The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague has indicated that it will investigate the September 2017 invasion of a community in Abia State, Nigeria by soldiers of the Nigeria Army during a military exercise codenamed Operation Python Dance.
This was contained in a letter from the office of the prosecutor in response to a petition filed to the court by a Nigerian award-winning journalist, Mr. Ahaoma Kanu, following the military occupation of Afara Ukwu community in Umuahia in a bid to arrest the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, which led to the killing of several unarmed members of the group.
The letter with reference number OTP-CR-413/17 dated March 20, 2018, which is the second response by the court to the petitioner, confirmed that the military invasion and deaths recorded relate to a situation already under preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor.
“Accordingly, your communication will be analysed in this context, with the assistance of other related communications and other available information,” the letter signed by Mark Dillon, head of the Information and Evidence Unit at the Office of the Prosecutor, read.
Members of the IPOB have come under constant attack by security agencies in Nigeria including the Nigeria Army, Directorate for State Security (DSS) and the Nigeria Police leading to the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of their members since 2015 when Nnamdi Kanu was arrested on charges of treason. After the September 16, 2017, attack on his country home, Kanu and his aged father have not been seen till date fuelling speculations he was being held by the state.
Following petitions by civil rights groups, ICC commenced and concluded preliminary investigations into the alleged killing of over 200 members of the Islamic M0vement of Nigeria (IMN) in December 2015 as well as opened preliminary investigations into the killings of members of the IPOB by the Nigeria Army soldiers in October 2015.
In a September 24, 2017 petition, CNN African Journalist Award winner, Ahaoma Kanu, filed a petition to the ICC calling for an investigation and prosecution of the Chief of Army Staff, Major General Tukur Buratai and all members of the Nigeria Army involved in the extrajudicial killings of the IPOB members during the Operation Python Dance exercise.
Dillon stated that” Under Article 53 of the Rome Statutes, the Prosecutor must consider whether there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court have been committed, the gravity of the crimes, whether national systems are investigating and prosecuting the relevant crimes, and the interests of justice.”
He went further to say that “Analysis will be carried out as expeditiously as possible, but please be aware that meaningful analysis of these factors can take some time,” promising to provide reasons for any decision reached by the court to proceed with the investigation.
The petitioner said he is very optimistic that the court will reach a decision to go ahead with an investigation because of the weight of evidence attached to a memory stick attached to the petition.