Proscription of IPOB: South East governors, military have no such powers, say lawyers

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• 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 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 governor’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 recognises 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 secretary, 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 every measure that will ensure that peace reigns supreme in their various states.

“For the military, 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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