[Opinion] The significance of the verdict that called for the trial of MASSOB members

by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi
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 ug.ugovester@gmail.com

2 Comments

  • Am shot of word but let the court go on punish them and await the outcome of it that’s all i have to say for now! One Biafra one Igbo land. Umu igbo we shall live and testify

  • Who is fooling who? Split Nigeria and there will be peace. Long live the UNITED STATE OF BIAFRA. Nigeria can go to hell with there corrupt practices.

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