In a move to take the heat off the Nigerian Army and ensure that due process is followed, President Muhammadu Buhari has signed a presidential proclamation proscribing the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) over the group's involvement in terrorist activities.
Making this known yesterday, sources in the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation informed THISDAY that the president signed the declaration on Sunday before his departure for the 72nd United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, where he will be expected to address other world leaders today.
Buhari's decision to sign the proclamation was a fallout of the sharp criticism that followed the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation by the Nigerian Army at the weekend and the group's proscription by the South-east governors.
Although the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai yesterday made a half-hearted attempt to deny that the army had declared IPOB a terrorist group, this did not stop the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki from insisting that due process should have been followed before the declaration and proscription by the army and South-east governors respectively.
With the signing of the proclamation by Buhari, a source in the attorney general's office explained that the presidency had effectively initiated the formal process of proscribing IPOB in accordance with the provisions of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011.
It also paved the way for the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) to head to court to give legal backing to the presidential proclamation.
Section 2 (1) of the Terrorism Act states that "where two or more persons associate for the purpose of, or where an organisation engages in: (a) participating or collaborating in an act of terrorism; (b) promoting, encouraging or exhorting others to commit an act of terrorism; or (c) setting up or pursuing acts of terrorism, the judge in chambers may on an application made by the Attorney General, National Security Adviser or Inspector General of Police on the approval of the President, declare any entity to be a proscribed organisation and the notice should be published in the official gazette".
Sub-section 2 goes further to state: "An order made under sub-section (1) of this section shall be published in the official gazette, in two national newspapers and at such other places as the judge in chambers may determine."
The sources further added that Buhari was keen on signing the declaration before his departure for New York in order to have the right response in the event that the question over the declaration by the army was posed by other world leaders who have been watching events unfold in Nigeria.
"The issue was extensively debated between Buhari, the AGF and other aides before he left for the UN General Assembly and the president decided to sign the declaration before leaving for New York, so he could say that due process was being followed if the question was raised by other world leaders at the UN," the sources explained.
Saraki Demands Due Process
But even as news got out that Buhari had signed the proclamation, the Senate President said yesterday that due process should have been followed before the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group by the army.
Saraki, in a statement he personally signed, said the declaration of the separatist group as a terrorist organisation was unconstitutional and an act which failed to follow due process.
He also faulted the proscription of the group by the governors of the South-east states, stressing that the National Assembly would investigate what actually happened during the military exercise, code named Operation Python Dance II, in the region.
Saraki said that there are laws outlining steps to be taken for the categorisation of any organisation or persons as terrorist, which must be followed for such declaration to have effect.
He, however, expressed confidence that the president would initiate steps to ensure that due process was followed, thus demonstrating to the world that Nigeria is guided by the rule of law whatever the circumstances are.
While commending the military for its efforts at restoring peace to different parts of the country, the Senate President urged its personnel to be guided by respect for human rights and be wary in the use of force.
Saraki also cautioned against over-stretching the military, which he said should not dissipate its fighting strength.
This, he said, could be averted by strengthening the police and enhancing its capacity to deal with civil crises.
The statement read in full: "Following the clash between the military and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), I hereby call for calm and restraint by all Nigerians so that we would all jointly find the right solution to the current problem rather than worsening the crisis.
"Our brothers and sisters in the South-east, in particular, should continue to maintain peace and tranquility and go about their lawful business. This crisis will not benefit anybody but would only expose innocent people to unwarranted danger.
"At this point, Nigerians outside the South-east who have worked to ensure that the crisis does not spread to other parts of the country deserve our commendation.
"I therefore call for continued efforts to sustain peace, unity and stability in all our communities so as to ensure that all residents, no matter their religion, tribe and creed, remain protected and safe under the law.
"It is also important that commentators and purveyors of information on all media platforms should be conscious of the need, at all times, to maintain the unity of the country.
"Therefore, they must refrain from circulating information that have the potential for aggravating the crisis. We should all realise, as individuals and as a collective, that Nigeria is all we have and it is in our individual and collective interest that we do not stoke the fire of crisis and fan the embers of discord through the messages we are spreading.
"We must all protect and strengthen our country rather than contributing to her collapse and disintegration.
"I also wish to state that the announcement of the proscription of the group known as the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) by governors of the South-east states and the categorisation of the group as a 'terrorist organisation' by the Nigerian military are unconstitutional and did not follow due process.
"Our laws make clear provisions for taking such actions and without due process being followed, such declaration cannot have effect. I am sure the president will do the needful by initiating the right process.
