When the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB resumed on Tuesday, the judge, Binta Nyako, was furious over the absence of the controversial secessionist.
As far as the judge was concerned, someone had to be held responsible for the absence of the accused. The annoyance showed in her voice and carriage as she engaged both the prosecutors and the defence teams in a verbal war.
Reacting harshly to a request by the prosecution, Mrs. Nyako warned that the courtroom, one of many at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, was “Justice Binta Nyako’s courtroom not Labaran’s courtroom.”
Mrs. Nyako did not stop there. The irate judge berated Mr. Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, as well as other lawyers in the defence team for what she described as ”attempts by counsel to frustrate the trial, presided over by her.”
“You know that I don’t like drama,” Mrs. Nyako said, stopping Mr. Ejiofor short when the latter attempted to submit that the prosecution’s denial of knowledge about Mr. Kanu’s whereabouts surprised him (Ejiofor).
“What the prosecution is simply saying is that your client is not here. And because of that, I should revoke his bail. Now it is my turn to ask you, where is your client? Mrs. Nyako queried.
“Some members of the defence are making matters difficult for others. If you don’t want me to continue with this case, I will recuse myself,” she added.
Also, when one of Mr. Kanu’s sureties, Eyinnaya Abaribe, a senator addressed the court, through his counsel, applying to be discharged as the defendant’s surety, Mrs. Nyako responded swiftly. Mr. Abaribe had subtly linked the invasion of Mr. Kanu’s home by the military on September 11 as a possible factor in his failure to appear in court.
But the judge would have none of that.
She told Mr. Abaribe’s lawyer that none of the submissions contained in his appeal would be considered by the court.
“Even if you apply from today till tomorrow, you have only three options: produce Nnamdi Kanu, forfeit the bond (N100 million), or request for time to bring him back to court to face his trial.
“Once you sign to be somebody’s surety, that person automatically becomes your responsibility,” Mrs. Nyako said.
The judge’s mood was perhaps understandable. It was based on the fact that when her court granted Mr. Kanu bail, on April, 25 it added 12 main conditions, primarily aimed at ensuring that the defendant would be able to effectively attend his trial.
Mr. Kanu was expected, as part of those conditions, to avoid a crowd of more than 10 people, avoid granting press interviews and engaging in any form of agitation.
Mr. Kanu is believed to have flouted may of the bail conditions, thus leading the Nigerian government to call for the revocation of the bail.
The bail initiated a series of developments that culminated in ‘the disappearance of Mr. Kanu.’
Shortly after the April 25 bail, Mr. Kanu was seen in a large crowd within his father’s compound in Abia State, in what was called ”a worship gathering” by the defendant’s lawyer.”
Mr. Kanu was also seen in YouTube videos calling on Nigerians from the South-east region to support a stay-at-home order to press home their demand for Biafra.
The stay-at-home order given by the IPOB leader witnessed relative success in parts of the South-east and some states in the South-south, like Rivers State.
Mr. Kanu was also seen in other YouTube videos calling on the federal government to set a date for a referendum that would usher in the break-away of the region to form the Republic of Biafra or risk massive protest from IPOB members. He also issued similar threats like the boycott of elections in Anambra scheduled to hold November 18.
In what has been regarded as a reaction to the agitation by Mr. Kanu and his IPOB supporters, a Northern group asked South-easterners living in the north to leave the region before October, 1.
The situation aggravated an already tense security atmosphere in the country, with leaders from various parts of the country condemning both groups for their actions.
While all these were ongoing, the federal government demanded the revocation of Mr. Kanu’s bail on August 25, accusing the IPOB leader of flouting all the conditions listed in his bail.
Although that application was reportedly filed in August, during the annual vacation of federal high court judges, the matter was never listed, even among cases to be treated by vacations judges in the court.
THE ARMY’S ROLE
A few days after the government announced the plan to call for a revocation of Mr. Kanu’s bail, the Nigerian Army announced it would commence an operation in the South-east. Operation Python Dance was an exercise to check criminality in the region, the army said.
However, by the time the exercise commenced in Abia State, Mr. Kanu’s home state, clashes occurred between IPOB members and soldiers with both sides accusing each other of starting the confrontation.
As the clashes continued, the military labelled IPOB a terrorist organisation, a decision later backed by the federal government through a court order; while Mr. Kanu’s lawyer accused the army of kidnapping his client on September 14. He also asked them to produce him in court at his resumed hearing.
Mr. Ejiofor’s claim appears logical. If a group has been declared a terrorist organisation, and many of its members arrested, wouldn’t the leader of such group also be arrested? Or why does it appear the military is not interested in the whereabouts of the leader of a ‘terrorist organisation’.
However, in a reply to Mr. Ejiofor’s claim, military spokesperson, John Enenche, dismissed the allegations.
“I watched the operations live. I also got first-hand information from our men on the ground. For the records, Nnamdi Kanu was never taken away by the military.
“The military is doing its routine exercise/operation. I saw everything, nobody raided Kanu house. I stand to justify it not from the information I got. I was watching it live. I was monitoring it live.
“Nobody raided his house, nobody went to ‘carry’ him that must be very clear. I saw the militancy, nobody told me,” Mr. Enenche, a major general, said in an interview with journalists in Abuja.
Also speaking later on Mr. Kanu’s disappearance, a former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, claimed the IPOB leader had fled to London.
“Nnamdi Kanu is in London as we speak. He was not arrested by anybody. He left on his own,” Mr. Kalu said in an interview with Punch newspapers.
Reacting, Mr. Ejiofor accused the former governor of playing to the gallery to ”gain favour from the government.”
“What do you expect from a man, who is enjoying a temporary freedom and struggling to get his head out of grievous corruption charge hanging on his neck? He saw Nnamdi Kanu’s travail as an opportunity to seek relevance from the prosecuting authority,” Mr. Ejiofor said insisting his client was being held by the army.
With Mr. Kanu’s whereabouts not clear, many Nigerians looked forward to the October 17 court case, hoping to see if he would appear (if he’s in hiding) or be brought to court (if he is in the custody of security agencies).
Neither happened. The IPOB leader was absent.
For Mrs. Nyako, irrespective of the military’s actions, the responsibility to produce the separatist leader in court lies with his sureties. She asked the sureties, including the want-away senator, to appear in court on November 20, to explain ”the disappearance of Mr. Kanu.”
Speaking of possible options to be taken if (Kanu) does not show up, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ahmed Raji said; ”the simple thing to do would be to declare him wanted.”
“It is simple. What the court can do is to declare him wanted. I don’t think the court can do anything more than what it has mentioned in its conditions to the sureties,” he said.
While many Nigerians will now look forward to the adjourned date of November 20, the question many will continue to ask is: Where is Nnamdi Kanu?