By Chidi Obineche
The Pandora’s box
On September 13, 2012, the Supreme Council of Elders of Indigenous people of Biafra (SCE) issued a legal instrument that initiated proceedings at the Federal High Court, Owerri, which authorized Bilie Human Rights Initiative, a body attached to the Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra, IPOB to take action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria on behalf of the remnants of Biafrans who were not consumed in the war of 1967 -1970.
The intervention was propelled by the compelling need to ensure that the agitation by the youths for Biafran independence, which has been ongoing since 1999 was conducted lawfully. According to the Deputy Chairman of the Council, Dr Dozie Ikedife, the “elders invoked their powers under customary law to organize, direct, manage and control their children, so that the independence struggle would follow due process of law.”
The head of the Customary Law Government of IPOB is His Royal Majesty & His Lordship, The Honourable Justice Eze Ozubu, OFR, who is a retired Chief Judge of Enugu state and a serving royal father. In the suit, No FHC/OW/CS/192/2013, the IPOB who sued Nigeria in a representative capacity are defined as the “people inhabiting three contiguous regions, namely the South–east, parts of the South–south and parts of the Middle Belt regions of Nigeria.”
This definition covers the territorial jurisdiction where these Policy Statements and Orders apply under Customary Law. In the proclamation, the group deposed as supportive grounds of evidence, the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Res.61/295 of 2007 and articles 19-22, African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Cap10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990 (now, LFN 2004). Also deposed in court is the ancient map of Africa in1662 which showed the three kingdoms in West Africa from where Nigeria was created.
The three kingdoms, in the legal document in possession of Sunday Sun were, the Kingdom of Zamfara in the North; The Kingdom of Biafra in the East; and the Kingdom of Benin in the West.
The fourth Kingdom known as Oyo Empire was not contained in the said map, but was enlisted as a great kingdom in West Africa as described in section 4.11 – 4.14 of these Policy Statements “These documents are now before the Federal High Court, Owerri. Our lawyers carried out extensive legal researches in England and obtained all the necessary documentary evidence from the British authorities,” Ikedife explained.
The twists and turns
On the heels of the proclamation, which was hinged on a 25- step gradual autonomy, another group also known as IPOB sprang up from the fold and declared its intention to take up arms against the Nigerian state. The radical group led by detained Nnamdi Kanu with registered offices in London and California in the United States of America, USA, caught the imagination of idealists and young people within and outside Nigeria, and it spread like wildfire. In time, it began to overshadow its parent group and indeed other organizations with similar objectives as the flagship and cause célèbre of the Biafran freedom movement. In a deed of Trusteeship and Memorandum of Understanding made on September 5, 2012 between Nnamdi Kanu, Dr Chukwuma Egemba, Uche Mefor and Amaracha Opara (holding Radio Biafra London, in trust for IPOB) and Bilie ( Biafra Liberation in Exile) Human Rights Initiative, it was resolved that Nnamdi Kanu should transfer all ownership rights and interests in Radio Biafra London to Egemba, Mefor, and Opara, who shall hold the said radio station in trust for the benefit of the IPOB. That agreement which was geared towards healing the deepening cracks merely papered over it and paved the way for more insidious cataclysms. In a desperate bid to outdo each other, the battle twisted towards themselves rather than the ‘common interest’.
The foreground to the pending issues began in 2012 when the unregistered IPOB brought an action in a representative capacity by Bilie Human Rights Initiative in suit no FHC/OW/CS/102/2012. The suit was struck out on technicalities and went along to dampen the morale of the revanchist IPOB members who defiantly opted for an all out violent approach. They argued that it was wrong for IPOB to operate under the human rights law, through Bilie Human Rights Initiative. Cashing in on the lacunae, they promptly took the name of the organization and registered it in the USA, wrote a petition to the Corporate Affairs Commission in Nigeria and copied the defendants, (Federal Government of Nigeria) in the suit with the intent to frustrate the suit. The American based factional organization, “Indigenous Peoples of Biafra – USA, was registered in the state of California on 12th February 2014 as shown in the California Secretary of State Business Directory. Nnamdi Kanu, the arrowhead of this group was subsequently declared wanted by the Imo State Police Command for gun running and illegal arms deal, which they intended to use to disrupt the 2015 general elections. A member of the Supreme Council of Elders of IPOB and a deponent in the suit, Engr Innocent Amadi told Sunday Sun that “In paragraph 1 of the Originating Summons commencing this suit in 2013, the IPOB was defined as the ‘indigenes of the South-east geo-political zone of Nigeria, parts of the South-south geo-political zone of Nigeria and parts of the Middle Belt zone of Nigeria and we never contemplated that an impostor organization would come into existence in America and take the same name.”
