To end the agitation for succession in the South-east, the authorities will have to do more than just outlaw the Indigenous People of Biafra
While the federal government is still enjoying the euphoria of successfully proscribing the Indegenous People of Biafra (IPOB), it will be well advised to reflect on a recent statement by a former military governor of Kaduna State, Abubakar Umarâ€Ž.
Umar had said:â€Ž â€œPresident Muhammadu Buhariâ€™s insistence that the unity of Nigeria is a settled issue is a nationalistic wish and is no surprise coming from a veteran of a civil war fought to keep the country one.
â€œHowever, this does not take into account the mood of the nation as indicated by the growing agitations for self-determination, restructuring and many other similar demands. If indeed the president is able to ignore and silence those agitators, it will be a case of suspended animation.”
It is also a wishful thinking for the government to assume that by prohibiting IPOB, the agitation in the South-east will disappear. â€ŽThe half-hearted approach bieng adopted by government to deny the allegation that the south-east is not being marginalised won’t go far enough. If it is in possession of the facts that state otherwise, it should immediately release those facts to the pubic.
If the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration hoped that all it needed to do to douse tension in the south-east was to outlaw IPOB, it should flash back to 2013.â€Ž
On June 4, 2013, the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathanâ€Ž officially declared Boko Haram a terrorist organisation.â€Ž
On that day the president approved the gazetting of an order declaring Boko Haamâ€™s activities as acts of terrorism.
The order, which was gazetted as the Terrorism (Prevention) (Proscription Order) Notice 2013. affected both Boko Haram (Jamaatu Ahlis-Sunna Liddaawati Wal Jihad) and Jamaâ€™atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (Ansaru).
The order was approved by Jonathan pursuant to section 2 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 (As Amended).
A statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Rueben Abati, said this â€œofficially brings the activities of both groups within the purview of the Terrorism Prevention Act and any persons associated with the two groups can now be legally prosecuted and sentenced to penalties specified in the Actâ€.
The statement said the proscription order also warned the general public that any person â€œparticipating in any form of activities involving or concerning the collective intentions of the said groups will be violating the provisions of the Terrorism Prevention Actâ€.
Section 5 (1) of the act prescribes a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years for any person who â€œknowingly, in any manner, directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support for the commission of an act of terrorism or to a terrorist group.
â€œFor the purposes of subsection (1) of section, â€œsupportâ€ includes â€“ (a) incitement to commit a terrorist act through the internet, or any electronic means or through the use of printed materials or through the dissemination of terrorist information; (b) receipt or provision of material assistance, weapons including biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, explosives, training, transportation, false documentation or identification to terrorists or terrorist groups; (c) receipt or provision of information or moral assistance, including invitation to adhere to a terrorist or terrorist group; (d) entering or remaining in a country for the benefit of, or at the direction of or in association with a terrorist group; or (e) the provision of, or making available, such financial or other related services prohibited under this Act or as may be prescribed by regulations made pursuant to this Act.â€
When it was proscribed in 2013,â€Ž Boko Haram was just four years into violent attacks on the country. By then, it had effectively established itself in northeastern part of the country. â€Ž
By then, Ansaru had carried out fewer attacks and largely focused on the kidnap of foreigners and attack on security personnel.
Apart from proscribing these two groups, the president also â€Ž declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa in order to curtail the activities of the insurgents after other options appeared not to be working.
On November 14, 2013, the Bureau of Counterterrorism of the State Department of the Unitedâ€Ž States of America designated Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).
FTOs are foreign organizations that are designated by the Secretary of State in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended.
FTO designations play a critical role in our fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.
Before thenâ€Ž the U.S. had officially labelled the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, a terrorist and placed a $7 million (N1.1 billion) bounty for his capture.
The Decision to Treat IPOB as Boko Haram, a Mistake
The decision to declare IPOB a terrorist organization appeared hasty as government has not yet exhausted all avenues for dialogue. The fact that professor emeritus, Ben Nwabueze, SAN was able to extract a commitment from Nnamdi Kanu to jettison the demand for secession for restructuring shows that a peaceful resolution of the IPOB quagmire was still a possibility.
Besides, in reality, there are major differences between IPOB and Boko Haram. To classify both as the same as the nation security agencies had tried to do is another mistake. IPOB might have caused civil disobedience but it was not violent. In contrast, security agencies had consistently used excessive force against IPOB.
Before the decision to declare IPOB a terrorist organization, there was a security report at the Office of the National Security Adviser to the President declaring IPOB as a threat to the nation’s security.
The report also declared Niger Delta militants, Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Muslim Brotherhood,â€Ž ISIS Recruitment Cells, Armed Herdsmen, Cattle Rustling and Gun running Syndicates as enemies of the state.
Classified documents described as ‘2016 Annual Threat Assessment’, show that a multi agency and multi disciplinary organization called the Intelligence Fusion Centre (IFCc) has been created to analyse information from different sources and agencies with respect to threat to the country.
