From Chidi Nnadi, Enugu
Former counsel to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and renowned human rights lawyer, Mr Vincent Egechukwu Obetta have explained how he drafted former governor of Abia State and Chairman of the Slok Group, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, into the project of trying to release the leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu, when he was still the counsel to the group.
Obetta said that he was speaking to explain the honest intentions of Dr Kalu to help broker peace between the incarcerated IPOB leader and the Federal Government, as a result of the views of those who erroneously think that the former governor was acting on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In this interview, Obetta revealed how he had run to Kalu and two other Igbo leaders in his bid to adopt a political approach to free the detained IPOB leader.
He, therefore, said that the former governor going to the Kuje Prison to visit Kanu was timely and something that should be applauded.
He also spoke on his taking over the case of the 74-year-old Mrs Bridget Agbahime, who was killed in Kano. Excerpts:
Recently, former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu visited the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, at the Kuje Prison, where he has been held since last year, and since then the visit has been generating a lot of views, with some people wanting to know what may actually be Kalu’s intention; as a former counsel to IPOB, how do you see that visit by the former Abia governor?
I sincerely see that visit as a positive development and a right step in the right direction. This has been my desire that our leaders, Igbo and non-Igbo alike, to show love to the detained IPOB leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, visit him, and hear him out and advice the Federal Government on the best way forward. Rather than sit back to draw conclusion and apportion blames on the propriety or otherwise of his actions; we should oblige him the benefit of fair hearing outside the box of the court room. So, Dr. Kalu’s visit, to me, is commendable and timely too.
Why do you believe the visit was timely?
Yes, it is an intervention that came at the niche of time following the ruling delivered by Justice Binta Nyako, allowing the application of the prosecution that witnesses who are to testify should be shielded, as well as permitting a secret trial which caused a standoff in the court room. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu in strong terms rejected the ruling and vowed not to be subjected to a secret trial proceeding. The import of this scenario is that the trial will be stalled since the accused has overtly demonstrated his lack of confidence, not just in Justice Binta Nyako’s court, but the entire criminal justice system in Nigeria. His aversion, I think, is informed by the Federal Government’s penchant in disobeying court orders. If you may recall, this is the fourth court, I mean Federal High courts, and one Appeal Court that have sat over this matter; all these were in his earnest search for a fair trial and justice. Justice John Tsoho had, on February 19th, 2016 ruled that Mazi Kanu’s trial will not be conducted in secret as requested by the prosecution. How did we get here today? The latest ruling was the last straw … I do not think he is ready, anymore, to attend any court in this respect. And that is why I said that Dr. Orji Kalu’s visit was an intervention made at the right time.
By the court okaying secret trial for Kanu, this appears to have introduced some novel legal principles in Nigeria’s criminal jurisprudence, how do you look at this view?
To be honest, secret trial of suspect in a criminal matter found its way into the Nigerian criminal jurisprudence in the wake of the enactment of the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011, which was later amended in 2013. Sections 33 and 34 of the Act provides for an amorphous grounds for which trials can be allowed to proceed in secret. Section 34, in particular, authorizes the court on its own or upon the application of the Attorney- General to protect a witness where it suspects that the life of the witness is in danger. In fact, Section 34 (5) makes it an offence punishable with a term of five years for anyone who violates any order made by the court in this respect. Secret trial has been conducted in some terrorism cases in Nigeria in the past. The case of FGN Vs Abdulahi Mustapha & others and the case of Mr. Mohammed Yunnus & two others (the Kogi State University lecture case). As a result, witness protection is now an extant cornerstone in our criminal justice system, but only applicable in terrorism cases. That being the case, the conscientious question will be, in all honesty, can Nnamdi Kanu’s activities as the leader of the IPOB constitute an act of terrorism? Will it not be more properly situated within the threshold of a non-violent political movement? The last question will be answered properly when viewed against the backdrop that the prosecution had shunted and substituted over four charges ranging from the formation and managing of unlawful society to the present charge of terrorism. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.
But some people have claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari had sent Dr. Kalu to Kuje
Prison to appeal to the IPOB leader to jettison his Biafra struggle, do you think that can be possible?
What you see that culminated to Dr Kalu’s visit started one year ago. Recall that on the 17th December, 2015 Justice Ademola granted my prayers and ordered for the unconditional release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu by the Federal Government. It was the frustration I faced in the course of trying to enforce that court order and sequel to Mr President disposition to Kanu’s trial during his Presidential Media Chart of 31st December, 2015 that inspired my recourse to political moves, as well. Following the frustration, I said to myself: “You have made tremendous progress from the legal flank, but it may translate to pyrrhic victory If you do not secure his freedom, after all.” Based on this, I came up with the idea to pursue the matter using a double-pronged legal and political approach.
I contacted His Eminence and Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah; His Lordship, Most Reverend Archbishop Emmanuel O. Chukwuma; Chief Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and Chief Chekwas Okorie. Efforts were also made to reach His Excellency, Abdulsalami Abubakar, but it failed as he was out of the country at the time. At some point I had concluded arrangement with Bishop Kukah to meet with Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, while we were waiting for the approval of the SSS, in whose custody he was at the time, I suddenly withdrew from the legal team. However, upon Dr Orji Kalu’s return from the US in February 2016, we continued with the mediation process which eventually led to the meeting of the two leaders last meeting of last week. In the same manner, I have been meeting with Bishop Chukwuma and Chief Okorie on Mazi Kanu’s matter. In fact, just yesterday I presented the matter of his continued detention before the erudite Church Leaders Forum, Enugu State chapter. I wish to reiterate that the process had been ongoing over one year before Dr Orji Kalu’s defection to the APC. And so, it will be unfair to his person to conclude that the APC or precisely President Buhari sent him to visit Mazi Kanu. I stand to say that I initiated and superintended the ‘peace process’ which you saw played out at Kuje Prisons. My prayer is that it comes to fruition.
So, even when you were disengaged by IPOB, you still continued with the political approach towards ensuring getting Nnamdi Kalu out of prison?
Yes, it’s not about me. The travails of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu are not about him. It’s about his people – the Igbo – their freedom, re-integration, reconstruction, reconciliation and the budding sense of belonging in the larger Nigeria project.
The IPOB case was not only the pro-Igbo case you have handled, you have also taken up the case of the Kano killing of 74-year-old Mrs Bridget Agbahime; are you not aware that the
Kano State government has withdrawn and discharged Malam Dauda and four others who were the prime suspects in that gruesome murder without trial?
It is ridiculous; if you may recall the public outcry that greeted that killing and the promises made by our leaders particularly President Buhari, Alhaji Ganduje, Chief Rochas Okorocha and the then Inspector-General of Police and compared to what is on ground today you will begin to ask yourself whether our leaders deserve the accolades we ascribed them. We must resist impunity in all its forms. At the moment, we are articulating Mrs Agbahime’s case. We will seek justice from those who spilled the blood of Mrs Agbahime. We shall also be asking for justice from those who, by law, are mandated to protect Mrs Agbahime, but has conspired to delay the course of justice. Justice for Mrs Agbahime and his relatives can only be delayed, but cannot be denied.