"This will go a long way in demonstrating to the world at large that we are a country that operates by laid down processes under every circumstance. So, those who have been hammering on this point should maintain their cool.
"We must commend the military for their efforts in restoring peace to different parts of the country and sustaining the unity of the country. However, in the face of provocation, the military should allow themselves to be guided by their training, which emphasises respect for human rights, even in war.
"Also, given the nature of this particular situation, the military has every reason to be hesitant in the use of force.
"Also, it is my view that we should not over-stretch the military. We need to protect our military against dissipation of their fighting strength. And this means we need to strengthen the police and equip them with the capacity to deal with civil crises.
"That is why we, in the National Assembly, are already reviewing the Police Act and also looking at the possibility of enabling other para-military agencies to help in curbing civil unrests and maintenance of law and order.
"I want to also make it clear that the National Assembly intends to embark on a fact-finding investigation aimed at determining what actually happened during the period of the military exercise in the South-east.
"We want to be able to sift the facts from the fiction and determine who did what. It is quite clear that all the facts are not yet known. We assure Nigerians that there will be no cover up. We intend to lay the facts bare.
"On a long term, we want to remind Nigerians that the reason for embarking on the constitution review by the National Assembly was to enable us look into issues that are agitating the minds of Nigerians and creating tension among us.
"We have promised that the exercise would be continuous. We intend to keep that promise by further taking decisions that would strengthen and improve on our structures.
"The Eighth National Assembly, on resumption, will play its constitutional role by addressing all those issues that are agitating the minds of our people and over which they feel so strongly. I appeal to all our people to always direct their grievances to the right channels.
"Let me further reiterate the need for all leaders of thought - political, religious and traditional - to continue to engage with our people on the need to maintain peace and be our brothers' keepers."
Buratai Back Tracks
However, in defence of the military exercise in the South-east, the Nigerian Army stated yesterday that it acted within the ambit of the law.
Responding to its critiques, the Chief of Army Staff, who spoke to journalists in Abuja shortly after addressing principal staff officers, corps, formations and operations commanders at the Third Quarter Nigerian Army Conference in Abuja, said the army acted constitutionally and within the purview of the law.
Buratai contended that the military was under compulsion to uphold its constitutional responsibility to protect lives and properties in the face of internal and external threats to the territorial integrity of the nation.
Describing the army's operations in different parts of the country as continuous training of the troops, he said: "Training is a continuous exercise; apart from the obvious exercises that you see, there are lot of other exercises from different formations of the Nigerian Army and even skills. So it is not a new thing, we have been training, we have been exercising on a regular basis.
"But once in a while we come and carry out large scale exercises to harmonise all the aspects of training that have been taught in training institutions and unit formations.
"Since we came on board in 2015, we have been having a series of exercises and we did the same set of exercises in 2016 and we are repeating the same thing this year.
"You are aware of Habin Kunama II in the North-west, the on-going Egwu Eke II (Python Dance II) in the South and very soon at the end of Operation Python Dance we would move to Crocodile Smile II in the Niger Delta.
"This is just to reassure Nigerians, law-abiding citizens that the Nigerian Army and indeed other security agencies are really concerned with the safety and security of their lives and property. You are very much aware of the security challenges in the country," Buratai explained.
On the categorisation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation and if the army had succumbed to political pressure in making its declaration, Buratai said the army did not declare the group a terrorist group "per se", adding that it was simply a pronouncement.
According to him, "You see, you spoke about political pressure, but you should understand the context in which the Nigerian Army is operating.
"The Nigerian Army is part of the political consideration in the democratic system.
"It is part of the democratic process, it is a product of democratic governance. We are not succumbing to any pressure. We are guided by what the constitution has provided for us.
"Constitutionally, we have responsibilities, so we are not under any pressure whatsoever. Whatever anyone is saying, we will refer him back to the constitution.
"There are several provisions that give us those responsibilities and also to carry out such tasks as duly assigned by the government or by the constituted authority.
"Be rest assured that we don't have any other role that is outside the constitution.
"As regards to the declaration (on IPOB), this is what I want to say: the federal government will take a final decision on that. We did not declare them a terrorist group per se. That was a proclamation."
On declaring the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu wanted, Buratai said he was awaiting the directive of the federal government on the issue, explaining that it was only the government that has the jurisdiction on declaring him wanted.
"There are guidelines as provided in the the Terrorism Act and I'm sure that the relevant government agencies I'm talking about will take the appropriate steps on whether to arrest or whether to take any other actions (against Kanu) and we will receive the appropriate directives from the authorities," he clarified.
