The Nigerian government has withdrawn an amended six-count charge it filed barely 24 hours earlier against the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.
The prosecuting lawyer, D.E. Kaswe, withdrew the charge during Wednesday’s proceedings in the trial of Mr Kanu on terrorism-related charges at the Federal High Court in Abuja,
The amended charge which listed two of Mr Kanu’s lawyers – Ifeanyi Ejiofor and Maxwell Opara – as “accomplices” in the terrorism-related case, was withdrawn following an objection from the IPOB leader’s lead counsel, Mike Ozekhome.
Mr Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said he was served with two “hefty” court papers (the amended charge) on Tuesday (May 17), 24 hours to Wednesday’s proceedings.
“We were only served with two heft volumes of the amended charge just yesterday (Tuesday),” Mr Ozekhome told the judge while struggling to wave the court documents in buttressing his argument.
“My client (Mr Kanu) has not even seen the charges, yet the prosecution wants him to take his plea?” Mr Ozekhome wondered.
But responding, the judge said, “I’m seeing my own amended charge this morning. I did not know that there is an amended charge.”.
Not discouraged from pursuing the commencement of Mr Kanu’s trial, the prosecuting lawyer urged Mrs Nyako to go on with the day’s hearing despite Mr Ozekhome’s objection.
“You (prosecution) will not foist the amended charges on us like that,” the judge retorted.
Subsequently, Mr Kaswe withdrew the newly filed charge, leaving the case with the seven-count that was validated by the judge on April 8.
“I am withdrawing the amended charge to allow today’s proceedings to go on,” the prosecuting lawyer said.
Mrs Nyako struck out the amended charge.
Earlier on o Wednesday, a court official who had told PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the prosecution named two lawyers in Mr Kanu’s legal team – Messrs Ejiofor and Opara – as “accomplices” in the charges which the prosecution was forced to withdraw on Wednesday.
“According to the amended charge, Messrs Ejiofor and Okpara are alleged to be in constant telephone conversation with Nnamdi Kanu while he was on exile,” the source told this reporter.
Recall that Mrs Nyako had in a ruling delivered on April 8, 2022, struck out eight of the 15 counts including terrorism and treasonable felony charge earlier brought against Mr Kanu by the government.
Mrs Nyako, in her ruling on Mr Kanu’s objection to the charges, threw out counts 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12,13 and 14 which she ruled were repetitive and invalid.
But she approved counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8 and 15, which Mr Kanu is currently being tried on.
The IPOB leader had already pleaded not guilty to the seven charges when he was arraigned in January.
The judge on Wednesday fixed May 26 for commencement of trial.
It’s difficult visiting Nnamdi Kanu – Lawyer
At Wednesday’s sitting, Mr Ozekhome complained of the “difficulties” often encountered with the State Security Service (SSS) while visiting the IPOB leader who is being held by the secret police.
He said visiting defence lawyers and Mr Kanu’s family members grapple with security checks at the SSS detention facility in Abuja.
“Hidden cameras in their (SSS) office record our conversations with the defendant whenever we visited him, but the service does not allow us in with even a pen or paper to confer with our client in preparation for his defence,” Mr Ozekhome told the judge.
‘SSS not above the law’
Worried by Mr Ozekhome’s complaint, the judge told the SSS’ director of legal department whose name could not be ascertained, to obey previous orders of the court granting access to Mr Kanu’s lawyers and family members.
Mrs Nyako reminded the spy agency that it was not above the law, adding that the court would be “forced to hold you in contempt.”
“If you do not do the needful, we will descend on you, because you are not above the law,” Mrs Nyako told the director of the legal department.
The judge then directed him to facilitate the meeting of Mr Kanu with his lawyers.
She then adjourned the case until May 26 for commencement of trial.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the court rejected Mr Kanu’s application for bail in a ruling earlier delivered on Wednesday.
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