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Terrorism, self-determination and IPOB – Part 2


Biafra Agitators

Continued from yesterday

Nevertheless, there is overwhelming evidence or state practice to show that the right to self-determination outlives the extinguishment or termination of colonialism. For example, many states have recognised or welcomed the split of former Yugoslavia into seven independent republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia (1989–1992); the emergence of 14 republics out of the defunct USSR (1990); breaking away of Bangladesh from Pakistan (March 1971); secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia (April 1993); separation of South Sudan from Sudan (July 2011); and the mutual split of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia (1993). Therefore, all the post-colonial creation of states out of existing states belie the claim that the principle of self-determination evaporated with the dismantling of the colonial machine.

IPOB is described as a separatist organisation led by Nnamdi Kanu. The group aims to make the South Eastern States (made up of Ibos) to break away from Nigeria and form the independent nation of Biafra through peaceful means a la referendum to settle the issue of Biafra in a civilised and democratic manner. Interestingly, IPOB has been largely peaceful; it has not adopted violence as a means to achieving its end. However, on 20 September 2017, a Federal High Court in Abuja granted the Federal Government an interim injunction proscribing the activities of the group.


When the modus operandi of IPOB is considered against the backdrop of the pedigree of other terrorist groups operating internationally or in foreign jurisdictions, the government’s labelling of the group as terrorist beggars belief. The Federal Government through the Minister of Information Lai Mohammed, Senior Special Assistant to the President Garba Shehu and others have laboured to justify such appellation. They accused IPOB of so many things including mounting road blocks, burning a Police Station, killing a Police man, using stones, molotov cocktails (a simple incendiary weapon variously described as bottle bomb, petrol bomb, fire bomb, benzene torch, etc), machetes and broken bottles, possessing own flag, printing own currency, extorting money from innocent citizens, etc. Additionally, they accused Kanu of using intemperate language in the social media. I do not know the verity of some of these allegations but if they are true, then some of the activities of IPOB have become criminal and therefore worthy of state control. But they are not so bad as to warrant the group’s terrorist classification.

In other words, the alleged conducts are not terrorist conducts; they are illegalities. They do not fit into the objective definition or description of a terrorist group. Can you truly say that IPOB has become hostis humani generis? Where is its compulsion exerted on others, compulsion intended to cause death or serious bodily injury? The disharmony between IPOB and the terrorist tag that the government has stamped on it explains why some foreign countries including the US find Nigeria’s terrorist tag on IPOB ridiculous. It is convenient for those defending Nigeria’s action to raise the veil of the country’s sovereignty to ward off any contrary view but it ought to be remembered that these countries tasted the pangs of terrorism long before Boko Haram institutionalized it in Nigeria. So they know terrorism when they see one.

And Nigeria can ignore views from other jurisdictions to its peril. Interestingly, every terrorist organisation craves some international or cross-border connection or network in order to survive. So if in its sovereign capacity, Nigeria classified IPOB as a terrorist group without caring whether the standard of such classification passes international best practices, then the country cannot expect mutual cooperation from such foreign jurisdictions in dealing with IPOB. So if you say the financial headquarters of IPOB is in France, do not expect France to treat finance meant for IPOB as terrorist fund or property.


If the government has declared IPOB a criminal organisation, I would have no problem with it but naming it a terrorist organisation is overkill. It portends grave danger for other ethnic nationality-based groups genuinely agitating for self-determination or development. The naming is worrisome because IPOB’s struggle, being rooted in self-determination, is legitimate. As an aside, it is more worrisome when such naming is coming on the heels of the nation-wide violent onslaught by Fulani herdsmen who are maiming, raping and killing Nigerians and destroying properties with dangerous weapons across the country. Despite the outcry of Nigerians, the government has turned the deaf ear for some narrow interests. Specifically, the government has not declared the Fulani herdsmen, who are ordinarily pursuing their mission with violence, terrorists but has declared IPOB, which is ordinarily peaceful in conduct, as a terrorist organisation. Yet the government is moralising on the virtue of unity amongst Nigerian ethnic nationalities!

Undoubtedly, IPOB relies on the principle of self-determination in its struggles against the Nigerian State. And I believe IPOB is on firm ground in so doing. However, the government appears to have, in the heat of passion, ignored or overlooked the nexus between the principle of self-determination and terrorism. Self-determination is a rule of customary international law that has matured into a rule of jus cogens. A state cannot invoke its domestic law to defeat its international obligation regarding self-determination. Additionally, self-determination is also contained in conventions (such as the International Covenants of 1966) to which Nigeria is a signatory. The consequence of all this is that suppression of agitators genuinely relying on the rule is seriously frowned upon. Pointedly, it is odd to declare such agitators terrorists. According to discussions by the UN’s Sixth Committee (during its 64th Session on October 7, 2005), the legitimate struggles of peoples in the exercise of their right to self-determination must not be tainted with the paint brush of terrorism. Otherwise, as the Pakistani envoy to the UN puts it, “brutalisation and oppression of people struggling for their legitimate right to self-determination constitutes state terrorism.” I believe what the government has done against IPOB is naked brutalisation and raw suppression of a people peacefully asking for their right to be allowed to develop themselves in the face of governmental failure to consciously develop them.

Without prejudice to my passion for the oneness of Nigeria built on justice, fairness and equity, I dare say that the unity or indivisibility of Nigeria is not cast in stone. If Nigeria was made the way it is by man it can be unmade by man but if by God, then because power can change hands, God can undo it. Many states that thought their unity or their territorial integrity was sacrosanct have either collapsed or split into two or more states. Ask Ethiopia, ask Sudan, etc.


With the government failing to provide a space for its ethnic nationalities to develop at their own pace and volition and yet stubbornly drumming the mantra of the indivisibility of the country to everybody’s ears, it is fuelling agitations and fanning the embers of disunity. Specifically, the current massive nation-wide resurgence of agitations for restructuring, true federalism, devolution of power, etc, derives directly from the failure of the government to recognize or respect the constitutional provisions which obligate it to conduct its affairs in the way and manner that reflect national spread or diversity. As the government continues to tighten the noose on the necks of agitators while simultaneously denying the merit in such agitations, it is consciously or unconsciously pushing agitators to recall JFK’s aphorism: those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. I hope violence does not happen here and I pray that those resisting peaceful change would see the superior wisdom in the proposition that Nigeria would be greater and more prosperous when its challenges are pacifically nationalistically resolved.


Dr. Igbinedion, senior lecturer, Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.

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