Biafra: Kanu’s Secret Trial Begins Tuesday
Abuja (Blueprint) — The trial of the embattled leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu and three others before Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja, with the identities of prosecution witnesses shielded from the public, commences tomorrow.
Kanu was previously facing a six-count treason charge with Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, before the federal government amended the charges to include Mr. Chidiebere Onwudiwe as one of the defendants.
At the last sitting, Justice Nyako’s ruling granted the federal government’s application to shield the names and addresses of the prosecution witnesses who are largely security operatives.
Nyako’s ruling was greeted with angry pro-Biafra storming the court premises, protesting against the ruling with Kanu and other defendants who are answering to an 11-count charge bordering on treasonable felony and terrorism, expressed their displeasure over the decision.
Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu outside Abuja courtroom | circa Jan 20, 2016.
Delivering the judgment, Nyako ruled, “I hereby order that the names of the prosecution witnesses who are security operatives should appear in combination of alphabets and such witnesses will be given screens which will be provided by the court.
“The defendants and their counsel will be able to see the witnesses who will be given special access to and from the court,” Justice Nyako ruled.
The pro-Biafra agitators engaged prison warders and other security operatives in a scuffle at the court premises over the development.
The prosecution had applied for all the witnesses to be allowed to testify behind screen and for identities of the witnesses not to be revealed in any record of the proceedings.
However, the defendant through his counsel, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, opposed the application, arguing that granting such request would amount to a gross violation of their rights to fair hearing.
“We vehemently oppose secret trial of the defendants. They were accused in the open, we also request that they be tried in the open.
“The defendants need to see those testifying against them eye-ball-to-eye-ball,” he said.
It will be recalled that the federal government alleged that they committed the offence along with others now at large, on diverse dates in 2014 and 2015, in Nigeria, London and United Kingdom.
It told the court that the defendant conspired among themselves to broadcast on Radio Biafra which is monitored in Enugu and its environs, preparations they were making for states in the South-South zones and other communities in Kogi and Benue states, to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a view to constituting same into a Republic of Biafra.
The defendants had on November 8, pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them, even as the court adjourned to hear their bail applications.
Abuja (VOA) — In Nigeria, the trial of Biafran separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu will resume Tuesday, but the judge has ordered the proceedings to continue in secret, sparking further controversy.
FILE photo: Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu at the federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria Jan. 20, 2016 | Reuters
When Nnamdi Kanu was arrested by secret police in Lagos in October 2015, nobody dreamed the affair would go on this long. He has been granted bail once, rearrested once and then remained in custody since then, despite court orders to release him.
Now there is another twist.
In December, Justice Binta Nyako granted the prosecution’s application asking the Kanu trial be held in secret. The charges against the Biafran separatist leader include criminal conspiracy and treason.
Protests in the southeast related to his detention have killed dozens of people, according to local rights groups.
Amnesty International said in November the military has sought to squash the movement, killing at least 150 pro-Biafra activists since August 2015. Police and security forces dispute that version of events, and have accused demonstrators of attacking them.
The state argues that witnesses in this trial need to be shielded from intimidation and violence.
Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, rejects the thought.
“They have the security to protect their witnesses,” said Ejiofor. Why are they afraid? We are also talking about the fundamental human rights of the defendants who are being falsely accused. So we want to see the people coming to give evidence against them eyeball to eyeball. There should be no form of shielding. It is totally unacceptable to us and we cannot take it.”
Kanu was the head of Radio Biafra, a banned independent station that advocated for the restoration of the Republic of Biafra.
Talk of Biafra can strike a sensitive chord in Nigeria. The issue dates back to 1967 when Igbo separatists seceded. By the end of a civil war three years later, as many as two million people are believed to have been killed, many from starvation.
Despite this painful past, the issue of self-determination for the southeast has experienced a resurgence, though the movement denies any connection to violence.
“This is an intellectual fight,” noted Emma Powerful, the spokesperson for the Indigenous People of Biafra. “We are not going to carry any arms. And God has been there for us. We are not going to be violent. It is going to be an intellectual war. We must go. Either Biafra or death!”
President Muhammadu Buhari, who fought on the government side in the Biafran war, has ruled out independence for the region. In a statement in December, he called on activists to “have a rethink.”
If convicted, Kanu could face the death penalty.