He made the view public during an interview with Premium Times. The Nigerian government had on Wednesday secured a court order, affirming an earlier pronouncement by the Nigerian army that IPOB is a terrorist organisation.
The acting Chief Judge, Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, Abdu Kafarati, gave the ruling, following an ex-parte application, by Nigeria’s Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on the same day consented to the declaration, ahead of the ruling by the court. Explaining the position of the government on the issue, the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, said the move was the only option available for a responsible government to take to curb the excesses of the group.
Some Nigerians have criticised the move, saying other groups like the Fulani herdsmen whose activities have caused scores of deaths were not labelled terrorists.
Reacting, Mr. Onaiyekan said although members of IPOB led by its separatist leader, Nnamdi Kanu, had not conducted themselves in a manner worthy of any commendation, the step taken by the government, is “one taken too far.”
“My understanding of a terrorist is a deadly armed activist. I don’t think, merely speaking or talking or threatening will add up to being a terrorist. I believe it is a mistake, it was overdone and I fear that a lot of people outside Nigeria will find it difficult to agree with us in this matter. It will create a bad image for us.
”The impression it creates is like you give a dog a bad name so as to deal with it. If you want to deal with IPOB, I believe that even the military show-down is a bad approach. Because there is the need to address the grievances of those boys.
“Even though I do not agree with what the boys are doing and the way they are doing it. Nnamdi Kanu’s advisers should have warned him to calm down and not be stupid by thinking that he can confront the Nigerian army. The method he is using will not achieve any objective. Up till now, we have not seen any confrontation since the declaration; and that supports my claim that they are not terrorists.
“If we reduce the courts to a body that just confirms whatever aspirations that government has, then the judiciary will not be seen as independent. The title of terrorists should not just be thrown at anybody. And there is a danger that if we continue this way, it may become more and more difficult for us to arrive at a peaceful solution,” the cleric said.
Speaking on the menace caused by Fulani herdsmen, he added: “The Fulani herdsmen who are armed, lethal, murderous, vicious and have been killing people in our communities; they are the ones that we are waiting for, to see what the government will do. If you recall, the Bishops’ conference called on the government to treat them as terrorists,” Mr. Onaiyekan said.