Accused of inciting violence in southeastern Nigeria, self-proclaimed Biafra Prime Minister Simon Ekpa, based in Finland, faces mounting calls for extradition. However, repatriating Ekpa poses significant challenges for the Nigerian government, as it must navigate legal complexities and uphold international human rights obligations as Damian Ugwu argued in this article.
Last week, Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff General Christopher Musa asserted before the Nigerian parliament that self-proclaimed Biafra Prime Minister Simon Ekpa bears significant responsibility for the escalating violence in Southeast Nigeria. General Musa, leading a delegation of security chiefs, addressed the House of Representatives on Tuesday, November 21.
“In the South-east, Simon Ekpa has become a menace to this country… Simon Ekpa is having a freeway because they (Finland) are encouraging him to do what he is doing. His utterances and actions are affecting what is happening in Nigeria. “We should never allow that. Our foreign service should step in,” he said.
Accusing Finland of harboring the wanted militant, the military chief urged the Federal Government to engage in diplomatic discussions with the Finnish government to address Nigeria’s concerns regarding the agitator’s activities. Before the latest outburst from the service chief, many notable Nigerians have been calling for the extradition of Finland-based Biafran agitator based on his perceived role in the ongoing violence in the southeast of Nigeria.
This is not the first time the idea of repatriating Simon Ekpa has come up. In February 2023, the Nigerian government summoned the Finish Ambassador to Nigeria Leena Pylvanainen to express concerns over threats by pro-Biafra agitators to disrupt the 2023 general election in Nigeria’s southeast. Additionally, in February, reports emerged that Finnish police had detained Simon Ekpa following a complaint by the Nigerian government.
Simon Ekpa leads a faction within the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which advocates for a breakaway state in southeastern Nigeria. He has been linked to the violence plaguing the southeastern region of Nigeria, which has claimed over two thousand lives, including security personnel. However, Mr. Ekpa denies any involvement in the region’s killings and violence, attributing them to the Nigerian government.
Repatriating Ekpa to Nigeria may pose a significant challenge for the Nigerian government. Aside from subjecting him to the “Nnamdi Kanu treatment”, bordering on illegal rendition, all legal avenues available to Nigeria appear to be foreclosed and doomed to fail, as I will elaborate in this article.
Although Nigeria has signed several international conventions that can assist its fight against terrorism, including the repatriation of people wanted for terrorism-related crime, it has no bilateral treaty with Finland. However, a new window of opportunity seem to be in the horizon with the coming into effect of a new international treaty due to be opened for signature in January 2024.
In May 2023, following negotiations between states, the international community adopted a treaty on international legal cooperation in cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The Ljubljana-Hague Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes, and other International Crimes, often referred to as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLA), outlines states’ obligations regarding legal cooperation and extradition in the investigation of international crimes.
By clarifying and solidifying the duties and obligations of states to assist each other in cases involving international crimes, the treaty addresses a gap in international law and justice. MLA agreements enable domestic criminal and judicial systems to share information, collaborate in investigations, and coordinate effective methods for combating impunity for the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole.”
However, even if Nigeria signs the Ljubljana-Hague Convention, it will still have to address the issue of repatriating criminal suspects to countries where they face the risk of torture or other ill-treatment. This is a fundamental principle of international law known as the prohibition of refoulement. It is enshrined in the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which Finland and Nigeria ratified in December 1988 and June 2001 respectively. The prohibition of refoulement means that no country can return a person to another country where there is a real risk that they will be subjected to torture or other ill-treatment. This applies regardless of the person’s alleged crimes.
In the case of Simon Ekpa, if the Finnish government were to repatriate him to Nigeria, it would have to be able to guarantee that he would not be tortured or otherwise ill-treated. This would be a challenging task, given the well-documented history of torture and other human rights abuses in Nigeria.
As a result, the Nigerian government will likely face significant challenges in repatriating Simon Ekpa to Nigeria. It is possible that the government may try to negotiate an extradition treaty with Finland that would guarantee Ekpa’s rights. However, even if such a treaty were to be signed, there is no guarantee that it would be respected in practice.
The Nigerian government faces a delicate balancing act between pursuing justice and upholding human rights. While seeking Ekpa’s extradition is a legitimate pursuit, it must be done within the bounds of international law and with due regard for his rights. The Nigerian government must navigate these challenges with the utmost diligence to ensure that justice is served while upholding its international obligations. Merely signing international human rights treaties is not enough. Honoring these treaties in practice will not only safeguard your country but also ensure that in times of need, Nigeria can call upon the international community for assistance and expect to get the cooperation it seeks.