Alleged Treasonable Felony: Court Declines to Try Kanu in Absentia
Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja, yesterday, 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.
But Sunday Adeyemi, otherwise called Sunday Igboho, who was being tried in Benin Republic, was yesterday tried behind closed doors as journalists and his supporters were shut out.
Similarly, Afenifere, a Pan Yoruba socio-political organisation, yesterday, lauded the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja II and the Olubadan of Ibadan, Oba Saliu Adetunji, for sending a delegation to Benin Republic, where Chief Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho,was facing trial.
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.
On Sunday Igboho, his supporters, who had been in court as early as 7:30am yesterday anticipating his arrival were however disappointed as there was no sign of him. Many detainees were brought to court for hearing in minibuses, but none of those buses had Igboho in them.
His trial was scheduled for 10 am on Monday.
But a source within the courts, hinted that Igboho had been brought to court earlier than anyone thought to avoid the possibility of any drama or clash.
The source, a court staff, added that Igboho was now at the “phase of law enforcement” in the court, and was currently indoors with the prosecutor in charge.
Idris Oladejo, Igboho’s cleric, also confirmed that his friend, whom he “had been fasting and praying for, is in court”.
A Beninese monarch, who came to court to support Igboho also sat outside the courtroom.
Police officers, Igboho’s supporters, other detainees and journalists were equally outside anticipating information from the prosecutor’s office.
However, around 4:30 p.m., security officials at the Benin Republic High Court in Cotonou were seen asking supporters of Yoruba nation activist, Sunday Igboho, to leave the court premises.
According to sources, the hearing was no longer expected to take place in the courtroom due to the large turnout of people, who had besieged the court on Monday to witness the hearing.
As of the time of filing in this report, the hearing was said to be taking place in one of the offices inside the High Court as the main courtroom that was scheduled to be used for the hearing was deserted.
Meanwhile, Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in a release issued on Monday by Comrade Jare Ajayi, National Publicity Secretary of the organisation, called for the stoppage of harassment of those it described as freedom agitators and innocent citizens.
The Olubadan had announced the raising of a delegation to be at the court, where the Yoruba agitator was being tried in Cotonou.
The announcement was made public by Olubadan’s spokesman, Mr. Adeola Oloko, while the monarch was hosting the executive council members of Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII) led by its President, Prince Oluyemisi Adeaga
Afenifere, which also lauded the Ooni for setting up the Ooni Caucus meant to work on various issues pertaining to Yoruba interests including the travails of Igboho, the situation ought not to have occurred at all, if there had been good governance in Nigeria and people were not needlessly harassed.
“It is so sad that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is concentrating on hunting and harassing those, who are seeking relief from the oppressive situation in Nigeria while shying away from tackling the menaces of kidnapping, terrorism and antics bordering on ethnic cleansing,” it said.
On the propriety of Sunday Igboho trying to escape abroad, Afenifere maintained that there was nothing strange or wrong with this, adding that history is replete with conveyors of a new order having to seek refuge outside their immediate environment at least for a time.
“We recall that Moses had to be taken away from the prying eyes of Pharaoh and his agents in Egypt. Prophet Muhammed (s.a.w) too had to leave his hometown, Mecca for Medina in order to escape persecution. Thus, there is nothing wrong in Igboho seeking a respite first to preserve his life and perhaps to re-strategize.”
Afenifere, however, accused the federal government of going after freedom agitators while neglecting those who were known to be behind terrorism in the country.
“By its conduct, government is giving people reasons to belief the allegation that it is pursuing a Fulanisation agenda. Harassment of freedom agitators and innocent citizens must stop forthwith” the release added.