Speech Delivered By Prof. Ilochi A. Okafor (san), Fci.arb, At The New Legal Year Ceremony Held On The 25th Of September, 2017.
1.1. There is nothing like military democracy. It is democracy, pure and simple – government of the people, by the people and for the people – practicing rule of law, where the security and welfare of citizens are paramount, without discrimination of tribe religion, sex, ethnic origin etc administering justice equally between the rich and poor, the mighty and the low, the educated and the illiterate, man and woman, Muslim, Christian and traditionalists, North and South.
1.2. Armies do not arrest civilians. Police do. Armies are not stationed against a peaceful people, or demonstration. Armies intervene where it is beyond the police, against insurrection, terrorism, and external aggression. Section 271 of the 1999 Constitution. Never against ‘fighting kidnapping’ ‘armed robbery’, ‘killing of priests’ and certainly not in suppressing ‘unarmed agitation’.
1.3. The Ibos are a peaceful people. Demonstrations towards realization of the right to self determination are recognized as fundamental rights in International Law and United Nations Charter. Nigeria is bound by such law. Our people were issued with Civil Notice to leave the North or face very dire consequences. No person has been arrested. The Army has not been stationed in the North. October 1 is the deadline and, is around the corner. Who protects our people presently in the North; who has protected us from Fulani Herdsmen?
1.4. The Ibos have faced and lived down pogroms and threats of exterminations for over 100 years like the Jews. Today, with the creation of Israel, it is NEVER AGAIN. The spirit of Biafra is in the soul of every Ibo man or woman. It is an ideology. It is devoid of geography. Wherever we are or will be, we shall continue to be Ibos, to be Biafrans, for the threats of pogrom enslavement and extermination will never cease.
1.5. Despite the verbal violence and grandiose rhetorics of Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB is not a terrorist Origination. No person has been killed by IPOB. Its rallies have been heavily crowded but it has not been shown that any person carried or discharged weapons during the rallies. Their exuberance proved the wide, aggressive and passion-filled disconnect with Nigeria andthe older generation. This is understandable. I belong to this generation and we have failed our people. For the Ibo self-haters, the enemy within is a bigger threat than the enemy outside.
1.6. The illegality of South East Governors proscribing all activities of IPOB, or the Armed Forces declaring IPOB a terrorist organization is beyond question. We cannot justify the Army, subjecting defenceless youths, who are unarmed to physical torture, denigrating their dignity, ordering them to slap each other and forcing them to drink and eventually drown in muddy waters. It is inhuman, barbaric and senseless. Which other organization has been declared a terrorist organization? Let us however deal with the disease, not the symptom. When no Ibo is a member of the National Security Council; when a Governor is surrounded by personnel of Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Defence, State Security, Police, Immigration, NDLEA, EFCC, Customs etc those alone who are allowed to officially bear arms are under Federal Government Control; what do you expect? And all that, in a supposedly Federal system of government, where the principle of federal character is enshrined in our constitution.
(i) In January 2015 Justice R.M. Aikawa of the Federal High Court Sokoto invalidated President Jonathan's unilateral deployment of soldiers for the June 2014 Ekiti State gubernatorial election. The judgment restrained Jonathan “from engaging the service of the Nigerian Armed Forces in the security supervision of elections in any manner whatsoever in any part of Nigeria, without an Act of the National Assembly.”
(ii) On appeal, the Court of Appeal, per Justice Abdul Aboki, in a judgment delivered in February 2015, held that “the President of Nigeria has no powers to call on the Nigerian Armed Forces and to unleash them on peaceful citizens".
The court maintained that 'Section 215 of the 1999 Constitution makes the maintenance of internal security, including law and order the exclusive responsibility of the police'.
(iii) Then in March 2015 - the Federal High Court (in Gbajabiamila v. President Jonathan, et al) vide Hon. Justice Buba ruled that deployment of soldiers to civil duties such as elections was a contravention of Section 217(2) (c) of the Constitution and section 1 of the Armed Forces Act, noting particularly that the 'military was not needed for civil duties'. The judge said that 'the law does not make provision for the military to be involved in civil activities'. He also said that 'the appellate court directly interpreted the Constitution when it held that Sections 215 and 217 jointly limit the president’s power to deploy soldiers to the suppression of insurrection and to aid the police to restore order when it has broken down'.
Ten years previously, the Court of Appeal in Yussuf v Obasanjo (2005) 18 NWLR (PT 956) 96, held that “It is up to the police to protect our nascent democracy and not the military, otherwise democracy might be wittingly or unwittingly militarized. This is not what the citizenry bargained for in wrestling power from the military in 1999. Conscious step or steps should be taken to civilianize the polity to ensure the survival and sustenance of democracy.”
In Buhari v Obasanjo (2005) 2 NWLR (Pt. 910) 24, at 520 – 521, this was the judicial wisdom of Nsofor, JCA
“I believe in spite of the non tolerant nature and behavior of our political class in this country, we should by all means try to keep armed personnel of whatever status or nature from being part and parcel of our electoral processes. The civilian authorities should be left to conduct and carry out fully the electoral processes at all levels”.
1.7. Let it be clear therefore, that if the Courts did not find, as in the foregoing precedents, that ‘electoral violence’ is sufficient cause to deploy soldiers to Police/civil duties, unarmed agitation cannot, in any sane clime pass for a situation where the deployment of the army is necessary and/or justifiable.
1.8. I am reminded that “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist. Then, they came for the Trade Unions and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – And there was no one left to speak for me. If our Governors, lawmakers and political class sit by and keep silent, elders should not.
1.9. I am 73. If I do not speak out, when will I ever speak out? Is it when I am in the grave? But speak out, I must. Our Bar is not all about holding dinners, attending weddings, funerals, where we wine and eat. Nor is it about holding conferences devoted to endless speeches and pontification. Not at all. As Lawyers, we are all about the Rule of Law and fostering, defending, protecting, if you like, pontificating about democracy – these fundamental rights, the right to free speech, expression of thought and to worship according to our conscience, to receive equal protection of the law, devoid of discrimination on account of sex, religion, tribe or ethnic origin.
1.10. I know as a student of Constitutional law, no people with the diversities and conflicts that exist within us, have ever survived as a nation, unless in a very loose federation or confederation. Suppressing violently the self determination groups is unlikely to kill the agitation for re-structuring. It is clear to me that Nigeria is doomed as a nation sooner or later, unless we re-structure and return to loose federation of regions. We must listen to our youths. Their dissatisfaction is real, profound and deep. The political class that sit in the comforts of their mansions in Abuja, Lagos, Europe and USA, that have dual, sometimes triple citizenships, that visit us only on week-ends, and come elections, return home and buy their elections – you all must listen to the youths. NOW or NEVER.
1.11. To Biafrans, I say that you must continue to agitate peacefully. The world is listening to you. Your cries against our marginalization and threats to annihilate us must never be drowned. Never before has any group in Nigeria brought to the fore, the imperativeness and urgency of re-structuring Nigeria. It is an achievement of historic proportions. But as the Ohas of Ohaneze, you must find accommodation with the Ezes of Ohaneze and other groups in Nigeria clamouring for Nigeria existing on the principles of Justice, equity, fairness and integrity and free of corruption, hatred and zealotry.
THANK You all for listening.