By Obi Nwakanma
The Indigenous People of Biafra – IPOB – was pronounced a “terrorist organization” and banned, first by the Chief of Army, Major-General Buratai.
When it was quickly pointed to the Army that it had neither the mandate nor the legal authority to declare any organisation legitimate or illegitimate, or proscribe same, they did a very quick about-turn, and in quick-step, withdrew the statement.
Buratai then denied ever making that declaration. He had, he said, only made “a pronouncement.” Some are still trying to untangle the semantic difference between a “declaration” and a “pronouncement.” But be that as it may.
The Minister for Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, did seem, like the figure of the head-walker “Ashikodi” in Maik Nwosu’s poem, “Ballad of the Peacekeeper,” to turn things upside-down. Hajj Lai Mohammed announced that President Buhari had proscribed IPOB and declared it a “terrorist organization.”
Here again, the Senate President, Dr. Olubukuola Saraki, quickly intervened and said, “impossible!” The President has no such powers, to proscribe, or declare any organization a “terrorist organization.” Indeed, the President does not. It required a pronouncement in chambers of a judge, who must hear the matter. The presidency quickly shuffled up its cards.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Malami trolled out a brief, corralled a friendly judge, who heard a motion ex-parte, and quickly declared IPOB a “terrorist organization” and proscribed it. There is just one problem: IPOB – because the judgment was granted to one party – the Buhari administration acting wrongly or rightly for the federal government – the other party in question, the IPOB, was not present in a hearing involving it.
The late Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, who himself was once declared a terrorist by Sani Abacha, added an important wisdom to the storehouse of Nigerian proverbs: “you cannot shave a man behind his back.” In other words, one has to be present before you give them a hair-cut. Otherwise, there is no hair-cut.
The IPOB is a defiant movement, not a terrorist organization. That is the known, known. No declaration using what may be a compromised process, using a judge whose judgement may not stand the test of jurisprudential scrutiny, changes that. Besides, a motion ex-parte is just an interim injunction.
It is not a permanent order. Perhaps the IPOB may choose to contest this in court, and reverse the judgment.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria may have to intervene as the final authority on the interpretation of the courts on this matter of whether the government of President Buhari can force a declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organization; or whether in fact, the governors of the South East (clearly under military threat) have the power to ban IPOB as an organization.
And so we wait. There is just one thing, and this has been pointed out in numerous responses by Nigerians, particularly from the South-East, in the last week. What is the rationale for declaring IPOB a “terrorist organization?”
As an organization, IPOB has borne the brunt of attacks on it by Nigerian security forces. They have been the victims of targeted killings and torture and arrests ordered by the Buhari government, and if there is any terror here, it is the Nigerian state deploying “state terror” against an unarmed political organization, even if this organization is seeking what it calls “secession” by referendum.
The Nigerian government under Buhari, one might rightly say here, is quite ironically, the terrorist! How does one come to this conclusion? Well, any Nigerian with conscience and humanity, who sees the pictures and Youtube videos circulating both on the regular and on the dark web, of the Nigerian military and security forces torturing and killing unarmed IPOB activists, will come to the same conclusion.
The deployment of state terror against citizens is a criminal offence, particularly when these citizens are not armed, and are forced to defend themselves against the fierce artillery and armored power of the military forces only with stones.
The National Assembly must investigate these events and begin to deconstruct the power of the President to order the military or the police to act arbitrarily without recourse to oversight. It is cowardly to torture a man when you have a gun, or are in a group of armed comrades kicking and drowning unarmed young men and women in a pond of brackish water.
It is not bravery to show force by driving armored vehicles through civvy streets and shooting live bullets at the private homes of unarmed people. This is what the Nigerian Army did: to provoke a civil unrest using methods of terrorism.
It should be unacceptable to civilized people. I have personally written in a different forum that the Igbo must collect and document these atrocities carefully; collect and build short profiles of the victims of these military crusades and open an on-line wall of memory, and be prepared in the long run to take General Buratai, his soldiers, and President Buhari to the International Criminal Court of which Nigeria is a signatory.
