BusinessDay

Sunday Igboho and the diplomatic trilemma

By now, the Nigerian government may be asking itself the possible wise decision to take on the trilemma it is facing on the issue of extradition request it made on Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho.

Unlike the easy catch that was the recent re-arrest of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of IPOB in Kenya, the desire of Abuja to cheaply bundle Igboho back to Nigeria from the Benin Republic appears to have proven a tall order.

Were it to be a matter only to be decided by the tiny neighbouring country, Benin Republic, President, Patrice Guillaume Athanase Talon, would have, like Pontius Pilate, easily committed the freedom fighter into the hands of his enemies, even if to please the Nigerian big brother in the Aso Rock Villa.

But the involvement of Germany, where Igboho’s wife hails from, has made the case to assume a tripod-like dimension, hence, the trilemma for Nigeria.

A trilemma is a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between three alternatives, especially when these are equally undesirable.

The arrest of Igboho was complicated by the involvement of his wife, Ropo, who is a German citizen.

Meanwhile, the Beninese Court had on Thursday ordered the release of Igboho’s wife’s passport and other documents, ostensibly to avoid stoking a diplomatic row with Germany.

The Nigerian government also appears to be treading cautiously in order not to offend its international friends.

Igboho, an activist, who is championing a secession crusade for a Yoruba Nation, was last Monday, alongside his wife, arrested by International Police in Benin Republic at the behest of the Nigerian government.

Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Benin Republic, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (rtd.), an immediate past Chief of Army Staff, was said to have been pushing for the extradition of Igboho to Abuja.

Read also: Sunday Igboho reportedly arrested in Benin Republic

But his lead counsel, Yomi Aliyu (SAN) had argued that his client cannot be extradited to Nigeria based on a 1984 treaty with Benin Republic. He claimed that the provisions in the treaty do not allow the extradition of any political offender who is unlikely to get justice in his home country.

“The Extradition Treaty of 1984 between Togo, Nigeria, Ghana and Republic of Benin excluded political fugitives. It also states that where the fugitive will not get justice because of discrimination and/or undue delay in prosecution the host country should not release the fugitive,” Aliyu said.

“Now, Article 20 of African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights to which the four countries are signatories made agitation for self-determination a fundamental right to be protected by all countries. This made Chief Sunday Adeyemo a political offender who cannot be deported and/or extradited by the good people of the Republic of Benin for any reason,” Aliyu had said.

Explaining the intricacies of the matter, Bola Akinterinwa, a professor and former director-general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), said that the Federal Government of Nigeria could not arm-twist the government of Benin Republic into extraditing Sunday Igboho.

The reason, according to him, being that Benin Republic, like other former French colonies, represents French interest in West Africa.

“At the level of Benin Republic, if you are talking about arm-twisting, an elephant, even a lion, as big and powerful as it is, if it is bitten by a small mosquito, then you can know the consequences. It is not a question that Nigeria is big and powerful that you can arm-twist anybody, no, it doesn’t work that way.

“The relationship between the Benin Republic and Nigeria is not determined only at the level of the Benin Republic. Benin Republic is francophone, which means that it is dealing with France and the relationship at the level of France and Nigeria you can understand it without any rocket science,” Akinterinwa said.

The former NIIA DG, who explained the diplomatic considerations in such matters, said: “The French government does not want the government of Nigeria to have the capacity to use the Benin Republic or the Francophone neighbours to the detriment of French interest in West Africa as much as the government of Nigeria won’t want to be used by the Francophone neighbours against Nigeria’s interest in the immediate neighbourhood.

“So, even if you close borders all along, borders are not closed against the immediate neighbours, they are also closed against the French.

“So, any battle, any arm-twisting that you are thinking of should be put in the context of French interest and particularly the Francophone interest.”

According to him, “Any misunderstanding between a Francophone country – whether an immediate neighbour or far distant neighbour – is necessarily an issue at the level of Nigeria and the Francophone community; they think alike, they work together, they address issues together.”

But Akin Oyebode, a professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, said that Igboho should have avoided Benin Republic while considering transit countries for his escape trip to Europe.

He strongly believes that Igboho is liable to be extradited to Nigeria once both parties reach an agreement, as according to him, extradition is a political matter between two countries.

Oyebode further said that Igboho was not properly advised as regards which country to go to when fleeing Nigeria as there is one 1984 extradition treaty between Nigeria and the Benin Republic, Ghana and Togo.

