Law Mefor says it was high time the Nigerian government engaged diplomatic means to intervene in the on-going trial of former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, before a London Court in the United Kingdom
The recent statement by Ohanaeze Ndigbo calling for the Federal Government’s intervention in the travail of Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice, in London revives some hope that the Igbo philosophy of “Onye aghana nwanne ya” (all for one, one for all).
The Ohanaeze plea came on the heels of Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami’s declaration that the Federal Government would not intervene in the Ekweremadus’ legal battle in the UK, claiming that it was never Nigeria’s tradition to intervene when her citizens are caught up in criminal legal issues overseas.
It was therefore reassuring to read Ohanaeze reel out a recent instance where the President Muhammadu Buhari administration successfully intervened in the case of a Nigerian lady from Jigawa State caught up in a drug-related legal debacle in Saudi Arabia, and many instances where nations such as the UK and U.S.A, intervened or are presently intervening in the matters of their citizens standing trial in foreign lands.
Ohanaeze also predicated their call on cultural relativism, Nigeria’s enduring good relations with the UK, and the fact that all persons involved in the kidney saga are Nigerians. Cultural relativism connotes that the norms and values of one culture should not be evaluated using the norms and values of another. Ohanaeze believes that the fact that Ekweremadu wrote the UK High Commission in Nigeria to support the young man’s medical visa application, and also made full disclosure of the donor’s mission and down to the hospital were clear indications that he acted in good faith and without any willful intent to breach any law.
One also aligns with Ohanaeze that the Federal Government cannot in good conscience intervene in the matter concerning Zainab Kila in Saudi Arabia who faced execution and decline to intervene in Ekweremadu’s matter.
Besides, Ekweremadu is a patriot, who has served Nigeria meritoriously in very high capacities. And love or hate him, he exemplifies how a citizen could love his people and still love his country. Amid Biafra separatist agitations, which climaxed under the present administration, Ekweremadu is one Igbo leader, who has continually condemned the injustice to Ndigbo, but has nevertheless maintained that Ndigbo should be better off a united, but just and restructured Nigeria.
His treatise “Biafra: The Legal, Political, Economic, and Social Questions” which was published by Thisday Newspaper in 2017 captures his intellectual and quite pragmatic thoughts on the matter. It is worth reading. It resonates in the Awka Declaration of the 2018 Igbo Summit and the 2nd “The Sunday Newspaper” (TSM) Diamond Lecture delivered by Ezigbo Gburugburu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu in Lagos on February 22, 1994.
But his stand notwithstanding, Ekweremadu led the South East Senate Caucus, which included the likes of Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and the late erudite Senator Uche Chukwumerije, to a meeting with the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in July 2007 to secure the release of the Leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, who was earlier arrested and detained by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration. It was also at that meeting that Yar’Adua approved an international airport for the region deliberately blockaded from direct access to the world post-civil war.
Unfortunately, the separatist agitations were revived by exclusionist tendencies of the Buhari administration towards the South East over their electoral choice and the arrest and detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. To worsen matters, military crackdown was adopted over and above dialogue. In November 2016, Amnesty International’s report stated that “The Nigerian security forces, led by the military, embarked on a chilling campaign of extrajudicial executions and violence resulting in the deaths of at least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra protesters in the southeast of the country”.
“Analysis of 87 videos, 122 photographs, and 146 eyewitness testimonies relating to demonstrations and other gatherings between August 2015 and August 2016 consistently shows that the military fired live ammunition with little or no warning to disperse crowds. It also finds evidence of mass extrajudicial executions by security forces, including at least 60 people shot dead in the space of two days in connection with events to mark Biafra Remembrance Day”, Amnesty stated.
Ekweremadu was one of the few courageous Igbo leaders, who rose stoutly in condemnation of the crackdown, advocating civil approach. At the floor of the Senate on May 31, he called the attention of his colleagues to the military crackdown that resulted in the death of many unarmed Igbo youths around Onitsha and Asaba during the Biafra Day celebration the previous day.
He told the Senate: “I will like to use this opportunity to say that the security agencies must apply caution in trying to quell disturbances. We have had so much blood bath in this country under different circumstances and we cannot continue to lose young men and women because the future of this country belongs to them.
“It is important that this Senate rises to condemn any act of killing in any part of this country. We are now in a democracy and people should be entitled to speak their minds and to assemble under responsible circumstances”.
