Some Nigerians have argued that Biafra agitation is illegitimate and fraudulent. But Ibuchukwu Ezike, Executive Director of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) Nigeria’s foremost civil rights group, thinks differently. In this interview with Tim Tochukwu of Biafra Media Forum, he said the Biafra quest is legitimate and that Nigerian government should take cognizance of that fact and advise itself accordingly in dealing with Biafran agitators.
We read the press statement released by your organization recently, which has to do with the shooting of armless civilians at Onitsha. Personally, how do you see the murder of those harmless protesters?
Well, my personal view and opinion cannot be different from the view and opinion of my organization. As the foremost human right group in Nigeria, and as a pan-Nigerian human rights organization with structures and members from across the country, we always intervene anywhere there is abuse of human rights.
What happened in Onitsha on December 2, as our press statement indicates, is a gross violation and abuse of human rights. In fact, it is a case of excessive use of force; and a crime against humanity.
Some people argue that in Nigeria today, there is a full-blown dictatorship with the way Muhammadu Buhari, President of the country, is running the country. Do you agree with those who hold this view?
Well, if there is disobedience of court orders and gross abuse of human rights; when lives are lost and people are injured severely and there is gross dehumanization of the citizens by government officials; and leaders elected to protect the people do the opposite, then there is cause for concern. The major duty of government is to protect the lives of people and their properties. But when that is not the case, and such things as I have enumerated above occur, there is the tendency to describe such a government as a dictatorial government.
Under the current administration, we have seen disrespect to court orders by the Nigerian authority. The former Security Adviser to former President, Goodluck Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki was granted a court order to travel overseas for medical treatment, the government authorities were in court but did not argue against it. However, even if they did argue against it and the court did not oblige the argument, and so there was an order for the man to travel overseas, not minding any allegations of crime against him, it ought to be obeyed. But there was an order of court, which was gravely undermined by the Nigerian authority.
There is also the case of Nnamdi Kanu, the Director of Radio Biafra and leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), who also was detained in disobedience to a court order by the Nigerian authority. He was granted bail and all the conditions of bail were met, but as we speak, the young man is still in detention by Nigerian authorities.
So when there is an abuse of court process; abuse of human rights; and when the processes are not duly followed, that means the government is undermining the rule of law. That also means that the government in infringing on the human rights of its citizens. Under such circumstance, the government can be said to be dictatorial. So I cannot disagree with those who hold the view, with the instances that I have just cited, that the present government has gone against the law of the land, and is dictatorial.
What should be done to government agents that kill citizens in this manner?
Whoever has gone against the laws of the land must be brought to book in accordance with the law of the land. It cannot be in the might of the leaders of such a society. What is happening in the country today is a tendency to do things the way the leaders want, and not in conformity with the laws of the land and international mechanisms approved by the United Nations and the African Commission, among others.
What options do you think is open to the people when things get bad like this?
Well, there are many options. Nigeria is not an island unto itself; Nigeria is a member of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States); member of the African Union (AU); and a member of the Global Community, the United Nations (UN). These organisations have mechanisms that check the excesses of governments of member countries. So citizens of Nigeria can go to court; they can embark on peaceful protests as is being done in the Southeast today, and other parts of the country.
You recall that between 1993 and 1999, the Nigerian people were on the streets demonstrating and protesting against military rulership and it took us about six years to gain civil rule, or restore the country to civil rule. So, if government does not advise itself, it might get to a situation where Nigerian people will begin to protest the inhumanity and abuse of due process by the Nigerian authority.
If the local options available to the people are exhausted, they can look for options beyond the country. I think that is the best way to go about it.
Some people the quest for Biafra independence is a fraud and illegitimate. Do you share in this thinking?
As a human rights organization, which is founded on law, we note that the African Charter on human and people’s rights have a provision for self-determination. We note also that certain countries, which used to be part of other countries, are today different and autonomous nations. We note that Namibia was part of South Africa; Eritrea was part of Ethiopia; and Southern Sudan was part of Sudan, and these are different countries today.
Also across the world, you know that Yugoslavia was once a country of different nations, many of which have gone their separate ways today. Czechoslovakia was once country; the Ottoman empire had about 13 nations in it, and most of them are now independent nations, including Turkey, Amenia, Georgia, Italy, and so on and so forth. The Soviet Union is also a critical example of former nations that have now been broken into different countries.
So what that means is that internationally, the United Nations and the African continent have positions in their instruments and mechanisms that give people the right to decide whether they want to be in a different country or remain in the country where they are. But the only thing is that when you are doing so, you do in conformity with the law.
CLO as a pan Nigerian organization is not in support of a disintegrated Nigeria, but we support the country being run as a just and equitable country, where every person has the opportunity within the confines of the law to fulfill his or her vision. We do not support a situation where citizens would be dehumanized, oppressed and suppressed or denied their rights of actualising their Gods-given talents and opportunities.
Some people are asking for the release of Nnamdi Kanu, Director of Radio Biafra and leader of IPOB. What is your position?
I am not above the court, and the reason why the CLO is asking that the court order must be implemented is because the court has given orders that Nnamdi Kanu should be released. His wife is eight months pregnant and CLO is respecter of law and human rights. So if anybody has any reason for which he would not be released, he ought to have advanced it long before now, and it has not been advanced. We are told that all the bail conditions have been met, so what is holding them from releasing him? It is the holding of Nnamdi Kanu that has given rise to the protest, for which government agents have killed many armless protesters and severely injured others.
What do you suggest to be done to the government agents that killed the innocent, armless protesters?
There is a law which provides for fact-finding missions by the United Nations; by the AU and National Human Rights Commission that can intervene to verify allegations of excessive use of force against citizens, or that the rights of the citizens were greatly undermined.
If there were cases established by independent missions that there were excessive use of force against Nigerian citizens, or that the right of citizens were greatly undermined, or that crime against humanity had been established, then the law should take its course.
This is why we have called for a true investigation of what has happened in Onitsha, and that justice should be administered. We appeal to both parties to follow due process of law in participating or taking decisions. Nobody is above the law and when the law has spoken, the law must be respected.