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Alleged Treasonable Felony: Nigeria Court Declines to Try Biafra Separatist Kanu in Absentia

Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, declined to proceed with the trial of self-acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu

Nnamdi Kanu

Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, declined to proceed with the trial of self-acclaimed leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu until he was physically brought to court.

The judge, who ordered the Department of State Service (DSS) to produce him by October 21, declined to go ahead with the trial in absentia since Kanu has been re-arrested and in custody of the DSS.

Kanu and three others were standing trial for alleged treasonable felony and five other charges.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges and the court in April 2017 granted bail to Kanu on health grounds.

However, Kanu jumped bail in September 2017 after soldiers invaded his family house in Afaruku, Abia State. His failure to attend his trial forced the court to revoked his bail and issued a warrant for his arrest in 2019.

The federal government working in collaboration with security agencies re-arrested Kanu in Kenya and brought him back to Nigeria, to continue his trial.

When he was brought to court on June 29, 2021, Justice Nyako ordered his remand in DSS custody pending the notification of his lawyer and fixed July 26 for continuation of trial.

At the resumed trial, however, counsel to the prosecution, Mr Mohammed Abubakar, informed the court that the case was for hearing and although defendant had not yet been produced by the DSS, due to logistic reasons, they were ready to proceed with the trial, adding that they had three witnesses in court.

But in a swift reaction, Kanu’s lawyer, Mr Ifeanyi Ejiofor, informed the court that the DSS had denied him and relatives of Kanu the opportunity to see him.

“I was informed authoritatively, I am speaking from the bar, that Nnamdi Kanu has been taken out of jurisdiction of this court. We have been denied access to Kanu in the last 10 days. We are worried about his safety and don’t know why the federal government refused to bring him in court”, he said.

Ejiofor said he had consequently has filed an application, seeking the transfer of Kanu from the DSS custody to the Correctional center.

Interjecting, Nyako said the court could not do anything without the presence of Kanu in court. She noted that Kanu was being tried in absentia, because he was not in the country but, now that he has been arrested and in custody, the prosecution must produce him in court during trial in line with the law.

Similarly, when Abubakar raised the issue of whether the court would need a fiat to proceed with the trial during vacation, Nyako, stated that it was the duty of the prosecution to apply for the fiat if they wanted the trial during vacation and not the duty of her court.

While the annual vacation of the Federal High Court commenced Monday July 26, it was however noted that Nyako was not one of the vacation judges.

In a short ruling, Nyako, said the court observed that the defendant was not in court when the matter was called and accordingly ordered the prosecution to produce Kanu in court on the next adjourned date, October 21.

While indicating that Kanu would remain in the custody of the DSS for now, she ordered the DSS to allow his lawyers have access to him in line with the law.

Nyako stated that if the prosecution was able to get a fiat from the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the court could reschedule the date for next hearing.

However, reacting, a former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who was in court on behalf of Ohaneze Ndigbo, told journalists shortly after the court’s proceedings that,he was shocked that the federal government did not produce Kanu in court today (Monday) to face his trial.

While he described Kanu as a son, the former governor stressed that no matter what people feel or think about Kanu, he belonged to a people and they will stand by him in times like these.

Ezeife, stated that it was pertinent for Kanu to be “brought to court. We want to see him; we want to know whether he is still alive. I hope the government will produce him on the next adjourned date”.

Before the day’s proceedings, security personnel comprising DSS and Police completely took over the premises of the Federal High Court in Abuja.

As early as 6.40am the security operatives had barricaded all roads to the court, ensuring only staff of the Court and accredited journalists had access into the premises.

Due to the security hurdles, it was difficult for lawyers and journalists to access the courtroom.

At a point, tempers were flared up, when lawyers to the secessionist agitator in their numbers insisted that they must be part of the court proceedings.

The lawyers claimed that the court was an open place and should not be shut especially to lawyers.

They also opposed screening by security operatives claiming that lawyers could not present ID cards before they would be given access into the court.

Court staff insisted that only a very limited number of persons would be allowed into the court due to the sensitive nature of the case and compliance with the covid-19 guidelines.

Alex Enumah in Abuja and Kemi Olaitan in Ibadan

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