line between an inferno and burning a particular place. An inferno is not intentional, while burning is intentional,â€ the statement noted.
While suing for calm, Amaraizu said there had never been any problem between residents of the state and the Muslim Umar, adding that they have lived in peace for ages.
He cautioned those propagating rumours to see Nigeria as one indivisible entity by crosschecking their facts.
â€œWe need to have a rethink. We should desist from getting involved in anything that can degenerate and cause a situation that we cannot control,â€ he advised.
PDP to APC: Stop Blaming Opposition
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has asked the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to stop playing the blame game over the administrationâ€™s poor handling of the agitation by IPOB.
The party said it was constrained once again to respond to the â€œtiradeâ€ by the information minister who as usual, made an attempt to blame the superficial opposition for the continuous gaffes of the APC-led federal government.
A statement Tuesday by PDP spokesman Dayo Adeyeye said: â€œWe had advised not a few times that the APC should look inwards and seek solutions to its self-induced challenges in government caused by its unpreparedness for governance; but since the party seems set for self-destruction, we shall not relent in helping to expose their ineptitude to the Nigerian populace.â€
He added that it was disheartening that rather than accept blame for its ineptitude, the APC government has continued to blame â€œenemiesâ€ real or imaginary for their woes.
â€œWe noticed that the minister who is much known for his unbridled capacity for constant polarisation of the polity rather than ardency in the proper dissemination of government policies and information to the populace, tried once again on Sunday, to shift blame for the poor handling of the agitation of IPOB by the current government to an opposition that exits only in his imagination,â€ he said,
According to Adeyeye, APC policies have been the catalyst for the IPOB problem, and as such the ruling party should do some soul searching and correct the anomaly.
â€œHow on earth will a serious minded government blame opposition parties which they have conveniently labelled â€˜lootersâ€™ for the activities of IPOB?
â€œBut we take solace in the fact that the APC might actually know the looters, as the party has clearly demonstrated its penchant for giving cover to people considered as corrupt.
â€œThe recent release of 48 houses confiscated as the proceeds of crime back to a member of the APC who was standing trial for allegations of corruption readily comes to mind.
â€œMuch as we will continue to harp on the one-sided corruption fight of this administration, we wish to urge the APC to look inwards in locating the looters using their ill-gotten wealth to sponsor separatist agitation against the government of the day,â€ the PDP spokesman stressed.
He also said that there has been a crisis within the ranks of APC which may have led to the struggle within the government, advising APC to learn to mould itself into a real national party in order to provide good leadership for the people.
â€œIt is instructive to note that we are aware of the internal crisis rocking the amalgam of interests that formed the APC and the struggle for power within the government, as the noise of discontent keeps rising on a daily basis from the party.
â€œBased on the above, it is no news that APC has been a problem unto itself which has affected the lives of the citizenry who daily gnash their teeth in regret for voting the APC into power in 2015.
â€œWe wish to put on record that the agitation for actualisation of the State of Biafra was a total silent voice while the PDP was in power because of the government of inclusiveness we provided for Nigerians who were made to experience what a genuine national government meant.
â€œFinally, as a party, we had condemned and we are still condemning separatist movements tailored towards balkanising the nation.
â€œWe therefore make bold to further state that the APC policies have been the catalyst for the IPOB problem, and as such, the party should do some soul searching and correct the anomaly.
â€œNo external enemy so to say, is working against this government. The government is its own worst enemy,â€ the PDP said.
Northern Governors Visit Okorocha
Even as the PDP engaged the administration in a war of words, Imo State Governor and Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Governorsâ€™ Forum, Chief Rochas Okorocha, Tuesday called on politicians, religious leaders and major stakeholders in the country to see the current socio-economic and political challenges ravaging the nation as a period of trial and tribulation that would ultimately fizzle out and make the nation stronger.
Okorocha made the remarks in Owerri, the Imo State capital, when he received a delegation of the Nigerian Governorsâ€™ Forum which had embarked on a peace mission to the South-east and South-south on Monday.
The governors in the delegation were Kashim Shettima (Borno) who doubles as the chairman of the Northern Governorsâ€™ Forum, Simon Lalong (Plateau), Aminu Tabuwal (Sokoto), Atiku Abubakar Bagudu (Kebbi), and Aminu Bello Masari (Katsina)
Speaking to the delegation and the Hausa community in Imo State which he was in attendance, Okorocha said: â€œWe should see one another as people who are of the same blood, created by one God who are therefore inseparable and what should be of paramount concern to us is a united indivisible entity called Nigeria because many African nations hold us in high esteem because of what and who we are.â€
He added: â€œPeace is expensive but we must pursue it at all cost and we should strive to be remembered as nation builders and not as nation destroyers.â€
The Imo governor, who dwelt extensively on the need for stronger unity, oneness and cohesion among Nigerians irrespective of their religious and political backgrounds, humorously canvassed for a novelty arrangement in the governance of the 36 states of the federation whereby governors from states other than theirs could be drafted to other states to govern them, stressing that this would enable them to dramatise their relationship before the rest of Nigerians.
Responding, Shettima regretted that some of the nationâ€™s elite either wittingly or unwittingly fan the embers of discord, hatred and segregation among the citizenry.
The Borno governor, who decried the slow pace of infrastructure development in the South-east including poor road network, attributed the sad development to greed and avarice by those whose duty it is to remedy the situation.
While commending Okorocha for tenaciously standing on the path of national unity and integration, he said: â€œWe should begin to see ourselves as trail blazers and agents of change for a better, stronger and prosperous Nigeria.â€
Also speaking, Lalong dismissed the Arewa youths who three months ago had issued a quit notice to Igbos resident in the North but later rescinded it, as rabble-rousers who acted on their own, saying: â€œOurs is to maintain the peace and to retain the indivisible entity called Nigeria in spite of our religious and tribal differences.
â€œNigeria is a creation of God and God who brought us together as one nation never made a mistake.â€