The significance of the verdict that called for their trial
Since the Supreme Court, over a week ago, gave the Attorney General of the Federation,AGF, Mohammed Bello Adoke(SAN), the nod to prosecute the leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra(MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike and six others for allegedly committing treason against the Federal Republic of Nigeria, no mean fuss has trailed the pronouncement.
This stir is absolutely expedient even as it is largely misunderstood. For one, government is being asked to arraign the key members of MASSOB- a non violent group, when the same government is bargaining an amnesty for members of Boko Haram- an extremist terrorist organisation.
Not only that, government had in time past bestowed amnesty on the equally cataclysmic Niger Delta militants albeit their agitation had a more logical footing. Further, months ago, the now government pardoned some corrupt elements certified to have wrought economic and image ruins on the country.
Hence, it is on this ground that one gets to acknowledge the odium that awaits the government should it buckled to the call by the apex court for the MASSOB guys to be indicted for treason. For how can a government this generous with clemency shut its doors to an 'offender' who qualifies for it the most?
If by any chance we still pride ourselves as votaries of meritocracy shouldn't merit demand us granting a privilege to the one most deserving of it? Unless, merit like other worthy virtues have suddenly become alien to us. That is the direction of the argument of those admonishing government to jettison what the Court has asked it to do.
You would be mistaken to think this admonition is just from those who are of the Igbo extraction, people from other tribes are impressing it on the government as well, among them is Ayodele Akele- a pro-democracy campaigner.
How I wish it stops as an appeal on government to do what is right in the temple of equity and justice. How I fancy it being that simple. But it is not, as there are those threatening fire and brimstone should government went ahead to try the MASSOB elements for treason as directed by the Court.
Those giving vent to this intimidatory posture are members of MASSOB who have threatened to shut down the country if the federal government proceeded to do what it was asked to do. The group speaking through its regional administrator of Onitsha North, Vincent Ilo said the group who have remained non violent, would have been pushed to the wall.
You apparently need not be told what a goat pushed to the wall does. But can government afford what becomes of that after effect? I don't think so! This is because our past experience have shown that the federal government can only underestimate any group that can turn violent at its own peril.
When government forces were rounding up members of the boko haram sect and extra judicially snuffing the live out of many of them in 2009, they never reckoned that the sect they thought have been extinguished will like a phoenix resurface to become a real thorn on the nation's flesh.
Even the leader of MASSOB, Chief Ralph Uwazuruike in an interview with Daily Sun declared that his group may abandon its non-violent approach and toe the line of the boko haram since it is the language of violence that the federal government better understands.
But one is appalled at the sheer misunderstanding of those already hurling insults and expletives at the federal government for 'trying to prosecute the accused for treason.' They failed to realise that we have three distinct arms of government and that what is currently raising dust emanated from the judicial arm with the present executive yet to take a stand on it.
Another point of contradiction is that those using this as an opportunity to excoriate the already beleaguered Jonathan's presidency do not take cognisance of the fact that the court case that produced the verdict pre-dated his ascension to the throne of the vice president not to talk of that of the president. It, indeed, started even before boko haram was made manifest. Ergo, this trip down memory lane will come handy.
It was on November the eight, 2005 that the federal government under president Obasanjo arraigned the accused persons before the Federal High Court on a four-count criminal charge bothering on treasonable felony.
Then it accused those arraigned of belonging to a militant group called MASSOB training with the intent to levy war to overthrow the president as well as the government. If only the then government had experienced NDPVF and the boko haram sect, it would have chosen a more apt phrase than the misnomer 'militant group.'
The government further claimed that the accused persons who it said were top officials at the MASSOB headquarters on diverse dates between January 2004 and October 2005 at Owerri and other places in Nigeria, 'with intent to levy war, overawe and overthrow the legitimate government of Nigeria' conspired to commit felony to wit: treason against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges and through their counsel, Festus Keyamo, urged the trial court to quash it for being incompetent and base, contending that there was no proof of evidence indicting them to the commission of any crime known to law. Notwithstanding, the trial judge, Justice Binta Nyako refused to either quash the charges or release the accused persons on bail.
This prompted Keyamo to take the case before the Appeal Court in Abuja which on May the 15, 2008, after so much public outcry, granted them bail but refused to dismiss the charge. Unfulfilled, the accused persons proceeded with the case to the supreme court. There it lingered till we got to the present.
It then becomes clear that so far, President Jonathan has no hand in the case other than the fact that his government has now been asked to prosecute the accused. But if he went for it, that's when he would have portrayed himself as 'an enemy of the Igbo nation.' But for now, he is as innocent in the matter as a man in whom no vile is found.
Do we then hold the courts responsible? Absolutely not, since they are only doing their job. The pronouncement can be appreciated in the light that they aren't on the executive's beat to know how difficult it is to contain an aggrieved group out to punish the state for a perceived injustice meted out to them.
It is members of the executive arm who receives the heat in their bid to quell same yet gets seen as ineffective and clueless that should be more circumspect in pushing a group with the propensity for violence to the wall. Since the current security impasse ravaging the country has got their hands overflowing, I see no space to accommodate another insurgency.
But beyond the kerfuffle that has permeated the mediaosphere over the pronouncement are two didactic lessons; first, we have a weak state that appears to have incapacitated the systemic workings of our society. Terrorism and threats of the use of terror is preventing the state from doing what it is required to do. Indeed, insurgency has become a bargaining tool. How sad!
Again, we have been made to, in clear terms, see the backlash of court cases taking too long before being decided upon. Had the courts finished with this case shortly after it was instituted, there would have been no amnesty for the Niger Delta militants and that proposed for boko haram members to have made people allege injustice or marginalisation. This calls for quick dispensation of justice to bar unforeseen bottlenecks such as this.
Nontheless, the first lesson shouldn't spoil the government into taking an unpopular stand by going ahead to prosecute the MASSOB top guns. That might trigger a militancy that can further portray the government as weak and incapable of protecting the lives and property of its citizens. It can also throw up cases of human right abuses.
We have seen these in the Niger Delta and in parts of the North. May government by its own action not escalate what we had seen and are currently seeing. It should not, by continuing the trial of Uwazuruike and co, sow the wind else a harvest of the whirlwind may be lurking around.
Ugochukwu writes from Lokoja, you can react through [email protected]