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Day ‘Biafra’ went on trial in Abuja

By Guardian Nigeria
23 October 2021   |   2:25 am
It was not a festival nor a holiday. But, the air of euphoria, quiet expectation and suspense hung thickly in the air. As at early Monday of October 18, 2021, many people,...

It was not a festival nor a holiday. But, the air of euphoria, quiet expectation and suspense hung thickly in the air. As at early Monday of October 18, 2021, many people, particularly young persons, had found their way into Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The last time such massive influx of young persons, predominantly of the Igbo ethnic grouping, into Abuja, was three months back, precisely on July 26, when the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Mazi Nnamdi Nkanu, was to be brought back to court, after the initial surprise appearance a month before.

Although the July 26 date ended up as a no show, the October 21 date scheduled by the court for his re-arraignment gathered a mixture of quiet foreboding and anticipation that MNK, as he’s fondly called, would be in court in flesh and blood. That is if he was not dead, as some speculated back home in his native Southeast geopolitical zone of the country.

As the fateful October 21 drew near, various Igbo groups, including Ohanaeze NIgbo, Nd’Igbo Kano, Nd’Igbo Bauchi, as well as Nd’Igbo Kaduna and nearby Suleja, all made preparations to attend the court sitting. The influx of Igbo elements from adjoining northern states brought back to mind the memories of how the igbo, a predominantly itinerant traders and entrepreneurs, came to inhabit the northern part of the country in large numbers.

Back in time, in the period preceding Nigeria’s independence, it was said that Igbo provided the bulk of artisans and craftsmen in the area. Some international conglomerates like SCOA and other trading firms engaged these Igbo artisans. Staff of the firms that were transferred to the north were to bring along some members of their extended families to serve as helpers and learn a trade along the line.

When Nigeria was born, Federal Government establishment like the Nigeria Post Office (NIPOST), Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) and Nigeria Airways, among others, joined in the massive employment of qualified Nigerians into their firms.

As the Igbo employees took residence in various parts of Northern Nigeria, they swelled their population through the extended family system, apprenticeship and marriage. Siblings of the wives were also brought along to acquire skills or set up shop and fend for themselves.

With the steady travel to the north, haulage business expanded. And that equally became another source of further expansion of the Igbo population, just as the entrepreneurs took to estate development and land speculation following the high demand for residential accommodation.

Hotels and schools followed to take care of tourism and cater for the educational needs of the children. The religious institutions were not left out, as the usual competition between the Anglicans and Roman Catholic missions, which define Christian evangelisation back home, crept into the new Igbo communities in the north.

It was the need to moderate the behaviour of Igbo citizens, sustain cultural ties and expand socio-economic interests of the ethnic group, as well as sustaining the bond of brotherhood, that Igbo Union was born. Gradually, the Igbo Union started embarking on community development projects in the area of domicile of Igbo. That was how missionary schools like St Thomas and other institutions sprung up. In Kano also, there was an Igbo Union Primary School. That was before the Nigeria civil war, which some commentators characterise as the Biafran War.

Some observers draw some similarities between the Igbo and Fulani, against the background of the mobility of the two ethnic stocks. But, while the Fulani are renown for their nomadic style of cattle rearing, the Igbo settle down in various places and ply their diverse economic activities.

While it has become common to associate cattle rearing with the Fulani, in most Northern states, locals identify Luxury buses with the Igbo, a reason why such long commuter buses are known as girigi inyamiri (Igbo Train).

At times of special need, particularly during the Christmas festivities or even emergencies, such long buses come handy to evacuate the mammoth Igbo population from the north and other parts of the country to the Igbo heartland.

IPOB Clamour
AROUND the year 2013, the group called the Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) sprouted from the perceived shortcomings of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

Apart from claims that the promoter of MASSOB compromised the agitation for a separate country for Igbo, the incessant attacks on the group by Nigeria’s security agencies over the use of word ‘sovereign’ necessitated the creation of another special purpose vehicle. That SPV came to be known as IPOB and it began to agitate for self determination and referendum for the Igbo to determine whether they should belong to Nigeria and on what terms or crave a separate nation to escape marginalisation and disdainful treatment in the Nigeria project.

Propelled by Radio Biafra, which was in the United Kingdom, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, who was born around the time of the civil war, started reeling out instances of unjust treatment and poor bargain of the Igbo in the Nigeria federation.

Blessed with an acerbic tongue and unique sense of history, Kanu and Radio Biafra whipped up sentiments of ethnic pride and nationalism such that with time he gained a massive following. To an extent, Kanu relieved the postulations of the 45 Emir of Kano, Alhaji Sanusi Mahammad Sanusi 11. In an opinion article, Sanusi had projected that a time will come when young Igbo boys that were not born during the Biafra war would arise to question the rationale for the Nigeria nationhood.

