By Abdulrazaq O Hamzat
Following the proscription of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group as a terrorist organization, debate about what differentiate terrorism from criminality has become a major topic in the country.
Sympathizers of IPOB, particularly those from the south east region have been trying to find justification for their disagreement on the proscription of the group, giving reference to the Fulani herdsmen, a criminal gang that they opined should have been labelled terrorist
The Chairman of the South-East Senate caucus, Enyinnaya Abaribe in a recent interview was quoted to have said,“You cannot proscribe a group of people; you cannot leave glaring evidence of those who actually work against the unity of this country, those who are actually killing
people, those who are actually taking up arms against this country and then you turn around and say that these people have a potential to do so, therefore you now go ahead to declare them a terrorist organization with the implications for this country that are very glaring.”
Before going any further, it is important to state that, both terrorist and criminal organizations are engaged in anti social behaviors that should be condemned by all. For no reason should anyone justify a terrorist or criminal group, or favor one over the other. Both are menace to any society.
We should however guide against deliberate falsehood and dishonesty that is being promoted, especially by public figures, intellectuals and public officials. This will ensure that every contributor to public issue is doing so with the best of intention. Honesty and best intention should not be sacrificed on the alter of political correctness.
At this point, it is important to ask, what is the difference between a criminal and a terrorist? From record, crime is seen or generally understood to be something done for personal gain, to feed some person need, lust, or revenge. That’s crime and anyone who engages in such
act is refereed to criminal.
Terrorism on the other hand is understood to be actions taken to create a climate of fear in the populace at large that then leads to some big societal change.
For example, Steve and his group attacked John’s community and killed many people over disagreement on land, that’s a crime and Steve’s group is refereed to as criminal organization. On the other hand, Steve and his group mounted a road block on the way to John’s
community, waved flag and intimidated John and others to pledge allegiance to an imaginary country, failure to which they would be harmed, injured or killed. That’s terror and Steve’s group can be regarded as a terrorist organization. While in the first example, many people were actually killed by Steve’s group and it could be nothing more than crime, in the second instance, no one was killed yet, but it is terrorism.
One fundamental difference between a criminal and terrorist is that, criminals tend to avoid the limelight, but the reverse is the case for terrorists. While criminals commit the act, go underground and hide their faces from public glare, terrorist commit the act and celebrate
it via media and recorded videos that is shared all over.
The aim of a terrorist group is to cast terror in the mind of the populace via threat of violence and forceful suppression. This is so because; terrorism usually has a strong political, cultural and social element to it. Unlike criminals, terrorists seek a high level of publicity for their actions to achieve its aim.
Some analysts have opined that, not every terrorist act is a crime and not every crime is a terrorist act. However, former US President, Barrack Obama maintained that, all acts of terrorism is crime, but not all crime is terrorism. A terrorist typically wants to create terror
to scare people into succumbing to their will.
A person or group can create terror with words or images; it doesn’t make it less dangerous than those throwing bombs. Criminals on the other hand just want to achieve a personal fulfillment of gain, revenge or others.
The activities of herdsmen have proven over time that it is criminal in nature and over a thousand herdsmen are currently in detention across the country, facing criminal investigation and prosecution. While more proactive responses are required to tame the deadly group, we cannot claim that nothing absolutely is being done to contain their criminal activities.
This brings us to the proscription of IPOB as a terrorist organization. Is IPOB a terrorist group? The answer can be found in the terrorism prevention act.
According to the act, a terrorist is a person who knowingly (a) does, attempt or threatens to do an act preparatory to or in furtherance of an act of terrorism. For example, ‘’we will make Nigeria worse than Somalia as stated by Ipob’’ (b) commits to do anything that is reasonably necessary to promote an act of terrorism; e.g, ‘’soliciting funds for the purchase of ammunition as captured on the video tape’’.
In another section, “act of terrorism”is defined as an act, which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which: (a) may seriously harm or damage a country. For example, establishing an illegal radio biafra to incite hate (b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to unduly compel a government to perform or abstain from performing any act; e.g, attempting to prevent election from holding in Anambra through suppression and terror, (c)
seriously intimidate a population e.g, through promise of death and violence to anyone who disagrees with them, (d) otherwise influence such government by intimidation or coercion; e.g, setting up a Biafra Secrete Service and Guard to destabilize state activities and abuse,
defame and threaten constituted authorities such as Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha and Anambra state governor, Willie Obiano.
Another acts that constitute terror, according to the act is for an organization to involve or causes, as the case may be (i) an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death; e.g, killing police and some northerners among others as seen on
videos widely circulated (ii) kidnapping of a person; e.g, kidnapping some northerners by BSS and torturing them in their yard as seen on some videos widely circulated (iii) destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility,
including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property, likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss; e.g, burning of police station, vehicles etc as seen on videos widely circulated on the internet.
This is apart from attacking the army contingent on a lawful national duty, among others.
It is obvious from the foregoing that IPOB fulfill all the description of a terrorist organization as contained in the terrorism prevention act, as amended and they are so designated.
I would advise however that, rather than distort facts or attempt to cast government in dark light for doing what they consider to be right and proper, all well meaning Nigerians should advise all those with grievances to articulate their concerns and follow the constitutional process of agitating for them in a peaceful manner.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat is the Executive Director of Foundation for Peace
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