IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu’s trial: The drama, the anxiety

IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu in court on Thursday

Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja

Tight security, involving deployment of well-armed and fierce looking security operatives around court premises has over time become a regular feature of the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the secessionist group, Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB.

But the security measures deployed at the resumption of the trial on Thursday was extra-ordinary – aside the barring of most journalists from going anywhere near the court premises, shutting down a section of the expressway on the right and left of the Headquarters of the Federal High Court building, all the courtrooms in the premises were also virtually on holiday while Kanu’s trial lasted.

Most staff of the court were also not allowed into the court premises while the matter lasted. Security operatives, some of who were hooded turned lawyers who came for other matters at the court.

The security operatives who have a list of those to be allowed into the court premises told lawyers that all other matters have been stood down in all the courts in the premises until the end of Kanu’s trial.

Some senior lawyers who were barred from accessing the court engaged in hot arguments with security operatives, but their efforts were futile.

Hoodlums Attacked Sowore

With the heavy deployments of security operatives around the court premises, journalists and others outside the court premises were surprised that a group of  hoodlums were still able to get near the court premises.

The hoodlums, who seemed to appear from nowhere immediately attacked Omoyele Sowore, the publisher of Saharareporters who their obvious target. Sowore was at the time engaged with some of the security operatives who had told him to go back as his name was not among those on their list of those to be allowed into the court room.

But the hoodlums believed to be sponsored immediately went after Sowore while the security operatives looked on until journalists who were also shut out of the courtroom. Following the rage by the journalists, the security operatives later arrested a couple of the hoodlums.

Kanu In Court

Kanu himself was brought into the courtroom on the fifth floor of the high-rise court building in company of heavily armed security agents just before 10am.

This was a relief given the fact that by the DSS had failed to produce him in court because of “logistical issues,” at the last time in July,  according to the prosecuting lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar.

He also pleaded not guilty to the amended seven-count charge file against him last week.

Kanu’s lawyer, Barrister Ifeanyi Ejiofor immediately said he will challenge the competency of the charges and after a few back and forth, Justice Binta Nyako fixed Nov. 10 for hearing of the application challenging the competency of the charges.

The judge also made an order that three people of Kanu’s choice should be allowed to visit him every Thursday. However, Kanu’s plea to be transferred to Kuje Correctional Centre was rejected by the court.

Kanu: The Road Back To Court

Kanu was first arrested by the Federal in 2017 and taken to court on charges bordering on treasonable felony over his agitations for carving out a Republic of Biafra, which will be made up of states in the South-east and some neighbouring states from Nigeria.

He was arrested alongside two others. He and his co-defendants were charged with offences of treasonable felony, unlawful possession of arms, and illegal importation of broadcast equipment, at the Federal High Court in Abuja.

But he was granted bail in April 2017 for health reasons. He however jumped bail by running out of the country in November of the same year. Kanu had claimed that he ran away from Nigeria after soldiers raided his father’s residence in Abia state and threatened his life.

Outside of Nigeria, Kanu had raised up his agitations for Biafra many notches higher using social media and Radio Biafra to preach the gospel of the need to break up Nigeria to millions of his supporters at home and at other parts of the world.

Nigerian Government accused  Kanu of using his radio and social media accounts to spread incendiary messages and consequently, declared IPOB  a terrorist group and proscribed it. Governors of Southeast followed suit and also proscribed the organisation.

The return of Kanu to court in Nigeria began on 29, June when the  Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, announced that that he has been rearrested and extradited to Nigeria to continue  his trial.

Malami, who said Kanu was intercepted a day before he made the announcement did not mention the country where he was arrested from. However, it has since emerged that Kanu was arrested in Kenya.

Anxiety In Southeast

The return of Kanu to court about four years after he jumped bail has provoked feverish anxiety in the Southeast with cacophony of suggestions from various interest groups in the region to the Federal Government or more, appropriately President Muhammadu Buhari on how the trial should be handled.

On Tuesday, a group of traditional rulers in the Southeast had suggested that the Federal Government should deproscribe IPOB, release Kanu and stop his trial for terrorism.

The suggestion by the traditional rulers was an echo of many such suggestions by other groups.

On its part, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Igbo social-cultural organization had some days ago appealed to Federal Government to ensure that that the Department of State Services bring Kanu to court today as a way of convincing the supporters of IPOB leader that he is alive And well. The group had also at various times asked me the Federal Government to set Kanu free.

The groups and other stakeholders have reasons to be anxious. Kanu’s  IPOB had some weeks ago threatened to declare a three month- sit -at home order over the Southeast if DSS failed to bring the secessionist leader to court for the Thursday’s trial.

IPOB has already demonstrated its capacity to actualize such threats with the sit-at -home order it declared in July after court gave permission to the DSS to continue to keep Kanu in detention. The secessionist group had declared that there will be no business or social activities across the Southeast states every Monday to protest the detention of its leader.

Gunmen believed to be members of Eastern Security Network, ESN, the militant arm of IPOB had vigorously enforced the initiative which was tagged ‘Ghost Mondays’ with attacks on travellers, destruction of displayed wares and killings in various parts of the region  every first working day of the week.

They thus succeeded in creating an atmosphere of fear that has ensured that most parts of the Southeast has continued to remain truly a ghost town every Monday as people keep off the streets in deference to the gunmen.

Even when IPOB, through Emma Powerful, its spokesperson said the group has called off the Monday’s sit-at-home-order, the fear of the gunmen continue to keep people off the streets of the various towns and villages of Southeast to the anguish of governors who seemed to have lost control to the secessionists.

According to a tally by Punch newspaper, no fewer than 175 persons, including soldiers, police and civilians, have lost their lives to the rampaging gunmen in the South-East within the last six months. While some of the killings were attributed to security operatives, but government had blamed the ESN created by Kanu to fight herders who were allegedly attacking farmers in the Southeast.

But the group has turned on those it perceived are opposed to its agitations, security operatives and government officials. The Federal Government blamed incendiary broadcasts by Kanu while he was away from the country as reasons for the attacks as was revealed in the amended charges against him.

But the IPOB leader has also dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Kenyan Government to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, over the alleged violation of his fundamental human rights by the two governments.

This is in addition to the suit he filed in a High Court of Abia State to challenge the alleged infringement on his fundamental rights by the Nigerian government.

Kanu had in the suit asked the court to award him N5bn as damages for the breach of his fundamental human rights. He had told the court in his application that the breach of his fundamental human rights by the Nigerian government began with the 2017 extrajudicial attempt on his life in Abia, leading to his involuntary flight to safety/exile and consequently, his abduction in Kenya, and his extradition to Nigeria.

Ahead of Thursday’s sitting, Kanu’s lawyer had told journalists that the people of the Southeast had continue to obey the every Monday sit-at-home order because they believed he was dead since he was not seen during his first appearance in court when he was repatriated to the country.

It is hoped that the situation in the region will return to normal and the attacks by gunmen will also end since Kanu was in court on Thursday.