BY BOMA AMADI
Prominent Igbo leaders under the auspices of Nzuko Umunna tuesday visited leader of the Indegenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, demanding his immediate release by the federal government, failure of which they threatened to drag the federal government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands.
The group’s demand came amid public outcry by prominent Igbo leaders of an orchestrated plan by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to witch-hunt the Igbo nation, including the brutal killing of agitators from the South-east.
The pan-Igbo group with diaspora connection, made of former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo; Prof. Pat Utomi, Dr Ferdinard Agu, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu; Law Mefor, Rev. Fr. C. Jude, Udenta Udenta, Ebere Onwudiwe, Emeka Ugwu-Oju, Tony Nnadi, Sam Amadi, Innocent Chukwuma A, Collins Ugwu, Andy Wabali, among others, insisted on the release of Kanu as the only means to true national reconciliation, or the group may resort to approaching “the ICC, if it becomes necessary.”
Speaking with journalists in Abuja, Soludo said it was expedient for the government to release Kanu, as his continued incarceration smacks of naked display of abuse of the extant laws and the court.
He said: “We were sent to pay a visit to Kanu and his associates currently in detention at the Kuje prison as part of a worldwide consultation process on the peace and development of Alaigbo/Nigeria.
“We visited to hear his own point of view, and we also shared our views with him. Our interactions with Kanu and his colleagues were frank and fruitful.
“We believe that Nigeria has all the potential to be great and one of the most prosperous nations on earth. Like most countries of the world, it has its own internal contradictions, challenges of national cohesion and development.
“Every country that has endured and prospered has devised a dynamic system for dealing with its internal contradictions. No country has prospered by suppressing legitimate agitations or democratic expressions.”
They said: “Our considered view is that, for taking extraordinary steps to draw international attention to Nigeria’s failing state and the urgency of actions, Kanu and his colleagues deserve to be engaged and not to be held interminably as political detainees.
“We demand the urgent release of Kanu, his colleagues and all prisoners of conscience, as part of the process of the search for national cohesion and building a new Nigeria.
“There is a legitimate debate among Nigerians on the Biafra question, and there are indeed many Igbos who, like many other Nigerians, do not agree with Kanu’s objective or means.
“It needs to be stated, however, that no citizen of Nigeria deserves the kind of treatment meted to him and his colleagues.
“Government has declined to obey the orders of properly constituted courts in Nigeria for his release. Kanu is not above the law; but nor should he be put beneath it.”
They held that “a situation where the state refuses to obey clear and legitimate court orders for his release and holds him until it gets a favourable order; moves the goalposts endlessly through endless amendment of the charges against him; and now seeks to try him in secret clearly constitutes circumstances that would fall well short of the constitutional guarantees of due process.
“These also would raise questions about our country’s adherence to human rights, the rule of law and transparent judicial process. We worry that there is now a clear design to place Kanu beneath the law and basic constitutional guarantees of due process.
“Without the rule of law, no sustainable economic progress can take place. The charge of treasonable felony, which is now levied against Kanu has previously been used against Joseph Tarka and Obafemi Awolowo.
“His trial reminds us of the travails of these historic figures in our country and, indeed, of the more recent military-era treason trial of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.”
According to them, “Not many people believe that Kanu and his colleagues can receive a fair trial based on the law. This makes Kanu and his colleagues political prisoners or prisoners of conscience.
“At various times in Nigeria’s history, it became expedient to release such prisoners (e.g. Obafemi Awolowo; Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu, as well as President Obasanjo) as part of national reconciliation and nation-building.
“Nigeria is currently a country at war with itself. Just like Nigeria wisely dealt with a potentially explosive “political Sharia” a few years ago, a time like this calls for a lot of wisdom and compromise in the interest of the larger picture
“We demand that the right to freedom of association, assembly, peaceful protest, and expression must be accessible to all citizens of Nigeria as guaranteed by Nigeria’s constitution.
“Trying to criminalise anyone who talks about self-determination or attempts to use brute force to main and kill innocent protesters in a democracy is a strategy for a time that we no longer live in. This is 2017 and Nigeria is supposed to be a democracy!”
They added that “more than 200 years after 11 states in the US failed their secession bid, their Confederate flag still flies in several of them—even on government buildings. Since 2012, no less than 23 U.S. states had thousands of their citizens sign petitions to secede from the U.S. Currently, the State of California is still pressing for Calexit.
