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Open Letter to Nigerian Bar Association
By Oguchi Nkwocha, MD,
Moderator, Biafra Actualization Forum
(Tuesday, November 29, 2005)
Moderator, Biafra Actualization Forum
November 15, 2005
I write on behalf of the Biafra Actualization Forum to point out certain facts which have a bearing on the practice of law in Nigeria, how the Nigerian Bar Association may be perceived outside of Nigeria, and how the Nigerian Justice system itself is viewed. These facts are drawn from two recent events as reported in local Nigerian Newspaper(s). Do, pardon my method of submission and communication for I am ignorant of any special formats for this process.
The first event has to do with a recent statement credited to the Delta State Commissioner of Police whereby he announced to the public and to the Press that henceforth, MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra) members found in his State will be treated as “armed robbers.” Clearly, even he understood and understands that MASSOB members are not armed and are not robbers; as such, the Commissioner of Police has already signaled and telegraphed the intent of the police under his command to use false and trumped up charges against innocent parties. Since the practice of the Nigeria police is to summarily execute armed robbers without arrest or trial, the implications are that MASSOB members in Delta State will be routinely shot and killed by the Nigeria Police on sight, without accountability, and on false pretense by the Nigeria Police.
We believe that the Attorney-General of Nigeria should have investigated this statement and that such a high ranking Nigeria Police official should be disciplined for this statement and forced to relinquish his post and duties, and probed for previous such actions. We believe that since even the Attorney-General of Nigeria has not reacted to this matter, the Nigeria Bar Association ought to go on record to set things right.
The second event involves the same Delta State Commissioner of Police, and is contained in the same report. The Commissioner was parading a prisoner, one Igwe Clement of Akwuru quarters, Mc-Dermot Road, Warri, a member of MASSOB, who was arrested for possession of Biafra money, by the Commissioner’s own admission, in October (presumed October 2005), in Warri. From the Commissioner’s account, this prisoner was never charged to court, never convicted, but has remained a prisoner of the Nigeria Police since October, being dragged about and paraded before the public and before the Press by the police. There exists International law against such parading, humiliation and dehumanization of prisoners.
We believe that this is a gratuitous display and humiliation of a human being, by the same Delta State Commissioner of Police, and by itself, is a contravention of International laws. The fact that for at least several weeks, this prisoner of the police has not been charged to court is another contravention of even the laws of Nigeria. If the Attorney-General of Nigeria is not responding to these acts of the police which clearly are contrary to the law, it is the professional and moral duty of the Nigeria Bar Association, we believe, to take the Nigerian legal system to task and perhaps, dissociate itself from such practices. The Delta State Commissioner of Police should also be recommended to face trial at the International Court of Justice for this brazen and unlawful act.
The next several events are taken from the recent abduction and imprisonment of Ralph Uwazurike, the leader of MASSOB, and six other members of MASSOB, and their legal treatment while in the custody of the abductors, the Nigeria State Security Services (SSS). The facts are bulleted below:
None of the seven were allowed to see their lawyer (nor a doctor, nor family members or friends for that matter) during that time
. The seven were arraigned in a court of law without a defense counselor, because the SSS had specifically refused them even their own legal counsel provided by MASSOB.
. The seven reported to the judge that they were “maltreated, detained underground and chained” in SSS cells, even though they are not known to be dangerous. Nothing was done by the judge about this.
. Based on this inhumane treatment, the seven requested that the judge order—
not their release, not bail, but—a transfer to prison cells; but the judge “ignored” their request.
. All this, in the face of an active injunction by an Owerri High Court against the arrest and harassment of the MASSOB leader and members of MASSOB.
We have given you the facts from the second event, facts which are easily corroborated by reports in local Nigerian Newspapers and we have enclosed electronic copies. We believe that the Attorney-General of Nigeria, who is first and foremost, a lawyer, and who is (we presume) a member of the Nigeria Bar Association, has not acted professionally by his willing and knowing participation in a process such as the above, a process that contravenes basic legal codes and jurisprudence. We believe that it is up to the Nigeria Bar Association to speak for legal justice in this event.
In just one week’s period, the Legal and Justice system in Nigeria has been laid wide open for the world to see. What we see is bad and ugly, a huge travesty. If no one else and no group else in Nigeria speaks up, at least, the Nigeria Bar Association should, because, ultimately, a collective blemish resulting from this will also tarnish the image of the Association. Yet, this is not the worst thing that could happen: a worse effect is the unnecessary and brazen victimization of human beings whose only offence now is to be found in Nigeria.
