The Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 defines a terrorist as “a person who knowingly does, attempts or threatens to do an act preparatory to or in furtherance of an act of terrorism….”
It defines acts of terrorism as “an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation.”
From the reasons given by the Defence Headquarters, the most relevant subsections that justify the declaration of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation are those under Part 1.
They define acts of terrorism as those which: “(i) unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; (ii) seriously intimidate a population; (iii) seriously destabilise or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation; or (iv) otherwise influence such government or international organisation by intimidation or coercion.”
Others under subsection (c) include an act “that involves or causes, as the case may be, an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death.”
Such acts include: “(ii) kidnapping of a person; (iii) destruction to a government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility, including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property, likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss.”
Under Sub-Section (3), they also include: “An act which disrupts a service but is committed in pursuance of a protest.”
Legal experts are divided on whether the Defence Headquarters was right to categorise the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation.
This is because the Act provides that only a judge based on an application by the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Security Adviser or the Inspector General of Police on the approval of the President can so declare.
The section (2) says: “An order made under sub-section (1) of this section shall be published in the official gazette, in two National newspapers and at such other places as the judge in Chambers may determine.”
Some of the acts allegedly perpetrated by IPOB members, legal experts say, may fall within the definition of acts of terrorism.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mallam Yusuf Ali, said the military must have acted on information that is not known to the public in declaring IPOB a terrorist organisation.
“I think the Army knows exactly why it made the declaration. They have better facts than the rest of us. So we must give them the benefit of the doubt, that they know what they’re doing and that they have better facts than us,” he said.
The SAN, however, said the use of dialogue in resolving the issues should not be ruled out rather than declaring “war” against IPOB.
“I think we should learn lessons in this country. Anybody who has seen war or the effects of war as happened to us in the civil war and the various wars being fought all over the world will not promote war. Only those who don’t value human life will.
“I think there are sufficient mechanisms in our laws to peacefully express and resolve whatever disagreements we have.
“Resort to violence or declarations that are unconstitutional must be discouraged. All of us must obey the law of the land.
“I think the matter is getting a bit out of hand, with reports of buses being stopped and passengers being asked which ethnic group they’re from to either be molested or killed.
“We should stop all this madness. Whatever it will take us to ensure there is sanctity of life, that our country remains one, we should do it.
“There are no disagreements we have that we cannot come to a table to talk about. None,” he said.
Another SAN, Mr Ahmed Raji, said before any group is declared a terrorist organisation, certain conditions must be met.
“I don’t think under the anti-terrorism law, the army headquarters is the appropriate organ to declare a body a terrorist organisation.
“Before a body is declared a terrorist organisation, there are stages to follow under the Act. There should be a court order to that effect and then it’ll be gazetted and published. Until all these steps are duly followed, it may not hold water in law.
“I believe for the purposes of integration and understanding, we should be a bit more circumspect in how we categorise individuals or some societies.
“I think dialogue will go a long way to assist us in resolving some of these lingering problems. But that is not to say that excesses should be condoned.
“We should use the instrumentality of dialogue to resolve whatever is agitating any set of persons in the interest of all of us.
“There is need for caution on both sides. Calling for breaking of the country should not be. We should learn to resolve problems not to compound issues.”
According to Lucas Daramola (SAN), if the military’s claims can be proven then IPOB would find it difficult to shake off a terrorism tag.
He said: “That depends on the veracity of the claim. If IPOB truly engaged in those actions you listed, nobody can fault the classification. Every act of insurrection against the state can be so classified.”
Seyi Sowemimo (SAN) reasoned that the terrorism classification may be unnecessary. He suggested that a better path for the government would be to prosecute individual offenders rather than ‘demonising’ the entire group.
Sowemimo said: “I have some difficulty in classifying them as a terrorist organisation because you could also call this a political struggle, although it’s not supposed to be an armed struggle. There is a tinge of criminal offence associated with it.
“But I don’t think the classification can lead to a solution for the problem. I think the matter is one that is best solved through dialogue than through this type of classification. I think the classification will only escalate the tension in the country.
“So, my opinion is that when people are engaged in this sort of political struggle in which they are asserting something like self-determination, it is not advisable to classify them as a terrorist organisation.
“If there are people who have committed criminal offences, they should just try them under the ordinary criminal laws such as the one dealing with the bearing of firearms without licence, and not trying to deal with the whole organisation in the manner they are doing.
“Those that have committed offences and are members of IPOB should be charged to court under the appropriate law, but classifying the organisation as a terrorist one is not helpful.”
Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), faulted the military’s terrorism tag. He said the Defence Headquarters’ examples against IPOB are not weighty enough to justify a terrorism claim.
He said: “I do not believe the instances cited by the Defence Headquarters justify declaring IPOB a terrorist organisation. The last time I checked, I can’t remember any of such organisations operating in the country being declared terrorist organisations.”