Dateline: 03/09/2004 00:51:38

FG Accuses MASSOB of Treason
From Lillian Okenwa in Abuja and Christopher Isiguzo in Owerri

The Federal Government yesterday described the activities of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) as amounting to treason against the Nigerian State. It further alleged that the group is plotting to break up the country.

Responding to the growing agitation for a Biafran State by MASSOB,Attorney General and Justice Minister, Chief Akintola Olujimi (SAN), said the group is championing a course that could lead to the break up of the country.

The Attorney General who was fielding questions from journalists yesterday during the 2004 ministerial press briefing in Abuja was asked to react to allegations that the Federal Government appears to show preferential treatment to members of the O'dua Peoples Congress (OPC) while MASSOB members are hounded about like criminals. The minister said the OPC has never been known to lead insurrection or anything close to that.

He said on the other hand M! ASSOB was championing insurrection.

According to Olujimi, while members of OPC are known to stir up pockets of trouble here and there, MASSOB is championing a cause that could lead to the breaking up of Nigeria, an action he described as "treason."

"Federal Government is not showing favoritism to any ethnic militia in particular. You just mentioned OPC, but I have never heard that OPC is championing a movement that could lead to a particular part of the country breaking out. That is what MASSOB is doing and it is treason.

"Government cannot sit back and watch any movement or organization do anything that would jeopardize the unity of this country. What MASSOB is doing amounts to treason and they have to be stopped," the minister warned.

In Owerri, Imo State Governor, Chief Achike Udenwa, also flayed the activities of MASSOB which he said are contrary to the present need for the Igbo to reintegrate themselves into the mainstream of the nation's politics and! not to be talking about secession.

Udenwa was reacting to the recently held Biafran Day Declaration in a release signed by his Senior Information Officer, Mrs. V.C. Igwe and made available to newsmen in Owerri.

He said the Biafran concept as articulated by MASSOB is not workable and wondered what is the boundary of the purported new Biafra or the means for its actualisation.

He said the MASSOB agitation and their last week rally were only mischievous media hype by some mercenaries intended to satisfy certain personal gains while deceiving a larger section of the people. The governor then urged the Igbo to see themselves as part and parcel of the Nigerian project, pursuing their legitimate duties without inhibitions or fear of deprivations.

Udenwa maintained that it is only by so doing that the 2007 Igbo presidency project could be realised. MASSOB had on August 26 mobilised Igbo traders, artisans and commercial vehicle drivers to close shop in solidarit! y with the call for a soverign state to be created for the region. The directive crippled commercial activities in the South-east and some of parts of Lagos where Igbo are dominant. Responding to another question, Olujimi said in spite of the notion that government is slow in unearthing the killers of the late Justice Minister, Chief Bola Ige, SAN, it is determined to bring the killers of the late politician to book. The minister also said a prima facie case has been established against the operators of the Okija shrines in Anambra State. Olujimi who said the 1999 Constitution does not give liberty to anyone to take life no matter the religion added that without prejudice to what anybody wants to worship, or how anyone wants to live his life, if it is outside the ambience of the law, he would have a question to answer. He noted that the Okija shrine custodians have operated in breach of the law. "Without prejudice to anybody's religion, there is a law guiding this country and it m! ust be obeyed. Anything done outside the law must be explained and that is the case of Okija. How do we explain the corpses? "Even if they were not killed there, do you know it is against the law to even bury a man in his house? Things have to be done the right way or you have a question to answer," the minister said. On why government wants to reform Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), he explained that the NLC came into existence through a military edict in 1978 amidst protests from other trade unions, and that since the country is now under a democratic rule there is need for other trade unions to be independent of each other. He also explained why he directed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to swear in the newly elected Anambra State chairman of the party into office against a subsisting court order. "The plaintiffs went to court to restrain the holding of a meeting last July in Awka and the court granted the order. The PDP then held an election in Abuja and a new executive comm! ittee was elected. "If you go to court to ask for an order stopping a meeting, it is not the same as asking for an election to be stopped. Again, Awka is different from Abuja and even if what was going to take place was a meeting, Abuja is not within the jurisdiction of that court. The jurisdiction of a Court is territorial," Olujimi added.