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Court will determine Nnamdi Kanu’s fate, Buhari insists

By Joseph Onekwere (Lagos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) and Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki)
07 May 2022   |   4:15 am
Hopes of finding a political solution to the ‘unrest’ in the Southeast geo-political zone through the release of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, dimmed yesterday, as President Muhammadu Buhari ...

Nnamdi Kalu in court

• Igbo Leaders Mount Pressure For His Release, Demand S’East Presidency In 2023
• Residents Express Shock As UK Accepts Designation Of IPOB Terrorist Group

Hopes of finding a political solution to the ‘unrest’ in the Southeast geo-political zone through the release of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, dimmed yesterday, as President Muhammadu Buhari insisted that only the court would determine his fate.

President Buhari made his position on the matter known amid reports that the United Kingdom had made a U-turn on its treatment of IPOB members and recognised Nigeria’s classification of the group as a terrorist organisation.

The President, who was in Ebonyi for a two-day working visit, spoke while reacting to a demand by leaders of the Southeast that he should release Kanu and other IPOB members in detention when he met with them at the New Government House Abakaliki.

The Southeast leaders led by foremost nationalist and elder statesman, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, had urged the President to bring lasting peace to the country by supporting an Igbo man to be president in 2023 and ordering the unconditional release of Kanu.

While reminding Mr. President of his last visit to Aso Rock and his demand for Igbo presidency and release of Kanu, the elder statesman also told Buhari that he was the only surviving nationalist among those that fought for the independence of the country.

He urged Buhari to grant him his requests owing to the numerous contributions and sacrifices he has made to the country, adding that he wants his wish to be realised before he joins his ancestors.

“I want to see peace in this country before I join my ancestors; I want to see peace in the Southeast particularly where there is upsurge of crisis and something that will lead to that peace is around the corner and we are asking you to give me the mandate and I will give you peace. I guarantee you this Mr. President.

“We say in Igbo land that a mad man is owned by his people. If somebody was mad yesterday, and on the guarantee of elders like me and other elders, I will bring him out and that is to get peace. Help us to get the peace and I will give you peace in this part of this country and also in Nigeria, because I am a Nigerian. I took part in the struggle for the independence of this country,” he said.

Speaking in the same vein, President General of apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, George Obiozor, represented by the Deputy Legal Adviser, Peter Alike, called for amnesty for all Igbo youths languishing in various detention facilities across the country.

Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, on his part, called on other regions to support the emergence of a president of Southeast extraction in 2023.
The Chairman of Southeast Transitional Rulers Council and Chairman of Ebonyi State Traditional Rulers Council, HRH Eze Charles Mkpumai, also made a similar request to the President.

According him, “the zone stands with you in all efforts towards the fight against insecurity in the Southeast and the country in general. We, however, plead with you, as a compassionate father, to temper justice with mercy in the case of our son, Nnamdi Kanu. We have started dialogue to ensure that all those who feel aggrieved are brought to a round table.”

For the Southeast Vice Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Fr. Abraham Nwali, the country was greatly challenged by insecurity and societal conflict.

Nwali, who added that many families were living in fear of the unknown, said: “Your Excellency, as a father of our dear nation and Southeast, we bring to your notice that the sit-at-home has crippled the economy of Southeast and banditry is engulfing the nation.

“Our society is growing by violence with a lot of youth restiveness. We know that you are doing your best to solve these problems, but we request kindly, Your Excellency, of more dialogue with all nationalists and more empowerment to the various security agencies to tackle this monster called insecurity.

“We request that you exercise the promotion of equity, fairness and social justice by all institutions and political parties especially as we approach the year of transition.

“We plead for your political solution as a father, a loving father, a forgiving father to grant Nnamdi Kanu freedom. We pray that he be granted pardon as we call on all agitators to cease all forms of hostilities and other demands for a nation where the plight of the poor, the weak, the oppressed will be addressed.”

Other notable Igbo leaders present at the meeting were Senator Sam Egwu, Chief Chekwas Okorie and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyawu, among others. President Buhari, while responding to the demands of the leaders, noted that his hands were tied on the issue of the IPOB leader, saying Kanu’s matter should be properly adjudicated in the law court.

The President, who expressed concerns over the worsening security situation in the region, said a few persons from the region brainwashed and incited a segment of the population against the government. He condemned the recent killing of couple soldiers in the zone, describing it as barbaric and an act of wickedness.

He declared that anyone caught bearing arms, especially AK-47 rifles, who is not a security operative, should be treated as a criminal. The President vowed that terrorism and banditry must be flushed out from the region for peace to reign.

