Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja Tuesday ordered Senator Enyinaya Abaribe and two others to appear in court and explain why the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Nnamdi Kanu was absent from court to face trial, warning that they stood to lose their bail bonds of N100 million each if they failed to produce him in court.
Senator Abaribe, Immanuel Okabemadu and Tochukwu Uchendu had stood as sureties for Kanu as part of his bail conditions, and guaranteed that he would attend his trial after the bail was granted by the court to attend to his failing health.
In addition, they signed a bail bond of N100 million each that would be forfeited in the event that the defendant failed to appear in court to face trial.
However, when the matter was called Tuesday, the three other defendants were in court except Kanu.
Owing to the absence of the first defendant, the prosecution counsel Shuaibu Labaran urged the court to revoke the bail granted the first defendant.
He argued that failure to attend to the day-to-day trial was a serious violation of the law.
He told the court that the matter was adjourned for hearing, but given the circumstances of the absence of the first defendant, the trial may not hold in the interest of justice.
“For failure to appear in court, we urge this court to revoke the bail granted the first defendant and issue a bench warrant for the arrest of the first defendant and order the three sureties, Senator Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe, Emmanuel Shalum Okabemmadu and Tochukwu Uchendu to show cause why the bail bond of N100 million each should not be forfeited or commit three of them to prison,” he urged the court.
Following his submission, the trial judge called on the counsel to the first defendant, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, to explain why his client was not in court.
Responding, Ejiofor said his client was willing to stand trial but he could not account for his whereabouts since the invasion of Kanu’s home on September 14, 2017, by soldiers of the Nigerian Army.
“I cannot tell the court at this stage whether the defendant is alive or dead. I don’t know where he is, the soldiers should tell the court the whereabouts of the first defendant,” he said.
Justice Nyako then called on the sureties to explain why Kanu was not in court to face trial.
Though none of the sureties was in court, the counsel to Abaribe, Ogechi Ogbonna told the court that the senator did not know Kanu’s whereabouts, adding that Abaribe had already filed a motion to withdraw as Kanu’s surety.
However, Justice Nyako held that it would be impossible for Abaribe to withdraw as surety to Kanu without first producing him in court. “Before he can wash off his hands, the defendant has to be here,” she said.
The judge added that the alternatives to Abaribe were to accept that he could not account for Kanu and forfeit his bail bond, or ask for more time to produce him.
Though Abaribe’s counsel continued to insist that nobody including his client knew the whereabouts of Kanu, he opted for the second option given by the court, adding that more effort would be made at locating the first defendant.
In a brief ruling, Justice Nyako said: “Sureties should come to court to show cause why the first defendant was not in court,” adding that it was their responsibility to make sure that the defendant did not breach his bail terms.
Justice Nyako added that she could not take a decision on Abaribe’s motion seeking withdrawal as surety except the defendant was produced in court.
While the court declined to hear various applications brought by the second, third and fourth defendants, it however directed the prison authorities to allow the fourth defendant access to his personal physician, adding that the same privilege was extended to the first defendant.
Counsel to the fourth defendant, Maxwell Opara, had in an application he attempted to move, prayed the court to order the prison officials to allow his client have access to his personal doctor on the grounds that the medical personnel at the prison had been threatening the life of his client and as such the fourth defendant no longer have confidence in them.
The judge, in admonishing the prison officials, reminded them that their allegiance was to the court and not to the security agencies, adding that inmates, whether sentenced or awaiting trial, are held in the custody of the court.
Justice Nyako, after stating that the trial could not go on without the presence of the defendants in the criminal matter, adjourned the case till November 20.
Kanu, Onwudiwe Chidiebere, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi were arraigned by the federal government on an 11-count charge bordering on terrorism, treasonable felony and illegal possession of firearms, among others.
But Justice Nyako had struck out six out of the 11 amended charges filed against the defendants on the grounds that the charges lacked competence.