After more than one year in prison custody, there seems to be concerted efforts across the country to get Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous Peoples Biafra freed, even as government’s attempt to keep him in detention is turning him into a hero
| By Olu Ojewale*
AFTER more than one year in prison custody, Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, appears to be gradually getting into the consciousness of some Nigerian leaders. At Kanu’s appearance at the court for his treasonable trial on Tuesday, April 25, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State was in court in solidarity with him. So was Osita Chidoka, a former Aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, another former minister of Aviation, but they were not allowed into the court room.
Nevertheless, the Federal High Court in Abuja, which has been hearing his case, did the unexpected; it granted Kanu bail. The bail conditions are now a major issue for the embattled separatist leader. Reactions to conditions of the bail conditions have been varied and generally seen as too strict.
Binta Nyako, the trial judge, who granted Kanu bail on health grounds, said he must fulfill 12 conditions for him to enjoy the bail. She must provide three sureties in sum of N100 million each.
But the trio of Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, who are standing trial with Kanu, were not so lucky. The judge rejected their bail application, saying: “I have not also seen any new argument to warrant my reviewing my earlier decision. However, as it relates to the first defendant (Kanu), the applicant has deposed extensively on his health and appeals to the court on health grounds to allow bail on any condition.
According to Nyako, “Overtime that the first defendant has appeared in court, the first defendant may be having some health issues as he always sits down and sweats profusely. I am of the opinion that the first defendant needs better health attention than the Prison Service is unable to provide. Pursuant to this, the bail of the second to fourth defendants, is hereby refused. I hereby use my discretion and grant the first defendant bail on the following conditions…”
One of the 12 conditions was that he must have three sureties who should be able to forfeit to the federal government N100 million each. Nyako said Kanu must undertake before the court and depose to an affidavit that he would attend his trial diligently; one of his sureties must be a highly placed person of Igbo extraction, such as a senator; the second surety must be highly respected and recognised religious leader in Nigeria of the defendant’s belief. A highly respected Jewish leader; the third surety must be resident in Abuja, highly respected, with landed property and Certificate of Occupancy verified; and that Kanu himself must deposit all his international passports with the court.
“I also want a report of his health status on a monthly basis filed in court,” the judge said. Besides, Nyako directed that Kanu should not grant press interviews, organise rallies, and must not be in a crowd of more than 10 people.
The judge had, in an earlier ruling, rejected the defendants’ application for variation of her earlier order granting protection to prosecution witnesses.
She said the defendants had not provided anything new in addition to the earlier argument for the variation of the order.
At the end of proceedings, Fayose went close to Kanu, hugged him and had a brief chat with him. The governor later said he was in court in solidarity with the Biafra agitators’ leader. The governor said although he was not Igbo, he had come to show solidarity as someone who believed in justice, law and order. He expressed the belief that Kanu would one day walk as a free man.
As soon as the judge’s bail pronouncement was delivered, Kanu’s sympathisers who were waiting outside the court went into a frenzy jubilation singing and dancing.
A similar scenario played out in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State. Unlike what was witnessed in Abuja, the celebrating supporters caused a terrible traffic jam as vehicular and economic activities were disrupted when residents took to the streets to celebrate the bail granted the IPOB leader. The supporters, who had converged on the Christ the King Catholic Church’s, CKC’s, gate marched through the major streets in the town as soon as the news of the bail hit the town. Singing pro-Kanu and anti-federal government songs, the supporters marched through various streets including those of Asa Road, Azikiwe, Aba-Owerri Expressway, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Faulks and others.
Some admirers reportedly closed shops and other businesses and shared free drinks to celebrate the news.
There was a similar jubilation on the same Tuesday, April 25, in Umuahia, Abia State, Kanu’s family home. But the family expressed disappointment over the bail conditions, saying they were too “harsh” and should be reviewed to allow Kanu to be free unconditionally.
At his palace at Isiama Afaraukwu Ibeku in Umuahia, Israel Kanu, Nnamdi’s father, flanked by Ugoeze Sally, his wife, called for the unconditional release of his son. That notwithstanding, the traditional ruler said he was overjoyed that his son had been granted bail by the Abuja High Court but insisted that the conditions were impossible to meet.
