S’east Govs, Mil­i­tary Have No Such Pow­ers, Say Lawyers

• PDP Faults Mil­i­tary’s Ter­ror­ist Tag On IPOB, Backs Govs’ Ac­tion • Re­tired Mil­i­tary Chiefs Back De­ploy­ment Of Troops • South East Gov­er­nors’ Fo­rum Il­le­gal — Dabiri • IPOB Not A Ter­ror­ist Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Says Ohanaeze

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Onyek­were (La­gos), Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Sax­one Akhaine (Kaduna), Se­gun Olaniyi (Abuja) and Isa Ab­dul­salami Ahovi (Jos)

THE proscription of the ac­tiv­i­ties of Indige­nous Peo­ples of Bi­afra (IPOB) in the South East by the South East Gov­er­nors Fo­rum, has drawn the ire of some le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers, who say the gov­er­nors lack the lo­cus standi to do so.

Con­versely, the op­po­si­tion Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party and some le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers are in tune with the gov- er­nor’s de­ci­sion, say­ing it was ne­ces­si­tated by the need to stop fur­ther killings and de­struc­tion of prop­erty by sol­diers in the zone. After a meet­ing of the gov­er­nors with South-east mem­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly and Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo so­cio-po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion, chair­man of the fo­rum and Gov­er­nor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, in a six-point com­mu­niqué, an­nounced the proscription of IPOB and its ac­tiv­i­ties.

But Chris Okeke, a lawyer said the gov­er­nors do not have the pow­ers to pro­scribe the ac­tiv­i­ties of IPOB as, “the con­sti­tu­tion recog- nises the right to choice of as­so­ci­a­tion. So, it doesn’t de­pend on what the gov­er­nors do, or what they don’t do. It doesn’t even lie with the Na­tional Assem­bly or Mr. Pres­i­dent. That you don’t like the name of my or­gan­i­sa­tion, or the face of my or­gan­i­sa­tion is nei­ther here nor there.

“The mil­i­tary are not even mak­ing sense in declar­ing IPOB a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion be­cause they do not have the pow­ers to do so. If the mil­i­tary is sus­pi­cious of IPOB’S ac­tiv­i­ties, it should have ap­proached the court through ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nel to seek such dec­la­ra­tion. “If it had done so, it can­not still go ahead to make a dec­la­ra­tion at the same time be­cause that would amount to em­bark­ing on self-help. In Ojukwu Vs the Gov­er­nor of La­gos State, the Supreme

Court had made it clear that you can­not talk about ju­di­cial process and at the same time em­bark on self-help. Those two don’t go to­gether. It is ei­ther you sub­ject your­self to ju­di­cial process or not.”

Okeke, who claimed that Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has over­stepped his bounds by de­plor­ing sol­diers to South East, ex­plained that the mil­i­tary can “only come out when there is clear break­down of law and or­der and the Po­lice are over­whelmed. There has to be ev­i­dence that Po­lice has been over­whelmed. Now, I can see the hand­writ­ing on the wall. The rea­son the De­fence Head­quar­ters branded IPOB a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion is so that they can con­tinue to kill the peo­ple in­dis­crim­i­nately.”

Abuja based lawyer, Abubakar Sani aligns with Okeke de­scrib­ing the brand­ing of IPOB by the mil­i­tary as a ter­ror­ist group il­le­gal.

Ac­cord­ing to him, by virtue of Sec­tions 2 and 32 of the Ter­ror­ism (Pre­ven­tion) Act as amended, only a judge of the Fed­eral High Court, on an ap­pli­ca­tion made by the At­tor­ney-gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser, or the In­spec­tor Gen­eral of Po­lice can pro­scribe, or ban an en­tity on the ground that it is a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“In other words, nei­ther the Nige­rian Army, nor a state gov­er­nor or group of gov­er­nors can de­clare IPOB a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion or ban/pro­scribe it. Noth­ing in the con­sti­tu­tion or the Armed Forces Act stops the Nige­rian Army from en­gag­ing in mil­i­tary ex­er­cises or oper­a­tions such as Python Dance or its like. “The Con­sti­tu­tion should be in­ter­preted lib­er­ally. Sec­tions 217-220 of the con­sti­tu­tion do not ex­clude such mil­i­tary ex­er­cises or oper­a­tions, which are in­dis­pens­able for en­hanc­ing its ca­pac­ity to ful­fill its man­date un­der Section 217(1)(c) of the con­sti­tu­tion of sup­press­ing in­sur­rec­tion, or as­sist­ing civil author­i­ties to re­store or­der,” he stated. Sani, who said the mil­i­tary is free to em­bark on any ex­er­cise across the coun­try, how­ever, stated that it is never jus­ti­fi­able to at­tack un­armed civil­ians.