But it is the moral duty of all Nigerians, not just the Igbo, to hold this government accountable on its serial human rights atrocities perpetrated against the IPOB separatists.
This government has ignored the real terrorist activity of the so-called armed herdsmen, who have attacked, killed, raped, and kidnapped unarmed and innocent Nigerians from the Middle Belt to the South of Nigeria, including such an eminent Nigerian like Olu Falae, and yet, brazenly gone after an unarmed IPOB. IPOB is rousing the Igbo to want out of Nigeria.
The young Igbo – from ages 17 to 35, the largest demographic unit of that population – now increasingly identify with IPOB; they do not listen to, nor have respect for Igbo governors, who from last week even seem more clearly like proconsuls of the Federal government, or like the colonial warrant chiefs of old.
Yes, indeed, IPOB constitutes the single most dangerous development that threatens the continuous existence of Nigeria as a single nation, since the end of the civil war.
But why? This is exactly why this group has garnered a large following from young Igbo – they expect no justice in Nigeria, and are clearly disdainful of the Nigerian legal and court system. Judges have been publicly accused no less by this government of having little integrity; are mostly bought, and are corrupted, even by the government that says it is fighting corruption.
It is a corruption of the process of justice to circumvent the judicial process, and force a convenient and predictable judgment against a perceived opponent of the government of the day using a malleable or “friendly” judge.
It just seems rather obvious that this government is using the discredited methods of the military regimes that Nigerians fought so much against. It is a method of judicial evacuation so very popular with fascist governments, and the Nigerian government under the Buhari administration is increasingly taking the color of a fascist regime. One does see in the proscription of IPOB, the parallel with other fascist responses to popular uprisings and defiant political movements.
They never work. They tend to have the opposite effect: they fuel the defiance of the oppressed groups. So, Nigeria declares the Biafran separatist group, IPOB, illegal and a “terrorist organization,” and does this therefore solve the problems raised and posed by the IPOB? Certainly not.
We must remember that the apartheid South African state declared the African National Congress (ANC) an illegal and terrorist organization. Mr. Buhari’s government seems to be working out of the same template.
Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and the rest, were jailed as terrorists. The ANC was banned in South Africa as a “terrorist organization.” First, Buhari again has done Nnamdi Kanu the honours. He will now join Mandela on the footpath of immortals. History has a way of turning ordinary men into mythic heroes. Henceforth, thanks to Buhari, Nnamdi Kanu is no longer ordinary. Second, did the proscription, the declaration of the ANC as a terrorist organization, and the killing and trial of its leadership end the ANC? No.
It drove them to grassroots organizing, and it internationalized their campaign. From 1962, the ANC mounted increasingly defiant campaigns until the apartheid regime fell.
The IPOB is about to take the same trajectory. It will be difficult to squelch the IPOB simply by declaring them “a terrorist organization,” for a number of reasons: first, the IPOB is not a registered entity under Nigerian laws, and does not see itself as operating within any confines of that law. It is a defiant movement.
It could just simply change its name, and resume its operations. Banning its activities and declaring it a “terrorist organization” is a futile act.
Secondly, this declaration might have the effect of driving them underground, and widening and internationalizing their operations and activities, as I predicted last week, and there will be many faces of the movement, and the government will begin to grasp at mirrors.
Thirdly, government has not achieved citizens’ buy-in and has not convinced key segments of Nigeria that IPOB is a terrorist organization. The effect is scepticism: nobody trusts or believes, or even takes the declaration of this court seriously.
It is what experts might call an unenforceable declaration. It might arm the government of the day with a legal excuse to expand its violent actions against the IPOB activists by killing them, arresting them, detaining them, and jailing them.
The downside to all that is that there is a limit to the number of people a government can kill or jail or maim without inciting domestic and international outrage. The Igbo will also not simply stand by and watch their children killed by a government they do not trust. All these is a recipe for a really complex conflict.