IFC will then integrate all information gathered by different security agencies into a single intelligence product.
The IFC, intelligence sources, said would make it easier for security agencies to share information.
In determining which organisation constitutes a threat to the country, the IFC considers both intent and capability.
“For it is the combination of these two factors that most sharply characterises â€Žthe significance of these threats to the security of Nigeria,” the 2016 Annual Threat Assessment states.
The above classification, perhaps explains the decision to clamp down on both the IMN and IPOB.
The classification is not only mischievous but dangerous. Niger Delta militants have been very consistent in their message: they want to take control of their resources. Why should people seeking to have a larger share of their resources be declared an enemy of state? Why should a group seeking self-determination be declared enemy of the state?
At different fora, the government had tried to explain the herdsmen-farmer clashes as economic issue but had failed to convince Nigerians. This is because, it has failed to view other agitations objectively. Subject to further research, the herdsmen-farmers clashes may indeed be economic factors at play. But this government lacks the credibility to make that argument.
International Community Not Deceived
Besides, while the decision of Jonathan to outlaw Boko Haram received the support of the international community, countries all over do not share the Nigerian government’s views on IPOB. That is another reason this government will have to tread carefully. International community is not buying into the federal goverment’s narratives. The reason is not far-fetched. It makes little or no sense at all to categorise IPOB and Boko Haram in the same class.
The European Union had already rejected the decision of the federal government classifying IPOB a terrorist organization.
President of the European Union Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Junker, had warned the Nigerian security personnel against what he described as their ill hearted and unprofessional handling of democratic issues and the rights of the people. Junker cautioned the Nigerian military chiefs that they must employ every democratic tenet to handle issues that concern the agitations of the citizens in Nigeria.
â€œIt is the peopleâ€™s right to agitate and make a request from their government; self-determination is a right enshrined in the United Nation Charter. The people of Biafra have every right to request for a referendum, they have been in this struggle for a while now they have never killed or shot a bullet instead they are the victims of attacks and murder.
â€œThe entire EU hereby condemns the brutal attack on IPOB members and leadership under the pretentious disguise of a military exercise (Operation Python Dance). The Nigerian military is warned to adopt democratic tenets in handling citizens.
“The EU will not sit and watch things go undemocratic in the largest economy of the West African region,â€ he warned
Junker also made the point that he would raise IPOB’s request for a referendum among the caucus of the EU, stating that the Biafra request for a referendum was not different from that of the Catalonians in Spain and the Scots in Britain.
He urged the Nigeria government to rise above the suppression of voices of dissent and handle issues with every tenet of maturity and democracy.
Back to the Proscription of Boko Haram
Despite the fact that Boko Haram had perpetuated a lot of violence to deserve to be prohibited, the group became more deadly after it was proscribed. It is not clear what benefits accrued to the country from the decision to proscribe Boko Haram. It neither weakened nor degraded the insurgents. Rather, the decision appeared to have strengthened the resolve of the group to unleash violence on the country.
If proscription did not stop a violent organisation like Boko Haram, it is an illusion to assume that it will stop the IPOB agitation.
Interesting, one of the political parties that merged to form the ruling All Progressives Congress, the Action Congress of Nigeria issued a warning when Boko Haram was proscribed. That warning remains relevant today.
ACN in a statement by Lai Mohammed, who luckily is the Minister for Information and Culture today said the decision to prosribe Boko Haram and Ansaru was wrong.
Then he said that desirable as it might be in tackling the terrorist organisations, the decision to proscribe the two groups violated the constitution by stifling the press and tampering with the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.
He said the order also made it easy for an increasingly intolerant government to clamp down on the opposition, which its saw as an irritant.
ACN then called on the Federal Government to clarify the knotty and vague areas of the open-ended order, that may end up punishing journalists and infringing on the civil liberties of the citizens more than it would curtail activities of the sects.
The party said: â€˜â€™Against the background of insinuations in government circles, let us be clear that we do not condone the activities of these sects that have killed and maimed innocent Nigerians and turned a section of the country into a battle field..
“Terrorism in all its ramifications is condemnable, and no responsible government will allow any group, no matter its name, grievances or ideology, to carry out terrorist acts unchecked.
â€œBut we believe that whatever action government takesâ€” even in an emergencyâ€” must pass the constitutional test, especially since the relevant sections of the Constitution have not been suspended.â€
It said the offensive section of the order is Section 5 (1), which prescribes a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years â€˜â€™for any person who knowingly, in any manner, directly or indirectly, solicits or renders support for the commission of an act of terrorism or to a terrorist group.â€
ACN said â€œsupport,â€ as defined by the order, includes â€œincitement to commit a terrorist act through the Internet, or any electronic means or through the use of printed materials or through the dissemination of terrorist information.
