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Southeast on lockdown, jubilant mood as Kanu pleads not guilty

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja), Godwin Ijediogor (Asaba), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Uzoma Nzeagwu (Awka) and Nnamdi Akpa (Abakaliki)
22 October 2021   |   3:59 am
After speculations about his health and whereabouts since his re-arrest in June, the detained leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, finally appeared in court...

Men of the Nigeria State Secret Police (SSS) escorts Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu (2nd L), outside the Federal High Court during the trial of the IPOB leader who is facing a 7-count amended charge on alleged treasonable felony and terrorism at the Federal High Court in Abuja, Nigeria, on October 21, 2021. – A high-profile case against a Nigerian separatist accused of terrorism and treason was adjourned on October 21, 2021, lawyers said, after a court appearance under heavy security in the capital Abuja.<br />Nnamdi Kanu, 53, leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) group, which wants a separate state for the ethnic Igbo people in the southeast, was arrested abroad in June and brought back to Nigeria to face trial. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Ezeife, Igbo leaders, Sowore, journalists barred from court 
• ‘Sit-at-home’: Southeast on full compliance as schools, market, banks remain shut
• IPOB gives conditions to dialogue with FG
• We won’t relent until Kanu, detained IPOB members regain freedom, says Ohanaeze
• Explore dialogue, alternative resolution to ease tension, FG told
• Heavy security in Asaba over Kanu’s trial

After speculations about his health and whereabouts since his re-arrest in June, the detained leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, finally appeared in court for his re-arraignment yesterday, eliciting some joyous reaction in court and most parts of the Southeast. His trial had been delayed for three months when authorities failed to produce him in court.

  
Kanu was brought into the court premises in a heavily fortified security convoy led by a black Prado SUV at exactly 8:00 a.m. Many were sceptical as to whether he was actually in the convoy considering that a similar drama took place on July 27 when he was first re-arraigned.
  
But two hours later, Kanu, who wore a white Fendi designer jumpsuit, was ushered into the courtroom by security operatives to face a seven-count amended charge bordering on incitement, terrorism, treasonable felony and money laundering.
  
The charges against Kanu, a British citizen, also included calling for secession, knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari and membership of an outlawed group.
  
Entrances leading to the court premises were barricaded by a combination of gun-wielding Department of State Services (DSS) operatives, the army, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps and men of the Nigerian Police, while a large number of security personnel were deployed to the premises and its surrounding to forestall any breakdown of law and order.
  
However, restriction of human and vehicular movements, baring of journalists from coverage as well as the harassment of lawyers, who had other matters in court, caused serious uproar and chaos within and around the court area. Security operatives also forcibly dispersed crowds of supporters who gathered nearby.
  
Even some select journalists finally made their way into the court premises, they were strictly restricted from going into Court 2 by the DSS who were allegedly acting on the directives of the trial judge, Binta Nyako.
  
Though Kanu’s lead counsel, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, was later granted access into the courtroom, other lawyers, journalists and representatives of apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohaneze Ndigbo, were barred from entering the court premises, including former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife.
  
When the seven-count charge was read to him, at about 10:45 a.m., the separatist leader pleaded not guilty. Kanu beamed with smiles as he took photos with his team of lawyers before the court session began. Some security men also took selfies with him inside the court. He looked healthy and in good spirits.
  
Kanu was first arrested in 2015 but disappeared while on bail in April 2017. His social media posts during his absence and his Radio Biafra broadcasts outraged the government, which said they encouraged attacks on security forces.
 
 
Shortly after pleading not guilty, the judge ordered that he remains in the custody of the DSS after failing to grant his request to be transferred to a correctional centre. The case was then adjourned till November 10, 2021.
  
Justice Nyako adjourned the case after counsel to Kanu, Ejiofor, informed that he had notice of preliminary objection challenging the fresh seven-count charge filed against his client.
  
Counsel to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Abubakar, told the court that an amended seven counts had already been filed and he prayed the court for the charges to be read to Kanu to take his plea. 
 
 
The court refused the application by his lawyer for the transfer of Kanu to Kuje Correctional Centre. However, Justice Binta Nyako, allowed three persons of his choice to visit him at the DSS facility. 
   
Speaking with newsmen after leaving the courtroom, Ejiofor said he urged the court “to dismiss the seven-count charges, acquit our client and discharge him before the case was adjourned.”
  
He added that the matter was adjourned to allow lawyers to challenge the competence of the new charges brought against him by the Federal Government. 
  
Ejiofor said they have an application challenging the competence of the underlying charges, most of which reference Radio Biafra broadcasts made out of London. “I can’t see how someone would make a statement in London and it becomes a triable offence in this country,” Ejiofor told reporters.

UMUAHIA, the capital of Abia State, Kanu’s home state, was on total lockdown in solidarity with the IPOB leader yesterday. The streets were completely empty as residents remained indoors in full compliance with the ‘sit-at-home order.
  
