Nnamdi Kanu: Concerns over court's refusal to grant him bail

It was yet another period of shock and disappointment for supporters and members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) last Tuesday when the Federal High Court Abuja refused to grant their leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, bail. Indeed, there were high expectations that Justice Binta Nyako would free Kanu. That was basically because she had done it before because of Kanu’s health conditions and the IPOB leader currently claims to be suffering from acute hypertension and heart disease, hence requiring urgent medical attention.

A Court of Appeal had in 2022 granted him bail and ordered the Federal Government to release him, unconditionally. But ruling on the appeal by the Federal Government against the judgment, the Supreme Court said Kanu must face trial and threw the matter back to Justice Nyako.

In 2017, Justice Nyako had granted Kanu bail on health grounds. This was after his first arrest in 2015, when he faced an 11-count charge bordering on terrorism and treasonable felony.

Ruling on an application for bail then, Justice Nyako stated that she was minded to grant him bail so that he can attend to his health and face his trial alive. She, however, ordered that Kanu must not hold any rallies, grant any interviews or be in a crowd of more than 10 people. She also gave other bail conditions to include that he must provide three sureties in the sum of N100 million each; adding that one of the sureties must be a highly placed person of Igbo extraction such as a senator and Jewish leader.

Kanu was freed then. But last Tuesday, Justice Nyako declined to grant him bail on the ground that the earlier application he filed had been refused, stressing that the only option left for him was to go to the Court of Appeal to challenge the earlier refusal.

After Kanu’s extradition in June 2020, the Federal Government filed terrorism charges against him. In April 2022, Justice Nyako struck out eight of the 15 counts in the charge. The remaining seven counts were also quashed by the Court of Appeal on October 13, 2022, with the judge ordering Kanu’s release.

However, on October 28, 2022, the Court of Appeal granted a stay of execution on its verdict discharging Kanu, after the Federal Government filed an appeal at the Supreme Court. On December 15, 2023, a five-member panel of the Supreme Court reversed the verdict of the Court of Appeal and ordered Kanu to resume his trial before the Federal High Court.

It was upon this reversal that Kanu approached the Federal High Court to grant him bail to enable him attend to his illness, stressing that it would not affect the trial. But the court refused the bail application against all expectations; rather preferring an accelerated hearing on the matter.

However, there are concerns that the refusal of the bail application would become a major setback for the healing process and return of peace in the Southeast region, which has been torn by insecurity, killings, kidnapping, among other crimes, for some time now. The IPOB leadership has, however, maintained silence on the matter since the court ruling.

A political scientist, Dr. Marvelous Igwe, told The Guardian that there was a need for a political solution to the matter, saying the government does not always insist on its laws to determine certain issues in the country.

According to him, the President possesses power to vary rules in the interest of justice, fair play and peace.

“Many have said that a political solution should be adopted in this matter. I share seriously in that school of thought because there is nothing more for anyone to benefit from continuing holding Nnamdi back in custody. If we run a just society, there won’t be need for anyone to raise protests. It is well known that even the group he represents has genuine cases. The option available is for the leaders to look into these demands and find ways to address them. With that you woo them back to yourself,” Igwe said.

Speaking on the ruling of the court, he expressed fears that the option of accelerated hearing taken by the court instead granting Kanu bail might not be achieved.

“The court ruled for accelerated hearing, but we know how Nigerian courts operate. We know the technicalities involved in arguing matters in court, especially the one that the government is interested in; especially the one where the government appears to be prosecuting someone without evidence. But let me not conclude. I hope that the government, which is accusing Kanu, is ready with their evidence and will not make him suffer unnecessarily through adjournments of the matter,” he added.

Supporters of Kanu, who gathered at various points including newspaper stands on Tuesday morning to discuss the development, however, expressed anger over the order, stressing that it would not dim their spirit for the struggle.

At the popular Obiagu roundabout in Enugu, where various tricycle operators, among others, gathered in their number to discuss the outcome of the court sitting, while many of his supporters insisted that their leader would “unconditionally be released soon”, others stressed that his continued incarceration may soon be atoned.

