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Fasehun, Dokubo, Uwazurike, Adams: Beginning of the end for militia lords?

Posted to the web: 11/14/2005 6:35:18 AM

Senior Correspondent, VICTOR ONYEKA-BEN writes on the simultaneous swoop on ethnic militia leaders in the country and their consequent arraignment on treason charges and particularly the protests that trailed the arrests, leading to the torching of the house of the first President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe early this week. I n what appears to be a well planned action to stem the tide of the unrelenting pressure and sometimes, violent actions of ethnic based organisations and their militias, the Federal Government has hemmed in their leaders. At present, leaders of three of such groups are on trial at Abuja and Lagos courts for charges ranging from alleged murder to treason. They are Dr Frederick Fasehun and Gani Adams, both factional leaders of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC); Mujaheed Asari Dokubo of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and Chief Ralph Uwazurike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) The OPC in the south-west, MASSOB and Bakasi Boys in the south-east, Egbesu in the Niger Delta and the Arewa People's Congress in the far north were formed at various times in the past few years as vanguards for the protection and promotion of either ethnic or regional interests.The southern organisations also took on the fight against crime In the performance of the two self-imposed duties, the Federal Government feels that they are operating outside the laws of the land and with total disregard for the fundamental rights of their opponents and victims. President Olusegun Obasanjo had in the past announced the banning of the groups, saying that they are illegal and undesirable. Dokubo, 41, the first to be arrested, was on October 6, formally charged in an Abuja Federal High Court with treason. He faces a possible death sentence following his alleged public threats to launch an armed revolt against Nigerian government rule in his region. He, reportedly, is on hunger strike at present in protest of what his lawyer, Mr Festus Keyamo, called his 'maltreatment in police custody.' Dokubo was said to be a founding member of the Ijaw Youths Council, IYC, becoming its first vice-president in 1998. In November 1998, the IYC issued the 'Kiama Declaration', demanding control of the oil resources from the Niger Delta by the people of the Niger Delta. Dokubo became President of the IYC in 2001. He set up the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force. The group's threat to blow up oil facilities in the Niger Delta forced the government to open up negotiations with him. Now, the tone has changed. He again appeared in court yesterday. Fasehun and Adams were on October 27, remanded in prison custody by an Igbosere Chief Magistrate's Court. Both, along with nine others, were charged with conspiracy to commit murder, malicious damage to property and causing fear to members of the public by using firearms. Their charges also included arson, rioting and the management of an unlawful society. The eleven who will appear in court again on November 21, had been brought to court on October 27 by the police under an application to remand them in prison custody pending the conclusion of their investigation into the matter. Fasehun, Adams and the nine co-travelers were arrested in Lagos on Saturday October 22 and moved to Abuja on the orders of the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr Sunday Ehindero. The arrest was over their alleged complicity in the various disturbances recorded in Lagos recently, particularly the one recorded at Iyana Ipaja, Lagos on October 21 in which several lives were lost. Like Dokubo, Faseun and Adams there is no hiding place any longer for Uwazurike, the embattled leader of the MASSOB as the Federal Government arraigned him in court last Tuesday in Abuja for alleged treason. He was charged to the Federal High Court, Abuja along with six others on a four-count charge of treason. Other accused persons who appeared with him were Chibuike Nwosu, Benedict Alakwem, Chimankpa Okorocha, Kelechi Ubabuike, Ambrose Anyaso and Augustine Ihuoma. They were accused of trying to overrun and overthrow the Federal Government through the secessionist agenda, which aims at declaring the South Eastern part of the country a sovereign state of its own, distinct from the independent Nigerian state. Although they all pleaded not guilty to the four-count charge, Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako rebuffed a move by their counsel, Mr. Ziggy Azike, to seek their release on bail. Justice Murtala-Nyako said that a proper motion for their bail ought to be brought before the court, holding that an oral request was unacceptable to her in the circumstance. She ordered that they be remanded in custody of the State Security Service (SSS), but directed that they be allowed access to their counsel as well as doctors and adjourned the trial to December 7, this year. Reacting to complaints of the accused persons' counsel that they were being subjected to inhuman treatment in the underground detention camp of the SSS, the judge condemned such behaviour by security personnel on the ground that it was against the principle of presumption of innocence enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Azike had earlier told the court that his clients were chained to the ground in the underground detention camp of the SSS where they were being held. Uwazurike though he appeared emaciated just a few days in detention was however, in high spirits. While leaving the court premises, he continuously chanted the slogan 'Biafra forever' alongside pockets of his supporters, who came to court in solidarity with him. But as he took some strides, he looked weighed down by the conditions in detention, which his lawyer had complained about so much so that his lawyer supported him as he moved outside the court premises still courageously chanting 'Biafra forever.' However, he was later to betray his emotion when he cried out to journalists, saying: 'They want to kill me.' The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo (SAN), who led the prosecution team, told journalists that government had declared zero tolerance for anybody who aim at making the nation a theatre of violence. The charges preferred against him and his co-accused include:

