LEGAL practitioners and rights groups have urged the Federal Government to ensure that the trial of the Biafran leader Nnamdi Kanu is fair and free from prejudice.
They asked the government to remember that Kanu was still innocent until found guilty, noting that the manner in which he was repatriated was suspicious.
They said the government must not start a new round of crisis in the South-East Nigeria by mishandling the whole situation.
A legal practitioner and human rights advocate Sam Oyigbo said although the circumstances surrounding Kanu’s extradition were still sketchy, he should be presumed innocent of the charges against him until found guilty by a court.
“His life was in danger before he fled. If they had not attacked him, he would not have fled. It is only the living that can be tried. The fact is that they are not following the law and they presume he is guilty when he has not been found guilty.”
Uchenna Amulu of the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) said although it would not be proper to rely on some of the conjectures around Kanu’s arrest in the media, it was wrong to arraign him without the presence of his lawyer in the court on Tuesday.
“What the Nigerian government did not do well yesterday was bringing him into the country and taking him back to the court with the knowledge of his lawyer,” he said.
“It is his right that he should have an access to a lawyer. His lawyer should have been contacted immediately the moment he stepped his foot into the shores of this country.”
Kanu was extradited to Nigeria from a yet-to-be-disclosed location after jumping bail in 2017. He told the court on Tuesday that he jumped bail because his life was in danger. He had been out of Nigeria since then, though he sometimes made comments on social media platforms.
In a recent television interview, President Muhammadu Buhari had blamed IPOB for creating mayhem in South-East, saying that “they do not know what they are doing.” Buhari had also said, “they have properties and businesses everywhere,” a statement that angered many people from the region.
Nigerians believe that Buhari’s handling of issues affecting the South-East, which did not vote for him in 2015 and 2019, reeks of bias.
A lawyer and social critic Ayo Sogunro expressed concern that Kanu’s re-arrest might lead to ethnic crisis if he was not given a fair legal trial by the Buhari’s administration.
“Of course, rather than transparently prove the criminal acts alleged against Nnamdi Kanu through a fair trial, the Buhari government is more likely to turn this into a lawless victory parade against an ‘enemy leader’ that will only deepen ethnic tensions and seal his status as a hero,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
He added that the worst part was “that rather than put Nnamdi Kanu on trial, they will put Biafra on trial and conflate any criminal acts by Kanu with the very legitimate demands for secession.”
A statement issued by acting spokesman of Niger Delta Congress Ovunda Eni, a lawyer, said though the group might not agree in totality with the methods of approach of IPOB, the Nigerian government should, for its own good, ensure that the judicial processes Kanu would be made to pass through was free from ethno-religious bigotry that had plagued Buhari’s government.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Abubakar Malami had announced Kanu’s arrest and extradition in a statement on Tuesday.
Without giving details, Malami said the IPOB leader was intercepted through the collaborative effort of the Nigeria intelligence and security services.
He added that Kanu was brought back to Nigeria in order to continue facing trials after disappearing while on bail in an 11-count charge against him.
A human rights lawyer Abdul Mahmud tweeted on Tuesday that the UK’s laws would have made extradition of Kanu difficult for the Nigerian government.
“The legal bar of the death penalty in the UK Extradition Act makes it difficult for a requesting state party like Nigeria to successfully secure extradition for offences with the death penalty.
“Therefore, my sense is that MNK was either snatched outside the UK (perhaps in a neighbouring African country like Cameroon that Nigeria recently allowed to snatch dissidents in Abuja) or MNK returned for his trial, based on a deal with the government.
“Though, my concluding assertion may be speculative; but anything is possible in Nigeria. After all, the circumstances of MNK’s escape a few years still raise questions than answers,” he said.
There have been many speculations on the locations from which Kanu was extradited.