- Separatists challenge FG to prove itâ€™s a terrorist organisation
- Â Presidency: Marauding herdsmen are criminals, not terrorists
- Â North ready for dialogue, Saraki saved govt from embarrassment, says NEF
- Ohanaeze preaches peace in Sokoto
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Alex Enumah in Abuja, David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka and Mohammed Aminu in Sokoto
France has denied the allegation made by the federal government that the financial headquarters of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was in its country.
The denial by France came on the heels of the demand by the separatist group challenging the federal government to show proof that it is a terrorist organisation.
This is just as the Northern Eldersâ€™ Forum (NEF), a major socio-cultural group in the North, has indicated that the North was ready for dialogue on the legitimate concerns being raised on the structure of the Nigerian state.
Political Counsellor, Claude Abily of the French Embassy in Nigeria, in a statement made available to newsmen in Abuja Thursday, expressed shock over the statement by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohamed, who claimed that the financial headquarters of IPOB was in France.
Abily in the statement said France was ready to cooperate with Nigeria to investigate the veracity of the federal governmentâ€™s claim, adding that France as a country has been giving support to Nigeria in tackling her security challenges.
France also declared support for the unity of Nigeria.
The statement read: â€œThe Embassy of France was surprised by the statement made thursday by the Minister of Information and Culture indicating that the â€˜financial headquartersâ€™ of IPOB is in France.
â€œWe donâ€™t have any knowledge of a particular presence of IPOB in France and the Nigerian authorities never got in touch with the embassy on this point.
â€œWe stand ready to examine any information which could support this statement.
â€œFurthermore, we would like to reiterate that France actively cooperates with Nigeria in the field of security and that we strongly support the unity of the country.â€
Mohammed on Wednesday at a news conference in Abuja, had claimed that the financial headquarters of IPOB was in France, adding that Radio Biafra, from which the group broadcast its secessionist propaganda, was based in the United Kingdom.
Show Proof Weâ€™re Terrorists
Even as France refuted the governmentâ€™s allegation, IPOB, which was proscribed by an order of an Abuja court on Wednesday, challenged the federal government to show proof that it is a terrorist organisation.
The group, in a press statement by its spokesman, Emma Powerful, described as obnoxious the order by the acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Adamu Kafarati, proscribing and labelling it an unlawful terrorist group.
It condemned the order as â€œa disgracefully, shambolic, crudely fabricated and concocted order delivered by a biased All Progressives Congress lackeyâ€.
IPOB said Justice Kafarati, in issuing the order, was more concerned about the APC-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari confirming him as the substantive Chief Judge of the Federal High Court than dispensing an unbiased justice without fear or favour, in accordance with his oath of office.
It demanded the evidence that led Justice Kafarati to order the proscription and branding of IPOB as a terror group, insisting that the order would not cow its members, as freedom was no longer far away.
â€œUnarmed, peaceful IPOB should never and cannot be labelled a terrorist organisation when Fulani herdsmen from Buhariâ€™s tribe, with their Hausa Fulani soldiers in the Nigerian Army are the ones killing IPOB family members.
â€œThe world can now clearly see there is something fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian psyche and its propensity to reward evil and punish good. Nigeria will go down in history as the only country on earth to proscribe a peaceful organisation whilst blood thirsty violent marauders are given financial inducements to stop killing their innocent victims,â€ IPOB said.
The group observed that it was appalling and an affront to common sense that the judiciary in Nigeria always allows itself to be manipulated and messed about by whichever government is in power, saying that it was even more apparent under the APC-led government, which it added had demonstrated its bias through the order granted by Justice Kafarati.
â€œThe judiciary inadvertently made itself a laughing stock in the judicial world. No wonder more civilised parts of humanity sometimes see we Africans as being incapable of mental development beyond self-preserving primitive alliances.
â€œLegal practitioners all over the world would be wondering what caliber of people make it to the bench in Nigeria if a judge can order the banning of an association that has no history of violence whatsoever.
â€œAny judge or court of law worth its salt would have at the very least demanded for proof of evidence of terrorists acts by IPOB, before doing the bidding of the government.