For instance, he said it was illogical for a Nigerian court to expect a Jewish leader in faraway Israel to stand as surety for a person standing trial in Nigeria. “Why ask him to produce a Jewish leader as surety? Why demand a Senator or Igbo leader who will deposit N100 million? Is N100 million N100? It is possible that they are looking for an opportunity to keep him in detention. It is up to the world to look at the bail conditions and see if they are justifiable for a man who has done nothing to warrant being held in prison,” he said. He urge Ndigbo to “unite and take up the challenge as a people,” while he also pleaded for the unconditional release of the other IPOB members standing trial with his son.
The elder Kanu hailed Fayose and Fani-Kayode for their solidarity with his son, but frowned at the absence of Igbo leaders at the court premises, saying that was an indication that they were not supporting the Biafra cause.
The IPOB leader’s mother said she had been having sleepless nights while her son was in detention and thanked God for answering her prayers.
But when asked if she would advise her son to discontinue his agitation, she said emphatically: “No retreat, no surrender. Biafra is a divine project.”
Besides, she said: “My son was raised by God to deliver Biafra and as God delivered Israel so he will deliver Biafra because my son is fighting for his right.”
If elder Kanu felt that the Igbo leaders had abandoned his son; that was not the picture portrayed by the Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, as soon as the bail conditions were made public. In a release signed by Uchenna Madu, its leader, MASSOB said it had always identified with true representations of Biafra and genuine struggle for the liberation of the people of Biafra. The statement described Nyako’s bail orders as triumph of light over darkness and an indication that Biafra would triumph over Nigeria.
The statement said further: “I spent almost four years in different prisons from 2005 to 2009 which includes Suleja, Keffi and Kuje prisons for same purpose of Biafra and was later released. Nnamdi Kanu and others won’t be an exception. He represents the interest of the people of Biafra; he is not a criminal”.
MASSOB commends the efforts of Igbo governors, Some prominent and eloquent leaders like Mr Peter Obi, John Nwodo, Ohaneze president general, Governor Fayose, some Igbo National Assembly members, Nzuko Umunna and other progressive persons for their unflinching efforts in compelling the federal government to grant Nnamdi Kanu bail. “As the people of Biafra erupted in jubilation all over the world in celebration of triumph of light over darkness, it shows that we are more united in our pursuit for Biafra actualisation and restoration, irrespective of our different organisations,” it said.
On its part, the IPOB condemned the bail conditions granted its incarcerated leader, in a statement signed by Emma Nmezu and Clifford Chukwuemeka Iroanya, its spokespersons. The group claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari actually wrote the bail conditions and handed them over to Justice Nyako who read them out in court.
The IPOB insisted that the bail conditions were “booby traps” meant to ensnare and “gag its leader perpetually.” Faulting the entire bail conditions granted Kanu, the pro-Biafra group alleged that “Justice Nyako has brought the Nigerian Judicial System to the lowest ebb.”
It, therefore, called on Walter Onnoghen, chief justice of Nigeria, CJN, to intervene in Kanu’s trial and salvage the “tattered image of the Nigerian Judiciary.” The IPOB insisted that Kanu and other pro-Biafra agitators should be released unconditionally as it claimed that there is no evidence to convict them of treasonable felony for which they are being charged.
The travail of Kanu and his fellow accused persons started when he was first arrested on October 14, 2015, upon his return to Nigeria, from England, where he was operating Radio Biafra. He was detained in the custody of the DSS until January 20, 2016, when the federal high court ordered that he should be transferred to Kuje Prison where he has since remained, with the four others who were also arrested from different places.
Since then, the journey to get them out seemed to have been laced with a lot of booby traps and road blocks. The first court ruling discharged Kanu on December 16, 2015, when a magistrate court in Abuja, discharged him after he was first arraigned and following the withdrawal of the charges against him by the prosecution.
Shuaibu Usman, the presiding magistrate, struck out all criminal charges levelled against Kanu after Moses Idakwo, a counsel to the Department of Security Services, DSS, filed for discontinuation of the matter on the instruction of his client. Idakwo had told the court that further investigations by the DSS had shown that charges against Kanu could not be entertained by a magistrate court due to lack of jurisdiction.