Northern Govs on Peace Mission
Meanwhile, a delegation of the Northern Governors' Forum yesterday kicked off a two-day visit to the South-east and South-south geopolitical zones in a bid to douse tension and promote peace and dialogue among all sections of the country.
The delegation met with the Rivers State governor, Mr. Nyesom Nwike and his Abia State counterpart, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, in Port Harcourt and Umuahia respectively, where it was assured by both governors of their commitment to the country's unity.
According to a statement issued by the media aide of the Sokoto State governor, Mr. Imam Imam yesterday in Sokoto, the delegation was led by the chairman of the forum and Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima.
Other Northern governors in the delegation included Tambuwal, Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi and Simon Lalong of Plateau States.
"The delegation will hold meetings with their counterparts in Rivers, Abia and Imo States.
"Apart from the visit to political leaderships in those states, the delegation is expected to meet with traditional and religious leaders.
"The governors will also during the visit confer with Northern residents in those states.
"Importantly, the delegation will reassure their counterparts in the South-south and South-east that all Nigerians are free to stay in all parts of the country, especially in the North, and that the entire North stands with the people of the South-east in this period of heightened tension," Imam stated.
He said the delegation had the blessings of the president and the consultations will continue with all stakeholders so as to enhance unity and peace in the country.
Wike, Ikpeazu Meet Northern Colleagues
During their meeting with Wike, his counterparts from the North commended him for taking urgent steps that led to the protection of lives of all Nigerians in Rivers State.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Shettima said the Northern governors were in Rivers State to identify with Wike and commend the governor for nipping in the bud the unfortunate conflict that erupted in Oyigbo Local Government Area of the state.
The forum said his actions, especially his statewide broadcast, helped to restore peace, despite the challenges.
Shettima stated: "Governor Wike we are mightily proud of you. We are mightily associating ourselves with you. Nigeria is greater than political differences. We belong to one political family and that is the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
"No interest should be bigger than the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You believe in the Nigerian project. For that, we remain eternally grateful."
The Northern Governors' Forum also called for the enthronement of peace-building measures despite the challenges facing the country.
According to the forum, no law-abiding Nigerian deserved to be punished because of where they reside and do business.
Shettima said despite the unfortunate incident in Abia, steps had been taken to ensure that there was no retaliatory attack in different parts of the country.
In his response, Wike declared that he would continue to protect all Nigerians and foreigners living in the state.
He said: "Rivers State believes in the unity of this country. Rivers State will not be a part of those calling for the disintegration of Nigeria. We owe it as a duty to protect every Nigerian living in the state.
"I will not allow any group to intimidate, harass or attack other Nigerians living in the state. We are Rivers people and we belong to the Niger Delta."
While stating that violence could never lead to the resolution of any grievances, Wike urged those who are aggrieved to embrace dialogue in the interest of peace and development.
"I am not against anyone who wants to protest any grievances, but there are channels for such protests," he said.
Wike added that the people of Rivers State have their own peculiar grievances over developmental issues in the country.
He pointed out that as governor he had raised the issues, but would never support the disintegration of the country.
In Umuahia, where the delegation met with Ikpeazu, the Northern governors called on the people of the South-east zone to have faith in a united and indivisible Nigerian nation.
The governors who arrived late in the evening, were received by Ikpeazu in the executive chamber of his office, after which the delegation went to the banquet hall of Government House and addressed the Hausa community.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Shettima said they were in Abia "to reassure the people that we have faith in one Nigeria" and to show solidarity with Ikpeazu.
"We are here on behalf of Northern governors to commend Governor Ikpeazu on his high quality leadership in handling the crisis in Abia.
"He rose to the occasion and declared a curfew in Aba just as Governor Lalong also declared a curfew in Jos to avert a reprisal attack on Igbos.
"We are here to show solidarity. We have a moral obligation to ensure that Nigeria remains one. Nigeria is the largest conglomeration of black people in Africa and we cannot afford to separate.
"If we separate, where do we go? North is the Sahara desert and Chad cannot contain us. If we go South, it is the Atlantic Ocean. The South is too small for us and the mountains of East Africa with their so many challenges cannot accommodate us," he said.
Shettima said Nigeria had come a long way as a nation with a rich diversity, hence the need to sustain the country's unity, adding that it was in the interest of all Nigerians to stay together and work to build a strong united nation.
"We are here to remind Nigerians that we are better as one. We are here to also invite our South-east colleagues to also come to the flash points of the North to speak to Ndigbo living in the North," he said.
