Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, Sunday Adeyemo, aka Sunday Igboho, and Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky are three Nigerians from different ethnic groups in the country who have, somehow, a similar story. Kanu is the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which is agitating for the actualisation of a separate nation called Biafra. Igboho, an activist, is leading the agitation for an independent Yoruba nation called Oduduwa Republic. El-Zakzaky leads the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), whose members choose to live together in their ‘republic.’ These three Nigerians have been having a running battle with state actors. They have been hounded, declared wanted, arrested and put on trial.
Kanu is in detention in Abuja after suffering extraordinary rendition from a foreign country, where the Federal Government said he was “intercepted” in June 2021. He was forcefully brought to Nigeria and arraigned in court on countless charges bordering on alleged terrorism, management of an illegal group, treasonable felony, unlawful possession of firearms, etcetera. Igboho was arrested in neigbouring Benin Republic recently as he was fleeing to Germany with his wife. The Nigerian authorities have applied for his extradition from Benin Republic to answer charges bordering on alleged illegal possession of arms or stockpiling of weapons. El-Zakzaky and his wife were arrested in 2015 and put on trial for six years on criminal charges bordering on alleged culpable homicide and unlawful assembly, following a deadly confrontation his Shiite group had with the convoy of former Chief of Army Staff, now Nigeria’s Ambassador to Benin Republic, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, which claimed a number of lives. These are three Nigerians whose case could pass for “the same strokes for different folks.”
On Wednesday, a Kaduna State High Court concluded the long trial of El-Zakzaky and his wife, Zenaat El-Zakzaky, declaring that they did not have any case to answer. Justice Gideon Kurada had, more or less, ruled that the charges against the duo lacked merit and, therefore, discharged and acquitted them. He ordered their immediate release. In the eyes of the law, therefore, justice has been served. The Kaduna State government, which declared and considered El-Zakzaky a common criminal, could not prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. In the six years the state government put the Shiite leader and his wife on trial, the accused were not allowed bail. In the end, however, everything turned out to be a waste.
If the court could rule that El-Zakzaky had no case to answer, after the persuasive manner the state government pushed the narratives, it shows the independence of the judge who handled the case. That the case fell flat on its face says much about evidence presented against him. It shows lack of due diligence in the investigation of his case before it was taken to court. Before El-Zakzaky and his wife were discharged and acquitted, they were technically “guilty until found innocent” because the state government presented, in the public domain, a damning verdict about their actions and inactions. However, the court deals with evidence.
In normal circumstances, the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. The judiciary is expected to serve justice without minding whose ox is gored. The Kaduna judiciary upheld what it considered justice in the El-Zakzaky case. The Shiites may have their shortcomings. The conduct of the group may not have met high standard. However, the court is saying, by its judgment, you cannot hold El-Zakzaky responsible for what you perceived members of his group may have done. It is not enough to accuse someone of wrongdoing, the onus is on the person who alleges to prove the case.
The El-Zakzaky case has given an insight into the Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho matter. Discerning Nigerians have called on the government and the judiciary to give the accused fair hearing, employing judicial principles that meet global standards. This is so because, like the El-Zakzaky case, government is already pushing indicting narratives against Kanu and Igboho. In the court of public opinion, government is already selling the dummy that Kanu and Igboho are common criminals. Kanu has been branded a terrorist. He has been presented as a man who was amassing weapons and who levied war against the country. He has been presented as being responsible for deaths that may have arisen from agitation for Biafra, perhaps, including the extrajudicial killings perpetrated by security agents hunting for IPOB members. Igboho has also been presented as amassing weapons. These are all tactics to condemn the accused in the court of public opinion so that they would not attract sympathy.
The government expects Nigerians to focus on Kanu’s sins, which it has dished out. It does not want the issue to be how Kanu was arrested abroad and ferried to Nigeria using the back door. It wants Nigerians to overlook the fact that there is no proof of any formal extradition request on Kanu to whichever country he was arrested. It does not want anybody to think about the fact that there is no proof of any trial in court, for the judiciary in the country Kanu was arrested to determine whether the “request” for extradition had merit or not. The government does not want Nigerians to ask questions about the fact that there is no indication that any court ever granted any extradition request. It wants Nigerians to overlook the fact that the IPOB leader was brought to Nigeria like a fugitive and criminal without due process.
What is playing out in Igboho’s case in Benin Republic shows the process of extradition. The pro-Yoruba nation agitator was arrested in the French-speaking West African country. Benin Republic, as small as it is, insists that due process must be followed before it hands over or refuses to hand over the accused. It is left for Nigeria to prove its allegation that Igboho is a dangerous man wanted for justice in the country. That is the process that should have been followed in the case of Kanu. The country where he was arrested shunned due process and allowed the illegality that happened. The foreign country breached acceptable standards and helped the Nigerian authorities to engage in self-help. To say the least, a nation, which could collaborate with another to breach international jurisprudence, has proved its low worth.
I am still wondering how the Nigerian government would, employing the principle of fair trial and justice, convict Kanu or Igboho. For one, self-determination is clear in Article I of the Charter of the United Nations. It expressly states: “All peoples have the right to self-determination.” What this means is that people have the right to “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Those who have followed the Kanu case, for instance, would know that the authorities are fixated in their belief without much evidence. For them, every security breach in the South East is perpetrated by the IPOB. In such fixation, obvious lapses are seen. When Alhaji Ahmed Gulak was murdered in Owerri, the police told the world that the perpetrators of the crime were seen the next day, in another location, sharing onions, and, during an exchange of gunfire, they were killed. The police told us that the driver conveying Gulak identified the suspects, the make and colour of their vehicles and the number plates. Pray, a gang that allegedly committed a high-profile murder that shook the nation was seen sharing onions from a lorry many hours thereafter? A driver who faced life-threatening attack, whose passenger was shot dead, who was in obvious danger at the time of attack, was able memorize the faces of the assailants, the make and colour of their vehicles and the number plates of their vehicles? What a story! That’s the kind of narrative those who are shopping for evidence against IPOB would always give.
The Department of State Services (DSS) raided Igboho’s Ibadan home, just like security agents severally stormed Kanu’s country home in Umuahia. The DSS said its operatives discovered arms in Igboho’s home, just as security agents also alleged such discovery in Kanu’s village house. The DSS and security agencies are alleging that Igboho and Kanu were stockpiling arms. The question is: Who was the witness when security agents discovered the so-called arms? Has the government suddenly started believing the report of security agencies when the same government refused to believe the DSS report on former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, which was the basis for the Senate’s rejection of his nomination several times? A government that did not believe the DSS report on Magu and, therefore, kept sending back his name to the Senate for confirmation, now wants us to believe the security report on alleged stockpiling of ammunition against Kanu and Igboho. Wow!
The trial of Kanu and Igboho, if the government succeeds in bringing him home through extradition, is equally the trial of the judiciary. We will see how the court would handle the circumstances that led to Kanu fleeing the country and jumping bail. We are looking forward to seeing how the court would handle the manner in which Kanu was brought back to the country to face trial. We look forward to seeing how the court would examine the evidence the prosecution would present against the accused. Great that Ohanaeze Ndigbo has taken an interest in the case and has a monitoring team. Good that Britain has demanded fair trial and justice. The world is watching the judge and the judiciary.
I suspect, however, that some elements want to simply keep Kanu and Igbolo out of circulation, in the guise of trial, knowing that they do not have a strong case against them. For them, if the trial could run for several years, with the accused remanded in custody, it is good. They do not want to look at the issues leading to agitation for self-determination. They do not want to take actions that would bring about equity, fairness and justice. They want to chase the shadows and leave the country rudderless.