On December 17, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, a Federal High Court judge, directed that Kanu should either be charged to a court of law or be set free in the absence of a valid charge against him. Ademola while delivering his judgement noted that Kanu had not been formally charged before a court of law. The judge further said it was against the provisions of law for any party, including the state, to hold an accused captive for so long without a valid charge.
Thus, a day after Ademola’s ruling, the federal government filed fresh charges against Kanu at the Federal High Court, in apparent obedience to the court order.
On December 18, the federal government formally filed a charge against the embattled Biafran leader at a Federal High Court, Abuja division. According to the charge, Kanu was accused of committing various offences bordering on alleged treason.
But Kanu denounced the court and the charge, saying he had no confidence in the court. That prompted Justice Ahmed Mohammed, the presiding judge, to disqualify himself from hearing the case.
The case was later reassigned to Justice John Tsoho, another judge of the Federal High Court, FHC, in Abuja.
On January 29, 2016, the court presided over by Tsoho refused Kanu’s application for bail, allowing his continued detention in prison custody.
On May 25, 2016, Kanu’s request to be granted bail at an appellate court in Abuja, was also refused by a three-member panel of justices of the appeal court led by Abdul Aboki. The judges ruled that Kanu’s dual citizenship would increase the chances of him leaving the country, thereby jeopardising his case. They also said that the allegation of terrorism earlier included in the charge against the defendants made it imperative that they should not be given bail.
On June 21, 2016, Kanu made another request for the replacement of Tsoho as trial judge in his trial. The case was adjourned until September 26, 2016, when Kanu reiterated his request asking that the judge be investigated.
In a petition addressed to the National Judicial Council and made available to journalists, Kanu said the conduct of Tsoho amounted to judicial rascality. He cited the revocation of a previous decision against secret trial by the judge, as well as failure of the court to promptly avail the defense of court proceedings as grounds for the alleged offences in his petition.
Thus, on that day, Tsoho withdrew from participating in the matter.
Now before Justice Nyako, Kanu on November 17, 2016, made another request for bail. But he was denied on December 1, 2016. On March 1, after his charge was amended to exclude terrorism allegation, Kanu again demanded to be granted bail. The latest request for bail was granted by Justice Nyako.
A similar hearing on application for bail was slated to be heard on April 27, at the ECOWAS court.
Apparently frustrated by the continuous detention, on February 28, some prominent Nigerians led by Charles Soludo, a former Central Bank Governor, CBN, addressed a press conference where they demanded the release of Kanu. Under the aegis of Uzuko Umunna, the group included Pat Utomi, a former presidential candidate and Sam Amadi, a former chairman of the electricity regulatory commission. The group frowned at the alleged illegality of holding Kanu in detention despite ‘court orders.’
“A situation where the state refuses to obey clear and legitimate court orders for his release and holds him until it gets a favourable order; moves the goalposts endlessly through endless amendment of the charges against him; and now seeks to try him in secret clearly constitutes circumstances that would fall well short of the constitutional guarantees of due process,” Soludo, who spoke on behalf of the group, said.
The call by the Uzuko Umunna was similar to that by other Nigerians who had called on the federal government to seek better ways to resolve the Biafra agitation in the South-East, insisting that Kanu’s detention was illegal and a violation of court orders.
That, perhaps, prompted the South East governors to come together in Enugu on Sunday, April 2, and resolved to meet with President Buhari to demand the release of Kanu.
The governors, under the aegis of South East Governors’ Forum, resolved to intervene in the detention of the IPOB leader following criticism from the group accusing the governors of being indifference to the plight of its detained leader, and the ongoing efforts of his followers to get him released.
Briefing journalists after the meeting, Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State and chairman of the forum, said the meeting discussed the IPOB, MASSOB agitations, the detention of Nnamdi Kanu and abandoned water dams in the South East zone.
He said action had started and they had resolved to meet with all stakeholders to discuss and address all issues of interest.
Other governors in attendance were Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu and the host governor; Rochas Okorocha, Imo State and Willie Obiano of Anambra State. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State was absent.
It was hoped that the South East governors’ intervention would further heighten the clamour for the release of the detained IPOB leader.
