Ikechukwu Ikeji is a lawyer, based in Lagos. In this interview, he faults the proscription of IPOB by a federal High Court and the proposed law on hate speech among other issues.
The Federal High Court in Abuja recently declared the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a terrorist organisation. This was after Justice Binta Nyako also of a Federal High Court Abuja dismissed the terrorism charge against IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu. Is this not a conflict in judgement by two courts of concurrent jurisdiction?
It is a contraction. The only grounds on which IPOB could have been declared a terrorist organisation is if the federal government presented fresh facts that were not available the first time Nnamdi Kanu was arraigned. That is facts that happened after the first time Kanu was arraigned and later acquitted by Justice Binta Nyako. That is the only grounds on which the federal government can present new evidence and now say that IPOB has degenerated into a terrorist group and then based on that evidence the federal government can now present its petition before the court. Perhaps it was based on those new facts that Justice Abdul Adamu Kafarati granted the application. But if there are no new facts to show that IPOB has engaged in terrorist activities, then it is an aberration to rather than go on appeal, approach a court of concurrent jurisdiction to declare IPOB a terrorist organisation.
What do you suggest then?
We can actually approach it from two fronts, one that there are fresh facts and two there are no fresh facts. If there are fresh facts, IPOB could be entitled to approach Justice Kafarati, who made the order to present a counter affidavit to show that the evidences presented by the Attorney General of the Federation does not support the declaration that IPOB is a terrorist organisation. Where the honourable Justice does not agree with IPOB, it has another option to go to the Court of Appeal after the Court of Appeal; it can go to the Supreme Court.
Now if the federal government is saying that there are fresh facts, what IPOB can do is to show that those fresh facts do not amount to terrorism. If the judge disagrees with them, they also have the opportunity of going on appeal, because they have the right to fair hearing. The right to fair hearing is an inalienable right of every body under the constitution.
Can the security agencies, based on intelligence reports declare an organisation a terrorist group?
The security agencies have absolutely no power to declare IPOB or any other group a terrorist organisation. The only way you can classify an organisation a terrorist group is if they have violent inclination or activity aimed at taking some kind of advantage. For example, if you have political views and use violence to push others towards your views, that is terrorism. You can see this in Section 1 of the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 as amended in 2013 that is where you can see the list of activities that constitute terrorism.
Boko Haram initially started out building Islamic schools and doing charity works. It turned a terrorist group after the founder; Mohammed Yusuf was killed in 2009. Do you also nurse the fear that IPOB may turn the same way?
I have the concern, may be not fears. I don’t know any member of IPOB, but I know that when a group is so determined even if it means using some violence, they may go underground and use the opportunity of the underground to carry out heinous activities. So it is more dangerous having them underground than discussing with them. You cannot defeat the argument that discussion and dialogue is the only way forward.
President Muhammadu Buhari was at the United Nations General Assembly to agitate for restructuring of the Security Council. How do you reconcile that with his stance on restructuring of Nigeria?
He is speaking from both sides of his mouth, he is being hypocritical and I will cite instances. He is speaking on the self-determination rights of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Palestine, but in his own country he does not believe in the self-determination rights of the people. He is not saying the truth, he is only playing politics and negative diplomacy, and it is unacceptable.
How do we dowse the tension?
The way to douse the tension is to call everybody to dialogue. Agitation is a human right recognised by Article 20 (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which has been domesticated in Nigerian law by the African Charter Ratification Act 1993 and given judicial recognition by the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rule 2009. We must accept the fact that a group of people have the right to agitate and the language they use to agitate should not be a problem. People are deceived by the language of Nnamdi Kanu and they use it to blackmail the real purpose of his agitation. In any case, hate speech is not an offence; it is only an offence if it leads to defamation of character. The law of sedition is no longer part of Nigerian Criminal Justice System. So we should not allow the content of Nnamdi Kanu’s speech to overwhelm the self-determination content.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo may disagree with you on hate speech. He has said the federal government will make a law so that hate speech becomes an act of terror. What is your take on that?
He said the federal government will soon criminalise hate speech. He didn’t cite any law because there is no such law. The only law that relates to what somebody says is the Criminal Defamation Law, which has to do with what you say that destroys the character of another person and it has nothing to do with hate speech. Hate speech is wrong morally and socially but legally, there is no provision against it. Even in the United States, the Supreme Court has severally held that there is no way you can legislate against hate speech. So the Vice President never quoted any law, he only said the federal government will criminalise hate speech. But as soon as that law comes out is as soon as it will be shut down because it will infringe on the fundamental right to free speech.