Following their expulsion from IPOB, Kanu and his followers embarked on a consolidation gambit to claim IPOB through massive propaganda on Radio Biafra, the internet and other mass media organs. They further registered IPOB as a limited liability company in England (Indigenous Peoples Of Biafra LTD) with share capital owned by Nnamdi Kanu and Uche Mefor, therefore, opening fresh scars in the internal struggle of supremacy.
Amadi speaks: “We did not authorize the organization called Indigenous Peoples of Biafra LTD to be registered in the United Kingdom as a platform to sue the British Government. We are building friendly relationships with various countries in the international community and will not authorize any law suit against any other country unless it becomes necessary.” In a swift reaction, and to douse fears of a fractured organization, the IPOB Supreme Council of Elders ostracized Kanu and his vociferous followers via a Disclaimer and Public Notice dated 12th May, 2014. Kanu fought back on the 14th of June 2014, by posting on the internet the following: “The best antidote to lies and deceit is TRUTH. The best antidote to treachery and sabotage is death. To all the amateur lawyers experimenting with Biafra independence in Nigeria’s law court and their shameless deceit, your end is near.”
An air of suspicion and threats presently pervades the entire freedom struggle. Amadi, who is also the president of Bilie Human Rights Initiative insists that IPOB- USA, including Kanu are working for the Government of Nigeria either as agents recruited to frustrate the claimants’ suit for self-determination or as volunteers hoping to gain some favours from them. IPOB is also alleging that the widening cracks is a product of the meddlesomeness of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which not only exploited the petition by the American based organization to the Corporate Affairs Commission as part of its defence, but is relying heavily on technicalities arising from the internal schisms in its defence.
The battle ahead and the wedding gyre
In an originating Summons served by the court on the Federal Government of Nigeria on October 11, 2013, the defendants were given 30 days to enter appearance. The Court sat on the matter on October 25, 2013. The defendants (FG) did not put up appearance. The time limited for their appearance expired on November 11, 2013. They, however, filed their memorandum of appearance with their motion on notice and other processes on November 22, 2013 (late by 11 days) The Federal Government was represented by Barrister D. U Amon, Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Justice. A Lagos based private Legal Practitioner, Dr Fabian Ajogwu, SAN filed the defence on December 2, 2013, before Justice S. M Shuaibu of the Federal High Court Owerri, and the legal fireworks commenced in earnest. Although the suit has suffered several setbacks and adjournments, it has maintained the same momentum with which it started.
The second hearing took place on February 24, 2014. Despite two subsequent mentions in 2015, little progress has been made, with the defendants putting up preliminary objections in the main. On September 22, 2016 before Justice I. A. Alagoa , the hearing will commence in earnest. The court will adjudicate on a heap of 73 “Further and better affidavit in reply to the preliminary objection and counter affidavit and further and better counter affidavit of the 1st and 2nd defendants.” This is complemented with 37 exhibits.
Speaking on the forthcoming hearing, the General Secretary, of the Supreme Governing Council, Col Joe Achuzia said; “At the moment, the Biafra Independence movement has taken a new shape. It is no longer in the hands of charlatans and fraudsters or blind leaders leading the blind. It is now in the hands of intellectuals, professionals and diplomats.”
Apparently referring to the pioneering efforts of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State Of Biafra, ( MASSOB) led by Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, which has since mushroomed into a multiplicity of groups, Amadi had this to offer: “It is unfortunate that the pro- Biafra groups, which started the Biafra independence movement many years ago did not follow due process of law and thereby brought disgrace and ridicule upon a genuine self-determination struggle of indigenous people of Biafra that should be anchored on law.” Kanu’s group, which is the opposition within is not excited about the court case.
According to Emma Powerful, the group’s spokesman, “Biafrans need a radical political movement that will free them. Getting freedom is neither a tea party, nor a walk in the park.”
Whether through the court rooms, diplomatic channels, or in the streets, the goal is the same, echoed Great Ochefu a moderate and a leading voice in the struggle. (The Sun)