Consequently, as he continued to broad cast ceaseless instances of national imbalance, Kanu gained a captive audience among the youth. His arrest on October 2015 in Lagos and subsequent detention did much to catapult his status as cult hero for the impressionable young Igbo boys, who admired his courage and devil may care rhetoric.

Kanu’s pedigree further skyrocketed in 2017 after troops engaged in Python Dance operation in Abia State reportedly invaded his family compound in Afaraukwu, Umuahia North Local Council of the state. The fact that his whereabouts could not be explained after the army arrangement increased public anxiety among his followers.

Nearly one year later, Kanu made a public appearance at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Israel. He narrated his narrow escape, alleging that the troops on Operation Python Dance planned to eliminate him during the invasion of his father’s compound. That singular development cemented Kanu’s place, not only as the leader of IPOB, but also as the King of the boys!

Ever since, his words adorned the stature of law among Igbo youth. And enhancing IPOB with a community protection arm called Eastern Security Network (ESN) at a time the political leaders of the zone where hesitant at setting up a security outfit to protect rural communities, Kanu saw himself in the position of the new Igbo leader.

Igbo, both home and in the diaspora began to rally round him. That explains why his declaration for a stay at home on May 30 of every year for the commemoration of millions of Igbo massacred during the way came to be obeyed as the proclamation of a King.

The IPOB leader’s arrest and subsequent rendition to Nigeria in June dawned on his followers as a new twist in the young man’s determination to free his people. With that new turn, the stay at home approach became another form of public expression of civil protest as his followers decided to extend the stay at home on Mondays, in commemoration of his brief appearance in court on June 29, 2021.

Ever since his return to Nigeria, the situation both at the Igbo heartland and abroad, particularly in the northern part of the country, has continued to betray the public frustration of the young man’s experience. All that explain the massive interest his scheduled appearance in court on October 21 generated.

Those who can afford it travelled to Abuja, while others recharged their Digital Satellite television decoders and social media handles to see things for themselves. Will they bring him or not? Are you sure he is even alive? Let October 21 come first. Those were the silent queries by young Igbo in Abuja and among those who came over from nearby states as the re-arraignment date approached.

Various groups prepared for eventualities. Most of the agitated moves were no doubt in the anticipation that as happened on July 26, the Department of State Services (DSS) may not bring the IPOB leader to court “due to logistics challenges.”

Igbo Lawyers upped the apprehension by staging a procession along the major streets of Abuja. Leading counsel to Kanu, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, addressed the press on October 20, that is, the day to the scheduled court date.

Addressing the journalists in his Law Office at Garki, Ejiofor noted that, “the current tension and regular Monday sit-at-home being observed by our people in the Southeast, despite the exercise being called-off by our client’s peaceful movement, is steadily gaining momentum, because our people are yet to see and believe that our client Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is still alive.”

The lawyer cautioned law enforcement agents, stressing: “Court premises, particularly the courtroom, is not a barrack or police station, “where rules of engagement are treated with levity, and people subjected to all forms of inhuman treatment.

“We wish to note very strongly, that the atmosphere of fear, molestation, intimidation and harassment of civilians in and around the court premises should be jettisoned, as many foreign observers have arrived the country to witness this all important trial of a political prisoner.

“We wish to remind the Security Agents that it was in a period such as this in 2015 and 2016 respectively, that citizens who merely came out in their numbers for show of solidarity with our Client on the day he was brought to Court, were massacred in their numbers at Ngwa National High School Aba, Abia State; Afor Nkpor, Onitsha Bridge Head, and Ziks Avenue in Anambra State. We do not want a repeat of such gory incident, particularly now that people have chosen to remain indoors on this date in solidarity with our client.”

Ejiofor recalled with pain how his client was abducted in Kenya on June 19, 2021 and subsequently secretly brought to court on June 29, without his knowledge, regretting that on July 26, which was a return date, the Federal Government failed to bring the suspect to court.

He said he decided to brief the press “against the backdrop of the seven-count smokescreen amended charge filed against our Client last week Friday, after waiting for the over-advertised/hyped amendment for over three months.

“You may recall that upon the abduction of our Client in Kenya on the 19th Day of June, 2021, and his extraordinary rendition to Nigeria afterwards, he was secretly brought to Court on the 29th day of June, 2021, without our knowledge.”

