Grand Master - , 2:50 am On 9 Sep 2017
The news of the alleged attack of soldiers of the 14 Brigade, Nigerian Army , Umuahia, on the redidence of the Leader of the Independent Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, broke yesterday the 10th of September, 2017 in the social, electronic and print media. Since then, the social media and even the traditional media have been abuzz with reactions and opinions of many of our compatriots on the rightness, legitimacy and legality of the alleged attack.
The Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Police Force, Abia State Police Command have issued separate statements denying the attack on Kanu' s residence. They claimed that the soldiers were on a " show of force" in the area of Nnamdi Kanu' s residence , when they came under attack by persons who pelted them with stones and clubs , and who insisted they could not pass through the area. In the process, they had to fire warning shots to disperse the mob, who had injured at least two soldiers. No life of any of the protesters was lost.
The account of IPOB was different. IPOB, Kanu and his lawyer have issued statements declaring that Kanu' s residence was specifically invaded and that he , Kanu, was the subject of the attack, which was purposed to eliminate him.
From the facts available in the public domain , however, including the video evidence released by some IPOB activists or sympathisers, there is no truth to the claim that Kanu' s residence was invaded , or that he was specifically targeted by the military for elimination. The claim may well be a despicable rehearsal of an envisioned victimhood rhetoric and propaganda of acts of genocide in the event of any combat operations in the future.
Broadly , reactions and opinions on the alleged attack have been in two categories.
There is the camp of those who have not only justified the action of the military ( Operation Python Dance II), but who also are calling on the military and the FG to either use military force or deploy law enforcement and effective criminal prosecution to eliminate the separatist or secessionist threats of IPOB. This camp is impatient. It calls for immediate action to prevent the Biafran Secessionist resurgence from escalating, and degenerating into a full blown war that may lead to the dismemberment or balkanisation of Nigeria.
There is also the camp of those who disagree with the military operation approach of the FG and the obvious suppressive or curtailment strategy of the FG. They argue that the reasons adduced for Operation Python Dance II : kidnapping, criminality, armed robbery in the South East etc are a pretext to use military force to quell a civil movement or protest of unarmed civilians who have the constitutional right to wage a nonviolent struggle for self determination . The Constitution, this Camp reminds us, guarantees the right to freedom of association and the right to hold a political opinion.
We observe that both camps are passionate and even sentimental about their standpoints. Hence the issue of the alleged attack and Operatiion Python Dance II is being addressed in broad , ramifying terms. All Kanu and his IPOB have done in the past against Nigeria and her citizens , and what they may yet do, and all the actions of the Federal Government and the military against IPOB have been brought into the debate of the simple issue of whether the military broke into the residence of Kanu, and whether the military have the right to conduct that operation . For now, the issue at stake is that narrow. We proceed to address the issue below.
We have stated, and we which to reiterate, that while hate speeches, incitement to violence, attempt to breach the peace, riots, treasonable felony and treason are criminal offences punishable under the law, the call for secession, right to self determination or for a referendum to vote on secession is not a criminal offence. Calls for election boycott, stay at home, market closures are not unlawful. Sewing Biafran uniform clothes, berrets emblems and flags may even be tolerated under the law as merely embarking on a colourful and infantile mischief. And we like colours .
If Kanu' s action is limited to his campaigns and the brandishing of his colours, his mock para military attires and his monk caricature, he would not, in our humble view, have committed any offence. But we can bear testimony to the fact that he has gone beyond all these. He has set up a rogue radio station as a purveyor of hate speeches and promoter of bigotry. In his open speeches and utterances, he is calling for civil strife, inter-ethnic slaughter and genocide. But he and his IPOB are not " armed" yet.
Thus, in our view, he is rightly being prosecuted. In line with the prosecution, if he has violated the terms or conditions of his release on bail, his bail could be revoked under Sections 169 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. If the FGN believes that the October trial resumption date is too far, it could file an urgent application with an affidavit of urgency to bring forward the date .
It is however wrong for anyone to argue that it is unlawful to deploy the military or that the military have no right to carry out its operation. The South East is still a part of the Nigerian territory. Even if secession or separation is desired by some, it is yet to be accomplished . The South East is not a Biafran enclave that Nigerian soldiers who are stationed in the South East must not dare to enter. We are familiar with the term "Military Zone- Keep Off" . Umuahia and its streets are not IPOB Zone or territory that the Nigerian State must concede to IPOB.
Under Section 217 (2)(c) of the 1999 Constitution, the Armed Forces have a constitutional duty to " suppress insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore order when called upon to do so by the President, but subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly"
The argument could be made that the military could not lawfully invade Kanu' s residence . But it makes no legal sense to argue that the Nigerian Army that was praised in the past when it combed the Abia State forests to rid it of kidnappers , when the Police Force was overwhelmed , and that the Nigerian Air Force that recently flushed out armed pipelines vandals and kidnappers from Arepo in Ogun State by aerial bombardments have no lawful authority to embark on military patrol or carry out reconnaissance mission even as a preventive or pre-emptive exercise. Members of the Lagos NUJ Council were once abducted and taken to the Abia forests, we may still recall. If IPOB has the right to march and carry out processions, without molestation, Nigerian soldiers also have the right to conduct their operations without ambush.
And let us end with the claim that IPOB is not armed. Yes. IPOB says it is not armed with armunitions and military ordinance . But the claim that it is not armed at all may be wearing thin with the video evidence of the confrontation between IPOB elements and the soldiers. The IPOB elements were " armed with stones and clubs and sticks. These are " offensive " weapons that could kill and maim. The Badoo Cults in Ikorodu commit heinous crimes of murder with stones , mortar and pestle. So, let no one disingenuously argue that sticks and stones cannot be weaponized.
In interpreting what " offensive weapons" that could be used to commit armed robbery under sections 401, 402, and 403, and 403 B of the Criminal Code Act , cap C38, LFN 2004 could mean , the courts have held that every metal or hard object falls within the genus of " gun" . In one case , the use of a toy gun to rob, grounded a conviction of armed robbery. In another, the use of a horsewhip ( koboko) to rob was suffficient for the imposition of the death sentence for armed robbery before the Supreme Court of Nigeria overturned the verdict in a split decision.
For those who are genuinely concerned about the prospect of rights violations by the military if the current faceoff between IPOB and the military were to escalate, for those who see IPOB as a valued and treasured tool of harrasment and blackmail of the Buhari Presidency , and for closet separatists across the Nigerian " Federation " who secretly wish to see a disintegrated Nigeria and thus see IPOB as a catalyst for the actualization of that dream, this is not the time to speciously argue that the military have no right to move around. This is the time to strongly advise IPOB to stop messing around.