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 legal practitioners, 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 numbered FHC/ABJ/CS/538/2021, are urging the court to grant their prayers to avoid a repeat of the unfortunate incidents of the Civil War.
The Attorney-General of the Federation, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly are listed as defendants in the matter.
The court presided over by Justice Ekwo Ekwo, on Thursday, adjourned to March 4, 2022, when the joinder application of the apex Ijaw socio-cultural organisation would be heard.
Among 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 contended had yet to be represented in the suit.
Okaba, in a statement after filing the joinder, said 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.
He said, “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 a life.”
On claims by some Biafra Republic promoters that Ijaw territory belongs to them, Okaba reiterated that the Ijaw nation was never conquered even during the pre-colonial and colonial eras.
He said, “If the Ijaw nation must exit, the process shall be peaceful and would come only under the auspices of the Ijaw Republic. All secessionists are advised to take note of this.”
The INC, in an affidavit in support of the 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 the 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 Rivers, Akwa Ibom and the 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 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 South Eastern 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 the geographical territory of the Ijaw nation as against that of the Indigenous People of Biafra to avoid more disputes between the people of the 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 a 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.
“That it is also necessary to join the Applicant to this suit to enable this Honourable Court to settle the question of the geographical territory of Biafra and the Ijaw Nation once and for all to avoid or forestall a possible future litigation on the subject matter.”
The INC further contended that the refusal of the instant application would affect its fundamental right to a 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.