â€œIn this case, as with most cases against IPOB, the only evidence provided by the very lying Lai Mohammed and the Attorney-General of the Federation, is a video clip of brave IPOB men standing defiantly in front of an armored tank that killed three of their own in an unprovoked attack by the Nigerian Army at the home of their leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku,â€ IPOB said.
The group noted that the order had shown that Justice Binta Nyako stood her ground in delivering the judgment that granted Kanu bail, despite intimidation and blackmail by the Buhari-led administration to turn down the bail.
â€œYears of enduring blackmail, threats and humiliation of judges by Buhariâ€™s regime is beginning to pay off. We dread to think of what might have become of the few brave judges like Justice Binta Nyako who stood their ground to deliver a sensible judgment even under the threat of imprisonment and demotion,â€ the group stated.
IPOB added that declaring it a terrorist organisation was more or less like declaring the whole indigenous peoples who live in their ancestral homeland in Biafraland as terrorists.
It maintained it has never bombed or killed anyone. â€œOur rallies are the most peaceful with no recorded incident or fracas or lawlessness; we have not killed anyone, yet Hausa Fulani Islamic-dominated Nigeria, along with its judiciary and sponsored media attack dogs tagged us a terrorist group.
â€œWe are not terrorists and can never be because our struggle for Biafra self-determination is our undeniable right under United Nations and African Charters to which Nigeria is a signatory,â€ it insisted.
IPOB reminded the federal government that a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Nyako had on March 6, 2017 declared IPOB, under the leadership of Kanu, a lawful organisation.
It said the judge went further to state that the fact IPOB was not registered in Nigeria did not make it illegal.
Continuing, it said since nothing had changed from the date of that judicial pronouncement to date, on what basis did Justice Kafarati give his ruling ordering IPOBâ€™s proscription.
IPOB Moves to Quash Ban Without Details
IPOB in another statement Thursday added that its team of lawyers stormed the Federal High Court, Abuja, Thursday to quash the order, but Justice Kararati was not at the court.
â€œWe want to tell the world that IPOB under Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is not bothered about the alleged proscription, and we also wish to alert well meaning Nigerians and the world that the Chief Judge Justice Kafarati of the Federal High Court, Abuja, was not available when he found out that IPOBâ€™s team of lawyers stormed the court to challenge the federal governmentâ€™s obnoxious order.
â€œWe are aware that the Nigerian government is resorting to all sorts of measures to frustrate us but we want to tell them we are not bothered about their obnoxious order proscribing IPOB, we will continue our peaceful agitations while they go on with their baseless and shameful proscription that we do not recognise.
â€œIPOB lawyers stormed the court today (Thursday) in Abuja to challenge the obnoxious order but unfortunately the chief judge went out in order to delay and frustrate IPOB because he is fully aware of the judicial blunder he committed against humanity.
â€œThe chief judge was nowhere to be found in the chamber. We wondered why the chief judge was unavailable when he was aware that IPOB lawyers had arrived to challenge the concocted and fraudulent order obtained against IPOB members.
â€œWe are also aware that the black market order was a product of compromise by people who are bent on destroying the people of Biafra but failed.
â€œThey were bought over to proscribe and label IPOB a terrorist group. The judge also knows the implications of what he did and that was why he chose to make himself unavailable to frustrate every effort IPOB is making to challenge this order.
â€œHowever, we are calling on the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and the Chief Justice of Nigeria to call Justice Kafarati to order to avoid destroying and making nonsense of the Nigerian judicial system,â€ the group said.
However, the group failed to provide details as to who its lawyers were that went to court to upturn the proscription order, given that it is not a registered entity in Nigeria.
When contacted on the issue, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), said it was not right to term IPOB an unregistered entity, disclosing that the group may not be registered in Nigeria but is registered in California in the United States and the filing on its registration was done on February 14, 2014.
After sending a copy of IPOBâ€™s California registration certificate to THISDAY by WhatsApp, Falana added that the proscription was an ex parte order which gives the group the right to challenge the proscription since it did not get fair hearing before the court granted the order.
â€œEven if a church is proscribed because it is believed to be engaging in illegal or terrorist activities, its members have the right to challenge the proscription if the church was not given fair hearing to dispute the claim.
â€œAs it stands, IPOB is well within its rights to challenge the proscription because, one, it is duly registered and two, it was not given fair hearing. What we had was an ex parte order that can be challenged,â€ he explained.