He said: “I must register my deep concern as regards the deteriorating state of security affairs in Southeast. In the last 48 hours, I was informed of the latest brutal assault of a gang of terrorists who prey on innocent and hardworking citizens.

“I must register my deep and grave concern with regards to the deteriorating state of affairs in this region and I have listened carefully to various appeals from the elders and traditional leaders regarding our wide range of options and as I have said previously, this matter remains in the full purview of the law court where it will be properly adjudicated.

“My worry is for our hardworking and innocent civilians for whom life is already tough and would like to go out and earn a good and honest living. There are many that fit this profile and the government owes them that obligation to protect their lives and property.

“I will once again repeat, no one has the right to carry an AK-47, and anyone seen in any part of the country doing so and is not a law enforcement officer is a threat to our peaceful coexistence and should be treated as such.”

The President’s fresh order came as the news of UK’s acceptance of the designation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian government was received with shock by many residents of the Southeast.

TheCable had reported that UKVI, a division of the Home Office, in its May 2022 policy update, which it saw, referred to IPOB as a terrorist organisation to be excluded from its asylum programme over alleged links to violence in the Southeast.

“IPOB is proscribed as a terrorist group by the Nigerian government, and members of the group and its paramilitary wing – the Eastern Security Network (created in December 2020) – have reportedly committed human rights violations in Nigeria,” UKVI said in its policy notes.

It added that, “MASSOB has been banned, but is not a proscribed terrorist group in Nigeria. It too has reportedly been involved in violent clashes with the authorities.”

UKVI went on to tell its decision makers that “if a person has been involved with IPOB (and/or an affiliated group), MASSOB or any other ‘Biafran’ group that incites or uses violence to achieve its aims, decision makers must consider whether one (or more) of the exclusion clauses under the Refugee Convention is applicable.”

“Persons who commit human rights violations must not be granted asylum,” the UK added. The policy brief noted that anyone excluded in this manner was also “excluded from a grant of humanitarian protection.”

UKVI also advised that, “decision makers must, however, still consider all claims on an individual basis, taking into account each case’s specific facts.”

Yesterday, newspaper stands along the Edinburgh/Obiagu axis in the new layout of Enugu State were besieged by free readers, which included tricycle riders, who created traffic gridlock with the manner they parked on the busy road.

The nucleus of the discussion by the unusual gathering was the news about the classification of the IPOB as a “terrorist organisation”, by the UK government.

At the newsstands where the unusual readers gathered to discuss the development and its implication, majority of them expressed shock and disbelief at the veracity of the news. While some insisted that the story was fallacious in the sense that “it was the same UK that has promised to restore Biafra to us,” others stated that it was nothing to worry about.

There were others who also said that it was a “declaration of war against Ndigbo”, stressing that, the Federal Government had “shown its desperation in ensuring that Ndigbo does not survive in Nigeria.”

But the leadership of IPOB kept a sealed lip over the development. The spokesperson of the group, Emma Powerful, failed to respond to inquiries on the matter. However, the leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, promised to speak on it today.

The leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, which had before now faulted the Federal Government for classifying the IPOB as a “terrorist organisation” also refused to speak on the matter.

“I think the Ohanaeze Ndigbo will meet to take a position on the development, because it is a sensitive one’, an official Ohanaeze told The Guardian on phone.

Emeritus President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, however, described the development as the outcome of a “successful propaganda by the Federal Government against the two organisations.”

Faulting the classification, Uwazuruike said there was a huge difference existing between the IPOB and unknown gunmen, stressing that he was shocked that an affinity that started between Nigeria and the United Kingdom during the 60s could continue to be used against the Igbo.

He said: “For the past two years, every crime committed in Igboland is attributed to the IPOB. That sustained effort has produced what the government long wanted. IPOB members live with the people but the unknown gunmen don’t live with the people. I believe that some of the things we hear and say should have been verified before we make our conclusions. The way we have done our things is that the moment it concerns the Igbo, sustained efforts are made to bring them to ridicule.

“To get the Federal Government to designate bandits as terrorists, it took the government months and even when they did so, they became complacent about fighting them. One thing about propaganda is that it has a lifespan and surely must end one day.”

On the way out of the development, Uwazuruike said that the Igbo should continue to say the truth about the activities of the groups, stressing that what had happened “now is a repeat of the 1969/70 war era that the Federal Government and Britain teamed up against Biafra.”

Also speaking, an Igbo leader, Chief Chekwas Okorie, explained that the development was long expected, adding that the government had long been in a cordial relationship with the United Kingdom.

