Why it is Illegal to Declare IPOB a Terrorist Organisation

Why it is Illegal to Declare IPOB a Terrorist Organisation

By Festus Ogun

The Defence Headquarters has labelled the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) a “militant terrorist organisation”. This was made known yesterday in Abuja in a statement by Gen. John Enenche, the Director, Defence Information.

The IPOB is an organisation that got its mandate from the Constitution. Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides amongst other things that: “Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests.” From the forgoing, it is unarguable therefore that Nnamdi Kanu and his IPOB members acted in the spirit of law for setting up such an organisation. The Constitution freely grants to the citizens the right to peaceful assembly and association.

Having established that the IPOB acted constitutionally in establishing the organisation, the next question is: how is it a terrorist group? Does our law allow for freedom to establish terrorist association under Section 40? For the last question, the answer is in the negative.

There is no general definition for terrorism. Even Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 does not even define what terrorism is as a concept. It only described an “act of terrorism”. However, the statutory definition of terrorism is found under Section 46 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 thus:

“(a) any act which is a violation of the Criminal Code or the Penal and which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage and is calculated or intended to -

(i) intimidate, put in fear, force, coerce, or induce any government, body, institution, the general public or any segment thereof, to do or abstain from doing any act or to adopt or abandon a particular standpoint, or to act according to certain principles, or

(ii) disrupt any public service, the delivery of any essential service to the public or to create a public emergency, or

(iii) create general insurrection in a state.

(b) any promotion, sponsorship of, contribution to, command, aid incitement, encouragement, attempt, threat, conspiracy, organisation or procurement of any person, with the intent to commit any act referred to in paragraph (a) (i), (ii), and (iii).”

As much as this definition attempts to determine whether IPOB is a terrorist group or not, the main issue for determination in this piece is to consider the legality of the procedure of its procedure. From there, determining IPOB’s status of terrorists can continue.

There are laid down procedures by which an organization can be labelled for terrorism in Nigeria. Whether The Defence Headquarters have followed the rules is both a question of fact.

Section 2(1)(c) provides that setting up or pursuing acts of terrorism the judge in chambers may on an application made by the Attorney General of the Federation, National Security Adviser or Inspector General of Police on the approval of the President declare any entity to be a proscribed organisation and the notice should be published in official gazette.

Obviously, The Defence Headquarters hasn’t followed the above provision. It therefore follows that the proscription and “terrorization” of IPOB is unlawful and illegal. They have acted beyond their powers. Since we are in a democratic era where the rule of law is in place, the military cannot just wake up and label an organisation with terrorism by issuing out press statement like a military Head of State issuing decree. It doesn’t work that way in a democracy. The necessary provisions ought to be followed.

Even in a situation where an organisation is proscribed having followed the due process of law, Section 2(4)(5)(a)(b) provide for an organisation to challenge such proscription in court.

Though, if the definition of a terrorist under section 46 of the EFCC Act and an “act of terrorism” under section 1(2) of Terrorism Prevent Act, 2011 is anything to go by, it requires little or no imagination to discover that the IPOB (with their activities) falls within the context of the definitions. Yet, the required provision under section 2(1)(c) of the Act is significant to the legality of the proscription. The due process was not followed, and so, the IPOB remains yet not a terrorist organisation.

In my humble view, I’ll advice the Federal Government to apply more wisdom in this matter rather than labelling a group “agitating” for self-determination, terrorists. For declaring it a terrorist group will not help matter. It will only succeed in adding fire to the blazing flame.

The government should attempt a round table discussion with the agitators. Let their views be heard. For once the group is legally labelled with terrorism, it will be foolhardy to negotiate with them. Let the talk begin and bet if there won’t be positive change.


Festus Ogun is a law undergraduate passionate about Constitutional law and civil rights. Contact him via festusogunlaw@gmail.com.


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