As the Federal High Court in Abuja gets set on July 26, 2021 to continue the trial of Nnamdi Kanu for treasonable felony, government’s inadequate answers to questions raging over the circumstances of his re-arrest are unlikely to stem the controversy on the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). No doubt, his re-arrest and re-arraignment in court are matters of high public interest for various reasons.
One issue is that IPOB, having been accused on occasions by government to be behind many breaches of peace and security in the South East part of Nigeria, the organisation ordinarily has an opportunity to present its role, if any, on the breaches. To be able to present its side of the coin properly, the resumed trial of Kanu needs to be fair and transparent.
And that requirement, incidentally, has raised concern over whether or not government can guarantee the desired fair trial, judging by the perceived high-handedness and alleged irregularities of his re-arrest. The IPOB leader who holds dual citizenship in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, fled Nigeria in September 2017 after soldiers invaded his home in Afara-Ukwu, near Abia State, during an anti-Biafra military operation in the South-east region. Before then, he was standing trial for treasonable felony arising from his activities as IPOB leader; and he had been granted bail by the court.
His re-arrest four years later, which took the country by surprise, considering that he was known to be residing abroad, was tersely announced by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of justice, Abubakar Malami on June 29, to the effect that “recent steps taken by the Federal Government saw to the interception of the fugitive Kanu on Sunday, June 27, 2021.” Mr. Malami said at a press conference that Mr. Kanu “has been arrested through the collaborative efforts of Nigerian intelligence and security services.”
Since then, there have been controversies on whether government observed due internationally accepted process in re-arresting him; and whether the amount of public resources expended on the operation was worth it, given the seemingly more urgent need to stop massive killings and abduction of Nigerians by bandits particularly in the northern parts of the country.
Not surprisingly, many concerned Nigerians including the Ohanaeze N’digbo, have urged that Kanu’s rights under the Constitution as a mere accused person, as opposed to a criminal convict, be preserved while his trial should observe the tenets of fairness. Good enough, the office of the attorney general has welcomed the formation of legal team by Ohanaeze Ndigbo to monitor the proceedings at the trial “which is in line with the doctrine of the right of fair hearing rooted in Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” according to a statement by Malami’s spokesperson, Umar Gwandu.
Ohanaeze insisted that in as much as it was not averse to Kanu’s trial, he must be tried within the ambit of the laws of the country and in line with global best practices, adding that it identifies with grievances of the Igbo youths on the marginalisation, menace of Fulani herdsmen among others.
The circumstance of his repatriation has not failed to worry the international community. Already, his alleged abduction, rather than extradition from Kenya, is being likened to the 1984 attempted kidnap of Umaru Dikko, in a crate in the United Kingdom. Kanu’s lawyer has alleged his torture and inhuman treatment in Kenya, as a violation of his rights and negation of known convention and diplomatic protocols.
The Kenyan envoy has also disassociated the East African country from complicity. The Federal Government has a duty therefore to come clean on the modality of the arrest, at least to set records straight, notwithstanding Malami’s simple insistence that a bench warrant for Kanu’s re-arrest was lawfully issued by a competent court of law.
The allegations against Kanu are indeed rife but they have grave political undertones of ethnic marginalisation which neither warrant abuse of his rights nor extra-legal treatment by the Nigerian state. Eleven-count charges have been penciled against Kanu, among which are treason, treasonable felony, terrorism and illegal possession of firearms. The government had earlier blamed Kanu and IPOB for using social media to incite violence against the government and for the “unknown gunmen” menace in the South-east that targeted government assets.
However, under the Constitution, Kanu is presumed innocent until otherwise ruled by a court of competent jurisdiction. He should, therefore, be accorded his rights to a fair and open trial and not treated as a convict, lest his prosecution is seen as a persecution.
Nevertheless, separatist agitations were borne out of sheer failure of government to fulfill its basic duty to the people – security of lives, properties and welfare of Nigerians. Nigerians consider it distasteful that government expends so much efforts and resources against one man whose major offence is seeking self-determination for his people suffering under the yoke imposed by marauding Fulani herdsmen who have been killing, kidnapping and raping for years without attracting even a mere condemnation by government.
The Buhari government’s double standard in overlooking incendiary statements and criminal actions emanating from a section of the country, while clamping down hard on other Nigerians demanding justice amounts to official miscarriage of justice that has no place in modern governance. On the contrary, the solution to sustainable peace is not to suppress agitators or label them as terrorists when the real daredevil terrorists in the north are roaming the streets unchallenged.
For good measure, the Buhari government should expend similar commitment exerted in the arrest of Kanu at eradicating herder-bandits and kidnappers terrorising Nigerians. A little sincerity at checkmating these criminals and their sponsors will go a long way towards ending insurgency and insecurity across the land. That will instill confidence in government and remove suspicions of primitive nepotism.