“Through­out the world, the mil­i­tary may only re­sort to force in self-de­fence, which must al­ways be pro­por­tion­ate. But, then you know that in such si­t­u­a­tions, you can never rule out the pos­si­bil­ity of a few bad eggs oc­ca­sion­ally break­ing the rules…” For for­mer chair­man, La­gos branch of the Nige­ria Bar As­so­ci­a­tion (NBA), Abio­dun Dabiri, South East gov­er­nors lack the le­gal pow­ers to pro­scribe IPOB ac­tiv­i­ties, even as the so-called South East Gov­er­nors’ Fo­rum is also an il­le­gal body as­sum­ing pow­ers that it does not have.

Main­tain­ing that the mil­i­tary has the right to say what it likes to say, he added that, “their declar­ing IPOB as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion is a mere opin­ion and they are en­ti­tled to hold opin­ion. We all know the def­i­ni­tion of ter­ror­ists. Th­ese peo­ple are not car­ry­ing arms. They are not in­flict­ing in­juries, killing peo­ple, bomb­ing or en­dan­ger­ing peo­ple’s lives. Those are de­fence­less cit­i­zens.”

Dabiri, who, how­ever, de­plored the way IPOB is go­ing about its ag­i­ta­tion, called on el­ders in the land to wade into the mat­ter with a view to stem­ming the build­ing con­fla­gra­tion. “The so-called crazy con­sti­tu­tion that we have now,” he said, “has given the pres­i­dent so much pow­ers. The law says he can de­ploy troops when there is break down of law and or­der, with the ap­proval of the Na­tional Assem­bly. But in this case, they just do what they like. They de­ployed sol­diers with­out nec­es­sary author­i­ties em­bed­ded in the law. This is Nige­ria where any­thing goes.”

Tayo Oyetibo, a Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria (SAN) is also of the view that a gov­er­nor can­not pro­scribe an or­gan­i­sa­tion as only the court is em­pow­ered to so do.

Ac­cord­ing to him, if an or­gan­i­sa­tion en­gages in il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties, the gov­ern­ment can draw the at­ten­tion of the court to such an or­gan­i­sa­tion for the law to take its course. “That is the ap­pro­pri­ate pro­ce­dure. So, I ask, un­der which law have the gov­er­nors acted by pro­scrib­ing IPOB ac­tiv­i­ties? There is no law that au­tho­rises them to pro­scribe. That is not to say that an or­gan­i­sa­tion can be­gin to operate on an il­le­gal ba­sis. So, we have to bal­ance both.”

He also in­sisted that the mil­i­tary declar­ing IPOB a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion does not make the group one un­til the court so de­clares.

His words: “You can even call an or­gan­i­sa­tion a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion as a jour­nal­ist, but it is the court that can make a valid dec­la­ra­tion… you can­not sit in your of­fice and de­clare an or­gan­i­sa­tion a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion with­out tak­ing steps to bring the law to bear on the or­gan­i­sa­tion, oth­er­wise, it would be an ar­bi­trary pro­ce­dure.”

The Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party (PDP), yes­ter­day , con­demned the mil­i­tary’s dec­la­ra­tion of IPOB as a ter­ror­ist, while it wel­comed the proscription of the group by the South East gov­er­nors fo­rum.

Ad­dress­ing a press con­fer­ence at the party’s Na­tional Sec­re­tariat in Abuja, its na­tional pub­lic­ity sec­re­tar y, Dayo Adey­eye, said the mil­i­tary over­reached it­self as it lacked the pow­ers to make such pro­nounce­ment.

The party fur­ther stated that the ac­tion of the gov­er­nors might have been taken in the best in­ter­est of the peo­ple of their states be­ing the chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cers of their states.