Marauding Herdsmen are Criminals
But as the separatist group accused the administration of double standards, the presidency came to the governmentâ€™s defence, saying that violent Fulani herdsmen reported to have killed 100s of Nigerians, raped women and destroyed farmlands in several states, were not terrorists but â€œsimply criminalsâ€.
The presidency, however, justified the proscription of IPOB, insisting that it was a terrorist organisation that tried to carve out a territory within Nigeria for its members.
The Special Adviser to President, Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, made the remarks when he appeared on Channels TV Thursday morning.
According to the presidentâ€™s spokesperson, â€œThere is a difference between a criminal activity and a terrorist activity.
â€œYes, some Fulani herdsmen are criminal gangs but they are being dealt with according to the law. But IPOB, like Boko Haram, has a territory they have carved out for themselvesâ€¦ as a sovereign state of its own.
â€œThey have shown the willingness to invade other neighbouring states. They have raised concerns in neighbouring Kogi and Benue States.
â€œThey have said they are interested in taking over Bayelsa and Rivers States. That is exactly what Boko Haram has done. This is not acceptable to the law of the country.â€
North is Ready for Dialogue
Meanwhile, the Northern Eldersâ€™ Forum (NEF), an influential socio-cultural group in the North, has indicated that the region is ready for dialogue on the legitimate concerns being raised on the structure of the Nigerian state.
The forum, which also expressed support for the measures taken by the federal government and South-east governors to contain the activities of IPOB, however, dismissed the misconception that there was a contradiction between the presidencyâ€™s role on the proscription of the group and the position taken by the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki.
Instead, it saw Sarakiâ€™s intervention on the need to abide by the rule of law in proscribing IPOB as a good one, which helped the president to avert an embarrassing legal quagmire over the issue.
NEF also described as â€œdisconcertingâ€ the report on the interception by the Nigeria Customs Service of illegal importation of huge quantities of arms into the country from Turkey.
Addressing a press conference Thursday in Abuja, the leader of the forum, Dr. Paul Unongo, said the North recognises and acknowledges that there are demanding and legitimate questions on the current structure of the Nigerian state.
â€œWe wish to reiterate our consistent position that there are no issues of disagreement and demands by individuals and groups in the country or anywhere in the world that dialogue cannot resolve.
â€œThe NEF acknowledges that we the citizens of Nigeria are capable of resolving our issues internally.
â€œThe North recognises and acknowledges that there are demanding and legitimate questions on the current structure of the Nigerian state. The North has very clear ideas on all issues and positions that the nation sees as challenges and is willing to dialogue on all of them,â€ he said.
On the agitations in the country manifesting in various shades and guises, Unogo said the forum believed that dialogue would be the solution, adding that the North was not averse to negotiations on the issues agitating the minds of Nigerians, but would not succumb to intimidation.
â€œWhat the North will not allow, however, is to be stampeded into adopting an agenda and grand designs from other parts of Nigeria which will hurt its basic interests.
â€œThe North will demand a respectful and responsible approach to its participation in the search for answers to the many questions confronting our country.
â€œWe will also insist that the constitution and our national institutions, such as the National Assembly, be accorded due and appropriate recognition in all initiatives and efforts towards addressing our challenges.
â€œThe alarming reports of illegal importation of huge quantities of arms into the country is disconcerting to the NEF. We call on the federal government to thoroughly investigate these reports and all those found implicated should be exposed and prosecuted under the laws of the nation-state of Nigeria.
â€œAll governments and citizens must be more vigilant, firm and decisive in dealing with national security challenges. All governments, from local, state and federal, must protect all Nigerians,â€ the NEF said.
Speaking on the alleged unprovoked attack of Northerners in a local government area in Rivers State, Unongo said NEF recognises the duty of responsible governments anywhere in the world to protect and defend the lives and property of its citizens under all circumstances.
â€œIt is in this connection that the NEF commends the readiness and willingness of the Federal Government of Nigeria to take all necessary measures that are permitted under the law and by the constitution of the land to check all these existential threats to Nigeria.
â€œProtecting the lives of all abiding citizens of Nigeria and bringing to book any and all groups that threaten national security is a sacred duty of government.
