A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has proscribed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Nigeria, the South-east separatist group which has been agitating for the realisation of the Republic of Biafra.
The acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Adamu Kafarati, granted the order proscribing IPOB following an application filed and moved Wednesday by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The judge granted all the prayers brought before him by the justice minister.
THISDAY had on Tuesday exclusively reported that President Muhammadu Buhari had on Sunday signed a presidential proclamation proscribing IPOB, effectively initiating the formal process of banning the group in accordance with the provisions of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011.
It also paved the way for the AGF to head to court to give legal backing to the presidential proclamation.
In his application, Malami had asked the court for an order declaring that the activities of IPOB in any part of Nigeria, especially the South-east and South-south of Nigeria, amounted to acts of terrorism and illegality.
He also asked the court for an order proscribing the existence of IPOB in any part of Nigeria, especially the South-east and South-south of Nigeria, either in groups or as individuals by whatever names they are called and publishing same in the official gazette and two national dailies.
Malami asked the court for an order restraining any person or group of persons from participating in any manner whatsoever in any form of activities involving or concerning the prosecution of the collective intention or otherwise of IPOB under any other name or platform howsoever called or described.
After the justice minister moved the application, the judge granted it as prayed.
The judge said: "Upon reading through the affidavit I support, certificate on compliance with Section 84 of the Evidence Act 2011 both sworn to by CPL Kolawole Mathew of the Nigerian Army and written address attached thereto all dated and filed at the court registry, Abuja.
"It is hereby ordered as follows: That the application is granted as prayed.
"That an order declaring that the activities of the respondent (IPOB) in any part of Nigeria, especially in the South-east and South-south regions of Nigeria, amount to acts of terrorism and illegality, is granted.
"That an order proscribing the existence of the IPOB in any part of Nigeria, especially in the South-east and South-south regions of Nigeria, either in groups or as individuals by whatever names they are called and publishing same in the official gazette and two national dailies is granted.
"That an order restraining any person or group of persons from participating in any manner whatsoever in any form of activities involving or concerning the prosecution of the collective intention or otherwise of the respondent (IPOB) under any name of platform however called or destined, is granted."
The order was signed by the court's registrar Babatunde Ashada.
The signing of the proclamation by Buhari marked the beginning of the formal process of proscribing IPOB in accordance with the provisions of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act.
The court order obtained Wednesday clothed the presidential proclamation with the legality that it required.
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."
Before the commencement of the formal process to proscribe the group, the Nigerian Army had declared IPOB a terrorist organisation.
When criticised for not following due process in making the declaration, the army was forced to backtrack and stated that it had not declared the group a terrorist organisation.
Among those who cautioned against not following due process was the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who insisted that due process should have been followed before the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist group by the army.
He, however, expressed confidence that the president would initiate steps to ensure that due process was followed, thus demonstrating to the world that Nigeria was guided by the rule of law whatever the circumstances are.
Adegboruwa: Order is Faulty
But in a swift reaction to the order by the court, Lagos lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, Wednesday said the order proscribing IPOB was faulty in law and should be challenged and set aside by all those affected or to be affected by it.
In a statement he issued in Lagos, he said there was no legal entity in law known and referred to as IPOB, because such entity did not exist in law.
He said: "The Attorney-General of the Federation cannot competently sue IPOB as a defendant in any court of law, the same being an entity unknown to law.
"The court cannot make an order against a non-existing entity such as IPOB. Such order, if and when made, is at large and unenforceable."
The legal practitioner said the Supreme Court had stated it time without number that the court could not proceed against a non-juristic person.
The statement continued: "The court, which is a creation of the law to interpret the law, cannot competently proscribe what does not exist in the eyes of the law.
"If IPOB is registered in Nigeria at all, it can only sue and be sued in the corporate name of its incorporated trustees. The Hon Attorney-General, with all due respect, cannot file or maintain a suit in court against IPOB, in the manner formulated in this case."
He urged Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of IPOB, and all those concerned to proceed to challenge the competence of the suit itself and the jurisdiction of the court to make the order.
"I verily believe that the federal government should follow the noble advice that General Muhammadu Buhari gave to the United Nations (on North Korea), to adopt dialogue in the resolution of the agitations coming from the South-east," he added.
