The Federal Government, on Thursday, alleged that there is a plot to scuttle the ongoing trial of the leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu.
The allegation came on day the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, adjourned two separate treasonable felony charges FG entered against Kanu and four other pro-Biafra agitators- Bright Chimezie, Chidiebere Onwudiwe, Benjamin Madubugwu and David Nwawuisi- to January 27, 2021.
Adjournment of the two cases by Justice Binta Nyako followed the absence of all the Defendants in court for continuation of their trial.
Kanu, whose whereabouts has remained unknown since September 2017, was hitherto answering to a five-count charge alongside the other Defendants.
The court had in a ruling on February 20, 2018, okayed separate trial for the four other Defendants after Kanu was declared “missing”.
The IPOB leader who has dual citizenship, had since been reportedly sighted at various locations outside the country, including Jerusalem and the United Kingdom.
His bail was revoked by the court on March 28, 2019, with a bench warrant issued for his arrest.
The court equally relied on section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, and ordered his trial in absentia.
Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings in the two cases on Thursday, none of the Defendants were in court.
Likewise, Kanu’s lawyer, Mr. Ifeanyi Ejiofor, was absent.
However, another lawyer in his team, Mr. E.N. Ejiofor, drew attention of the court to a letter dated November 24, wherein Kanu’s lawyer explained why he could not attend the proceeding and applied for an adjournment.
On their own part, the defence team for the other four pro-Biafra agitators, led by Mr. Maxwell Opara, told the court that their clients got late notification that their trial would come up on Thursday.
The lawyers complained that the hearing notice was served on them barely 24 hours to the trial date, saying they were unable to mobilize the four Defendants who are based in different states in the Eastern part of the country, to be in Abuja on such short notice.
Dissatisfied with the development, FG’s lawyer, Mr. M.S. Labaran, alleged plot to frustrate the trial of all the Defendants.
The Prosecution specifically fingered the Senator representing Abia South, Enyinnaya Abaribe and the other two persons that stood surety for Kanu, as part of those attempting to scuttle the trial.
“My lord there is a deliberate and calculated effort to frustrate the trial of this case.
“It started with the sureties, that is Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe and the two others, who went to the Court of Appeal to suspend the suretyship proceedings before this court, pending the determination of an appeal that they have abandoned.
“Today we made efforts and assembled our witnesses before this court, only for us to be confronted with yet another attempt to scuttle the trial”, Labaran added.
Though he conceded to request for an adjournment of trial of the four other Defendants, the Prosecution opposed the application by Kanu’s lawyer.
He faulted the letter that was sent by Kanu’s lawyer, Ejiofor, insisting that it was aimed to mislead the court.
Labaran noted that in paragraph two of the letter, Ejiofor said he was in his Chambers in Nnewi, Anambra State on November 25 preparing for hearing of an appeal pending in Benin, when he got a call from the Court Registrar about the trial.
“My lord will note that while the letter is dated November 24, counsel to the Defendant claimed he got the call on November 25. In other words, the letter predated the call”, Labaran argued.
He therefore urged the court to award substantial cost against Kanu to enable FG to offset all the expenses it incurred in assembling all the witnesses he said came from outside jurisdiction.
Concerning the other Defendants, Labaran said he would have applied for revocation of their bail.
“Ordinarily, I would have opted that since the essence of bail is for Defendants to appear for their trial, I would I have applied that the bail given to the Defendants be revoked.
“But since the excuse given by counsel to the Defendants is valid and in view of enormous responsibilities on their shoulder, I shall be asking for a short date”.
Meantime, before the matter was adjourned, trial Justice Nyako said the registry of the court should be blamed for the absence of the four other Defendants.
Justice Nyako said it was embarrassing that though she issued directive for hearing notices to be served on the Defendants over two weeks ago, it was only served on them on Wednesday.
The court noted that only Kanu’s lawyer was served the hearing notice on Tuesday, November 24.
“I am more embarrassed by the conduct of the registry. For them to have waited for someone to remind them to issue hearing notice is most embarrassing”, Justice Nyako fumed.
She subsequently adjourned the case till January 27, 2021, stressing that the trial would proceed even in the absence of any of the Defendants or their lawyers.
It will be recalled that the court had on April 25, 2016, released Kanu on bail on health ground after he had spent a year and seven months in detention.
To secure the release of the IPOB leader, Senator Abaribe, Jewish High Priest, Emmanu El- Salom Oka BenMadu and an Accountant, Mr. Tochukwu Uchendu, signed an undertaken on April 28, 2016, to ensure his attendance in court.
Justice Nyako had on October 10, 2017, ordered the three sureties to show cause why they should not be committed to prison over Kanu’s repeated failure to appear for continuation of his trial, or why the N100million they individually deposited to secure his bail, should not be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Alternatively, the court said the sureties were at liberty to produce the IPOB leader for his trial.
The order followed an application FG made pursuant to section 179 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
Likewise, in a ruling on November 14, 2018, Justice Nyako gave the sureties two months to in the interim, deposit the N100m bail bond into the court’s account.
All the sureties have since gone before the Court of Appeal to challenge the ruling, a situation that led the trial court to adjourn sine-die (indefinitely), the proceeding it intitated for them to show cause why they should not be punished over Kanu’s decision to jump bail.
Justice Nyako had on June 25, 2019, granted the four other Defendants bail to the tune of N10million each with two sureties in like sum.
In the charge before the court, FG, alleged among other things that Kanu imported Radio transmitter known as TRAM 50L, which was concealed in a container that was declared as used household items, for the purpose of using same to disseminate information about secession plans by the IPOB.
FG further alleged that Kanu, “on or about the 28th April, 2015 in London, United Kingdom did in a broadcast on Radio Biafra monitored in Enugu, Enugu state and other parts of Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, referred to Major General Muhammadu Buhari, GCON, President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a paedophile, a terrorist, an idiot and an embodiment of evil, knowing same to be false and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 375 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C. 38 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.