Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has fixed February 25, 2019 to commence hearing in the self determination suit between the Incorporated Trustees of Bilie Human Rights Initiative, representing the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Federal Government of Nigeria and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
The suit is specifically seeking the self determination and actualization of the sovereign State of Biafra through legal means.
Attached to the suit as exhibits include the United Nations, UN declaration of the rights of the indigenous Peoples, Res. 61/295 of 2007 and articles 19- 22, African charter on Human Rights and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) act Cap 10, laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990 (now LFN, 2004).
Also attached the suit is the ancient map of Africa in 1662, which showed the three kingdoms in West Africa from where Nigeria was created.
The three kingdoms listed were the kingdom of Zamfara in the North, the kingdom of Biafra in the East, and the kingdom of Benin in the West. The 4th kingdom, Oyo empire was not contained in the said map, but was enlisted as a great kingdom in West Africa as described in section 4.11- 4.14 of these policy statements.
Justice Babatunde Quadri adjourned the case to enable him study the case file in view of what he described as the sensitive nature of the matter “so as to arrive at the justice of the case.”
Legal hostilities in the suit marked FHC/OW/CS/192/2013 started in the Owerri division of the court before it was transferred to Abuja at the instance of the Federal government.
The IPOB, which sued Nigeria in a representative capacity are defined as “ the people inhabiting three contiguous regions, namely; South-east, parts of South- south; and parts of the Middle Belt regions of Nigeria.
This covers the territorial jurisdiction where these policy statements and orders apply under customary law.
It is the contention of the group in its counter affidavit to the preliminary objection filed by the Federal government that “If Biafra is carved out of the present Nigeria today as a sovereign and Independent nation, Nigeria has nothing to loss, as Nigeria will still remain great and giant of Africa with abundant peace, progress, unity, strong economy, political, religious and cultural harmony that shall be without comparison within the African sub-region and beyond.
The applicants further prayed the court to transfer the case back to Federal High Court Owerri and adjourned sine-die (indefinitely) under the sister suit No: FHC/CS/124/2017 which was filed first by applicants/responsents challenging the proscription order of IPOB as a terrorist organisation is heard.
Dr. Innocent Amadi, President of Billie Human Rights Initiative, who deposed to the 13 paragraph counter affidavit averred that “In order to terminate the present suit by all means, the Federal Government took undue advantage of the rift with Nnamdi Kanu’s faction of IPOB in filling an ex-parte application at the Federal High Court, Abuja presided over by the then Acting Chief Judge, Justice Abdul Karafati to horridly secure an ex-parte order to kill permanently our struggle for self determination and our genuine and lawful efforts to actualize the sovereign State of Biafra through legal means.”
While the applicant was represented by Ohaeto Uwazie who held the brief of Dr. Francis Dike (SAN), the Federal government was represented in yesterday’s proceedings by Mrs. B.O. Akinseyi-George who stood in for Prof. Yemi Akinseyi-George (SAN).
The Federal government had in its preliminary objection asked the court to dismiss the suit for being incompetent, illegal and incurably bad by virtue of the order made on September 20, 2017, by Justice Abdul Karafati which proscribed IPOB as a terrorist organisation.
The suit which was filed on September13, 2013, has suffered several setbacks and adjournments. At the resumed hearing of the case on Thursday, November 24, 2016, the trial Judge, Justice I .A. Alagoa threatened to withdraw from the case if the claimants failed to put their house in order. Two persons, Engr. Innocent Obinna Amadi, and Elder George Michael Umoren had introduced themselves as President, and acting President of the group, respectively. The contention was, however, resolved in favour of Amadi through the affirmation of the originating summons.
The lead counsel for the group, Prof Francis Dike, SAN thereafter opened his case reminding the judge of the order of the court made on May 3, 2016, on arguments for jurisdiction of the court on the case. Thereafter, the defense lawyer, Afolabi, and Dike, SAN endorsed their written addresses. Legal arguments put forward by Dike on the propriety of the court assuming territorial jurisdiction in the case eventually scaled through with fierce opposition from the defense lawyer, Afolabi.
After a brief adjournment, the judge returned to fix the date for ruling. The Judge before adjourning the matter to December 15, 2016 read a letter signed by the President- General of IPOB, Justice Eze – Ozobu (rtd),the General Secretary, Col Joe Achuzia, (rtd) and the Deputy President – General Dr Dozie Ikedife on the consolidation of their legal team, which comprises Dike, Barrister Emeharaole, Barrister Chukwu Nwachukwunta, and Barrister Thomas Agbago.
In the suit, No FHC/Ow/CS/192/2013, The court sat for the first time on October 25, 2013 and Nigeria was represented by Barrister D.U Amon, Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Justice. On December 2, 2013. Dr Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, a Lagos based private legal practitioner filed the defense before Justice S. M Shuaibu. After several setbacks and adjournments, the second hearing took place on February 24, 2014. Despite two subsequent mentions in 2015, little progress was made.