Judge Inyang Ekpo of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Monday, failed to show for the much-anticipated suit filed by the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), seeking to compel the national Assembly to grant a referendum to determine the fate of Biafra and other self-determination agitators.
The case came up for hearing, Monday, but Judge Ekpo’s absence forced an adjournment on the matter.
The case was subsequently adjourned till January 20, 2022.
The judge was said to have been on another official assignment.
It would be recalled that the CNG had, in June, dragged the National Assembly and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, asking the court to compel the defendants to halt the ongoing constitutional review exercise and conduct a referendum to determine what the agitators are demanding.
“What we are doing is to save the country, ourselves and the future of the country because these people are becoming violent already.
“And most of the people engaged in this activity are below 50.
“So, if we allow our leaders of today to go and leave us with these people in this situation, there may be another bloodshed or civil war.
“That’s what we want to avoid, which is why we come to the court to interpret the situation.
“One of the issues for determination in the substantive suit has to do with the legal obligation of the 2nd – 4th defendants/Respondents to provide a framework that will pave the way for the self-determination of the South-eastern states and any other enclave that wants to go so as to leave the geographical entity called Nigeria before any further step is taken to review the Constitution,” spokesperson of the CNG, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman told journalists outside the courtroom, Monday.
The case which has generated interest among groups in the country assumed a more dramatic turn when last month, a group, the Yoruba Nation Transitional Government in exile, last Tuesday, filed a suit at the Federal High Court Abuja seeking to be named as respondents on behalf of the Yoruba Nation in the pending suit brought by the Coalition of Northern Group (CNG) back in June, this year, which is praying the court to compel the National Assembly to allow the South East region exit Nigeria by Referendum.
Counsels to the Yọruba Nation Global Directorate in the application while arguing that ‘it is imperative to make hey whilst the sun shines’ said the action is also informed by the need to ‘take necessary move to ensure that Yoruba Nation is not left behind.’
Same week Monday, lawyers representing Igbo Nation had also approached the Federal High Court seeking to be joined in the suit brought by the NEC seeking to compel the National Assembly to grant the South East a Referendum on Biafra.
Lawyer to the Directorate, Barr. Timilehin Albert Odunwo, representing the Yoruba Nation Global Directorate said his clients and indeed the Yoruba have interests to protect in the matter and should be joined to the action filed by the Coalition of Northern Group (CNG).
“The Yoruba Nation has been agitating to leave the unworkable Union called Nigeria where the Fulani led federal government has destroyed the remaining fabric of federal through lopsided appointments, nepotism, mismanagement, incompetence in every facet of administrative and economic life of the country.
“It is unimaginable that a region may be allowed to leave Nigeria whilst the Yoruba Nation whose people are tired of the rigmarole at the federal level would be left behind,” said Odunwo.
Lawyers from the South-East region of the country had, Monday, applied to the Federal High Court in Abuja to be joined as defendants in the suit by the north-based group.
The application, they said, was based on the agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
The legal practitioners led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Chief Chuks Muoma, were; Ukpai Ukairo, Ebere Uzoatu and Hon Obi Emuka. They sought an order of the court to allow them join in the suit as representatives of the people of the South-East region.
In an application for joinder filed by Victor Onweremadu on Monday in Abuja, the applicants claimed that the case of the CNG seeking the exit of South-East from Nigeria had the capability to shape the life of generations of the Igbo people.
The motion on notice for the joinder request was brought pursuant to order 9 rule 5 and order 26 rule 2 of the Federal High Court civil procedure rule 2019.
The CNG had earlier filed the contentious suit asking the court to compel the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives to hasten the exit of the South-eastern region out of Nigeria before concluding an ongoing amendment to the country’s constitution.
The request was one of the three prayers sought in a suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/538/2021 instituted by a group of elders and politicians from North led by Nastura Ashir Shariff, Balarabe Rufa’I, Abdul-Aziz Sulaiman and Aminu Adam.
The Coalition of Northern Group (CNG) dragged the National Assembly to court, asking that the ongoing constitutional review across the country be stopped with immediate effect. The suit was filed by the leadership of the group, Nastura Ashir Shariff, Balarabe Rufa’i l, Abdul-Aziz Sulaiman and Aminu Adam joined against the defendants: Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; and the National Assembly.
In their suit, the Northern group claimed in a supporting affidavit that their action was informed by the need to stem the tide of violence and destruction allegedly occasioned by the agitation for secession championed by the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB.
The plaintiffs also claimed that they did not want a repeat of the 1967 to 1970 civil war in Nigeria, which cost the nation many innocent lives and properties worth billions of naira.
The Coalition had on June 11, urged the National Assembly to suspend the constitution review to enable the Government to organise a referendum on the actualisation of a Biafra Republic.
It also urged the National Assembly to invoke the doctrine of necessity to organise a Biafra referendum as the final step towards the separation of the Igbo from the rest of Nigeria.
The group argued that the unrelenting disturbances created by certain interest groups in the South-East, in the form of the agitation for a separate State of Biafra, had turned violent.
It appealed to the government to invite the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to initiate the process of self-determination that will mandate the Biafrans out of the Nigerian union by leveraging the several relevant international treaties and conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Lead counsel for the CNG, Barr. Safiyanu Gambo, said: “The first thing to do in any civil society is approach civil remedies first.
“For whatever reason people still have grievances, since there is a charter that article 20 has allowed for any part of the country to seek for self-determination.
“We felt the right thing to do is to approach the court to interpret that particular provisions of the law as well as comment on that origin some provisions of law and give effect to it,” he said.
Although the South East was not joined in the original suit, the Igbo lawyers claimed they had an interest to protect in the suit, hence, their request to be made a set of defendants in the case.
In their 12-paragraph affidavit in support of their application, the lawyers noted that the Northern Elders in their suit did not think it necessary to join the people of the south-east or their representatives to enable the court hear from them.
The affidavit deposed to by one Ekenna Felix Jonathan read in part: “That this suit is so crucial and a sensitive matter which concerns the Indigenous Igbo speaking tribe in Nigeria and has the capability to shape the life of the future generation of the people of the south-east of Nigeria and another Indigenous Igbo speaking tribe in Nigeria.
“That the Igbo Lawyers Association represented by the applicants are an Indigenous association of lawyers from the south-east of Nigeria and other Indigenous Igbo speaking tribes in Nigeria.
“That the Igbo Lawyers Association and its objective is to represent the interest of the Igbo people which said people are Indigenous in the south-east of Nigeria. Thus, the association is interested and is a necessary party to be joined.
“That it will serve the interest of justice if the honourable court grants the application and joins the applicants as defendants in the suit and that the plaintiffs will not be prejudiced if the application is granted”.
Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo has fixed November 1 for hearing on the suit.