The legal team of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, on Wednesday, walked out on Binta Nyako, the judge of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court handling the separatist’s trial.
Members of the defence team, led by Ifeanyi Ejiofor, were earlier seated in court but walked out just before the arrival of the judge about 10 a.m.
Their action was in protest against the refusal of the operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) to allow Bruce Fein, an American lawyer working with the team into the courtroom.
But they later accused the judge of bias for conducting proceedings in their absence.
Wednesday’s proceedings abruptly ended due to the lawyers’ walk-out, with the judge adjourning till January 19, 2022.
Mr Kanu, who is being prosecuted on a seven-count charge bordering on terrorism, had before Wednesday’s proceedings, engaged the spy police agents in a shouting-match inside the courtroom when he observed the absence of his legal team.
As proceedings resumed after the judge entered the courtroom, Mohammed Abubakar, announced an appearance for the prosecution.
However, the defence team, led by Mr Ejiofor was nowhere to be found, prompting the judge to ask Mr Kanu of his lawyers’ whereabouts.
In his response, Mr Kanu said his lawyers were protesting the denial of access to Mr Fein, the IPOB lawyer in the United States, who was on the Federal High Court premises to observe the day’s session.
Prosecution asks court to dismiss Mr Kanu’s pending applications
As a result of the development, the prosecuting lawyer, Mr Abubakar, urged the court to dismiss all the pending applications that were filed by Mr Kanu’s legal team.
“Having decided to stage a walk-out on the court, I urge my lord to dismiss the defendant’s pending applications,” Mr Abubakar who is the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation prayed the judge.
But the judge, who was visibly unhappy about the walk-out, declined the prosecution’s oral application calling for the dismissal of Mr Kanu’s pending requests.
“Staging a walk-out on the court is a very serious offence,” Mrs Nyako said.
“I will not dismiss the applications; let it be in the case file. But discuss with your lawyers so that their attitude can change,” the judge advised Mr Kanu.
Mrs Nyako noted that individuals seeking to attend Mr Kanu’s trial must write her court for consideration.
A diplomat from the British High Commission, who was in the courtroom to watch proceedings, said she had written the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, seeking his consent to attend Wednesday’s sitting, a procedure Mrs Nyako said was wrong.
“If you need to observe proceedings in my court, you must apply to me. But for the high respect I have for my Chief Judge, I will allow you for today,” the judge told the British diplomat.
Thereafter, the judge adjourned the suit till January 19 and 20, 2022 for trial.
The suit had earlier been fixed for Wednesday for the hearing of the defendant’s preliminary objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to conduct a hearing on the seven-count amended charge, which Mr Ejiofor described as “frivolous.”
‘Judge now part of the prosecution team’
Shortly after the judge adjourned proceedings in the suit, Mr Ejiofor flanked by Aloy Ejimakor and Bruce Fein, told journalists that Mrs Nyako had taken sides with the Nigerian government by conducting proceedings in their absence.
“It is now clear that the honourable trial judge (Mrs Nyako) part of the prosecuting team. She will have to recuse herself,” Mr Ejiofor said.
Similarly, Mr Ejimakor described the development as “strange” wondering why the judge sat on the matter behind their back.
It will be recalled that the SSS barred journalists and lawyers from the court on October 21, when the trial last held.
Mr Kanu is being tried on charges of treasonable felony regarding his separatist activities. The trial was scheduled to resume before Mrs Nyako, for arguments on an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.
The separatist, who was granted bail in April 2017, fled the country after the invasion of his home in Afara-Ukwu, near Umuahia, Abia State, by the military in September that year, a situation one of Mr Kanu’s lawyers, Alloy Ejimakor, described as the “rule of self-preservation.”
Mrs Nyako subsequently revoked his bail for ditching his trial, and ordered his trial to be separated from the rest of the co-defendants’.
While the trial of the rest of the defendants has made some progress, Mr Kanu’s has been stalled since 2017.
On June 29, 2021, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, announced that Mr Kanu had been rearrested and brought back to Nigeria to continue facing his trial.
He said the IPOB leader was “intercepted” days earlier but did not give details.
Although there has been no official disclosure about where and how Mr Kanu was arrested, relatives and lawyers to the IPOB leader, have described how he was “kidnapped” in Kenya under controversial circumstances.
There won’t be fair trail – Ohaneze Ndigbo
The Ohaneze Ndigbo had said there will not be fair trial of Mr Kanu.
Ralph Uwazurike, a lawyer, who was detailed to watch brief on behalf of Ohaneze, restated his earlier concerns on Wednesday pertaining to the attitude of the Nigerian security operatives at the court premises.
“It is now clear that Nnamdi Kanu will not get fair trial,” Mr Uwazurike told journalists on Thursday at the court premises.
The atmosphere at the court was tense.
Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra State and representative of Ohaneze Ndigbo were barred from accessing the court on Wednesday.
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