The Federal High Court in Abuja validated last year’s arrest and repatriation of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, from Kenya by the Nigerian government.
The judge, Binta Nyako, dismissed Mr Kanu’s suit in which he claimed N50 billion against the federal government for allegedly repatriating him from Kenya to Nigeria illegally without following a formal extradition procedure.
In her ruling, Mrs Nyako held that his repatriation to Nigeria could not be said to be illegal when there was a “surviving bench warrant” for the IPOB leader’s arrest.
The judge had, in March 2019, ordered Mr Kanu’s arrest after adjudging him to have jumped bail bringing his trial on charges of treasonable felony to a halt.
Mrs Nyako held that the IPOB leader’s arrest in Kenya and repatriation to Nigeria was in compliance with her order in 2018 for Mr Kanu’s arrest to face trial.
“There is a bench warrant for the arrest of the defendant (Mr Kanu). He is a fugitive that is wanted in court. The bench warrant survives until he is brought to court,” Mrs Nyako held.
In her ruling on Mr Kanu’s preliminary objection challenging the 15 amended charges of terrorism and treasonable felony filed against him, Mrs Nyako struck out eight of the 15 counts charge that borders on treasonable felony and terrorism.
She ruled that eight of the charges had not established any tangible offence against Mr Kanu.
The judge dismissed the defence team’s objection over the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the suit.
The court ordered Mr Kanu’s arrest in March 2019 after adjudging him him to have jumped bail.
The arrest order came months after Mr Kanu fled the country in the wake of the invasion of his home by the military in Afara-Ukwu, near Umuahia, Abia State in September 2017.
Mr Kanu’s disappearance stalled his trial which he was jointly undergoing along with his co-defendants. With the development, the judge, on March 28, 2018, severed Mr Kanu’s trial from that of other co-defendants to stop further delay in the others’ case.
Mr Kanu, a citizen of both Nigeria and Britain, was believed to have also moved to the United Kingdom.
Without any public hint of the government trailing Mr Kanu, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, surprisingly announced in June 2021, that the secessionist had been “intercepted” and brought back to Nigeria.
While Mr Malami kept mum on where Mr Kanu was arrested and the circumstances of his repatriation to Nigeria, the IPOB leader’s family members and lawyers raged at what they said was his abduction from Kenya.
The government subsequently amended the charges to add terrorism allegations raising the number of counts to 15.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges during his re-arraignment. He also filed a preliminary application challenging the validity of the charges and a separate N50billion action against what he said was his illegal repatriation by the federal government.
Lawyers’ arguments before ruling
At the hearing of Mr Kanu’s applications in February, his lead counsel, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), argued that the 15-count amended charge was invalid.
“The entire charges do not disclose any prima facie case against the defendant (Mr Kanu),” the defence lawyer told the court.
Mr Ozekhome argued that “the defendant was unlawfully and brutally extraordinarily renditioned from Kenya,” an action he said breached the African Charter on Peoples Rights.
Challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the criminal case, the lawyer contended that the charges wrongly conferred “a global jurisdiction on the court” by not indicating the locations where the alleged the offences were committed.
“A charge must disclose the specific location where an alleged crime was committed,” Mr Ozekhome said.
He further told the court the “prosecution is still using the proof of evidence it tendered at the beginning of the trial in 2015” despite the fact that most of the earlier charges had been dismissed.
Also, Mr Ozekhome argued that the federal government’s charge criminalising Mr Kanu’s leadership of IPOB, was wrong as there is not basis for such owing to the fact that “IPOB proscription is a subject of an appeal at the Court of Appeal.”
But the prosecuting lawyer, Shuaibu Labaran, disagreed with the defence counsel’s arguments, saying Mr Kanu’s application seeking to strike out the case “lacks substance.”
Mr Labaran said the federal court was clothed with the statutory jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit.
He referenced Section 32 of the Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act, 2013, saying, “The Federal High Court sitting in Nigeria has the exclusive jurisdiction to try this matter.”
“We urge the court to refuse this application for the trial of the defendant to commence in earnest,” the prosecuting lawyer said.
The IPOB leader was accused of various offences, including treasonable felony and terrorism, offences he allegedly committed in the course of his secessionist campaigns.
Mr Kanu who was first arrested in 2015 over his separatist activities has been re-arraigned before three different judges of the court in Abuja after the first set of charges were filed against him and his former co-defendants on December 18, 2015.
It will be recalled that the judge had earlier struck out six of the 11 original counts on March 1, 2017.
▪︎ By Premium Times