We strongly urge you to take a professional stand and action on this matter, for the sake of the victimized persons caught in the legal web, trap and nightmare that is the Nigerian Justice System.
Oguchi Nkwocha, MD
Biafra Actualization Forum (BAF).
1. Nigerian militants charged with treason
Abuja - The leader of a Nigerian separatist group, Ralph Uwazurike, and six others have been formally charged with treason for planning to overthrow the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Uwazurike, 45, and his co-defendants were yesterday charged in court with "treason" and "intent to levy war in order to intimidate and overawe the president and Federal Republic of Nigeria".
The men, arrested last month, were also charged with "belonging to or running an unlawful society", the banned Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob) in the south-east. Some other charges were that they committed or incited "acts of violence and intimidation", "disturbing and encouraging the disturbance of peace in the entire country," and "threatening to take up arms against the Federal Government of Nigeria."
All seven pleaded not guilty to the charges which were read to them in their native Igbo language. Judge Binta Nyako adjourned hearing in the case till December 6. She ordered them remanded in the custody of the State Security Service (SSS) in Abuja.
All but Uwazurike claimed they did not understand English, a situation which forced the court to provided them with the language interpreters. The accused came to the court without their defence lawyers, explaining that they had been given no access to their legal counsels in detention.
Uwazuruike was arrested last October 25 in his Okwe village home by SSS officials, taken to Port Harcourt and flown to Abuja, where he is being held.
MASSOB has in the past years been campaigning to recreate the breakaway Republic of Biafra, where in 1967 a secessionist bid plunged Nigeria into a 30-month-long civil war in which around a million people died, mainly Igbo refugees who fell prey to starvation and disease. The group has demanded that the ethnic Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria be allowed to split from the federation and form an independent homeland of its own.
Before they left the court, the accused protested at their further detention in SSS cells alleging that they were maltreated, detained underground and chained. "If we are returned to the same cells, I am not sure we will come back alive to this court on December 6," said the MASSOB leader.
The judge ignored their plea but ordered that they be given access to their doctors and lawyers. As they stepped out of the courtroom, they shouted; in English, "Freedom, freedom, freedom!", "Up Biafra!", "Biafra or nothing", "No negotiation".
The home of Nigeria's late first post-independence president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, was burnt in southeastern city of Onitsha in a protest Monday by MASSOB supporters demanding the release of their leader. Three people were reportedly killed! when police opened fire on protesters. - Sapa-AFP
2. MASSOB members to be treated as robbers in Delta — Police
Posted to the Web: Wednesday, November 09, 2005
ASABA — DELTA State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Udom Ekpoudom, has warned that the Command would henceforth treat any member of MASSOB found in Delta State as an armed robbery suspect. Addressing newsmen in Asaba yesterday, the Police Commissioner said “the plan of MASSOB yesterday (Monday) was not to stop in Anambra State. They were to operate in this state (Delta), but my men were up and doing. We know that problems can start anytime anywhere. So we are always on the alert.
“The police blockage on our part of that bridge (Niger Bridge)”, he went on “stopped them from coming to this state. And I tell you any of them that comes here wants to meet his waterloo because as far as I am concerned, they are robbers. The way they go about collecting money what do you call them. It means they are armed robbers. If they come to my state, I am sorry we are going to treat them the way they are, anybody that wants to rear up his ugly head to say that he is a MASSOB man we are going to deal with him”, he warned.
Parades man arrested with Biafran currency
The Police Commissioner also paraded a suspected MASSOB member arrested with Biafran currency. The man, according to the Police Commissioner, was however arrested sometime in October this year in Warri. Said he: “while on surveillance patrol, information was received that one man, Igwe Clement of Akwuru quarters, Mc-Dermot Road, Warri was sharing some paper notes said to be Biafran notes to the members of the public and policemen moved to the scene and at Enerhen junction and got the suspect arrested.
“Found on the suspect”, he said, “were 32 Biafran pounds and ten Biafran shillings and he alleged that he is an employee of one Chief Ralph Uwazuruike and that he receives his monthly salary with the said currency.” The suspect, while fielding questions from reporters did not deny but said “I have no regrets. I cannot deny Biafra, I am a staunch MASSOB member, I am a freedom fighter”, he stated.
Chief Ralph Uwazuruike (middle) being led into Federal High Court, Abuja., Tuesday, November 9, 2005 to face treason charges.
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