The Federal High Court in Owerri on Thursday, fixed December 15, 2016 for ruling on the jurisdiction of the court in presiding over the case between The Incorporated Trustees of Bilie Human Rights Initiative, representing the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB and the Federal Government of Nigeria and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF.
The suit which was filed on September 13, 2013, has witnessed several setbacks and adjournments. At the resumed hearing of the case on Thursday, November 24, 2016, the trial Judge, Justice I .A. Alagoa threatened to withdraw from the case if the claimants failed to put their house in order. Two persons, Engr Innocent Obinna Amadi, and Elder George Michael Umoren had introduced themselves as President, and Ag President of the group respectively. The contention was however resolved in favour of Amadi through the affirmation of the originating summons.
The lead counsel for the group, Prof Francis Dike, SAN thereafter opened his case reminding the judge of the order of the court made on May 3, 2016, on arguments for jurisdiction of the court on the case. Thereafter, the defense lawyer, Afolabi, and Dike, SAN endorsed their written addresses. Legal arguments put forward by Dike on the propriety of the court assuming territorial jurisdiction in the case eventually scaled through with fierce opposition from the defense lawyer, Afolabi.
After a brief adjournment, the judge returned to fix the date for ruling. The Judge before adjourning the matter to December 15, 2016 read a letter signed by the President- General of IPOB, Justice Eze – Ozobu (retd),the General Secretary, Col Joe Achuzia, (retd) and the Deputy President – General Dr Dozie Ikedife on the consolidation of their legal team, which comprises Dike, Barrister Emeharaole, Barrister Chukwu Nwachukwunta, and Barrister Thomas Agbago.
In the suit, No FHC/Ow/CS/192/2013, the IPOB, which sued Nigeria in a representative capacity are defined as “ the people inhabiting three contiguous regions, namely; South-east, parts of South- south; and parts of the Middle Belt regions of Nigeria. This definition covers the territorial jurisdiction where these policy statements and orders apply under customary law. In the proclamation, the group deposed as supportive grounds of evidence, the United Nations, UN declaration of the rights of the indigenous Peoples, Res. 61/295 of 2007 and articles 19- 22, African charter on Human Rights and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) act Cap 10, laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990 (now LFN, 2004). Also deposed in court is the ancient map of Africa in 1662, which showed the three kingdoms in West Africa from where Nigeria was created.
The three kingdoms in the legal document in possession of newsmen were the kingdom of Zamfara in the North, the kingdom of Biafra in the East, and the kingdom of Benin in the West. The 4th kingdom, Oyo empire was not contained in the said map, but was enlisted as a great kingdom in West Africa as described in section 4.11- 4.14 of these policy statements. The court sat for the first time on October 25, 2013 and Nigeria was represented by Barrister D.U Amon, Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Justice. On December 2, 2013. Dr Fabian Ajogwu, SAN, a Lagos based private legal practitioner filed the defense before Justice S. M Shuaibu. After several setbacks and adjournments, the second hearing took place on February 24, 2014. Despite two subsequent mentions in 2015, little progress was made.