For the first time since his trial began some two years ago, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, was last week granted bail but with stringent conditions. Olawale Olaleye writes
It was with mixed feelings that the decision by a Federal High Court, Abuja, which granted leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu bail on health grounds was received. Whilst it was cheery on the one hand that Kanu, after almost two years in detention is being finally granted bail, the excitement arising from this was cut short when the conditions attached to the bail were considered too stringent.
Justice Binta Nyako had granted Kanu bail on the conditions that many reckoned were too stringent and perhaps, forced. This included three sureties, one of whom must be a serving senator, a Jewish religious leader and a highly respected person, who must own a landed property in the Federal Capital Territory. The bail sum is N100million per surety.
Nyako also warned Kanu against granting press interviews, holding rallies or being in a gathering of more than 10 persons while on bail. She warned him that the bail would be revoked if he flouted any of the conditions.
Justice Nyako however denied bail to Kanu’s other colleagues – David Nwawuisi, Benjamin Madubugwu and Chidiebere Onwudiwe – who were arraigned with him. She claimed that the treason charges against them were a serious offence (as if different from Kanu’s). She also refused to vary her ruling on protection of witnesses because witnesses were security operatives.
However, shortly after the news of his bail saturated the airwaves, Kanu was reported to have rejected it on the grounds of the attached conditions. But he has since denied any such thing, even as his lawyers promised to perfect the bail within 48 hours.
Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, had told Premium Times, an online news portal, that the report that his client had rejected the bail was all rumours. “It’s all rumours. Were you not in court? How could he have rejected the bail, when he didn’t do that in open court? It is rumours. Know that now!”
Certain that Kanu would meet the conditions within 48 hours, Ejiofor warned that any attempt by government to deny his client bail despite this would be vehemently resisted.
“Nnamdi Kanu was granted bail. The court has listed a number of terms and conditions that we believe will be complied with within 48 hours. Any attempt by government to flout this court order must be resisted. In fact, it will bring to an end this trial, because we will opt out. We will not allow him to continue with the trial (as if it’s practicable).
“And the court has made it quite clear that its orders must be obeyed. You saw what happened today, how the court made an order for Nnamdi Kanu’s wedding ring to be given to him along with his eyeglasses and, which was complied with. So, that time (of rejecting bail conditions) has passed, we believe,” Mr. Ejiofor said.
Although government did not react to the development, it is common knowledge that the government had in the past refused to honour bails granted some politically exposed persons, including the ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the Shiite leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.
The agitation for the Republic of Biafra was given a lifeline, when a group of activists led by Kanu formed IPOB. Presently, three groups are involved in the campaign for Biafra’s independence – MASSOB, IPOB and the Biafra independent Movement (BIM), formed by Uwazuruike after he was pushed out of MASSOB.
But Kanu’s IPOB overtook the others with his approach, especially the Biafran radio, which seemed to unsettle the federal government through constant incitation, the basis of which he was eventually picked up and detained for trial.
Yet, there is a common pattern in the modus operandi of the pro-Biafra groups, which is their non-violent disposition in the agitation for recognition. Regardless, the Nigerian security agencies have always had cause to make any pro-Biafra protest become bloody engagements, an approach that has seen many of the agitators killed in the process. This development is also believed to have further hardened them.
For instance, on February 9, 2016 some members of IPOB were killed by security agencies in Aba, the commercial city of Abia State, during the protest for the release of Kanu.
A heavy casualty was also recorded at Onitsha in Anambra State. Yet, the aggressive posturing of the security agencies towards the pro-Biafra movement is interpreted as a reflection of the attitude of the Muhammadu Buhari administration towards the idea of Biafra.
Buhari is of the generation of the Nigerian Army that fought the civil war, which decimated the Biafran dream, and would not see any reason for the renewed agitation, hence his resolve to “crush” the resurgent separatist agitation. But the belief that the steam of the current agitation for Biafra could be undone with brutal force appears even more impossible. If anything, it has continued to encourage the senseless killings of unarmed and peaceful protesters as much as drawn more sympathisers to the Biafran cause.
It is for this reason that the arrest of Kanu in October 2015 has become vexatious with the sustained clamour for his release from detention. Kanu is facing a treason trial and though a competent court of jurisdiction had previously granted him bail, the Department of State Service held on to him. This, ironically, was believed to have been further encouraged by the president, who publicly defended the security agency.
But IPOB has consistently maintained a non-violent approach to pushing its cause. Spokespersons of the organisation, Emma Mmeju and Dr. Clifford Iroanya, once pointed out that the unprovoked killings of their members were aimed at provoking them to violence, because the federal government has been desperately seeking evidence to tag IPOB a terrorist organisation and use same to nail Kanu.
“In spite of the callous killing and conspiracy of silence by the cowardly eastern leaders, who have been cowed into submission, by Pharaoh and his minions, we remain unbowed, undaunted and resolute”, the IPOB spokespersons once said.
Small wonder, the bloody encounter that marred the May 30 Biafra Remembrance Day in Onitsha has generated condemnations and even expression of solidarity with IPOB by several other affiliate groups and individuals, who shared the view that the approach of engaging them should be reviewed.
Recently, representatives of 26 civil society groups from South-east and South-south met in Enugu and after reviewing the May 30 massacre at Onitsha, agreed to enlarge the coalition of IPOB’s non-violence “by consulting wider on the need or otherwise for the two regions to endorse the non-violent agitation of IPOB for a referendum to decide the future of Nigeria.
However, signs that Kanu’s release was nigh, began to manifest, when prominent Nigerians started to visit him in detention. From Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose to former governors Orji Kalu of Abia State and Peter Obi of Anambra State, others who had visited him included former CBN governor, Chukwuma Soludo; renowned economist, Dr. Pat Utomi; former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode; Secretary-General of LNC, Tony Nnadi; National secretary of Alliance for Democracy; Udenta Udenta; Chairman, South-east, South-south professionals, Emeka Ugwuoju, Collins Ugwu, Law Mefor and Ferdinand Agu.
Prominent Igbo leaders like the President of Alaigbo Development Foundation, Professor Uzodinma Nwala; chairman federal character committee, Mr Max Ozoaka; assistant legal adviser, Mr. Max Alaeto; acting administrative secretary, Mr. Uzo Anyaso, and member, Mr Dickson Isaac Chidera. Notable Nollywood actors were led byveteran Bruno Iwuoha, Ejike Asiegbu, Clems Ohameze and Chinaka Greatson, amongst top great actors.
Interestingly too, the United Kingdom once said it had been visiting Kanu in prison. A spokesman for the British High Commission, Mr. Joe Abuku, said in an email sent to a correspondent of a national daily (not THISDAY), that in response to an email regarding Kanu’s letter to the High Commission, it had since been providing assistance to him.
Finally, on Friday, Kanu’s lawyers perfected the bail conditions and he was consequently released to them and some prominent Nigerians, who facilitated the bail process. But not a few of his supporters were comfortable with the conditions attached to his bail, thus making it somewhat inexcitable. And now that Kalu is finally out, it is yet to be seen what future is ahead of the agitation for the Republic of Biafra.