Last Friday, members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) staged a demonstration in Port Harcourt in solidarity with President Donald Trump on his swearing in as President of the United States of America. That demonstration resulted in a clash between IPOB members on the one hand and a combined security team of the Nigerian Army and Police.
IPOB alleges that the security agents killed 11 of its members, injured 27 and arrested 57 others. IPOB has threatened to take up arms if what it described as the continued killing of its unarmed and defenseless members continues.
Police has since arrested and charged 54 members of IPOB and MASSOB to two magistrate courts for conspiracy to commit treasonable felony and conducting themselves in a manner likely to force or compel the President to change his measures by displaying flags and other items of the Biafra Republic.
The Army Public Relations Department has similarly issued statements indicating that they were prepared to go to any length to ensure that the IPOB was contained.
FOUR ISSUES ARISE HERE:
1. Was the IPOB demonstration an unlawful assembly?
2. Did IPOB require a Police permit to demonstrate?
3. Was IPOB violent in any manner that threatened public peace and order?
4. Does possession of Biafran flags and coat of arms per se constitute conspiracy to commit treasonable felony?
Whereas some of these issues are sub-judice, it is important in the public interest to note as follows: –
1. The correct position of the law in Nigeria is that any curtailment of the right of the citizens to freely associate and assemble for lawful purpose is unconstitutional;
2. It is unnecessary for police permit to be first had and obtained prior to any assembly, subject of course to section 70 of the Criminal Code (see IGP v ANPP (2008) WRN 65; Anambra v AG Federation (2005) NWLR (PT 572) 616 per UWAIS JSC;
3. Any attempt to deal with demonstrations of IPOB in a manner different from treatment of Boko Haram members, Niger Delta Avengers, Fulani Herdsmen and OPC will be discriminatory and unfair.
Given the serious national security implications of this development, Ohanaeze would like the Federal Government to appoint an independence judicial inquiry into the killing of IPOB and MASSOB members in Port Harcourt.
Last year, several farmers were killed in Nimbo by herdsmen without any of those arrested and prosecuted. After a Judicial Inquiry and findings on massacre of followers of Zak Zaky in Kaduna State, no arrest or prosecution has been made. Where is consistency in the enforcement of the law? Does anyone truly expect Ndigbo to fold our hands and watch our children massacred and incarcerated with such impunity?
A dangerous trend is emerging in our country. There are gathering storms of conflict. A stitch in time saves nine. Government must do the needful and set up an inquiry before overzealous law enforcement agents plunge the country into chaos.
JOHN NNIA NWODO
(Ike Ukehe), President-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo
Tuesday, 24th January, 2017