In this report, ERIC IKHILAE traces the history of the trial of Nnamdi Kanu from his arrest in Lagos on October 14, 2015.
The self-proclaimed leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, was arrested on October 14, 2015, by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) at a hotel in Lagos.
In a court document filed later by the DSS, its operative, Temisan John, who led the team that arrested Kanu, said he was the Golden Tulip Hotel in Lagos in the company of a young girl.
John said: “On arrival at the hotel, the staff denied having Kanu in the hotel or having any knowledge of him, even when shown his photograph. The hotel’s guests manifest for about five days were also printed and the name was not found on any.
“However, relying on accurate intelligence, the team decided to conduct a physical search on all the hotel rooms, leading to the arrest of Kanu in Room 303, where he was caught hibernating with a young girl named Maryam Ibezimakor, with all his broadcasting and communication gadgets set for use.
“It was then discovered that Kanu checked in under the name Nwanekaenyi Ezebuiro. He was subsequently arrested and taken to the command headquarters.”
Kanu was later taken before Magistrate Shuaibu Umsman of the Magistrates’ Court, Wuse Zone 2, Abuja.
He was, in a First Information Report (FIR) filed before the court by the state, accused of engaging in “criminal intimidation” contrary to sections 97(a) and (b) and 397 of the penal Code. He was also accused of engaging in terrorism financing.
He was arraigned before the Magistrates’ Court on October 19, 2015. He pleaded not guilty to the information and was later granted bail at N2million with a surety, who must be a civil servant of Grade Level 16.
Kanu’s lawyer, Egechukwu Obetta, later accused the DSS of frustrating the bail granted to his client by refusing to release him.
Rather than release Kanu in compliance with the bail granted by the Magistrates’ Court, the DSS went before a Federal High Court, in Abuja with an ex-parte application marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/873/20015 for an order to further detain Kanu for 90 days.
Justice Adeniyi Ademola, on November 11, 2015, granted the application brought under Section 27(1) of the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013
Satisfied with the order of the Federal High Court, the DSS later discontinued the proceedings before the Magistrates’ Court and took no further steps on the case.
Fundamental rights suit
Kanu’s lawyers late returned to Justice Ademola’s court with a
fundamental rights application to challenge their client’s continued detention when no charge was pending against him before any court.
Justice Ademola, in a ruling on December 17, 2015, ordered the DSS to release Kanu forthwith since no charge was pending against him.
Before any major steps could be taken concerning the latest ruling by Justice Ademola, the state filed a six-count charge against Kanu and two others before the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The others are Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi (said to be a Field Maintenance Engineer with MTN Nigeria Limited).
They were charged with criminal conspiracy, treason, illegal importation of goods and possession of firearms.
At their first appearance before the Federal High Court on December 23, 2015, the defendants objected to being tried before Justice Ahmed Mohammed, to whom the case was assigned, claiming he was not sure he could get justice. The judge withdrew from the case.
On September 26, 2016, Kanu and others appeared before another judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, who later withdrew following a petition by Kanu’s lawyers to the National Judicial Council (NJC).
In the petition, Kanu’s lawyers accused the judge of making conflicting decisions in an application by the prosecution to be allowed to shield its witnesses from public view, which they claimed would not guaranty fairness and justice for the defendants.
Ruling on September 26, 2016, Justice Tsoho (who is now the court’s Chief Judge) returned the case file to the then Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta.
They are, in the amended charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/383/2015, charged with terrorism, treasonable felony, managing an unlawful society, publication of defamatory matter, illegal possession of firearms and improper importation of goods.
In a ruling on December 1, 2016, Justice Nyako rejected their bail applications on the grounds that the offences for which they were being tried “are very serious in nature” and therefore not ordinarily bailable.
The defence rejected the move by the prosecution to open its case. Instead, it challenged the competence of the charge, arguing that the proof of evidence submitted by the prosecution did not support the charge.
Some charges struck out
In a ruling on March 1, 2017, Justice Nyako upheld the defence’s arguments on some counts in the charge and struck out six out of the 11 counts.
The judge struck out counts 3,5,7,9,10 &11, relating to the commission of acts of terrorism, improper importation of goods and managing an unlawful society.
She left counts 1, 2,4, 6 and 8, which relates to offences of conspiracy to commit acts of treasonable felony and other related offences.
Shortly after the counts were reduced to five, Kanu’s lawyer approached the court again with another bail application.
This time, he raised the issue of his client’s health, which the judge later agreed with.
In a ruling on April 25, 2017, Justice Nyako rejected the objection by the prosecution and granted bail to Kanu, with the exclusion of the other defendants. The judge said her decision to grant bail was based on health grounds.
In less than two weeks, Kanu was out of custody, having satisfied the bail conditions.
Abaribe as surety
As sureties, Kanu got Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, representing Abia South; Jewish Priest Emmanuel Shalum Oka Ben Madu and an Abuja-based Accountant, Tochukwu Uchendu.
By the schedule of the court, the prosecution was to open its case on October 17. But when parties got to court, the other defendants were present except Kanu.
Lead prosecuting lawyer, Shuaibu Labaran, applied for the revocation of the bail granted Kanu and for the issuance of an arrest warrant against him
His lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, denied knowledge of his client’s whereabouts.
Ejiofor added: “Ever since the Army raided his home on September 11 and 14, 2017, we have not seen the first defendant. I cannot tell if he is dead or alive.”
He urged the court to reject Labaran’s application concerning the sureties.
He informed the court that he filed a suit against the Chief of Army Staff, to compel the Nigerian Army to account for Kanu’s whereabouts.
He alleged that soldiers invaded the IPOB leader’s house in Afara-Ukwu Ibeku, Umuahia, Abia State, following which he had been missing.
The judge rejected the defence’s argument and insisted that Abaribe must either present Kanu in court or forfeit his N100million bail bond.
Before further steps could be taken in the trial, Justice Nyako heard the application filed by Kanu’s lawyer in which he, among others, sought “an order of Habeas Corpus ad subjiciendum, commanding the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to produce the applicant in court.”
The judge gave her verdict on the application on January 27, 2018, and dismissed it for lacking in merit.
Justice Nyako also, in a later ruling, rejected Abaribe’s request to be allowed to withdraw as Kanu’s surety.
On February 20, 2018, the prosecution noted that Kanu’s continued absence was harmful to progress in the case and applied that the case be severed to exclude Kanu to allow the trial of Kanu separately whenever he turns up.
The separate trial of Kanu’s associates commenced on March 22, during which the prosecution, before opening its case, re-arraigned the defendants on an amended charge, which now included Bright Chimezie as a defendant.
Chimeze, Benjamin Madubugwu, Chidiebere Onwudiwe and David Nwawuisi and now being tried separately.
On March 28, 2019, the court, upon an application by the prosecution, revoked the bail granted Kanu and issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
The arrest order was still subsisting until he was produced in court yesterday.
Culled: The Nation