â€œThe NEF also welcomes the presence of Nigeriaâ€™s military and other security personnel in all areas where peace and security are severely threatened.
â€œThe President and Commander-in-Chief has the prerogative of deploying the Armed Forces for the purpose of keeping the peace. This prerogative should be respected by all well- meaning Nigerians.
â€œThe NEF welcomes and commends the decision taken by the South-east governors to denounce the activities of the organisation known as Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its proscription in their respective states.
â€œIn the interest of peace, unity and stability of our great country and the well being of her people, we hereby call on the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant judicial authorities to continue to uphold the rule of law without fear or favour.
â€œWe state that we will remain vigilant over the security and welfare of Northerners in the South-east, South-south and all over Nigeria. The North has been a victim of terrorism over the years and recognises the outline of terrorism now emerging in the South-east,â€ it noted.
On the seeming contradicting positions between the presidency and the Senate President over the handling of IPOBâ€™s proscription, the NEF said that as far it was concerned there was no issue with Sarakiâ€™s stance on the adherence to due process and the rule of law.
He said the fact that the Senate President was able to draw the attention of the president to the legal lacuna in his handling of the IPOB crisis, showed that both arms of government were working for the common good.
He said Buhari listened to Saraki by following due process in outlawing IPOB.
According to him, but for Sarakiâ€™s intervention, the president and the federal government would have been taken to court and embarrassed over the proscription of the group.
Ohanaeze Embarks on Peace Mission
Just as NEF said the North was ready for dialogue, its counterpart in the South-east, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, made peace overtures in Sokoto.
Speaking Thursday during a courtesy visit to the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, the President General of Ohaneze, Mr. John Nwodo, said Nigeria should under no circumstances experience war for the second time, as it does nobody any good and only causes havoc and pain for the people.
Nwodo, who led a delegation of his group, added that elders in the country have a responsibility of doing whatever it takes to avert violence and chaos in the polity.
He noted that the country was going through a difficult period, requiring concerted efforts to ensure that peace reigns.
â€œOur country is going through a very trying period. The last few months remind me of the times before the Nigerian civil war. At 65, I am deeply worried and Nigeria under no circumstances should experience another civil war.
â€œPeople at my age will be blamed if we allow passions and ambitions to fragment our country, shatter our democracy and return us to backwardness.
â€œWhen I was growing up in Enugu, my father was a minister in the government of Eastern Nigeria. The Mayor of Enugu then was a man named Umaru Altine from Katsina.
â€œI saw my father campaigning for him to become Mayor of Enugu. I took my first degree programme at the University of Ibadan. I ran for president of the studentsâ€™ union against a Yoruba boy and defeated him.
“That I emerged president of the studentsâ€™ union means that Yorubas voted for me. Nobody bothered where I came from but about what I could deliver.
â€œAfter I left university in my 20s, I was discovered by Second Republic president, Ahaji Shehu Shagari and I was made the Special Assistant to the President on Information at the age of 28.
â€œAfter three and a half years, he won election for a second term and made me a minister while I was at home in Enugu in 1983. I enjoyed his confidence and ate with him. Shagari had tremendous confidence in me. He allowed me to go through his files.
â€œTherefore, whoever wants to touch a Northerner in the South-east should start from me. We must remain partners in progress for Nigeria to grow as we have seen how our fathers lived to make it grow and develop to this present stage,â€ he said.
Nwodo stressed that the unity and peaceful coexistence among Nigerians must be a responsibility of all citizens of this country.
He commended the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Saâ€™ad Abubakar III, and Tambuwal for ensuring peace and unity among the people.
Nwodo said the visit to Sokoto was to deliver the message of all South-east governors, traditional leaders and people.
He expressed satisfaction that Buhari had returned to the country in good health, promising that Ndigbo would seek audience with him to resolve the issues of marginalisation.
Responding, Tambuwal said his government would protect all non-indigenes living in the state.
â€œNigeria must remain as one entity as all the tribes are related in one way or the other,â€ he said.
Tambuwal stated that every Nigerian should live anywhere he or she has decided to live in the country without discrimination or harassment.
He commended the Ohaneze delegation for the visit, adding that Sokoto was home to all Nigerians.