His words: “Friendly countries will have no alternative than concurrence. For instance, if any country that is in relationship with another bans something, it is expected that its allied countries will follow suit. It is for us in Nigeria to use the same diplomacy and politics to unban it and to solve it.

“Unfortunately, I cannot see where we got it wrong and our young people are not helping matters, so much that even when you give some advise, it is taken with some suspicion. Now, the same UK that some people will deceive them is supporting Biafra has said this; now that they have said this, what other group do they have? As I said, now that Britain has said this, all allied countries will toe same line. So, we have work to do. The work to do is to reverse it. We have to convince Britain that what they have heard or seen is incorrect. It is not a hopeless situation.

“We met with President Buhari on Friday and from one speaker to another, we continued to appeal to him to use his presidential prerogative to address the issue of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu and others. We are sure that by his body language and disposition, he is ready to do that, but if we are discussing issue of this nature, you surely must bring something to the table. What we need to do in this instance is to give an assurance that if what you are asking for is given to you, you won’t make the man look stupid.

“We need to meet with our young men; we need to have engagement with our son who is in detention and know the extent he is prepared to make sacrifices so that we can now tell the Federal Government what we are bringing to the table.”

Lawyer, Henry Chibuike Ugwu, on his part, said that the recognition of IPOB as a terrorist body by the UK can obscure the fundamental basis of the rise of IPOB, which is the right to self-determination of a people, and these clamours ought not to be hastily dismissed since the Federal Government has failed woefully to address the inequality and marginalisation in Nigeria.

 
“The UK will periodically review its policy on asylum and the status of IPOB, so if the IPOB must discard its current terrorist status, it must do its best to reform its organisation and clearly spell out all its principles and mode of operation which must respect all international law principles, especially those pertaining to human rights. The body must also do well to rid itself of all bad eggs that are involved in the commission of outrageous crimes.”

He, however, emphasised that the Nigerian government holds the key to solving all issues associated with secession by effectively restructuring the country to guarantee equitable distribution of resources and equal access to all opportunities available in Nigeria, and despite the designation of IPOB as a terrorist group by the UK or any other government, the agitations in the southeast and other regions of Nigeria will not dissipate until justice is afforded all groups in Nigeria. 

According to Ugwu, the birth of IPOB, ESN, and indeed other secessionist movements in Nigeria are repercussions of the evident inequality, marginalisation, corruption, and unfair distribution of resources in Nigeria.

IPOB, led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, had championed the call for a referendum so the people of southeast Nigeria can decide if they want to remain a part of the current failing country or in the alternative constitute a new country- Biafra. All the requests and clamours for the Nigerian Federal Government to conduct the referendum were met with stiff and undemocratic opposition by the government. These clamours turned into protests, in some cases violence ensued from the protests, and many members of IPOB, including its leader Nnamdi Kanu, were arrested, brutalised, subjected to criminal trial, and incarcerated by the Nigerian Federal Government. 

“The basis for IPOB’s call is the right to self-determination, which is recognised under international and enshrined in some principal international law instruments like in Article 1(2) of the United Nations Charter, Article 1(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 1(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It was therefore in line with international law obligations, especially flowing from the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 (Refugee Convention) that many countries of the world, including the United Kingdom, had appreciated the need to provide a safe haven for members of IPOB who were fleeing Nigeria due to persecution for their political opinions or membership of certain social groups.

“However, the activities of some members of IPOB and its affiliate groups in recent times have involved the unlawful restriction of personal liberty, physical assault, and even murder. In southeast Nigeria, where the IPOB has a very strong presence and large followership, some days are undemocratically declared as sit-as-home with residents of the southeast confronted with the most brutal and inhuman of treatments if they dared violate the order from IPOB leadership. This modus operandi is certainly one characterised by terror. The problems have even worsened with the emergence of a group(s) known as the Unknown Gunmen, many of whom pledge allegiance to IPOB and the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu. This group has been involved in many killings, kidnappings, and other unspeakable crimes in Nigeria. The result is that many supporters of self-determination by the people of southeast Nigeria, and some members of the IPOB have distanced themselves from IPOB.

“Under Article 1(F) of the Refugee Convention, all asylum-seekers are excluded from the rights available under the law where there are serious reasons for considering that the person has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, a serious non-political crime, or has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Clearly, being affiliated with a group designated as a terrorist institution would ordinarily put an asylum-seeker in a difficult position due to the evaluation of such a person’s asylum request. Therefore, some of the recent activities of IPOB are incompatible with the requests for asylum under international law and the UK Government’s latest position on IPOB is not surprising, even though the Nigerian Federal Government has since declared the IPOB as a terrorist organisation in 2017,” he said.