Last week Tuesday, the Bilie Human Rights Initiatives (BHRI) recorded a first victory in the quest to obtain restoration of the sovereignty of Biafra through a judicial process, when the Federal High Court sitting in Owerri, the Imo State capital and presided by Justice Louis Alagoa, gave a ruling in its favour.
The court cast aside the preliminary objections by the Federal Government of Nigeria challenging the lawsuit instituted in 2013 by the BHRI, on behalf of the Supreme Council of Elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB.
To signify the central importance of the case to the Biafra cause, as early as 8am, members of the IPOB had already filled the court room to the brim anxiously waiting for the hearing to commence.
Even when the court session, originally scheduled to start at 10 am did not commence, they sat patiently waiting until the presiding Justice Louis Alagoa finally made his entrance to the court and took his seat about 11 am.
Delving straight into the matter before him, Justice Alagoa reviewed the issues and the grounds for the preliminary objection of the Federal Government, finding that it government’s objection lacked merit, he proceeded to giving his ruling in these words:
“The motion challenging the plaintiff’s locus stand to institute the suit against the Nigeria Federation is hereby struck out because the defendants since filing their motion have not deemed it fit to appear in the court and they have also not given any reason for their non-appearance.
So, even if the defendants comes back that issue will no longer be entertained and so the hearing on the substantive suit will continue.”
Expectedly, the favourable ruling caused an eruption of jubilation as the decision of the court had effectively cleared the first hurdle, making the way open for hearing of the substantive suit.
Before the ruling, the lead counsel of Bilie, Prof. Francis Dike (SAN) in his submission had urged the court to strike out the preliminary objection of the defendants challenging the locus standi of the plaintiffs to institute the case in the first instance, saying that the defendants had deliberately remained incommunicado and had also not shown enough cause why their motion should not be struck out.
Bilie Human Rights Initiative had in 2013 sued the Federal Republic of Nigeria in suit No. FHC/OW/CS/192/2013 over the sovereignty of Biafra.
Reacting to the ruling of the court, Chief Joe Achuzie, member of the Supreme Council of Elders of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra said that it was what the IPOB had been saying that the remnant of Biafra people had the right to ask for the restoration of her sovereignty.
His words: “We are happy with the ruling and the case has only just began because we have always argued that the remnant people of Biafra who had survived the 30 months civil war have the right to demand that the sovereignty of the people of Biafra should be restored.
We are not asking for secession but the sovereignty of the people within the Nigeria Federation and we are also not going to fight another war and have decided to use a legal means to achieve our goal. We therefore decided to toe this line of action, which is absolutely violence-free.
“What all the other groups that are agitating for Biafra want freedom and that is what we are here to do in this court through a legal means because we are not going to fight another war, but it is not that we are afraid to fight.”
Similarly, Prof Osuagwu said: “If the Judge felt that there was no merit in the case he would not have entertained it and he would have immediately dismissed it as an unnecessary distraction. Since he did not do that, it means that the case has merit and I think we will take it from there to its logical conclusion and know what happens thereafter.”
Prof Osuagwu also dismissed insinuations that there ought to be one central organ that should be championing the agitation for the freedom of Biafra people.
“All the groups that are agitating for Biafra whether it is the Nnamdi Kanu group, the MASSOB, BILIE or any other group what they are all asking for is the independence of Biafra because there is nowhere in the world where only one group spearheaded the agitation for independence of the people.
During the Apartheid regime in South Africa, we had African National Congress, The Communist Party, Inkatha Freedom Party and so on. Even, during the independent movement in Nigeria we also had many groups fighting for independence and even now we have the Oodua People Congress, Afenifere and other groups agitating for the interest of the Yoruba.
“So, the number of groups that are agitating for the sovereign state of Biafra is a non-issue because we have the same objective. Yes, some have argued for the sovereignty of Biafra within the context of Nigeria while others have also argued that they want sovereignty outside Nigeria,” he said.
Chief Sam Ike who was elated by the ruling of the court said that it was the beginning of the legal struggle and that hopefully the independence of the people of Biafra would be soon realized.
He said: “This is a good sign that the agitation for the total freedom of Biafrans has the blessings of God because if you recall this case was filed in 2013 and after several adjournments, the preliminary objection of the Nigerian government, which has been struck out by Judge, is a sure sign that we are going to achieve our objective which is solely to free ourselves from enslavement under the Nigerian federation.
From GEORGE ONYEJIUWA, OWERRI
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