Ezeora Mathew, who claimed to be one of the leaders of IPOB in Enugu South Local Council, while expressing disappointment with the order of the Federal High Court, stated: “For us in IPOB, we know it is not going to be easy. Even if the court had granted him bail to go and take care of his sickness, he would still come back and face his trial. The only thing is that we expected the court to grant him the opportunity to go and treat himself but it failed to do so. That is the aspect we are worried about. As far as we are concerned, Kanu is still innocent until proven otherwise. Denying him access to medical care is like telling him you are guilty. It is sad but we will keep faith with the struggle”.

He said that members of the group decided to adopt a non-violence approach to the struggle for the realisation of Biafra, adding however that, “our silent approach should not be taken for granted. That somebody is meant to face trial does not mean he should not have access to medical care. It is only someone that is living that can stand before the court to state his case, not a dead person or sick person.”

Mathew said that he was convinced that the Federal Government was not prepared to pursue the matter but would rely “on frivolous motions and adjournments to continue to keep him behind bars as long as they want” and asked Kanu’s lawyers to be mindful of the antics.

Another member of the group, Ekene Onwueme, held a similar position on the issue. Onwueme said: “By June this year, it will be four years that the Federal Government locked up our leader. They did it because they felt we cannot do anything. The court had earlier granted him bail; now instead of complying with the court order, they went and challenged it. If they have a case against him, why do they prefer one charge after another? Initially, they said he committed 15 offences; today they are battling with seven, which are not even strong.

“Sunday Igboho was granted bail and today he is in Nigeria, walking about freely. In the case of Kanu, they brought him back and more than three years after, they are still to establish a case against him. We have been told to play according to the rules but that does not mean they should punish him unjustly.”

Reminded that the bail Kanu requested was basically to enable him to access medical care, Onwueme said: “That is exactly what I am saying. I am still shocked by the ruling of the trial judge. He is not going to run away. If he wants to run away, he would have done so before now. What they are doing is not good. It was an attempt on his life that made him jump bail the last time. If those soldiers had not invaded his Afaraukwu, Umuahia residence at odd hours, where they shattered the surroundings and anything they could lay hands on, he could have attended his court trial. Nobody is talking about that today; nobody remembers that he did not leave the country on his own. He was forced out by those carrying guns and other dangerous objects, who attempted to eliminate him. We will continue to watch and pray that those handling the matter should play by the rules.”

Apparently feeling that the anger over the court’s refusal to grant Kanu bail could boil over, apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, had moments after the court ruling, issued a statement, appealing for calm.

President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu said: “Today, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, the Federal High Court, Abuja deliberated on the case of our son and brother, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. Nigerian youths expected that he will be granted bail after spending several months in incarceration. This case has been adjourned till April 17, 2024.

“I wish to appeal to all Nigerian youths to exercise some patience and avoid any act that would lead to the destruction of life and property. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu has made it very clear on many occasions that he will not support any act of arson or bloodshed. We put our trust in the divine providence of the Almighty God and by God’s grace Mazi Nnamdi Kanu will be free from incarceration very soon. I appeal to everyone to be patient.”

Ohanaeze Ndigbo, he noted, would not abandon Kanu and would insist on the discontinuation of his trial for the peace of the country. Meanwhile, Nigerians have continued to urge President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to invoke relevant sections of the constitution and discontinue with the ongoing trial of Kanu.

Some Southeast members of the House of Representatives, who spoke through their leader, Ikenga Ugochinyere, noted that granting Kanu bail would have provided an opportunity for discussion to bring about peace in the region.

The lawmaker, who represents Ideato South/North Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, appealed to President Tinubu to extend the same gesture the Federal Government extended to Sunday Igboho and Omoleye Sowore to Kanu by discontinuing the trial.

“What the president should do is to invoke Section 174 of the 1999 constitution to discontinue this matter. The case can be discontinued in the interest of the public and justice.

Also, the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (CBN) had after their meeting last Thursday in Owerri, Imo State, appealed to the President to explore all civil remedies to release Kanu, saying it would pave the way for economic prosperity and security in the Southeast region.

President of the CBN, Most Rev. Lucius Ugorji, added that Kanu’s continued detention has been the major cause of insecurity in the Southeast and the Monday sit-at-home order, which has paralysed the economy of the area.

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