“I be­lieve that the power to pro­scribe an or­gan­i­sa­tion lies es­sen­tially with the Na­tional Assem­bly and the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment of Nige­ria. It does not lie with the gov­er­nors, nor the mil­i­tary.

“How­ever the gov­er­nors are the chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cers of the var­i­ous states and the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment is to se­cure lives and prop­erty of its cit­i­zens. That is the first and most im­por­tant re­spon­si­bil­ity of gov­ern­ment. There­fore, as chief se­cu­rity of­fi­cers of their states, they are al­lowed to take ever y mea­sure that will en­sure that peace reigns supreme in their var­i­ous states.

“For the mil­i­tar y, I think they over reached them­selves by declar­ing IPOB a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. It is not in their pow­ers to do so, but that of the Na­tional Assem­bly and the rel­e­vant fed­eral agen­cies, after care­ful eval­u­a­tion, to say whether an or­gan­i­sa­tion can be clas­si­fied as a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion or not. I be­lieve there are pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures to be fol­lowed be­fore such can be done. It is not in the pow­ers of any or­gan­i­sa­tion, es­pe­cially the mil­i­tary to uni­lat­er­ally de­clare any or­gan­i­sa­tion a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion.”

An Enugu based lawyer and for­mer Dean of Fac­ulty of Law, Enugu State Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy (ESUT), Prof Agu Gab Agu, agrees with the PDP that gov­er­nors have pow­ers to pro­scribe the ac­tiv­i­ties of the group, es­pe­cially when it com­pro­mises the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion of the zone.

He said what the gov­er­nors’ ac­tion means is that “there are no two gov­ern­ments in the South East and should there be an IPOB, which of course is not reg­is­tered, they should carry out their ac­tiv­i­ties in line with the rules and reg­u­la­tions guid­ing ac­tiv­i­ties of gov­ern­ments in the zone.

For hu­man rights lawyer, Olu Omo­tayo, “Each of the state gov­er­nors in the zone is sup­posed to spon­sor an ex­ec­u­tive bill at their var­i­ous Houses of Assem­bly to back up the pro­nounce­ment. I agree that they have pow­ers to ban ac­tiv­i­ties in their state, but for you to show that such ac­tiv­ity is crim­i­nal, it must have the force of law, so that any­body could be charged based on the of­fence.” he said.

Mean­while, for­mer Head of Depart­ment of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and De­fence Stud­ies (PSDS), Nige­rian De­fence Acad­emy (NDA), Kaduna State, Pro­fes­sor Moses Ted­heke, has ap­plauded the de­ci­sion of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to de­clare IPOB a ter­ror­ist group, urg­ing it to crush the group in or­der sus­tain the nation’s sovereignty.

He said: “The mil­i­tary is ex­pected to pro­vide for the se­cu­rity and sanc­tity of the nation, and any­body or group that is a threat to the sovereignty of the coun­try has to be dealt with. Nige­rian as a coun­try can­not fold its arms and watch its in­ter­nal se­cu­rity be­ing vi­o­lated.

“So, I wholly sup­port the de­ploy­ment of the sol­diers to the South East to en­sure that law and or­der does not break down, and to also make sure that the sovereignty of this coun­try is not un­der­mined by those ag­i­tat­ing for Bi­afra State. They have con­sti­tuted them­selves to a ter­ror­ist group and so they should be dealt with as such.” Ted­heke added.

For­mer Com­man­der, Bri­gade of Guards, Do­dan Bar­racks, Gen­eral Yakubu Rim­dan (rtd), is also in to­tal sup­port of the mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment to the South East to stop the break­down of law and or­der.

He urged the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to take more strin­gent mea­sures to en­sure that the sovereignty of the nation is not com­pro­mised.

He said as much as Nige­ri­ans ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­is­tence of democ­racy in the coun­try, “we will not al­low any fac­tion, or any in­di­vid­ual un­der the guise of demo­cratic rights to make non­sense of the demo­cratic prin­ci­ples in the coun­try.”

He said the “dec­la­ra­tion of any part of Nige­ria as a sov­er­eign state, or as a sep­a­rate state amounts to a crim­i­nal act and trea­son­able felony. It is in or­der to avoid the re­sul­tant ef­fect of such il­le­gal­ity that the pres­i­dent took the ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures against the il­le­gal dec­la­ra­tion of Bi­afra State by IPOB.”

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