By Henry Okonkwo
Indigenous People of Biafra’s (IPOB) lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor is in court challenging the legality behind the Federal Government’s proscription of the pro-Biafra group since September 2017.
In this interview, the IPOB’s lawyer alleged that some governors have joined the fray to be vicious on arrested IPOB members in their domain.
Ejiofor alleged that state governors, particularly Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Hope Uzodinma of Imo State, have seemingly sworn to be ruthless on arrested IPOB members in their states.
According to him, both governors brazenly intimidate and arm-twist judicial officials to truncate speedy hearing and release of arrested IPOB members, so that they would spend longer times in police custody.
Ejiofor spoke on why IPOB’s proscription is a politically motivated move to quieten the group’s call for self-determination, their formation of the ESN (Eastern Security Network), giving an update on the case he filed against the government, concerning the December 2019 havoc that was unleashed on him by security forces at his hometown in Oraifite, Anambra State. Excerpt:
As IPOB lawyer, you’re involved in the court processes of securing the release of IPOB members locked up in various correctional facilities across the country. How has that experience been for you and for your chamber?
It has been a very hectic experience indeed. I have been exposed to life threatening situations in the discharge of my professional services as a lawyer. An example is the carnage that was unleashed in my house on the 2nd of December 2019 by agents of the state. They burnt down the entire structure in my house and killed people. These are unwarranted because I have never in the course of discharge of my professional responsibilities detoured from my instincts. I have been guided at all times by dictates of our ethics. So, we have been exposed to a number of risks in this course. Some judges especially at the state level are afraid because they get threatened for showing interest in looking into our cases. And this has been our greatest undoing. States like Imo and Rivers are principally where the states’ executives are openly threatening judges, judicial officers by their word of mouth, and conduct towards IPOB matters. When IPOB members are arrested and detained, and taken to court. But when we get to court we are faced with timorous judicial officers who would not even listen to our arguments. But that notwithstanding, we have been steady and consistent in the defense of humanity because we are fully aware that IPOB is not a terrorist organization because they are operating within the confines of the law. And that is my major determinant factor. I have defended IPOB in virtually all courts across the Southeast and South-south, and none have been convicted for any offence bothering on terrorism and the other bogus charges filed against them. I win the cases and release them in their numbers through judicial process because I know that they are operating within the confines of the law, and exercising their rights for self-determination as provided in the constitution.
Can you give examples of how these state executives manipulate judicial officers in court cases involving IPOB members?
Yes! I can give you a classical example of the state’s intervention of judicial process particularly as it affects matters concerning the IPOB. Early last year, 2020 in Rivers State, way before the EndSARS protest, some people were arrested, detained and taken to court for frivolous charges of being terrorists and belonging to IPOB. We were ready to defend them at the courts, but Governor Wike ensured that no judicial officer treated the matter. Also IPOB members are arrested, driven to Abuja where they are locked up and tortured at the behest of the Imo State governor, (Hope Uzodimma). The two states are where state governors are openly canvassing and giving directives to the judicial officers. The two governors have instructed their state’s judiciary not to entertain matters affecting IPOB because they want to deal ruthlessly with the IPOB members. The tension that was raised by the military inversion in Orlu was instigated by the state governor, Hope Uzodimma. He invited the police and army to come and arrest IPOB members. But where are these security officials when bandits keep unleashing mayhem and terror in the northern states. They’ll rather rush down into Imo State to arrest our brothers, molest our mothers and sisters and then subject some of them to rape.
In an interview aired on AIT a few weeks ago, the Federal Government through the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, explained the proscription of IPOB, and why the FG would not proscribe killer herdsmen. In his comparison, the minister likened bandits as various gangs of ‘super-armed criminals’ that the government can trace and deal with, but argued that ‘IPOB is a group that has come together, formed an army to challenge the sovereignty of Nigeria’. How do you react to this minister’s explanation?