He explained that it was due to the failure of FG to notify Kanu’s lawyers of the proceedings of June 29, 2021, that they were unavoidably absent, lamenting that when the matter came up on the adjourned date of July 26, 2021, for commencement of hearing in the case, “our Client – Onyendu Mazi Nnamdi Kanu was not produced in Court.”

Decrying the lack of openness by the FG in the matter, Ejiofor added that there was no plausible convincing reason(s) for Kanu’s absence in Court on the adjourned date, saying the action “was in flagrant violation of Court Order made by His Lordship – Hon. Justice Nyako, for him to be brought to Court on July 26, 2021.

While expressing the hope that the ugly incident of failing to bring Kanu to court will not repeat itself today, the lead counsel stated: “As the world is now aware, today, being October 21, 2021, is the date on record, collectively agreed in open Court by all parties for the commencement of hearing in our Client’s case.”

Ejiofor said it is on record that over 20 persons all of Ebonyi State indigenes/extraction, including a Lawyer, who were in court on July 26 to witness the hearing on the case, were intercepted and arrested on their way back home, at Lokoja by the Nigerian Security Agents.

He regretted that “till date, they are still being held in various detention facilities of the Nigerian Security Agents without access to their lawyers and family members. Though we have commenced legal action in court against the Security formations still detaining them in their various detention facilities.

“This is indeed, how low the state can go in gross violation of citizen’ rights without these infractions being accounted for. But, justice will prevail for these dehumanised citizens in the end.”

Behold, The Leader In Designers
THE day arrived. At the ever busy Banex Plaza, only a handful of shops were open for business. In Area 1, up to Area Eight, it was as if there was an unofficial public holiday. People gathered in twos and multiples discussing the great event of the day.

Most of the discussions revolved around, “are you sure they will bring him?” Some naughty boys could be heard at the central area praying that “these boys should try and bring Kanu let us see him, because trouble go be like bicycle today if we don’t see him.”

By barricading the various roads leading to the Federal High Court precincts, the security agents heightened the air of suspense, and some people used the opportunity to mouth imprecations on Nigeria law enforcement agents.

The sound of sirens and stream of Hilux vans and Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV) roused everybody to attention. It was as if the heads of government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were about to congregate. The retinue of security personnel, including the military, police and DSS were unimaginable.

The crowd surged. Gun wielding operatives restrained movement towards the court’s entrance. Amid the cordon, there appeared a fair skinned young man dressed in an off-white long-sleeved casual with trouser to match. It was a simply designed wear by FENDI. Behold MNK, looking fresh. He belied that tales of horror and torture weaved around his rendition.

A lady nearby was heard shouting, “it is him ooo. Thank God Nnamdi Kanu is alive.” The sense of relief among Ndi Igbo that thronged the Federal High Court premises was thrilling. What a show of love and empathy!

Even non Igbo were jubilant. They said that the Federal Government has made Kanu more popular than Nigeria’s government. The narrative changed from threats and swear words to amazement and praise of Kanu.

“So, it was Kanu that they brought like a President to the court today with more than 20 Hilux vans filled with security men on different uniform, including military, DSS, Civil Defence, Police and Civil Defense to protect, guide and guard Nnamdi Kalu?” said one bystander.

Another quipped that while the government may be thinking that they do not want the IPOB leader to escape, “they ended up giving Kanu more than adequate security that President Buhari do not get. That guy strong.”

At the sight of and confirmation that it was indeed Nnamdi Kanu, a song broke out nearby. It was like a chant: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Nnamdi Kanu is another saviour…”

Inside the courtroom, the charges were read and pleas taken. To each of the seven counts, Kanu declared: “Not guilty!”
Did it end as an anti-climax? Not really. The verdict of the nameless masses is that Kanu is still alive! That verdict was a more than prized gift for those that travelled from far and near to witness the proceedings, but were barred by Nigeria’s secret police that insists to be seen and heard as a new and important subset of Nigeria’s democracy.

In their preliminary objection, the IPOB leader’s defence counsel asked the Abuja Federal High Court to strike out the amended charges against him by the Nigerian government. The defence lawyers, led by Ifeanyi Ejiofor argued that the charge as constituted does not disclose a ‘prima facie’ case against Kanu.

While pleading with the court to use its powers and duty to stop Kanu’s prosecution, Ejiofor claimed the trial creates abuse and injustice, insisting that “the counts, as constituted in the amended charge, are incompetent and brought under a non-existent law.”

On the alleged proscription of IPOB and subsequent designation as a terrorist organisation, Kanu’s lawyers asserted: “No final pronouncement has been made on the purported proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra, as the said purported proscription, is a subject matter of Appeal in Appeal No: CA/A/214/2018, pending before the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.”

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