After speculations about his health and whereabouts since his re-arrest in June, the detained leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, finally appeared in court for his re-arraignment yesterday, eliciting some joyous reaction in court and most parts of the Southeast. His trial had been delayed for three months when authorities failed to produce him in court.
Kanu was brought into the court premises in a heavily fortified security convoy led by a black Prado SUV at exactly 8:00 a.m. Many were sceptical as to whether he was actually in the convoy considering that a similar drama took place on July 27 when he was first re-arraigned.
But two hours later, Kanu, who wore a white Fendi designer jumpsuit, was ushered into the courtroom by security operatives to face a seven-count amended charge bordering on incitement, terrorism, treasonable felony and money laundering.
The charges against Kanu, a British citizen, also included calling for secession, knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari and membership of an outlawed group.
Entrances leading to the court premises were barricaded by a combination of gun-wielding Department of State Services (DSS) operatives, the army, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and men of the Nigerian Police, while a large number of security personnel were deployed to the premises and its surrounding to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
However, restriction of human and vehicular movements, baring of journalists from coverage as well as the harassment of lawyers, who had other matters in court, caused serious uproar and chaos within and around the court area. Security operatives also forcibly dispersed crowds of supporters who gathered nearby.
Even some select journalists finally made their way into the court premises, they were strictly restricted from going into Court 2 by the DSS who were allegedly acting on the directives of the trial judge, Binta Nyako.
Though Kanu’s lead counsel, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, was later granted access into the courtroom, other lawyers, journalists and representatives of apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, were barred from entering the court premises, including former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife.
When the seven-count charge was read to him, at about 10:45 a.m., the separatist leader pleaded not guilty. Kanu beamed with smiles as he took photos with his team of lawyers before the court session began. Some security men also took selfies with him inside the court. He looked healthy and in good spirits.
Kanu was first arrested in 2015 but disappeared while on bail in April 2017. His social media posts during his absence and his Radio Biafra broadcasts outraged the government, which said they encouraged attacks on security forces.
Shortly after pleading not guilty, the judge ordered that he remains in the custody of the DSS after failing to grant his request to be transferred to a correctional centre. The case was then adjourned till November 10, 2021.
Justice Nyako adjourned the case after counsel to Kanu, Ejiofor, informed that he had notice of preliminary objection challenging the fresh seven-count charge filed against his client.
Counsel to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Abubakar, told the court that an amended seven counts had already been filed and he prayed the court for the charges to be read to Kanu to take his plea.
The court refused the application by his lawyer for the transfer of Kanu to Kuje Correctional Centre. However, Justice Binta Nyako, allowed three persons of his choice to visit him at the DSS facility.
Speaking with newsmen after leaving the courtroom, Ejiofor said he urged the court “to dismiss the seven-count charges, acquit our client and discharge him before the case was adjourned.”
He added that the matter was adjourned to allow lawyers to challenge the competence of the new charges brought against him by the Federal Government.
Ejiofor said they have an application challenging the competence of the underlying charges, most of which reference Radio Biafra broadcasts made out of London. “I can’t see how someone would make a statement in London and it becomes a triable offence in this country,” Ejiofor told reporters.
UMUAHIA, the capital of Abia State, Kanu’s home state, was on total lockdown in solidarity with the IPOB leader yesterday. The streets were completely empty as residents remained indoors in full compliance with the ‘sit-at-home order.
There were no vehicular movements except for a few vehicles that occasionally passed by. No market or shop was open around the state capital as residents stayed indoors. Banks and schools both private and the public were all shut down. There were no incidents of violence anywhere in the capital city.