IPOB's Financial HQs in France
But before the court granted the order proscribing IPOB, the federal government had earlier confirmed that the president had signed the proclamation proscribing IPOB as exclusively reported by THISDAY.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, who confirmed Buhari's nod to the proscription, made the disclosure Wednesday while briefing State House correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting held in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Mohammed, who restated that IPOB was being sponsored by some external forces, further revealed that IPOB's financial base is located in France, while Radio Biafra operates from the United Kingdom.
He insisted that the proscription process was in order because IPOB had engaged in a number of terrorist activities.
He, however, acknowledged that any group or individual has the right to self-determination, but the agitation must not be violent or threatening, adding that anyone whose pursuit for self-determination is violent would be adequately dealt with.
He queried the rationale behind the opposition to the proscription of IPOB and the question of the legality of the action being raised by some Nigerians, arguing that no country in the world would condone the activities of IPOB.
The minister listed the activities of the group to have included setting up parallel military and paramilitary organisations, among others, which he said had become intolerable.
He commended the South-east governors for announcing the proscription of IPOB, insisting that the separatist group was being sponsored by certain disgruntled elements and looters whose intention, he alleged, was to destabilise Buhari's government.
"But before I proceed, let me state clearly that it is within the rights of individuals or groups to seek self-determination. But this pursuit has to be non-violent.
"Where any group crosses the line by engaging in violence, it risks being cut to size and that's exactly what has happened to IPOB.
"I am not interested in the semantics or legality of troops' deployment or the proscription of IPOB. All I know is that IPOB has engaged in terrorist activities, viz: setting up parallel military and paramilitary organisations, clashing with the national army and attempting to seize rifles from soldiers, using weapons such as machetes, Molotov cocktails and sticks, and mounting roadblocks to extort money from people, among others.
"To those who have engaged in semantics or legality, I ask, which country in the world will tolerate those activities I have listed above? Which national army will look the other way when it is being attacked by a band of thugs?
"For those who are fixated with legality, I have good news for them: President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the process of proscribing IPOB, and the procedure is on as I speak.
"But I ask, if the president had been overly concerned with legality, where would Nigeria have been today? If attacks in the South-east had attracted reprisals elsewhere in the country, what would have happened?
"But for the quick action of state governors in the South-east and the North, there would have been a conflagration of immense proportions.
"Permit me to especially commend the governors in the South-east for making it clear to IPOB that it has no support for its violent campaign.
"By their action, the governors have cut off the oxygen that IPOB needs to survive. If the elected governors of all the states in the South-east have banned the activities of IPOB, who then is the organisation fighting for?
"I did state during my earlier interactions that IPOB is a contraption against the Buhari administration, and that it is being sponsored by those I call the coalition of the politically disgruntled and the treasury looters. I stand by that statement despite the noise emanating from the usual suspects.
"To quote the title of a James Hadley Chase novel, The Guilty Are Afraid. I will add: The guilty are always overly agitated. Good for them.
"Finally, IPOB has decided to externalise its campaign. It has written to governments and parliaments in the West alleging genocide in the South-east. Even a dictionary definition of 'genocide' does not support that claim.
"IPOB has also engaged in using highly-emotive videos of killings, which it harvested from other lands and were doctored to hoodwink the international community," he submitted.
Asked why the government was swift to proscribe IPOB while failing to take similar steps on the activities of violent Fulani herdsmen, Mohammed defended the government, saying farmers/herdsmen clashes should not be viewed as a battle between the North and the South, arguing that herdsmen are nomads who move from one place to another for the survival of their cattle.
According to him, the clashes between herdsmen and farmers do not only take place in the South but also in some parts of the North such as Kebbi State, arguing further that even though the case of the herdsmen was different from that of IPOB, the government was doing a lot to bring the menace under control.
Before the briefing, the minister who has been working overtime to push the government's narrative on the IPOB matter, had featured on "Embelembe" a phone-in radio programme on 101.1 Human Rights Radio, where he claimed that the separatists group was ignorant of the depth of unity in the diversity of Nigeria.
Mohammed faulted the group over hate and divisive speeches by its leader, Kanu, the violent attack on the military and extortion of innocent Nigerian at illegal roadblocks.
Giving instances, the minister said that the call by Kanu on the Igbo "not to attend any church where the pastor is a Yoruba man" was premised on ignorance on the diversity of the country.