“Apparently, Igboho was not properly advised. If you are fleeing Nigeria, it is ill-advised to go through the Benin Republic. He ought to have gone through Niger and find his way to Europe but not through Benin Republic. That is why he is liable to be extradited. Even if there is no extradition treaty, it can also depend on the political relationship. Extradition is, however, a political matter, though people think it is legal,” he said.

A national newspaper quoted Prof. Sampson Erugo (SAN), a former dean, Faculty of Law, Abia State University (ABSU), as saying that extradition involves returning a person who has been accused of a serious crime or has been convicted for such crime, from one jurisdiction to another, as part of the criminal process.

According to him, there are several conditions involved in an extradition process which is usually contained in a treaty agreement between two countries. He further added that extradition is a legitimate process once the laws are not breached by parties.

“So, in the first place, there’s recognition of the sovereignty of the jurisdictions, and then agreement on cooperation, usually by treaty. If there is no existing treaty between relevant nations, there will be no basis for extradition process in court,” Erugo said.

According to him, “Again, there are several conditions for the presentation of an extradition process. For instance, the acts alleged must constitute an offence in the host jurisdiction. Of course, politically motivated requests cannot be processed or granted. Extradition is the only legitimate process of returning a fugitive or one accused of a crime from one jurisdiction to another, otherwise the exercise could be an affront to the sovereignty of another nation.”

Joshua Bolarinwa, an associate professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), explained that every country has the right to demand the extradition of a fugitive or an accused individual who has fled a country to another country.

He said that the only hindrance to the extradition of Igboho to Nigeria is in the event Benin Republic fails to put its signatory to the request of Nigeria.

He further noted that the extradition process of Igboho may take a long time because Benin Republic is known to be operating a strict law and constitution.

“A country has the right to extradite from another country somebody who has been alleged of some activities undermining the security of the state or someone who has been declared wanted and also made available to the International Police (INTERPOL).

“Extradition is made possible under the provision that the country where such a person that would be extradited, to the country that has requested or filed the extradition must both be signatories to the international law. That is the case in respect of Kenya and Nigeria over the issue of Nnamdi Kanu and the same thing is applicable to Sunday Igboho because Benin Republic and Nigeria are both signatories to that law and are liable under that provision to carry out such obligations. Any country that is a signatory to that law can make such a request,” Bolarinwa said.

Lawyers and observers say that agitation for secession was not a crime; they also believed that the government should rather pull its resources towards tackling terrorists that are daily killing, raping and terrorising Nigerians across the country, especially in the North, rather than running after those who are reacting to the inclement socio-economic and political weather administration has foisted on Nigeria.

Mike Ozekhome, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and rights activist, expressed dismay that President Buhari, who is weak in tackling terrorists, has the power to arrest Igboho who was protecting Nigerians.

“Buhari’s government paradoxically appears abysmally weak and hopelessly helpless when it comes to fighting AK-47 wielding armed bandits, Boko Haram and other deadly insurgents, including ransom-taking kidnappers who are almost kidnapping the very heart and soul of Nigeria on a daily basis. The Nigerian Nation appears captured by non-state actors,” Ozekhome said.

According to him, “The same government that is suddenly effective in the case of Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho have never been able to capture kidnappers, armed bandits and Boko Haram insurgents that are daily ravaging us, turning Nigeria into a sprawling field of human carnage. They take ransom. Innocent school children are being paid for. Where is the same government when kidnappers are demanding that the parents of kidnapped children should now be feeding them in their kidnap dens?

“But it suddenly becomes effective and audacious when it comes to arresting and even ambushing and attacking in their very homes, self-determination activists and crusaders. I am not impressed with this at all.”

Recall that Igboho’s supporters took to the streets of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, Wednesday to protest his arrest and detention by Beninese authorities.

The protesters, who also carried placards bearing solidarity messages for Igboho and condemnation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for selective justice and favouring his ethnic nationality above other groups in Nigeria, appealed to the international community, traditional rulers in Yoruba land and others to ensure that the activist is not hounded like a common criminal to Nigeria.

It was gathered that some Yoruba people residing in Cotonou thronged the nation’s court, where it was believed the extradition hearing of Igboho would be held.

The Yoruba in Cotonou were said to have also sung solidarity songs and demanding freedom for Igboho. They also demanded an independent nation of the Yoruba people. They said they have confidence in the Benin Republic justice system, expressing optimism that Igboho will be freed.

Although the court has adjourned Igboho’s case till Monday, consultations are still going on at various levels, either to frustrate Igboho’s extradition to Nigeria or to make it possible.

Every minute matters to the Nigerian government and to those who would want to prevail on the authorities of Benin Republic to let the sleeping dog lie.