Tony Oraeki looks at the various skirmishes between IPOB protesters and security agents, which have left many peaceful protesters dead, with absolute silence from those who should condemn such
The issue of Biafra has been in the front burner for some time now. A group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, led by Nnamdi Kanu has galvanised unprecedented number of youths from the South East and parts of South South to agitate for a separate and independent country known as Biafra.
This has led to clashes with security agents and the death toll on the peaceful protesters is mounting. Curiously, many supposedly vocal human rights organisations have kept mum while security agencies especially the military continue to massacre armless protesters.
However, one group has decided to carry the campaign to remind Nigeria and indeed the security agencies that continued killing of peaceful protesters amounts to genocide and there are consequences. Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, a known voice in the human rights circles and the national coordinator of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA seems to be the lone voice in this campaign to save peaceful IPOB protesters from the hands of gun totting and trigger happy security agents.
Through his organsation, he has approached the Army high command, led by Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, to press home the demand that further massacre of peaceful protesters must stop.
“We wrote to officially commend him (COAS) for throwing his doors open to us in the Civil/Human Rights Community to interface with his good offices to seek for ways of mainstreaming respect for the fundamental Human Rights of Nigerians in the Internal Military Operations of your operatives. This is the first of its kind since the advent of civil rule in 1999 that a serving Chief of Army Staff has openly welcomed human rights activists who work collective as a vanguard of human rights and who were hitherto looked upon as traditional opponents of the military establishment.
“During our last visit to his office we promised to always constructively interface with his good offices to seek for quick investigations of alleged human rights breaches that may occur in internal security operations of your operatives. We wrote to hereby call his attention to the recent unprovoked killing of unarmed civilian protesters by some military operatives in Aba, Abia State because they (armed security forces) suspected that the civilian peaceful protesters were agitating for the Biafra self rule as preached by the Indigenous People of Biafra- an organization whose directed (half British/half Nigerian) Mr. Nnamdi Kanu was arrested and detained for over three months and is currently undergoing prosecution in Abuja.
“We stated without any shadow of doubt in our letter to Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai that these killings of scores of civilians in Aba, Abia State by security forces/military only because they were intending to participate in a Pro-Biafra Rally, is totally unlawful and unconstitutional because chapter four of the Nigerian constitution gives the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression to all citizens. These extralegal killing must be investigated and the culprits charged to appropriate legal forum for these crime against humanity.”
In the various interventions through press statements and releases, the attention of the authorities has been drawn, not only to the issue of IPOB members being massacred for as little as gathering to offer prayers. There have been rigorous campaigns against unlawful detention without trial of suspects in the ongoing fight against corruption. Of particular note is the intervention in the eight weeks illegal detention of a serving military officer, Colonel Nicholas Ashinze, former military assistant to the former National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki.
It would be recalled that several groups and opinion leaders in the South east have raised their voices to this development. For instance, Ohaneze Diaspora, an Igbo group, comprising Igbo in the Diaspora, called on the federal government to unconditionally release Kanu last December in the spirit of Christmas.
President of the group, Biafra Buchi Diboh, stated that “It is weird and intolerable that the Nigerian state won independence from the British Colonial Government in the first instance on the basis of the right to self-determination such that Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and other self-determination agitators were never arrested by the British colonial authorities in the course of advocating self-rule”, he said.
“The Nigerian state has oddly chosen to maim, detain and kill those seeking self-rule on the same premise as the founding fathers did. We warn that no nation can ultimately be built or held together by force just as no marriage/association should be by force”, Diboh said.
Similarly, the leader of Movement for the Actualization of the State of Biafra, MASSOB, Uchenna Madu, has accused the DSS of deliberately continuing to detain Nnamdi Kanu against two court rulings ordering the security agency to release their leader unconditionally. “The continued detention of Nnamdi Kanu by DSS after both Magistrate, Federal High courts have discharged and acquitted him of all the frivolous charges against him shows that Nigerian judiciary is not independent. The independency of the three arms of government is a complete sham, which portrays Nigeria as an undemocratic state”, he said.
Continuing his narration of the struggle against human right violation, Onwubiko also added that “the second matter we told the Army Chief was the prolonged detention without trial of a serving Colonel Nicholas Ashinze who was picked up by EFCC kept in detention without trial for seven weeks and was reportedly released to the military high command and is said to be under arrest at a military facility.
“We urged him to kindly look into this issue because Nigeria’s image is at stake if citizens are unduly detained without proper charges filed and without them be granted administrative bail. We have taken our time as human rights defenders to write the good offices of the Army Chief of Staff to use his powers to ensure that the fundamental human rights of Colonel Ashinze is not unduly violated. We presented to him sound legal reason why the prolonged detention without trial is unconstitutional. We told him that the Nigerian Constitution provides that where a person is charged with a crime, he is to be presented within 48 hours before a court to face charges. Anything contrary to this amounts to a breach of the person’s fundamental human rights.
“A suspect/Nigerian citizen detained has time limits which is contained in part 30 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 under section 294. In section 295 of ACJA, the Court may, in considering an application for remand brought, grant bail to the suspect before it. The order of remand of the suspect shall be for a period not exceeding fourteen days, in the first instance.
Also where, on application in writing, good cause is shown why there should be an extension if the Tenancy period, the Court may make an order for further remand of the suspect not exceeding fourteen days. The rights group has not hidden its disdain for any violation to anybody’s human rights and this perhaps more than anything else pushes it to fight for the release of the embattled colonel. The fundamental reason for our intervention at this stage is as you may well have known that with increased interest in International Human Rights, the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), under Article 14.3 stipulates that those tried on a criminal charge are entitled to a trial without undue delay.
“Requiring a speedy trial minimizes the period of pre-trial detention. In addition, accused persons may only be detained before trial where there is reasonable suspicion that they have committed an offence and where the authorities have substantial reasons to believe that if released, they would abscond or commit a more serious offence or interfere with the course of justice. The criminal justice system should resort to pre-trial detention only when alternative measures are unable to address the concerns that justify the use of such detention.
“In Bayo Johnson vs. A.G of Lagos State (1997) Suit No. CA/L/334M/97 the Court of Appeal held unequivocally that Section 236(3) of the Lagos State Criminal Procedure Law, which permitted the use of remand order was unconstitutional. In laying down the law, the court made the following monumental statement: ‘Before an accused is brought before the court, it should be assumed that the case is ripe for hearing, not for further investigation. He must not be there on mere suspicion which cannot be regarded as reasonable suspicion under section 35 of the Constitution.’
“It becomes quite clear that there is no constitutional basis for this practice and hence it can and should be avoided,” Comrade Onwubiko said.
The rights activist also lamented the total exclusion of the South East in the security apparatus of President Muhammadu Buhari because of the inability of the president to appoint any Igbo person in any strategic security office, which according to him has excluded about 45 million people of Igbo extraction in critical security decision making.
What is presently obtainable under President Buhari government is a clear violation of South east’s right in equitable geographical representation in the National Security Council as contained in Article 25 of the 3rd schedule of the Nigerian constitution. The National Security Council comprises of the President, Vice President, Chief of Defence Staff, the ministers of Interior, Foreign Affairs, defense, National Security Adviser, Inspector-General of Police, etc.
With these interventions where many rights groups have shied away, Comrade Onwubiko perhaps has shown that perhaps his group is still alive to its guiding principles and objectives, which according to him is to deploy the members’ creative talents as writers to promote, protect and project the human rights of all Nigerians and other law abiding citizens resident within Nigeria.