â€œIs this subsection not in conflict with Chapter II Section 22 of the Nigeria Constitution which says â€˜The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media, shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people?â€™
â€œBy stifling the press, is the order not abridging a part of the fundamental human rights guaranteed every citizen under Chapter Four of the Nigerian Constitution in Section 39 (1), which states thus: â€˜Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference?â€™â€
ACN said the Nigerian government must take a cue from what obtains in other countries, especially in the USA, which are also battling terrorism, adding that the media in those countries had continued to report freely on activities of the global terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda, despite the horrendous attacks it had carried out in the US and Europe, among others.
Now that the table has turned and the APC is in power, the question is is the party observing the admonition raised above by one of its affiliates?
Yes, IPOB Is a Nuisance
No doubt, IPOB is a nuisance, but the group’s narratives can be countered to isolate it from the generality of the people in the south-east. Rather than do this, the armstrong tactics adopted by government tuned Kanu into a hero overnight.
South-east leaders must accept their own shares of the blame. They are sometimes incoherent in their response to Kanu. Although, they tried to present u noted front, they in secret have their divisions.
The Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha is not well-liked in the south-east but it will be difficult to fault him when in an interview with the Vanguard he said: “On the issue of IPOB, whether we want to believe it or not, IPOB is not good for the South East, and it is not the best way for us to complain about marginalisation to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There are better ways; the IPOB way is too primitive. If IPOB must do a thing like that it should have changed the name and fought the way Ijaw youths fought, Arewa youths fought, and they would have made more impact. For everything that comes from the Igbo man, we love to go to the extreme. Now you want to separate yourself from Nigeria, meanwhile, South-South will not go with you, Edo, Rivers will not go with you. If you cut us off here now as South east, if I need to go to Rivers State, I will go and ask for passport and visa, and we are keeping quiet to say this. If there is a crisis now, there is no Hausa man in Igbo land who has a duplex, there is no Yoruba man who has a room and parlour or a N20 million investment in Igbo land, but Igbo have trillions of naira virtually everywhere. The same people are asking for secession. If Igbo are asked to go, what happens? They would lose their property, and all of us are keeping quiet, supporting IPOB! It was very childish, and those behind this should stop, that is my advice. South-South has produced the president, South-West has produced a president and Vice President, the north has produced many presidents, it is hoping that one day in the next shift, by whatever arrangement, the next people that should be considered is the South-East by Nigeriaâ€™s sharing formula. So, where are we in our wisdom and the intelligence? That is my position on IPOB; my advice is that Igbo should change their style and condemn IPOB in a manner that should be done and let us flow with the rest of Nigeria for now because we shall benefit more than anyone else.”
Time to Deescalate Tension
Some have advised the president to adopt a stick and carrot approach in dealing with the crisis in the south-east. President Muhammadu Buhari should consider this approach. Having wielded the big stick, this may be the right time to dangle the carrot.
Last week’s solidarity visit to the south-east by six governors from the north is a welcome development. May be, it is time ithe presidet visited the south-east to address some of the misgivings against him in the region. The idea of running the country on a tripod Abuja-Katsina-London is not helping the president.
In the alternative, the president should reach out to those who command respect in the south-east. Professor Ben Nwabuze is one of them. He can also talk to members of his cabinet from the region.
Unfortunately, the signals coming from law enforcement agencies are not reassuring. Despite the violence recorded in the past, they are still threatening to unleash more violence.
An Intimidated Judiciary
An exparte order is not granted as a matter of course. The cardinal rule ‘audi alteram partem’ is so sacrosanct that the other party that will be affected by the exparte order ought to be heard by the court. This has been codified in section 36 of the constitution. There are also clear exceptions to the rule. Whether the IPOB’s case falls under the exceptions may depend on whose views you share. What is not in doubt is that we now have a judiciary is afraid of ruling against government. One wonders what injury government will suffer if the judge who heard the IPOB’s case had ruled that the respondent be put on notice. That would have strengthened public confidence in the judiciary. But a judge who remembers that not long ago the houses of some of his colleagues were raided may not want to take the risk.
Already, IPOB has filed an application to set aside the order prohibiting it on the grounds that the exparte order was made without jurisdiction, as the order was granted against an entity unknown to law.
It also said that there was a clear suppression and misrepresentation of facts in the Attorney General affidavit evidence, pursuance to which the order was granted.
IPOB said the order was unconstitutional, as it was made in clear violation of its constitutionally guaranteed rights to self determination; Article 20(1) of the Africa Charter on Human & Peoples Rights, now domesticated into our law under (Ratification and Enforcement Act) (Cap 10) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990; right to fair hearing, right to freedoms of expression, and the press and rights to peaceful assembly and association; clearly provided for under Sections 36, 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as (Amended) 2011.
It also said that a declaratory order could not be made pursuant to an exparte application, without hearing from the party against whom the order was made.
IPOB also said it had no history of violence in the exercise of their right to self determination.
After hearing from IPOB, will the judge be bold enough to undo what he had already done? Not sure an Intimidated judge would be able to do that.