From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu
Former counsel to the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Vincent Egechukwu Obetta, has condemned the attacks by the members of the group on former Abia State governor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, who he said he ran to, to help use his political influence to get Kanu out from Kuje Prison after the first bail he got for him (Kanu) was not obeyed.
Obetta, a legal practitioner, human rights activist, a university lecturer, and now a Senior Special Assistant to Governor of Enugu on Inter-governmental Affairs, Compliance and Electoral Process, in this interview shares his views on the lingering crisis arising from the agitation for self determination by IPOB; Operation Python Dance II; and the controversial designation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation.
Between September 12 and 17, soldiers on Operation Python Dance II and some members of IPOB clashed in Abia State, which led to the death of some persons, the banning of IPOB activities by South-East governors and the proscription and designation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation by the Federal Government. As a human rights lawyer and former counsel to IPOB, what is your take on all that happened?
First, I commiserate with the families of those who lost their loved ones in the fiasco. I also wish those who sustained various degrees of injuries on both sides quick recovery. The situation in the South-East is no longer fanciful. There is too much hatred in the air. Many innocent souls have been lost to the skirmishes. More painful is the fact that there is no casualty desk record. The casualty figures we have lies within the realm of speculations as to the exact figure of dead victims and missing persons.
On the proscription of IPOB by South-East governors, I will advise that the voice of reason should prevail in this case. It is senseless to be legalistic about it against the backdrop of the impending carnage that was starring the South-East governors in the face at the time. The primary issue should be whether the decision was right at the time, yes. Note that beyond other responsibilities of government, the security and welfare of the people should be the primary purpose of government. That is the basic constitutional duty of the South-East governors, and this is as contained in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution. To that extent, I salute the governors’ proactive measure that stemmed the tide of an impending massacre in Igbo land.
On the propriety of the federal government’s designation of IPOB as a terrorist organization, I can authoritatively say that IPOB played into the hands of the federal government. I can recall that when I was counsel to Nnamdi Kanu, the federal government played that card. While we were still at the Magistrate Court, Wuse in Abuja contending with the issue of Kanu’s bail, the prosecution surreptitiously went to the Federal High Court and obtained an order to further detain Nnamdi Kanu for another 90 days on the grounds that they are investigating an act of terrorism against him. That court order was set aside and the court ordered for his unconditional release. My conclusion now is that the prosecution tarried awhile to gather some evidence relating to terrorism to fully implicate the IPOB leader. I observed that the definition of terrorism is nebulous and uncertain. The implication is that many ordinary criminal acts may also be found to constitute terrorist act under the Act. And so the designation of IPOB as a terrorist organisation may be immoral, unconscionable and over-reaching, but that is the law today. The Terrorism (Prevention) and (Proscription Order) Notice, 2017 stands as the extant presidential proclamation, as a result, I advise members of this group to respect Mr President’s Proclamation Order until it is set aside on appeal.
But the United States has disagreed with the federal government designating IPOB a terrorist oganisation, what do you say to that?
The US and UK endorsement is of no consequence. When George Bush (Jnr.) in concert with America Congress enacted the US Patriot Act, in the wake of the 9/11 attack at Ground Zero, the federal government’s endorsement was not sort. For purpose of clarity, what the US High Commissioner said in this respect was that the activities of IPOB does not constitute act of terrorism under the US law. He may be right considering the fact that there is no universally accepted definition of the term terrorism. As I speak, there are over 250 definitions of terrorism today and that explains the mantra that ’one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’.
More importantly and for your information, Nigeria is a sovereign nation recognized under international law. As a result of which, it is protected under Article 2(4) and (7) of the UN Charter, and enjoys the principle of non-interference in her domestic affairs.
When Nnamdi Kanu was in detention you encouraged Dr Orji Uzo Kalu to visit him in detention, but recent events indicate a frosty relationship between him and members of IPOB over his comment on the whereabouts of their leader; how do you react to this?
First, I have to express my shock in the way and manner we deride our leaders in the South-East. Sometime last year, in an interview with ThisDay, I expressed my fears over the method employed by these agitators. Our attitude and mannerism have crossed our cultural red lines.
In Igbo culture, there are certain things you are not expected to do or say to your elder in the public. Yes, I midwifed Dr Kalu’s visit to Nnamdi Kanu at Kuje prison. Prior to this, I had contacted some prominent Igbo leaders to visit him, but they declined. When I contacted Dr Kalu, he accepted, not just to pay him a visit but to also intervene in calling for a dialogue. We had a meeting with some top relevant security agencies who granted the permission for Dr Orji Kalu to see Nnamdi Kanu. But to my greatest shock, I read in an online blog, a week later, that President Mohammad Buhari sent Dr Orji Kalu to beg Nnamdi Kanu to stop his agitation for a price. It was so shocking and heartrending.
As far as I know Dr Orji Kalu’s intervention was to ameliorate the hardship this agitation may foist on his kinsmen living in the North. He has never hidden his knack for one big united Nigeria. In fact, he once told me that if he had his way, he will annex other smaller neighboring countries to form one big Nigeria Federation. How the relationship became frosty and degenerated to insults, banters and blackmail simply because he holds a contrary opinion is incomprehensible to me. Freedom to uphold one’s own views is the hallmark of democracy; it reinforces all other human rights. Therefore, it will amount to self-contradiction to assert one’s fundamental rights to self-determination, yet deny others their fundamental rights to freedom to hold contrary views on the same subject.
Personalities who have carried out revolutionaries like Nelson Mandel of South Africa, Che Guevara of Cuba and Mao Tse Tung of China and the current agitators for the self-determination in Spain by Catalonians restricted their campaigns and advocacy to government issues and policies as well as accommodated contrary views. The struggle for self-determination by IPOB like the Palestinian struggle is sprint and impersonal race. Therefore, I think it is unfair for the group to begin to abuse a man who came out to help their leader and the Igbo nation from impending calamity.
Like Orji Uzor Kalu, many prominent Nigerians of Igbo extraction have been abused at various time for holding contrary views to that of the IPOB, do you think this is proper?
That is what I am saying. I have been a victim of their abuses and defamation. I have been called unprintable names for holding contrary views. Prominent leaders like former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, and Goodluck Jonathan, President Muhammadu Buhari, all South East governors, President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, Debe Ojukwu, son of Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Chief Joe Igbokwe, Chief Chekwas Okorie Chief Dozie Ikedife and many more have been insulted at one point or the other and described either as bastards, Hausa slaves, cowards, betrayer (Ifeajuna), rapist, etc, by this same group. This is an unpopular approach to the struggle and I call for a change in their narrative.
As the SSA to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi on Electoral Process, how will you assess preparation for the forthcoming council election scheduled to hold in Enugu State on November 4?
We have provided all the social, economic and political stimulus required for a free and fair electoral process in Enugu State come November 4. It took us this long owing to Governor Ugwuanyi’s knack for due process. The condition of the local government was in shambles when we took over in 2015. And so, the governor constituted a committee headed by Chief Edward Ubosi, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly who painstakingly investigated, weeded and sanitized the ghost workers among the local government staff; the government also amended the anachronistic provisions of the ENSIEC and Local Government Laws; reconstituted the Board of ENSIEC; sort approval for fund for the conduct of the local government election and to the glory of God, on November 4, 2017 political leaders of the third tier of government in the state shall be democratically elected.