Experts Argue Over Federal High Court ruling on IPOB



On Thursday, September 21, Federal High Court, Abuja passed a ruling proscribing the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group, which also classified the Biafra agitators as a terrorist organisation. 

On Wednesday, September 20, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), had on behalf of the federal government, obtained an interim order proscribing IPOB. The order was granted by the acting chief judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdu Kafarati, in chambers. 

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Justice Kafarati said: “That an order, declaring that the activities of the respondent IPOB in any part of Nigeria, especially in the South-East and South-South regions of Nigeria, amount to acts of terrorism and illegality, is granted.” 

However, according to Punch, there were some disagreements among legal experts over the matter. The immediate past Lagos state Solicitor-General, Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN) and a human rights advocacy group, Access to Justice's activist lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, faulted the order of Justice Kafarati, saying it had no legal precedent. 

Two professors of Law, who are also SANs, Yemi Akinseye-George and Fidelis Oditah and other SANs – Yusuf Ali and Tayo Oyetibo - argued that the order of the court was valid and backed by law and fact. However, Pedro, who described the issue of IPOB agitation as important, advised the AGF to assemble a competent team to handle the case in order not to jeopardize it. 

He said: “I observe that many things are wrong with the order and can easily be challenged, so as to set it aside. “In the first place, is IPOB a juristic person to be sued and for the court to exercise jurisdiction upon? “Secondly, this looks like a final order or judgment granted on a motion ex parte. This cannot be right in law. A different procedure should have been used to achieve the desired result. “Thirdly, the order or judgment is in breach of the fundamental right of the named respondent (assuming it is a juristic person) to fair hearing. It is, therefore, unconstitutional null and void. “Lastly, the main relief is a declaratory order or judgment which should not be granted vide a motion either on notice or ex parte. 

“It is my advice that the AGF should review its strategy on the subject and may consider a proper and better legal team to advise and handle this important and sensitive case.” 

The human rights advocacy group, Access to Justice, in a statement by its deputy director, Dr Adenike Aiyedun, also said the order was against the principle of fair hearing. The group said: “The court’s ruling is hard to rationalise and it will send many scratching their heads as well as fan the flames of an already volatile political situation. 

“It is disturbing because the ruling – which is a determinative, and conclusive statement on the legality of the Indigenous People of Biafra, as far as this court goes – was arrived at ex parte, when the other side – IPOB – was not given an opportunity at all to be heard or to oppose the application. It is at odds with basic tenets of justice and fairness. “The ruling of the Federal High Court does not stand up to respectable scrutiny and we fear that it would further damage public trust in the Nigerian judiciary.” Also, activist lawyer, Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, described the federal government’s application and the order made by the court as an abuse of court process. 

He added: “Legally speaking, the suit filed, the order granted and indeed all the proceedings in this case, constitute a gross abuse of the process of the court as the court has no jurisdiction to entertain, let alone adjudicate upon the case. “The suit was not initiated following due process of law, as stated by the Supreme Court in the locus classicus case of Madukolu v Nkemdilim (1962) 2 SCNLR 341.


 The suit filed and the orders granted have no foundation upon which they can stand and be maintained or enforced. “The supposed defendant in the case is the Indigenous People of Biafra, which is not a registered entity in law. And even if it is registered, it can only be sued in the name of its incorporated trustees or indeed its accredited representatives. Furthermore, unlike other associations like the Nigerian Bar Association, IPOB is not recognised or mentioned or legitimised in any existing statute. “For a suit to be competent, there must be proper parties before the court. In this case, the supposed defendant, IPOB, is a no-juristic person against which no action can be maintained in any court of law.” 


Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), a professor of law, while admitting that an unregistered organisation was not juristic and could not be sued, recalled that a precedent had been set by the court in the case of Boko Haram, which was not registered, yet proscribed. 

He said: “You cannot sue an unregistered organisation. I’ve not seen the ruling but if the organisation is not registered, but Nnamdi Kanu was joined as one of the defendants, the application is valid. “Again, we can take precedent from the Boko Haram case; a similar order was obtained against Boko Haram to declare it a terrorist organisation and the order took effect; so, there is precedent. “In the first place, terrorist organisations cannot be registered by law, so, you cannot say because they are not registered, they cannot be proscribed.” 


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