SENATE President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on Monday, berated the declaration of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organisation by the army and the proscription of the group by the south-east governors, saying both actions were unconstitutional.
In a statement by Saraki to journalists on Monday, the Senate President, who also condemned the alleged abuse of human rights by the military, declared that the actions of the military and the Igbo governors did not follow due process and so were unconstitutional.
The release read in part: “Our laws make clear provisions for taking such actions and without the due process being followed, such a declaration cannot have effect,” Saraki declared.
“I am sure the president will do the needful by initiating the right process. This will go a long way in demonstrating to the world at large that we are a country that operates by laid down process under every circumstance. So, those who have been hammering on this point should maintain their cool,” he said.
“The military should allow themselves to be guided by their training which emphasises respect for human rights, even in war. Also, giving the nature of this particular situation, the military has every reason to be hesitant in the use of force,” he added.
If this approximates the position of the legislature on the military operations in the Southeast, it reveals once more the widening gap between the executive and the National Assembly on policy issues
To Saraki, government is unnecessarily overstretching the military by deploying soldiers for operations that could have been handled by other security agencies.
“It is my view that we should not overstretch the military. We need to protect our military against dissipation of their fighting strength. And this means we need to strengthen the police and equip them with the capacity to deal with civil crisis. That is why we, in the National Assembly, are already reviewing the Police Act and also looking at the possibility of enabling other para-military agencies to help in curbing civil unrest and maintenance of law and order,” he said.
The Senate president said the National Assembly intended to investigate the military exercise in the south-east. “We want to be able to sift the facts from the fiction and determine who did what. It is quite clear that all the facts are not yet known. We assure Nigerians that there will be no cover-up. We intend to lay the facts bare,” he said.
Also, some lawmakers in the National Assembly have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately heed the call by former President Goodluck Jonathan to convene the Council of State meeting so that the issues could be properly addressed.
They blamed the rising agitation in the south- east on the discriminatory appointments made by the Buhari administration since 2015.
Senator Sam Anyanwu (PDP, Imo State), stated that the Council of State meeting was one of the first steps that ought to have been taken.
According to him, President Buhari would have tapped very well from the wisdom of members of the Council of State on how best to address the agitations instead of jumping into it and making grievous mistakes.
Jonathan had last week urged Buhari to convene the meeting, saying his observations indicated that the unrest could become a full-blown conflict if not immediately checked by the country’s leaders.
The president and chairman of the council, vice president as deputy chairman, former presidents and heads of the state, former chief justices, the incumbent president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives, incumbent state governors and the attorney-general of the federation are members of the body.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, has said the military is not under any form of political pressure on the position it took by proscribing the activities of IPOB.
Buratai, however, noted that it was only the Federal Government that could take a final decision on it, adding that there were guidelines in the terrorism Act that should be followed by relevant government agencies.
He made the comments yesterday in Abuja while answering questions from journalists shortly after addressing principal staff officers, corps, formations and operations commanders, commandants of Nigerian Army and corps schools at the second and third Quarters Conference 2017 of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) at the Army Headquarters’ Officers Mess.
According to him, the military has the duty and constitutional responsibility to protect lives and property in the face of internal and external threats to the territorial integrity of the country, and that the actions against IPOB were necessitated by the provisions of the constitution.
“Training is a continuous exercise. Since we came on board we have been having a series of exercises. We did the same set of exercises in 2016 and we are repeating the same thing this year. You are aware of Habin Kunama II, the on-going Egwu Eke II in the south and very soon, at the end of Operation Python Dance, we will move into Crocodile Smile II.
“This is just to reassure Nigerians, law abiding citizens that the Nigerian Army and indeed other security agencies are really concerned with the safety and security of their lives and property,” the COAS said.
On the proscription of IPOB, Buratai said: ”You call it political pressure, you should understand the context by which the Nigerian Army is operating. The Nigerian Army is part of the political consideration in the democratic system.
“It is part of the democratic process, it is a product of the democratic governance. We are not receiving any pressure; we are giving what the constitution has provided for us. Constitutionally, our responsibilities are for us, so we are not under any pressure whatsoever.
“Whatever anyone is saying, we will refer him back to the constitution. There are several provisions that give us those responsibilities and also to carry out such task as duly assigned by the government or by the constituted authority.”