“There were protests all over the US following the election of Donald Trump. Similar examples can be cited in many democracies. But no one is killed, brutalized or incarcerated by the state.
“As a people, we believe that our country is big enough for diverse voices to be heard in the confidence that these voices in their respective ways seek to correct our imperfections; to have a stake in constructing a more perfect union.”
The group also conveyed “thanks to the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, for reaffirming recently that citizens have the right to peaceful protest, and we are happy that protesters were allowed to express themselves in Lagos, Abuja and other venues recently under police protection.”
Further they condemned: “The use of disproportionate force and live bullets by law enforcement agencies resulting in the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters generally, especially the killing of IPOB and MASSOB members under whatever guise and call on the law enforcement agencies to take steps to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.
“We equally call on the governors of the states in which these have occurred to exercise their powers under the relevant commission of inquiry laws to investigate these killings through appropriate judicial commissions of inquiry.
“Additionally, we call on the Chief Judges of the respective states to order coroners inquiries into these killings as required by the relevant coroners laws.
“We affirm our belief that it is better for a democracy that people should express their grievances or agitations peacefully and openly than to force them into more dangerous underground operations.
“Nigeria has greatly come short on these counts. Nigeria has never been more divided than now, with the agitations for self-determination becoming more strident and desperate.”
They added:”Most discerning patriots have come to the conclusion that Nigeria as currently structured and governed is unsustainable and drifting to a failed state status.
“Since 2005, Nigeria has drifted from a rank of 54th position in the global Failed and Fragile State Index to 17th position in 2014 and now to a dangerous 13th position in 2016 (under the ‘Red Alert’ category of countries).
“Perhaps no one sums the sentiments better than the respected Elderstatesman, Professor Ango Abdullahi (reported 12th February, 2017) when he asserts that:
“Nigeria’s project is not working, after 50 to 60 years the Nigerian project is not working despite everything we went through, constitutional conferences, the country is at a stand still.
“It is unfortunate we are still where we were more than 50 years after independence and have not been able to move away from where our colonial masters left us.”
“Our founding fathers and mothers —Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Margaret Ekpo etc – must be turning in their graves.”
The Nzuko Umunna maintained that “while this might appear an extreme characterization, it sums up the dominant sentiment of people who believe in the urgency of a fundamentally re-engineered new Nigeria.
“It is our considered view that much of the increasingly desperate agitations are in response to the failures of the dysfunctional and looting elite and poor governance in the context of a failing state that offers increasingly vanishing opportunities and hope for its youth and future generations. We do not condone violence, criminality or brigandage of any sort, and nor should any state do so.
“However, by failing or refusing to address the fundamental issues and instead concentrating on the symptoms, Nigeria runs the grave risk of turning the entire country into a large prison yard or a police state.
“So far, APC seems to have abandoned its cardinal contract with Nigeria. It is commendable that it is fighting corruption, fighting Boko Haram, and grappling with a deteriorating economy.”
They stressed that However, “without dealing with several of the foundational issues of the Nigerian state in a post-oil economy, much of its efforts will in the end amount to tinkering at the margins.
“The current Constitution of Nigeria was designed to consume the oil rents and a system designed for consumption cannot become efficient for production in a post-oil world.
“But the task of rescuing and rebuilding a new Nigeria must be a multi-partisan, and all-inclusive effort. There seems to be a national consensus that the current system cannot endure.
“The APC, PDP, APGA and other political parties, as well as all non-partisan actors and statesmen must come together to save Nigeria.
“We are in a state of emergency at all levels. The National Council of State needs to be convened urgently, and our legislative houses at the national and state assemblies should wake up to the new realities.”
They were of the view that “if the only thing the current administration succeeds in doing is to re-engineer a new Nigeria, agreed to by its constituent parts and citizens, it would have birthed a new country for the 21st century!
“The pre-occupation with where the next president of Nigeria will come from is an unnecessary distraction from the crisis at the moment and the urgency of erecting enduring pillars for a peaceful and prosperous country.
“We demand for a fairer and equitable system where it would not matter where the president or any officer comes from. We want a country where there are growing opportunities for the youths and future generations to live in peace and prosper,” they submitted.