By Robert Egbe
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has affirmed its commitment to the rule of law and right to civic expression following the controversy over the statement of one of its vice presidents on the Federal Government’s handling of secessionist agitations.
NBA President Mr Olumide Akpata dissociated the association from the position of 1st Vice President John Aikpokpo-Martins, who argued that the President of Nigeria was required by the Constitution to “crush” secessionist agitations.
Aikpokpo-Martins has been under fire among lawyers since Saturday following his Facebook post in which he further argued that self-determination agitations such as those canvassed by Boko Haram, Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Adeyemo, alias Sunday Igboho, are “simply unconstitutional”.
Reacting to the controversy in a statement, Akpata noted that, as The Nation reported, his VP’s opinion was personal and not that of the NBA.
He said: “My attention has been drawn to news reports, currently making the rounds, in which the 1st Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. John Aikpokpo-Martins, was quoted as saying that the President of Nigeria is constitutionally bound to “crush” secessionist agitators in Nigeria.
“In response to the many enquiries I have so far received from members of the Association and indeed the general public, it has become necessary to state categorically that, as was affirmed in the said news report, the views expressed by the 1st Vice President are his personal views which he posted on his Facebook account in the course of an online exchange, and that the said views do not represent the position of the NBA on the subject.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the NBA, as an Association founded to defend the Rule of Law, will continue to champion and defend the rights of every Nigerian citizen and/or group including, inter-alia, the right to lawful and peaceful protest; the right to make lawful demands recognized under the Nigerian Constitution or international charters applicable to Nigeria; and the right to enjoy the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise by a Court of Law in a free and fair trial that accords with the basic principles of natural justice.”
In another statement, Aikpokpo-Martins clarified his comments, stating that he neither meant nor intended to be taken as giving the President approval to handle secessionist agitations in an unlawful or unconstitutional manner.
He said: “It was never my intention to suggest vide the said post, and same did not suggest that the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any other person at that is at liberty to deal or engage any person or citizen for whatever reason outside constitutional confines and statutory restrictions guaranteed and established by the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Let me say that as a person, a lawyer and the 1st Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, I have not, cannot and will not advocate for any extra-legal and/or extra-judicial sanction that is contrary and inimical to the promotion of the rule of law within the confines of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to be meted out on any person alleged to have committed any crime…
“In the light of the above therefore, it can only be proper and brave to say; I am sorry for all the stir.”