In November 2016, Ekweremadu led South East Senators to meet President Buhari to find a political solution to Kanu’s case and douse tension in the region. Through silent, but deft diplomatic interventions, Kanu was released in April 2017 and I am aware that Osita Chidoka, who was also involved in the whole arrangement for Kanu’s bail, chauffeured the IPOB leader to Ekweremadu’s residence where he met with the lawmaker and other South East Senators to appreciate them for rallying for his freedom. Ekweremadu’s strategic effort was partly captured by Thisday’s report, entitled: “How Ekweremadu Rallied Igbos to Meet Kanu’s Bail Term”.
I know because I was privy to the arrangement from the outset. I was also among the Igbo professionals (under the auspices of Nzuko Umunna), who visited Nnamdi Kanu in detention on May 16, 2016, and thereafter addressed a press conference calling for his release. That delegation was led by Prof. Charles Soludo, now governor of Anamabra State, and included Prof. Pat Utomi, Dr. Udenta Udenta, Dr. Sam Amadi, Ferdie Agu, Emeka Ugwuoju, the late Innocent Chukwuma, and humble me.
I recalled he also did an open letter to President Buhari in September 2017, urging him to call off the Operation Python Dance and embrace dialogue to douse tension in the South East.
Even though Ekweremadu sees his interventions as a duty he owes his people and keeps them under the table, I recall that Abaribe was forced to bare it all after Ekweremadu was attacked in Germany.
Abaribe described the attack as “a brazen show of ingratitude to a man, who has been at the forefront in the struggle for all that is good for the Igbo race”, adding that “Obviously, this is not how to repay a man… who has given his all, even going as far as deploying his means to arrange for the bail of Nnamdi Kanu, not minding the repercussions to his illustrious political career”.
That notwithstanding, Ekweremadu was at the forefront of the quest for a political solution to Kanu’s present travail until London issue. Besides holding back-channel meetings and rallying South East National Assembly Caucus, he led Igbo representatives like Abaribe, Bishop Sunday Onuoha, and Ohanaeze Ndigbo national scribe (Amb. Okey Emuchay) to visit Kanu in the Department of State Security custody.
When Olisa Metuh was arrested, subjected to a dehumanising trial, and brought to court in handcuffs for doing his work as opposition spokesperson, Ekweremadu was among the few Igbo and party men, who stood surety for him. Metuh said so himself in a recent Facebook post after attending Ekweremadu’s July 7 trial in London.
Ekweremadu also ventured into the Economic and Financial Crimes’ custody at the height of Ibrahim Magu’s political misuse of the agency to show solidarity to his party men like Reuben Abati, Femi Fani Kayode, Senator Musliu Obanikoro, and Senator Bala Mohammed (now governor of Bauchi State). This he did at a time he and his boss and Senate President at the time, Dr. Bukola Saraki, were facing political tribulations and trumped-up charges to kick them out of office.
On several occasions, Ekweremadu deployed his international goodwill as former Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament to successfully push for the reopening of the shops of Nigerian traders in Ghana.
Regrettably, I am not convinced that his party and Igbo leaders have rallied round him as they ought to, and the Nigerian government appears too placid and complacent.
No doubt, Ohanaeze deserves commendation for reminding the Nigerian government that there is nothing in Ekweremadu’s matter that is beyond diplomatic intervention if the political will is there and that it could not treat citizens differently based on where they come from. But the truth is that Ikeoha Ndigbo deserves more than press statements at this juncture. Were it to be another Igbo leader, Ekweremadu would have been sleepless, practically everywhere, rallying forces, addressing the press, organising meetings with the President, Malami, and those that matter, and doing the diplomatic rounds to find a way.
Ndigbo have a saying that it is the wailing of a bereaved family that triggers wailing by the rest of the community. Not many people cry more than the bereaved in Nigeria. So, I dare to ask: Where are the South East governors? Where especially are the Igbo governors that are the President’s party men? Where is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama? Where is the cream of the Igbo political leaders, traditional rulers, clergies, and elders? Why the deafening silence, as if the cloth being devoured by a goat does not belong to anybody?
Igbo leaders, irrespective of political and personal persuasions should never look the other way, especially given the emerging facts and for the reason that all the people involved in the London saga are all Ndigbo. Need one also remind that a servant, who watches a fellow servant interred in a shallow grave, should never hope for a befitting burial himself?
-Mefor writes from Abuja