Mr. Vincent Egechukwu Obetta, Senior Special Assistant (Inter-governmental Affairs, Compliance and Electoral Process) to the governor of Enugu State, has stated that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) played into the hands of the Federal Government by its hate-filled agitation. Mr. Obetta, a former counsel to Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the IPOB leader, stated this in an interview. He noted that between September 12 and 17, violent clashes between IPOB members and Nigerian Army troops on Operation Python Dance II resulted in the death of some people, subsequent proscription of IPOB activities by South-East governors and the designation of IPOB as a terrorist organization.
While commiserating with the families of the dead and wishing the injured speedy recovery, Mr. Obetta said the atmosphere in the South-East zone is too dense with hatred. He also stated that the casualty figures being bandied are purely speculative.
“There is no casualty desk record. The casualty figures we have lies within the realm of speculations as to the exact figure of dead and missing persons. On the proscription of IPOB by South-East governors, I will advise that the voice of reason should prevail in this case. It is senseless to be legalistic about it against the backdrop of the impending carnage that was staring the South-East governors in the face at the time,” he said.
He argued that the primary issue should be whether the decision was right at the time, saying the security and welfare of the people should be the primary purpose of government. “That is the basic constitutional duty of the South-East governors is as contained in Chapter II of 1999 constitution.
To that extent, I salute the governors’ proactive measure that stemmed the tide of an impending massacre in Igboland. On the propriety of the Federal Governments’ designation of IPOB as a terrorist organization, I can authoritatively say that the IPOB played into the hands of the Federal Government. I can recall that when I was counsel to Nnamdi Kanu (IPOB leader), the Federal Government played that card. While we were still at the Magistrate Court, Wuse, contending with the issue of Kanu’s bail, the prosecution surreptitiously went to the Federal High Court and obtained an order to further detain Kanu for another 90 days on the ground that they were investigating his involvement in an act of terrorism,” he said.
That court order, he recalled, was set aside and his unconditional release was ordered. Mr. Obetta said he has since reached a conclusion that the Federal Government waited to gather evidence relating to terrorism to fully implicate the IPOB and that the definition of terrorism is open-ended.
“The implication is that many ordinary criminal actions may also be found to constitute terrorist actions under the Act. So, the designation of IPOB as a terrorist organization may be immoral, unconscionable and overreaching, but that is the law today. The Terrorism (Prevention) and (Proscription Order) Notice, 2017 stands as the extant Presidential proclamation. As a result, I advise members of this group to respect Mr. President’s proclamation order until it is set aside on appeal,” Mr. Obetta counselled.
Mr. Obetta also described, as of no relevance, the disagreement of the US government with the Federal Government’s classification of IPOB as a terrorist group.
“When George Bush Jr. (former US President), in concert with the US Congress, enacted the US Patriot Act in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the endorsement of the Nigerian government was not sought. For purpose of clarity, what the US Ambassador said in this respect was that the activities of IPOB does not constitute terrorism under the US law. He may be right, considering the fact that there is no universally accepted definition of the term terrorism. As I speak, there are over 250 definitions of terrorism today and that explains the mantra that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. More importantly and for your information, Nigeria is a sovereign nation recognized under international law,” he argued.
The Enugu governor’s aide also spoke on the efforts of Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, to intervene in the dispute between IPOB and the Federal Government. According to him, he had expressed the view that the agitation was spinning out of control and felt there was a need to get influential Igbo leaders to intervene. To this end, Obetta said he arranged for Mr. Kalu to visit the IPOB leader in Kuje prison. Prior to the visit, he added, he had contacted some prominent Igbo leaders to visit him, but they declined.
“When I contacted Mr. Kalu, he accepted, not just to pay him a visit but to also intervene in calling for a dialogue. We had a meeting with some top relevant security agencies, who granted the permission for Mr. Orji Kalu to see Mr. Kanu. But to my greatest shock, I read in an online blog, a week later, that President Mohammadu Buhari sent Mr. Kalu to beg Kanu to stop his agitation for a price. It was so shocking and heartrending. As far as I know, Mr. Kalu’s intervention was to halt the hardship the agitation may foist on his kinsmen living in the North,” said the governor’s aide.
He wondered why pro-Biafra elements, on account of Mr. Kalu’s decision to intervene, decided to insult the former governor simply because he holds a contrary opinion. Mr. Obetta contended it is contradictory to assert one’s right to self-determination, yet deny others their right to hold contrary views on the same subject.
“Revolutionaries like Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Che Guevara of Cuba, Mao Tse Tung of China and the current agitators for the self-determination in Spain restricted their campaigns and advocacy on government issues and policies as well as accommodated contrary view. The struggle for self-determination by IPOB, like the Palestinian struggle, is an impersonal race,” he stated.
He noted that he and other figures like former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, all South-East governors, President of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, – Chief Nnia Nwodo; Mr. Debe Ojukwu, son of Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu; Chief Joe Igbokwe, Chief Chekwas Okorie and Chief Dozie Ikedife have been insulted and described as bastards and Hausa slaves.
Mr. Obetta advised that the current adversarial narrative must change. While urging South-East governors to accelerate the process of economic self-determination of the region through the opening of the South- East economic buffer zone to create job opportunities, Mr. Obetta advised the Federal Government to immediately open talks with relevant stakeholders towards restructuring the country equity, unity and progress.
On the forthcoming council polls in the state, Obetta said the Enugu State government, under Mr. Ifeanyi Uguwanyi, has provided all the stimuli required for a free and fair electoral process on 4 November.
The governor has constituted a committee headed by Chief Edward Ubosi, Speaker of the House of Assembly, who investigated and weeded ghost workers in local councils. The government also amended the anachronistic provisions of the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) and local government laws, reconstituted the Board of ENSIEC and sought for the approval of funding for the conduct of the polls,” he said.
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