It is really shameful how this present Federal Government romances and pampers terrorists. Why has this Federal Government never agreed that these people carrying AK-47 and killing innocent people are terrorists. This Bubari-led government has shied away from calling them terrorists. Instead they have branded these blood-thirsty gangs with different nomenclature like ISWAP, ANSARU, bandits, herdsmen, Miyetti Allah and others. There is no sane person that would in any manner try to liken the operations of Boko Haram to IPOB. Bandits go about killing innocent people, while IPOB are merely advocating for their rights as provided by the constitution. They are merely insisting that the authorities should conduct a referendum. You don’t see them armed with guns. You only see them with flags. So, how can you tell me now that those people who are merely moving around with flags are more dangerous that those moving with AK-47 and other sophisticated firearms, who go to our farms to rape, maim, murder and kidnap on daily basis? It is a government that thrives on hypocrisy, falsehood and all forms of terrible and condemnable practices that would have the impetus to start comparing IPOB to Fulani herdsmen. It is unheard of. In a civilized society, where the law takes precedent, someone like Lai Mohammed shouldn’t be in a government position because his position in government demands that you’re under constitutional oath to always say what is the truth and nothing more, and to inform the public appropriately. As a minister of information, you are not sworn to office to go and start lying to the public, and fabricating lies. Hardly would Lai Mohammed come on the microphone without you hearing all sorts of rubbish and lies that he is telling the world. How can a sane person come in public to start comparing IPOB with the herdsmen/ Boko Haram? Even you asking me this question should understand the huge absurdity. Have you heard of IPOB killing or kidnapping or raping people at their farms. These are some of the reasons IPOB would keep insisting on a referendum because the system has inevitably fallen. We are obviously at the brink of collapse. It is unfortunate that he says these lies on media platforms and journalists seem cowed to probe deeper and expose his lies and propaganda.
Nnamdi Kanu’s announcement of the formation of ESN on December 12, 2020, was a move that raised so much dust in Nigeria. Many people, especially government officials, tagged it a regional army and used that to further justify the proscription of IPOB. What is your take on this?
ESN is a child of destiny. We all know what led to the unveiling of ESN. Before now it has been a common story and a common happening that our farms have been turned to a place where cases of rape, killings, torture and kidnapping keep happening. And when it became obvious that the government was nonchalant because they were grossly compromised. We had to improvise a solution to our problem. That was why Mazi Nnamdi Kanu set up the ESN. You cannot see ESN on the road chasing people or see them carrying guns. People don’t even know who they are because they live in the forests and the bushes to give protection to our brothers and sisters who go to their farms. Without them being there they cannot go to their farms. Without ESN people were scared to go to their farms. So, ESN was set up for the purpose of securing the people from killers and bandits. We had a situation where the security agencies were no longer helping. The military, police and SSS were all there yet we keep recording cases of killings every day. We see heavily armed Fulani herdsmen moving around the forests and farms on daily basis, killing and raping anyone that dared to question them. So, what I’m saying is that, to the best of my knowledge and from all indices available ESN has come to stay. The operations of ESN in the bush are never in any way connected with the activities of the IPOB. ESN is not in the bush to agitate for Biafra freedom or referendum. They are there for the purpose of protecting the lives of their people. When the police, military fail to protect the people, what do you want us to do? This Fulani-led government has an agenda to bring in these murderers from across the African forests, and if not for the advent of ESN, the situation could have been worse than what we have now. And there is no way you can connect the activities of ESN with IPOB. I want you to get it very clear. ESN are not in the bush for Biafra’s independence, they are in the bush to provide security where the state has failed. I want you to understand the distinction between the activities of ESN and IPOB. And to bring it closer, IPOB are lawful people who operate within the confines of the law. You can’t see them in the bush or on the roads moving around with machetes or a weapon of any kind. I have convinced the court and it was ruled in court that IPOB operations do not fall within the threshold of unlawful organization because of the way their activities go. So, when the Federal Government secretly went to the Federal High Court to obtain an order through the backdoor to proscribe IPOB, it was politically motivated and we are still in court to challenge it. And you know the Nigerian system, once the state is involved in a matter, they would keep on adjourning it endlessly.
What do you mean that IPOB’s quest for self-determination is backed by law?
What IPOB is doing is called agitation for self-determination. And it is a right provided in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This law made right to self-determination sacrosanct and inalienable. And that African charter has already been domesticated into our law. It became part of our law under Cap 90 of LFN (Laws of the Federation of Nigeria). So, when these laws are being exercised, you attack and tag the people as terrorists? The state cannot in any way whittle down the effects of this constitution. Also note that even in their quest to ensure that they use illegal court order to stop the agitations for Biafra and tagged IPOB as terrorists, they forgot that there are exceptions to the threshold of activities that can be qualified as terrorism, succinctly spelt out in the constitution. So, the bedrock of my argument is still at the Court of Appeal till today. In their haste to undo IPOB they turned the law up-side-down. IPOB are people exercising their constitutional rights. That is why I have done their cases in almost all the courts in Abuja, in the Southeast and South-south, and the Federal Government has not recorded a win in any of these frivolous charges against IPOB. Not one! Quote me correctly. Yet they keep arresting innocent and unarmed IPOB members on a daily basis. The law is there, but it is unfortunate that we are in a system that is being run by a cabal.
What’s the update on your lawsuit against the Federal Government in the December 2019 destruction that ensued at your hometown, Oraifite?
The case is still on. The judge has been transferred to Ebonyi State, so a new judge is coming to take over. We are looking to conclude it on the 12th of May. I am not afraid because I still have full confidence in the judicial process, and competence of the judge that will handle the case.