ODAHIEKWU OGUNDE, Yenagoa
The Ijaw National Congress (INC) has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to join it as a defendant in the suit filed by four Northern elders seeking the exit of the South-East from Nigeria.
The joinder application was filed on behalf of the INC and its incorporated trustees by two lawyers, Dickson Sofiyegha and Temedie Peter-Great.
The four plaintiffs, Nastura Ashir Shariff, Balarabe Rufa’i, Abdul-Aziz Sulaiman and Aminu Adam, in the originating suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/538/2021, had urged the court to grant their prayers to avoid a repeat of the unfortunate events of the Civil War in Nigeria.
In the suit, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly were listed as defendants in the matter.
The court presided over by Justice Ekwo Ekwo, on Thursday, adjourned till March 4, 2022 for the hearing of joinder application of the INC.
Those present in court were the National President of the INC, Prof Benjamin Okaba, the National Legal Adviser, Bomo Tom-Fetepigi, National Secretary, Ebipamowei Wodu, Chairman of the INC, Abuja chapter, Ebizimo Okolo and other prominent Ijaw sons and daughters.
In October 2021, some Igbo lawyers had filed their application for joinder to enable them to state the true position of the people of the region whom they argued were not represented in the suit.
After filing the joinder application, Okaba said in a statement that the legal action was in line with the resolutions taken by Ijaw people at the All Ijaw Summit held on December 4, 2021 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, to decisively pursue and defend their right to self-determination through peaceful, lawful and non-violent means.
“Any union or business partnership that perpetually fails to breed or guarantee mutual benefits must be restructured or discontinued to avoid liquidation. When the possibility of healing a cancerous limb is non-existent, the only therapy is amputation to save life,” Okaba said.
Correcting the impression by some Biafra agitators that Ijaw territory belonged to them, Okaba reiterated that the Ijaw nation was never conquered even during the pre-colonial and colonial eras.
He noted that if the Ijaw nation must exit, the process should be peaceful and would come only under the auspices of the Ijaw Republic and advised all secessionists to bear that in mind.
The INC, in an affidavit in support of motion on notice deposed to by its national secretary, Ebipamowei Wodu, said it was aware that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had in its quest for secession included Ijaw-speaking areas in their geographical map for Biafra Republic.
The 24-point affidavit read in part: “That I also know as a fact that the map of Biafra has listed 25 provinces of Biafra which includes Ijaw speaking cultural groups/ethnic nationalities in Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Rivers states of Nigeria.
“That I know as a fact that at no point in time, both in the historical past and at present, has the Ijaw ethnic nationality ever agreed or resolved to be part of the Biafra Republic. The Ijaw National Congress hereby unequivocally reiterates that no Ijaw tribe or territory is part of or will ever be part of the Republic of Biafra.
“That I know as a fact that, in view of the foregoing facts, the reliefs sought in this originating summons will likely affect the rights of the applicant and indeed the larger interest of the Ijaw ethnic nationality who the applicant represents in a manner that will be irreparable.
“That it is necessary to join the applicant to this suit, to afford them the opportunity of asserting their right to self determination from Nigeria, which is similar to the right being sought to be enforced in favour of the Southeastern states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That it is also necessary to join the applicant to enable them to clarify/settle the controversy of geographical territory of the Ijaw nation as against that of the Indigenous People of Biafra to avoid more disputes between the people of Ijaw nation and the people of Biafra which is likely to arise should the Honourable Court grant the instant application based on the current status quo.
“That the applicant is a necessary party as the instant suit cannot be fairly decided in its absence. Thus, the presence of the applicant is necessary for the effectual and complete determination of core issue before the Honourable Court; being the self determination of the people of Biafra, at the core of which right is the issue of geographical territory over which the people of Biafra are entitled to have their self determination.
“That it is also necessary to join the applicant to this suit, in view of the similarity of the interest of the people of Biafra and the people of the Ijaw nation in gaining self determination from Nigeria; and to enable this court to settle this burning question of self determination once and for all to avoid multiplicity of suits on the same subject matter of self determination of ethnic nationalities from Nigeria.”
The INC further argued that the refusal of the instant application would affect its fundamental right to fair hearing, stressing that it was in the interest of justice to grant the application as neither of the parties was likely to be prejudiced by the grant of the application.