  •  That you, Ralph Uwazurike 'm' 45 years old, Chibuike Nwosu 'm' 23 years old, Benedict Alakwem 'm' 45 years old, Chimankpa Okorocha 'm' 19 years old, Kelechi Ubabuike 'm' 27 years old, Ambrose Anyaso 'm' 46 years old and Augustine Ihuoma 'm', all of MASSOB Headquarters, Okwe Onu - Imo Local Government Area of Imo State on diverse dates (between January 2004 and October 2005) at Owerri, Imo State and other places in Nigeria within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court with intent to levy war, overawe and overthrow the legitimate government of Nigeria did conspire among yourselves to commit felony to wit: treason against President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and you hereby committed an offence contrary to Section 37 (2) of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 and punishable under Section 37 of the Criminal Code Act. They were also accused of committing 'treason against the Federal Republic of Nigeria by belonging to a militant group called MASSOB ARMY, which is undergoing training with intent to levy war in order to intimidate and overawe the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and you hereby committed an offence contrary to Section 37(2) of the Criminal Code Act, Chapter 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990 and punishable under Section 37 of the Criminal Code Act'. The prosecution also listed five overt acts of the offence to include the memorandum the accused persons issued to the United Nations (UN) for the sovereign State of Biafra, their manufacturing of the Biafran flag, printing of Biafran almanacs, letter headed papers, envelope, amongst others. Meanwhile, the police and MASSOB traded blames on Monday over which of the duo burnt the Onitsha residence of Nigeria's former President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe Azikiwe's house was razed on Monday during a clash between the police and members of MASSOB at the Zik's roundabout, which left large-scale destruction of property, including two cars in its wake. MASSOB also alleged that four of their members were shot by the police, an allegation the police denied. The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Felix Ogbaudu, speaking on the incident, said that an apartment was burnt in Zik's country home, but said that his men had no hand in the arson. He maintained that his men succeeded in preventing further damages by dispersing the irate mob. In the same vein, the IGP, Mr. Ehindero has directed the Anambra State command to fish out those who burnt Zik's house The incident was the fallout of Monday protests by MASSOB members in many states over their leader's arrest. They disclosed the group's plan to embark on a stay-at-home protest on November 24 in Owerri, Imo State. Hundreds of its members in the early hours of Monday temporarily paralyzed economic and social activities in Imo State, demanding that the Federal Government release their leader, Uwazurike unconditionally and stop harassing him. Members of the movement led by one Okechukwu Nwagu carried placards with inscriptions like 'SSS leave Uwazurike alone, enough is enough,' 'We need Uwazurike released,' 'FG please release our leader unconditionally,' among others. They marched through major streets of Owerri. They also urged everybody to join in the stay-at-home protest scheduled for November 24. One Rufus Duru, who told journalists at Rotibi Street, Owerri, that it was wrong to continue to 'gag' Uwazurike, represented amnesty International in the protest. He said that the international charter on human rights spelt out that human freedom of expression should be respected. A few minutes after the group left Rotibi, the police began intensive patrol of the state capital. Uwazurike was arrested on October 25 at about 6.30 p.m. while playing football at his ancestral home base, Okwe, Owerri, in Onuimo Local Council. The security operatives who arrested him wore National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) uniform. The NYSC authorities in the state had since distanced themselves from the arrest. In Anambra, where Zik's residence was torched, residents were jolted early in the morning when they woke to behold an army of MASSOB members take over major highways and streets of virtually all the important cities of Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka, the Anambra State capital. It was indeed a day intelligence and security report apparently failed both the police and even the state government as they were caught napping. Dressed in their colours of black T-shirts black trousers, red or black caps or head and arm bands, with the ubiquitous Biafran black, green and red flag with the rising sun in the middle, the members clearly overwhelmed the police all over the state. Help was sought from the Abuja police headquarters before they could dislodge them. In a chat with The Guardian, the Provincial Administrator of the group, Mr. Uchenna Madu confirmed that their action was in demonstration against 'the unwarranted arrest and detention Chief Uwazurike. He