Mohammed said that the Mountain of Fire Ministry established by an Igbo person, has a football club owned by a Yoruba man, with a coach of Igbo extraction and players across all the regions and tribes of the country.
He stressed that Nigerians were so interwoven and united, so a call for violent division would not succeed.
Mohammed added that the federal government was not adverse to agitations from any quarter provided they are carried out in a manner that would not lead to violence and war.
He commended the military, state governors particularly from the East and the North, traditional rulers and religious leaders for their timely intervention in nipping the crisis started by IPOB's in the bud.
The information minister said the Buhari administration was passionate about the plight of Nigerians and would not rest until it makes life easier for everyone.
He said as a listening government, the administration was taking concrete steps to address the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta.
IPOB Demands Kanu, Parents' Whereabouts
Meanwhile, the proscribed group and traditional rulers of Ibeku clan in Abia State Wednesday demanded an explanation from the federal authorities and military high command for the whereabouts of its leader, Kanu, his parents, Israel and Ugoeze Kanu.
Its anxiety stemmed from the belief that the worst might have happened to Kanu and his parents, following the invasion of their home last Thursday by the army.
A statement issued by the IPOB media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, said that the group had "gone deep" in the search for its leader without any clue on his whereabouts as well as his parents, warning that information on their condition whether dead or alive should be made available within seven days to avoid dire consequences.
"We are using this opportunity to inform the whole world, including the United Nations, that the Nigerian Army killed our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu during the attack and invasion of his compound in Umuahia, Abia State," IPOB said.
The group explained that it had come to the conclusion that Kanu might have been eliminated "after going through the record of IPOB members in the compound on the day of this heinous attack and invasion".
It said that it was discovered that about 38 members were arrested and up till now no one had seen or heard from them.
"We also discovered that the Nigerian Army left the compound of our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku with 22 dead bodies on the same day," the separatists group alleged, adding that the fate of Kanu had become a puzzle.
"We are once again raising the alarm for the United Nations and other relevant bodies across the globe to ask the Nigerian government and her security operatives to give details of the IPOB leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his parents, including those dead bodies and those picked up alive during the attack and invasion of our leader's compound in Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku Umuahia," the group said.
IPOB blamed the governors of the South-east zone for the fate that had befallen the leader of the separatist movement, saying that it could not fathom out why "the South-east governors would decide to collaborate with Hausa Fulani oligarchy to kill our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and his parents".
"Nnamdi Kanu has been using a non-violent approach for the realisation of Biafra since 2012 when the struggle for Biafra independence started. Okezie Ikpeazu who was mandated by the federal government and other South-eastern governors to lead the fight against Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB members in Abia State must be held responsible for this action in the distant time," IPOB said.
"We are giving the federal government and South-east governors to produce or declare the condition of our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, if he is still alive or charge him to court within seven days, because if anything happens to him the South-east governors can never bear the consequences after the expiration of this notice.
"Again, the federal government and South-east governors should hasten to build more prison yards and acquire more weapons that they will use to kill more Biafrans," IPOB stated.
Also, the royal fathers of Ibeku clan in Umuahia North Local Government made their call for Kanu and his parents whereabouts after a meeting at the palace of their chairman and traditional ruler of Emede Ibeku autonomous community, Eze Henry Ezekwem.
Speaking on behalf of his colleagues, Ezekwem said that the Ibeku royal fathers were unhappy over the "desecration of the throne" of Eze Kanu and his ofo, the symbol of authority of the traditional stool.
The royal fathers also disowned a group known as Umuahia Youth Movement, which had urged the Abia governor to dethrone Kanu's father over his son's activities as leader of the group agitating for the restoration of Biafra.
Describing the youth group as "amorphous", the royal fathers of Ibeku commended the Abia governor for ignoring the non-existent youth movement.
The royal fathers, however, expressed concern that Kanu's parents had not been seen since after the invasion of their palace, adding that the Nigerian Army owed them an explanation, adding that so many people were killed in the attack including the female cook of the Kanu's.
"The army should release our colleague Eze Israel Kanu because we have not seen him since his palace was invaded by soldiers. If they have killed him they should please release his corpse to us so we can give him a befitting burial," Ezekwem appealed, adding that "they (army) have to appease the gods" for desecrating the palace and ofo.