When the Nigerian Army declared a journalist and two human rights defenders wanted last year for alleged links with the satanic Boko Haram sect, I pointed out that it was an act of illegality on the ground that the Terrorism Act 2011 as amended by the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013, has not conferred any such power on the Nigerian Army. In a prompt reaction to my criticism, the suspects were immediately transferred to the State Security Service which interrogated them and released them on bail.
Last week, I had cause to advise the federal government to direct the Nigerian Army to withdraw from Abia State and allow the Nigeria Police Force to deal with the reported criminal offenses alleged to have been committed by Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by him. Regrettably, the advice was ignored while the Nigerian Army and the governors of the South-East have purportedly proscribed the Indigenous People of Biafra. It is submitted, without any fear of contradiction, that neither the Army nor the governors are empowered to proscribe or label the IPOB a terrorist organization. In banning the IPOB the Chief of Army Staff and the governors did not avert their minds to section 2 of the Terrorism Act 2011 as amended, which provides that a terrorist organization can only be proscribed in the country on the order of the federal high court based on an application made by either the National Security Adviser, Attorney-General of the Federation or Inspector-General of Police with the approval of the President.
However, the alleged intimidation of innocent people by IPOB on account of ethnicity or religion should cease. Since the burning of police stations, killing and harassment of some innocent traders from the northern part of the country allegedly carried out by the IPOB cannot be justified under the law, the suspects should be arrested. The suspects should be charged to court to serve as a warning to criminally minded people who may want to direct their frustration at fellow victims of the oppression and poverty unleashed on them by the ruling class.
No doubt, the IPOB members are free to associate for the protection of their interests by virtue of section 40 of the constitution. But they have to agitate peacefully in a way that ensures that the rights of other citizens who live peacefully in the South-East zone are respected. Even if the IPOP has decided to declare a war on the State, its troops cannot attack unarmed civilians under the Geneva Conventions. Therefore, in the ongoing face-off between the State and the IPOB both sides must ensure that unarmed people are not attacked or intimidated. The federal government is duty bound to ensure the protection of the life and property of every citizen as the fundamental right to live peacefully in any part of the country is guaranteed by section 43 of the Nigerian Constitution. To that effect, all efforts must be made by the federal government to prevent reprisal attacks on innocent people in the northern part of the country.
In calling for dialogue between President Buhari and Mr. Kanu, former President Obasanjo ought to have apologized publicly for the military invasion of Odi in Bayelsa State and Zaki Biam in Benue State ordered by him. The basis of the call should have been explained since President Obasanjo charged Niger Delta militants, leaders of ethnic militias and separatist movements with treason which led to their prolonged detention in prison custody. Convinced that President Obasanjo has realized that the criminalization of such agitation did not achieve its objective, his suggestion for a dialogue should be seriously considered by the federal government and the South-East governors.
It is also interesting that President Goodluck Jonathan is calling for a meeting of the Council of States to resolve the crisis. For goodness’ sake, why was such a meeting not called before soldiers were deployed in the Niger Delta to deal with militants? Or did President Jonathan call any meeting before deploying soldiers all over the country for the 2015 general elections in defiance of the judgments of the federal high court and the Court of Appeal? Instead of suggesting irrelevant meetings, the root causes of the increasing loss of faith in the corporate existence of Nigeria by unemployed youths and other poverty-stricken people should be urgently addressed by the ruling class. As a matter of urgency, the underdevelopment of the nation caused by the mindless corruption and criminal diversion of public funds by unpatriotic public officers should be addressed. With respect to the deployment of members of the armed forces by the President, the National Assembly should enact an enabling law as required by section 217 of the Constitution.
Furthermore, the National Assembly should pass a bill to enable the federal government to disburse the funds that have been recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from the looters of our commonwealth for job creation and the provision of social services. As long as the people are denied the dividends of democracy, the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria will remain an empty shibboleth.
Finally, it is high time the debate on restructuring was restructured to accommodate the interests of the working people, women, students, youths and the unemployed. In other words, the planned devolution of powers from the center to the federating units has to be fully democratized. Otherwise, irredentist movements like IPOB will continue to preach the gospel of hate, ethnic nationalism, bigotry, racism, and xenophobia.
Femi Falana (SAN) is a human rights lawyer and activist.