vowed that should Uwazurike die in detention, MAASOB members would hunt down all the five Southeast state governors, for what he described as their docile attitude towards the MASSOB cause. When taken on the necessity and wisdom in blocking the highways instead of taking up their grouse with the Federal Government in Abuja or Okigwe or wherever, where Uwazurike was arrested, instead of Anambra, a member of the leadership of the group pointed out that 'the whole Igboland is Biafran territory.' About 18 people were arrested in connection with the Onitsha incident. As he spoke to The Guardian, a group invaded Awka, cruising in a long convoy of 32 vehicles waving their flags, placards and chanting songs critical of Nigerian leaders. In Enugu, economic and social activities in the State capital was paralysed for over three hours as thousands of members of the MASSOB held a peaceful demonstration over the arrest and, continued detention of their leader. Defiling an earlier ban on public procession by the police authorities in Enugu, the demonstrators who had as early as 9.00 a.m.taken over major streets of the state capital, carried placards and sang solidarity songs as they marched round the city. Led by the Enugu Provincial Administrator, Chief Ekwe Ikechukwu, the demonstrators who were mostly women, young boys and elderly men carried placards which read as follows; 'FG release Uwazurike. Obasanjo leave Uwazurike alone. Uwazurike did nothing. Leave our leader alone. Biafra will stay and UN give us Biafra,' among others. One of the protesting women told The Guardian that they were volunteers from different organisations in the state, adding that they decided to leave their businesses because 'what is happening in Nigeria has assumed an alarming proportion. 'Uwazurike is a victim of this wicked government. He did nothing to warrant this arrest and torture. He has been carrying on in line with the constitution of this country, and so we don't see why he should not be released. We intend to continue this protest until he is released and even Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu's harassment is stopped by SSS (State Security Services),' she said. Speaking to reporters, Ekwe said that the organisation would soon ground the economic activities in the country should their leader not be taken to court or released unconditionally. 'The fight and cause Uwazurike is fighting is a just one and he has been doing it in a civilised manner. He has not killed anybody. He has not carried any arms and has not hurt anybody's interest. So why prosecute him? All those who have contributed to the economic down turn of this country are walking freely on the streets; nobody has harassed or detained them. So why detain Uwazurike without charges since the past one week? We believe he has a right and that right ought to be protected,' he said. He said that the organisation had concluded arrangements to embark on stay -at -home exercise as part of agitation to press for his release, adding that should the attempt fail, 'we will devise another means. But this time, it may not be as people think.' Same day in Calabar, Cross River State, MASSOB members stormed the streets in a peaceful demonstration giving President Olusegun Obasanjo 72 hours to release Uwazurike. But the police in the state said that they were not aware of such demonstration or even the existence of MASSOB in the state. The about 100 men and women MASSOB members who dressed in black, carried different placards and marched through the streets of Calabar, chanting songs demanding Uwazurike's release. The placards carried inscriptions like: 'Obasanjo MASSOB is giving you 72 hours to release our leader,' 'Nigeria bye-bye,' 'Biafra today, Biafra forever,' 'Nigeria Enough is Enough,' 'UN, come to our aide now,' and 'Biafra wants freedom, please we want to go.' Spokesman for the group, Prince Asuquo Okon said that the essence of their protest was to ensure that their leader was released. 'We are giving the Federal Government and President Obasanjo 74 hours to release Uwazurike. MASSOB is a non-violent group. We only seek our freedom. We don't fight, and we don't carry any offensive weapon. We see no reason why our leader should be arrested,' Okon said. 'The Federal Government has accused him of treasonable felony but we are saying the excuse the Federal Government gave is flimsy, and we are not trying to overthrow the Federal Government, but we want our freedom,' he added. The state's police spokesman, Mr. Thomas Opene, said that the police was not aware of any peaceful demonstration in Calabar by MASSOB members. 'I am just hearing that (demonstration) for the first time. MASSOB is a banned group and I don't think they have an office. I want to say they don't exist in Cross River State,' Opene said. Reacting to the arrest of Dokubo, Faseun, Adams and Uwazurike, Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-political organization linked it to the alleged third term bid of President Obasanjo. In its first official reaction issued last weekend through the group's publicity secretary, Yinka Odumakin, Afenifere said the clampdown on leaders of ethnic associations in the Southern part of Nigeria was a fulfillment of a promise made by the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Chief Ojo. Afenifere contended that the arrest of leaders of groups from across the south was meant to surprise the people of the area so that the government could carry out its hidden agenda. The group held that the scenario was part of the larger agenda by Obasanjo to stay in power beyond 2007 since according to the body, the arrested leaders and their members would stage a massive opposition to the third term agenda

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