Southeast leaders urge caution as Kalu loses bail bid
Buhari asks separatists to forget about dividing Nigeria
The Federal Government is under pressure from the Southeast region to reconsider sundry demands made by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as the Federal High Court Abuja yesterday refused to grant bail to its leader, Mr. Nnamdi Kalu, and three other members.
In anticipation of yesterday’s sitting, where the bail application was to be determined, the security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Army, had raised barricades at various entry and exit points to the Southeast geopolitical zone, fueling tension in the region.
The bail denial and heavy military presence in the region could mean that government is prepared to keep the IPOB leader in detention and to quell any dissent until the case is concluded. Residents consider heavy security in the region as oppressive.
Military men of Operation Python Dance recently launched by the Army in the Southeast zone yesterday combed the surroundings of the River Niger Bridge Head in Asaba, the Delta State capital, leaving motorists in fear of the unknown as they disciplined those allegedly refusing to take orders.
The soldiers heavily armed, descended on motorists who failed to obey their rules of “Stop and search” before moving as some of them regarded as deviant drivers were put on frog jump for several minutes before they were released.
The soldiers’ presence caused serious gridlock for motorists travelling to Eastern states.But the Delta State Police Command allayed fears of the unknown over presence of soldiers. Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of operations, Mr. Undie Adie, said the soldiers would collaborate with the police and the Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to fight crimes and ensure free flow of traffic ahead of the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Kanu was arraigned alongside Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi, on charges of treasonable felony and terrorism. In the fresh 11-count charge, they were also accused of belonging to an illegal society and operating an unlicensed radio station. In her ruling yesterday, Justice Binta Nyako, maintained that some of the charges the accused are facing were not bailable offences.
Justice Nyako also dismissed the contention by the defendants that President Muhammadu Buhari had openly directed that they should not be released on bail.
The Judge held that President Buhari, being a citizen of Nigeria, was at liberty to exercise his freedom of speech. She maintained that the President lacked the capacity to influence the decision of the court.
According to her, the defendants did not place any new fact or law capable of persuading the court to reverse an earlier ruling of the court that denied them bail. The prosecution counsel prayed again to the court to shield behind screen the testifiers against the defendants whose presence would be needed at the commencement of trail.
The defence counsel, Barrister Ifeanyi Ejiofor, who reminded the court of the way officers of Nigerian Armed Forces brutalised the peaceful IPOB members even when there was no provocation, again opposed this request.
Ejiofor however prayed that as the proceedings commence, it was necessary for the court to take cognizance of other defendants who were merged with the first defendant.
According to Ejiofor, it was not only funny but also unlawful, considering that each of them was arrested differently in various locations and times.
Speaking to The Guardian on phone on the trial of the IPOB leader, convener and founder of Movers for the Voice of Democracy (MOVERS), Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, said it was “disheartening that Nigerian courts are looking at the political pendulum in the exercise of judicial powers.”
While stressing that Kanu was exercising his rights under Section 39 of the Nigerian Constitution, Okonkwo called on the political elite in the country to join in the struggle for his release, “otherwise it shows that citizen Kanu has been sacrificed to President Buhari on the altar of political expediency.”
Also, the leadership of Southeast-based coalition of Human Rights Organisations, including, Civil Liberties Organization, (Southeast Zone); Center for Human Rights & Peace Advocacy; Human Rights Organization of Nigeria; Global Rights & Development; International Society Advocacy Watch Project; Anambra Human Rights Forum; Southeast Good Governance Forum, International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law, International Solidarity for Peace & Human Rights Initiative, Igbo Ekunie Initiative, condemned the military occupation of Southeast geopolitical zone.
In a statement jointly signed by the leaders of the eight organisations and read by Emeka Umeagbalasi, the coalition said they are deeply worried by the deployment of more battalions of members of the “Nigerian Army” and their war-like heavy equipment to all the strategic roads in the Southeast or Igbo part of Nigeria.
The coalition said: “Igbo travellers and road users have reported siege by the Army on strategic roads in the Southeast, particularly at boundary posts in Imo/Abia and Port Harcourt axis; Enugu (Nsukka) and Benue (Oturpa) axis; Anambra (Onitsha Niger Bridgehead) and Delta (Asaba) axis and Ebonyi (Abakiliki) and Enugu axis.”
Traditional rulers in the region, led by His Royal Majesty, Eze (Dr) Eberechi N. Dick, yesterday visited the Presidential Villa shortly after the judgment to ask President Mohammad Buhari-led administration to address the socio-economic challenges in the Southeast, including the neglect of the region in the Amnesty Programme.
The monarchs, who also pledged support for the Buhari administration, urged the president to use his office to correct the several injustices and other errors meted against the people of the region and consider the earlier issues raised by IPOB and others for a Biafran Republic.
“While, we re-assure Your Excellency of our total belief in one united and indivisible great nation of ours called Nigeria, we also want to call the attention of the federal government to some of their mentioned grievances for serious considerations, which include: “Neglect of the Southeast in the Amnesty Programme, Deplorable state of federal roads and other infrastructure in the Southeast,” the traditional rulers said.
They also listed what they said was the relegation of oil-producing states of the Southeast in Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) projects and exclusion of the Southeast in key federal appointments.
But the President warned those contemplating the break-up of the country to have a rethink. He insisted that the question of having another country out of Nigeria was misplaced.
Buhari also gave the assurance that the Southeast would benefit from the new railway architecture being put in place by his administration.
On their request for more representation in his government, Buhari said he was “very conscious of the sensitivities of the Southeast” on account of which he gave four of region’s five states senior-ranking ministers in the federal cabinet.