That notwithstanding, Fayose is floating a fund raising plan for the IPOB leader. The Nigerian Tribune newspaper reported that Fayose was working in conjunction with Ike Ekweremadu, deputy Senate president, on the plans to raise funds for Kanu’s family. Fayose said on Wednesday, April 26, that he was taking his support for Kanu beyond showing solidarity in court to making plans for provisions for Kanu’s well-being and that of his family members.
According to the report, Fayose would want to mobilise funds into the account being operated by Kanu. The governor was quoted saying: “I’m trying to work with other well-meaning Nigerians to raise funds for Kanu so that he can fund his lawyers and meet his immediate family needs. We are going to ensure that the injustice meted out to him does not destroy him. He has parents, wife and children to take care of. I appeal to Nigerians to support this just cause.”
He added: “As many as lawyers willing to fight the oppression should join the struggle for liberation from the oppression.”
Fayose said Ekwemeradu would head the fundraising committee. “We are just driving the cause. As soon as we receive his account details they will be made available. The money will be used for him and others in incarceration with him.
“We believe in coexistence of Nigeria. People have the right to agitate for independence. Even in traditional institution people agitate for autonomy. When people agitate and they cannot get it, they drop the idea. It is not for you to silence them. That is oppression. Agitation is legitimate,” Fayose was quoted as saying.
Similarly, Fani-Kayode expressed his delight at the new alliance between Yorubas and Igbos over the continued detention of Kanu. He said the alliance meant that the South was coming together.
As at press time, the Nigerian government was yet to speak on whether or not it would honour the bail if the conditions are met. The government has in the past refused to honour bails granted some politically exposed persons including Sambo Dasuki, a retired colonel and a former National Security Adviser and Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, a Shiite leader.
That notwithstanding, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, counsel to Kanu, said on Wednesday, April 26, that his client would perfect the bail conditions within 48 hours. He also warned that refusing to allow him to go on bail would be seriously resisted.
Ejiofor said: “Any attempt by government to flout this court order must be resisted. In fact, it will bring to an end this trial. Because we will opt out. We will not allow him to continue with the trial.”
Adekunle Orafidiya, a public commentator, said he could not understand why Kanu’s co-accused persons were not given bail as well. “Methinks Nnamdi Kanu should reject the bail granted him except his fellow IPOB members benefit from same,” he said. In any case, Orafidiya said justice must be done and seen to be done.
He, however, commended Fayose for his solidarity with, and support for, the IPOB leader.
While welcoming the bail granted Kanu as a good development, Monday Ubani, a second national vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association, said that the late Odumegwu Ojukwu once described the Biafra struggle as no longer a physical fight, but a struggle of the mind.
Ubani said the agitators had no firsthand experience of what it means to go to war and that is why they had developed penchant for beating drums of war. He said: “It is not sheer coincidence that none of the prominent supporters of the Indigenous People of Biafra was in Biafra during the 30-month civil war whose consequences are still there to see.” He said Nigerians had fully integrated that it will be difficult for any region to want to break away.
On his part, Anya O. Anya, a professor of Biology, said it was time for Nigeria as a nation to address its imbalance through restructuring. He warned: “I said it before, holding him a hundred years is not going to solve any problem. Nnamdi Kanu and people who think like him are reacting to the injustice in the Nigerian system. Tell the Nigerian system to restructure so that there is equal opportunity and justice all around; you will find that nobody wants to go away.” (see Box).
Be that as it may, a lot of Nigerians would like to see the case against Kanu resolved quickly and in tandem with dispensation of justice rather than keeping him in prison custody, thereby denying his fundamental rights to freedom. Besides, some persons have argued that keeping Kanu in prison or restricting his movement and number of associates would simply win him more sympathisers and make him a hero.
That notwithstanding, his lawyer has also repeatedly said that there is no evidence to sustain the charge against Kanu and his co-accusers. If, indeed, there is, it appears that the government is taking too much time in proving their guilt in this matter. As the saying goes: justice delayed is justice denied. Will this be the case in respect of Kanu and his Biafra supporters? Time is of essence and government needs to act fast. The world is patiently waiting!