There were no vehicular movements except for a few vehicles that occasionally passed by. No market or shop was open around the state capital as residents stayed indoors. Banks and schools both private and the public were all shut down. There were no incidents of violence anywhere in the capital city.

  
Similarly, the ‘sit-at-home recorded full compliance in Aba, the commercial capital of the state. The commercial city was a ghost of itself as markets, banks, schools and motor parks were all shut down. The roads were also empty as residents remained indoors.
  
The pro-Biafra group had ordered for ‘sit-at-home every Monday throughout the Southeast in protest of the detention of its leader. IPOB’s media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, later announced the suspension of the Monday ‘sit-at-home, replacing it with only the days Kanu would appear in court.
  
Residents of Enugu State also remained indoors in total compliance with the ‘sit-at-home order by IPOB. As expected, no vehicle was on the road and no market opened while government and private businesses were all paralysed.
  
There was, however, an incident of violence recorded in the state. A shop and a trailer truck were set ablaze by hoodlums suspected to be enforcing the order at the Eke-Obinagu suburb along the Enugu-Abakaliki Expressway.
  
It was gathered that the truck, which was said to be heading to Abakaliki, was attacked and set ablaze around3:30a.m. though the driver escaped unhurt.
  
Economic activities in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, and its environs were also brought to a halt. The exercise, which recorded total compliance in the state, saw the shutdown of both public and private schools, markets, banks and shops.
  
It was gathered that between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., there were no vehicular and human movements and the Nigerian flag was seen lowered in many private offices and banks.
 
Parks of major transport companies such as Peace, Onitsha South, GUO, Ifesinachi, Eastern Mass Transit, Romchi Mass Transit, among others, were shut down.
  
There was no movement of vehicles on major roads, including the Abakaliki/Enugu, Abakaliki/Afikpo highways and other major busy internal roads like Afikpo and Ogoja Roads. All filling stations in the state did not also open for business. 
  
For the second time this week, economic and social activities were crippled by residents of Owerri, the capital city of Imo State. Residents had earlier observed the ‘stay-at-home’ on Monday despite it being outlawed by the separatist group.
  
Residents stayed at home yesterday, shutting markets, banks, schools, shops, social outlets, eateries and other outdoor activities.
  
They spontaneously expressed joy when they saw pictures of Kanu with some lawyers in court as it went viral on social media.
  
Scores of youths and pupils who were playing football on various streets in Owerri were jubilant on seeing Kanu alive and well in court.
  
The Guardian also learnt that the residents in the state were happy because by the physical appearance of Kanu in court, the issue of the one-month compulsory ‘stay-at-home’ threat issued by IPOB should DSS not present him in court would no longer hold.
  
Speaking in Owerri on the development, social commentators, Chiefs Fidel Onyeneke, and Jude Ugbaja advised that an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) measure be adopted to settle the matter out of court to ease tension in the Southeast.

IPOB, on Thursday, gave the President Buhari-led Federal Government conditions for dialogue. 

THERE was heavy security presence in major roads of Asaba, the Delta State capital, ahead of the trial of Kanu, yesterday, in Abuja. Asaba, gateway to Anambra State and the Southeast hub of the agitation from the Benin-Onitsha expressway, witnessed unusually, but not unexpected security patrol as early as 7:00 a.m. across the major roads to forestall breakdown of law and order.
  
The security personnel, in a convoy of vehicles, moved round in what looked like a show of force, blaring a siren, not hindering, but briefly slowing down vehicular movements while it lasted.

  
Most of the shops in the city centre and markets were closed in observance of the weekly clean up exercise.
  
Many Onitsha and indeed, Southwest-bound passengers, especially those who travelled by night were temporarily stranded at the Delta State end of the Niger Bridge, as they could not continue their journey for fear of being attacked or molested by Biafran agitators.
  
Even though there was no enforcement of the ‘sit-at-home order by IPOB in Asaba,  most travellers chose to be on the side of caution, considering events of the past. Those who dared to drive or commute on the less busy Niger Bridge did so with maximum alertness.
  
There were hardly commercial vehicles on the road to Onitsha in the early morning, thereby restricting the movement of those who would have loved to cross over to the other side of the River Niger.
  
Tuesdays have become nightmarish for commuters across the bridge, particularly, traders going to Onitsha to make purchases and travellers going from the Southwest to the Southeast. This is due to rush into the zone, as markets and shops hardly open and commuters prefer to stay off the roads on Mondays, willy-nilly, for fear of being attacked.
  
This has caused many travellers who could not get into Onitsha by Sunday to sleep on the road, while those who can afford it pass two nights in hotels in Asaba, if unable to travel on Monday.

For security operatives and agents, this is certainly not the best time to live or work or even drive by the zone.

  
Last Sunday, a soldier in uniform, ostensibly going to Onitsha/Southeast, suddenly parked off the expressway at Summit Junction in Asaba and went inside his Toyota Sienna car. By the time he came out, he had changed into mufti.
  
