19 September 2017

Nigeria: Military Backtracks, Says It Did Not Declare IPOB Terrorist Organisation

Photo: The Guardian
Army chief Tukur Buratai.

The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, on Monday evening stated that the Defence Headquarters did not fully declare the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, a terrorist organisation.

The Defence Headquarters had on Friday announced the declaration of the group as a terrorist organisation after its members clashed repeatedly with soldiers in Abia State following the launch of Operation Python Dance II in the South-east.

Governors of the region also proscribed the group. But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, criticised both declarations arguing that the military and governors lack the powers to take such actions.

Many lawyers also told PREMIUM TIMES that the military declaraton was illegal as it did not follow the processes outlined in the terrorism act, although some other lawyers disagreed.

Reacting to a question from journalists on Mr. Saraki's statement on Monday, during the official launch of Operation Python Dance II in Abakaliki, the army chief explained that what the Defence Headquarters did was make a pronouncement on IPOB. He added that the statement of the military gave room for the right steps to be taken for the formal declaration of the group as a terrorist organisation.

According to Mr. Buratai, the action of the federal government concerning IPOB was right and the military did not overstep its bound towards the protection of lives and properties in the country.

"You have to get it very clear. First of all, what the Defence Headquarters did was to make pronouncement. It wasn't a declaration per se. But this has given room for the right step to be taken. I think the government is doing the right thing.

"It is not that we are overstepping our bounds. We are still within the limits. And I ensure you that what the military said was to set the ball rolling and to bring the awareness to the public that this is what this organisation is all about."

Mr. Buratai, a lieutenant general, also gave an indication that the federal government has quietly followed the legal process by getting a court order to legalise such declarations.

"I'm happy that the government has done the right thing right now," he said.

Mr. Buratai further assured the people of the South-east that the Army will abide by the rule of law and rules of engagement in carrying out its operation which kicked off on Saturday in the region.

Also, in a courtesy visit to Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State who was represented by his deputy, Kelechi Igwe, the Chief of Army Staff noted that the exercise was targeted at improving the security situation of the zone which according to him, was very strategic to the security of the country.

According to him the exercise will help to bring about the much needed peace and security and also be used to train the military in basic internal security.

"The army have taken into cognisance the security of the people in deployment of it's personnel for the operation."

He said the army, in carrying out the operation, will liaise and work with other security agencies in the region.

"The army is very sensitive to the cultural norms of the people and will abide by all the rules of engagement and code of conduct that have been laid down which is quite in tandem with the constitution".

According to him, some of the activities of the exercise will include patrols, indoor battle exercises, civil-military cooperation activities like medical outreach, sanitation, donation of books to schools etc.

He, therefore, appealed for understanding, saying the exercise is to help improve security of lives and property within the zone.

In his response, Mr. Igwe promised that the people of the state will cooperate with the army throughout the duration of the exercise.

He noted that the first edition of the operation last year was peaceful and successful and urged the military to carry out the exercise with high sense of discipline that the Nigerian military is known for.

He urged the military to pay more attention to the state's border with Cross River while carrying out the exercise which he said has been decimated by boundary clashes.

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