The Borno State governor noted that those of them that had served in the National Assembly had intermingled with other Nigerians from different parts of the country and had come to see Nigeria as one and built alliances across the nation.
He said irrespective of the challenges of nation building, there was no strong reason for the country to be allowed to disintegrate.
In his response, Ikpeazu expressed gratitude to the Northern governors for coming to show solidarity with the people of Abia, saying: "When this crisis started, I asked myself what will my brother Tambuwal in Sokoto do if he is in my shoes or Shettima of Borno?
"I thank you for coming Your Excellencies. I am delighted by this show of solidarity by our brothers from the North. We are one and I want to assure you of the security of all Abia residents."
Alluding to the crisis that Abia was plunged into following the clashes between the Nigerian Army and members of IPOB last week, Ikpeazu assured his visitors that the separatist activities of IPOB would not be allowed to cause the breakup of Nigeria
"We cannot allow an infinitesimal few to separate us," he said, assuring that normalcy had returned to Abia and Muslims went to their places of worship on Friday peacefully.
However, the Abia governor announced that the dusk-to-dawn curfew he imposed on the commercial city of Aba would now be relaxed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Nwabueze: Reopen Talks with Kanu
But even as the Northern governors met with their counterparts in Rivers and Abia States, renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) yesterday in Enugu asked governors of the South-east zone to re-engage Kanu in fresh talks once the tension caused by last week's clashes between his members and the military have quietened down.
In a statement made available to journalists by Nwabueze, who is also the chairman of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, he said Kanu had indicated that he was ready for a peaceful resolution of the impasse before the military invasion on parts of Abia State and his home last week.
Since the invasion of his residence, Kanu's whereabouts and that of his parents have remained unknown.
But the elder statesman, who had accompanied Kanu to meet with the governors in Enugu on August 30, dismissed as false insinuations in some quarters that Kanu was opposed to the amicable resolution of issues during the meeting.
He said on the contrary, Kanu was not just ready to shift grounds but had insisted that the entire leadership of IPOB must be involved in the discussions.
Nwabueze also expressed dismay over the disturbances in Umuahia, Aba and other parts of the South-east on account of the attempt to clampdown on the separatist group.
"On 30th August, 2017, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, Evangelist Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko and I met with the South-east Governors' Forum. The meeting was chaired by the current chairman of the forum and governor of Ebonyi State, Mr. Dave Umahi, who, in his conduct of the meeting, exhibited his characteristic sagacity, candour and forthrightness tempered with friendliness.
"Perhaps charmed by the things said by the chairman and the way he conducted the meeting, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, on his part, showed an accommodating disposition for an amicable resolution of the crisis, and more specifically a disposition to reconsider the threat to stop or disrupt the 2019 elections and the Anambra State governorship election on 18 November, 2017, but emphasised that the decision did not lie with him alone and that the leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) must be carried along.
"Accordingly, it was agreed to meet with the leadership of IPOB in order to try to secure their agreement and support.
"Regrettably, while the follow up meeting was being arranged, the attack on Mazi Nnamdi Kanu's home in Umuahia by soldiers of the Nigerian Army on 10th September, 2017 occurred, as reported in the news media, which, expectedly, triggered clashes between the IPOB supporters and the army in Aba, Umuahia and other places, resulting in the deaths of, or injury to several people.
"Reacting to this sad development, the IPOB leadership indicated its intention not to attend the planned meeting. Despite all this, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu made it known that in the spirit of a search for an amicable resolution of the crisis, he personally would still attend the planned meeting, now fixed for Friday 15th September 2017.
"However, a day or so before that date another attack on his Umuahia residence by soldiers, armed with guns and armoured vehicles, involving serious causalities, was reported in the media, which caused Nnamdi Kanu to renounce his intention to attend the planned meeting, even despite all the provocation that led to its repudiation by the IPOB leadership.
"It seemed unreasonable and unfeeling to expect him to attend the meeting when the causalities included two of his cousins," Nwabueze said.
Nwabueze added that even on September 15, he had travelled back to Enugu from Lagos for the meeting and even spoke on the phone with the Ebonyi governor, who never mentioned a word to him about the decision, which must have taken days before, to proscribe IPOB.
"I had arrived to Enugu from Lagos for the meeting on Friday, 15th September. But without the IPOB leadership, especially without Nnamdi Kanu, it seems to me that the essential purpose of the meeting had been defeated. So I went back to Lagos.
"The meeting should be reconvened when the tension caused by these developments have quietened down," he suggested.