When jokingly asked why the change in dress, he retorted: “You want to tell me you don’t know what is happening in the East? Do you want me to die just like that?
  
“My brother, it is better to be alive in mufti than die in uniform. I have a family and cannot afford to leave them just like that.”

IPOB’s spokesman, Emma Powerful, said the group would listen to the Federal Government when its leader, Kanu, is released unconditionally. Powerful also noted that the Federal Government should set a date for the referendum on Biafra.
  
In a statement he signed, Powerful insisted that Kanu committed no crime to warrant being arrested and prosecuted. He maintained that Kanu should not be detained, while terrorists are roaming the streets freely.
  
According to Powerful: “Our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, committed no crime to deserve persecution by the Federal Government that is openly hobnobbing with real terrorists and Fulani bandits but crushing peaceful agitators. We demand the unconditional release of our leader. He should not be in detention while real terrorists and mass murderers are parading freely on the streets.”
 

 
Ohanaeze Ndigbo has said it will not relent till Kanu and his members regain their freedom. Ohanaeze aired their views via a press statement signed by the National Publicity Secretary, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Chiedozie Alex Ogbonnia.
  
The group said: “We are unrelenting in our resolve to ensure that the FG toes the path of wisdom by conceding to the proposal for dialogue and ADR, which will ensure the unconditional freedom of Kanu and all members of IPOB detained across Nigeria.”
  
In the statement titled, Ohanaeze wins as FG produces Kanu in court, the group noted that the government has bowed to pressure by producing their leader in court.

He said: “The diplomatic engagements by Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide under the able leadership of Prof George Obiozor has yielded a positive result as the Federal Government has through the DSS bowed to the overwhelming demands of Ndigbo by producing the IPOB leader in court. This is one step forward in Ohanaeze’s determined moves towards ensuring that the Afara Ukwu prince is set free in no distant time.”
  
Ohanaeze also commended Nigerians from all walks of life for the extraordinary interest and solidarity they have demonstrated in the ongoing trial of Kanu. It urged youths to show restraints, prudence and maturity even as they demand equity, justice and fairness.
  
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Anambra chapter, has appealed to the Federal Government and other relevant authorities to as a matter of good conscience consider the release of Kanu to lessen the untold hardship people in the Southeast geo-political zone are passing through.

  
CAN said the wave of insecurity in Anambra is linked to the detention of Kanu and said that in the interest of the nation, Kanu should be released so that all aggrieved persons would sheathe their sword and embrace dialogue. 
  
In a 10-point communiqué, jointly signed by the state chairman, Ven. Joseph Nweke; Secretary, Rev. Moses Echefu; Anglican Bishop of the Niger and chairman, Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Bishop Owen Nwokolo; and Bishop Onuagha, Methodist Archbishop of Onitsha, CAN note that the appeal was sequel to the observed security tension, wanton killings, destruction of property, a threat to lives and presumed doubts over the forth-coming gubernatorial election in the state on November 6.  

BUT the youth wing of Ohanaeze Ndigbo has condemned the treatment meted out on some Igbo leaders, journalists and lawyers who were in court to observe the proceedings during Kanu’s trial. During the trial, a former governor of Anambra, Dr. Ezeife, a host of other Igbo leaders, journalists and lawyers were denied access to the court sitting.

  
In a statement made available to journalists, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide, Mazi Okwu Nnabuike, urged Igbo youths to remain calm as underground efforts continue in order to secure Kanu’s freedom.
  
Also, Igbo youths under the aegis of Coalition of South East Youth Leaders (COSEYL) condemned in strong terms the access denial of Ezeife to the courtroom by the DSS. The youth group who are not also happy how Senator Ifeanyi Ubah despite obtaining a court order to carry out his oversight function to inquire about the allegations on Kanu could not be allowed entry, further described the action by the DSS as undemocratic.
  
In a statement by the President-General of the group, Goodluck Ibem, noted that DSS’s action did not conform with the fundamental human rights as enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria.
 
 
“Denying Ezeife, Senator Ubah and other Igbo leaders entry into the courtroom is an insult to Ndigbo. The DSS have desecrated the temple of Justice.”
  
Security operatives also barred activist Omoyele Sowore from accessing the courtroom to witness the trial. Sowore, who was dressed in traditional Isi-agu attire was told to go back by operatives of the DSS.
  
Sowore who spoke to journalists said he was at the court for a number of reasons. He said, “I am here to check the registry because for a while I have not been charged to court, I need to know about my treason case.
  
“Also, I am here to witness the trial of my friend, Nnamdi Kanu, the court is a public space and the public should not be barred from accessing the courtroom.
  
“People have the right to self-determination, Nigeria has not worked and will never work. So Nnamdi Kanu is not wrong and his trial should not be in secret.
  
“Security operatives have consistently failed to do their jobs and now you see them harassing journalists and lawyers.”